10 Metal Albums That Had Fans Crying ‘Sell Out’

Published on:

Every artist worth their salt is going to want to do right by their fans at every single turn. Even if they want to switch up their styles every now and again, it should still be every artist’s goal to find an audience who relates to their music on a much deeper level than just a song you like to blast in the car every now and again.

Creative experimentation is a great thing, and every artist should be allowed to try new sonic directions and approaches. But sometimes, great artists can stray a bit too far away from what made their fans connect with them in the first place.

The albums below all fell prey to the dreaded fan backlash and ‘sell out’ battle cries, with fans tearing them through the mud when they came out and still being considered cringey to some fairweather fans in the heavy music community to this day. The best metal music has always been about serving the song, but the mission statement behind these albums was perceived by many fans to be more about the dollar signs than the fans themselves.

Load/Reload – Metallica

There’s a big debate as to which Metallica album really belongs on a list like this. While some fans might cite The Black Album as the moment when Metallica went mainstream and fully lost their way, there are still those few holdouts that claim that they started to sink all the way back on “Fade to Black,” having the cajones to actually put an acoustic guitar on one of their songs.

No matter where you fall on that spectrum though, the general consensus is that Metallica started to fully go into decline the minute that all of them took a trip to the barber. After the marathon tour cycle for The Black Album, the band didn’t want to repeat themselves, and decided to look outside themselves for new material for the first time in years. Seeing how most of the biggest acts of the day were more on the alternative-leaning side, half of what turns up on both Load and Reload are some of the most radio-friendly Metallica songs that have ever been committed to tape.

Although neither of these records could be considered speedy by any stretch, some of them at least have a handful of decent cuts that make up for it with how heavy they can get, like the menacing riff of “Devil’s Dance” or the long drawn out sections of a song like “Bleeding Me.” If you look at the track listing for some of these records though, almost half of them could be considered the softest song on any of the previous Metallica records, from breaking out the acoustic guitars a lot more often to James writing a whole sequel to “The Unforgiven,” which seems like it was written just to cash in on the star power of its musical big brother.

Ultimately, the band got a bit of a bad rep for going down the alternative bandwagon here. Nothing on these records necessarily seems like alternative songs by any stretch, but they are also the furthest thing from metal as this band ever got. 

Whitesnake ‘87 – Whitesnake

There’s a good chance that most fans of Whitesnake can never really point to an album where they fully sold out. From the minute that songs like “Here I Go Again” hit MTV, David Coverdale turned into one of the biggest pin up stars of the time, sharing equal screen time on MTV with acts like Poison.

If you were around for the pre-glam days of the band though, you’d have thought that everyone had collectively jumped off the deep end. A lot of people forget that Coverdale was the same guy that replaced Ian Gillan in Deep Purple, and the earlier version of Whitesnake was more based in hard rock than anything remotely close to glam, having songs like “Slow An’ Easy,” which had a much more bluesy element in it.

Once the hairstyles started to change though, Whitesnake got a new makeover as well, bringing in different musicians to the band and David practically looking no different than the likes of Def Leppard pumping out songs like “Is This Love” all over MTV.

If you take it all in, this might be the most accurate form of ‘selling out’ on the list, with some of these songs dating back to before the makeover happened and just given a more pop-friendly sheen in the mixing process, with collaborator and lead guitarist John Sykes being kicked out of the band right before any of the big budget videos got down to business.

The seedy form of rock and roll may have been a knockout in the ‘70s, but apparently, it wasn’t going to be a good enough soundtrack when the Tawny Kitaen (R.I.P.) videos started to become the next big thing.  

The Path of Totality – Korn

A lot of the nu metal bands that rose to prominence in the ‘90s have gone the rest of their career trying to distance themselves from the label. Although Korn may have given birth to the genre all the way back in the mid ‘90s, Jonathan Davis was always coming from a more personal place than the Limp Bizkit’s of the world, and most of the band’s ‘00s work revolved around them trying to twist their sounds into other directions that weren’t just detuned riffs for 3 minutes straight.

There’s experimentation and then there’s just getting on a hype train, and Korn knew their calling from the minute that the dubstep boom kicked into high gear. Before you even listen to this thing, Korn committed to the dubstep hook, line, and sinker on The Path of Totality, bringing in every in-demand dubstep producer to make an album together.

Though the idea of Korn mixing some dubstep elements into their sound doesn’t sound like a horrible thing on paper, it’s much better suited to a single rather than a full-on album. With a different producer on every single track, there’s absolutely no flow to this album from start to finish, as Jonathan Davis’ voice seems to be competing with the glitchy production half the time and never really finding its groove again.

And even when the songs tend to lay off some of the more obnoxious dubstep sounds, the band is all but drowned out a lot of the time too, taking the basics of what Korn can be and putting it into an electronic blender half the time. You can hear the Korn of old just aching and screaming to be let out of their cage…you just are going to have to crawl through an entire hard drive’s worth of samples and beat drops to actually find them.

Scream – Chris Cornell

By the time the ‘00s rolled around, Chris Cornell could pretty much do whatever the hell he wanted. The man had already conquered the hard rock world with Soundgarden a few times over, and his turn as the singer of Audioslave with the non De la Rocha members of Rage Against the Machine pretty much cemented him as one of the most dynamic singers working in the rock game today.

Now that he had some classics under his belt, it was time to get weird, and most fans are just happy we were only given one version of Scream. While Soundgarden was always praised for bringing pop hooks to their Black Sabbath-sounding riffs, Cornell’s choice to work with producers like Timbaland will probably go down as one of the more questionable decisions in rock and roll history, bringing together two forces that have very little in common music-wise and somehow making a record out of that.

Although both men have done great work in their respective genres, much of what turns up on Scream is the pop and rock sides of Chris’s sound just standing awkwardly next to each other rather than going anywhere substantial, which becomes really monotonous the more you listen to it.

Throughout the entire record, you can always feel the songs building to something, only to be kneecapped when things morph into a pop-centric groove or some guitar-based melodic song that has no business being on a Chris Cornell record. Chris had already been given the rock god status at this point, but this feels like looking into an alternate dimension where he suddenly thought he could be Justin Timberlake. 

Turbo – Judas Priest

The dawn of the ‘80s is when Judas Priest finally started to hit their groove. While they may have got ahold of their classic sound back in the ‘70s on tracks like “Hell Bent For Leather,” records like British Steel and Screaming for Vengeance helped them find their metal disciples, claiming a new fanbase and proving they could compete with the likes of Iron Maiden on the road.

They may have spread their wings in the ‘80s, but it wasn’t necessarily a decade they could survive intact either. After pumping out one classic after another on records like Point of Entry, Turbo was the first time when the Priest started to disappoint their audience, bringing in much more uptempo material and replacing the brilliant guitar sounds of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton with some of the most dated guitar synthesizers to come out that decade.

Even though some of the songs on here have their bright spots like “Turbo Lover”’s menacing chorus, the band had swapped out their sweeping epic ballads for power pop every now and again, with “Wild Nights Hot and Crazy Days” having the kind of sugary pop chorus than even Cheap Trick would find a little much.

While the original idea was to mix this record into a double release with Defenders of the Faith, the guys did manage to reel it in a little bit, making their next record much more of a straightforward heavy metal affair. Priest have always been proud to fly the flag for all things metal throughout their career, but you’ve crossed a line somewhere when you start crossing streams with the likes of REO Speedwagon.

Risk – Megadeth

It’s about time that most of us put the Metallica/Megadeth debate to bed. Even though Dave Mustaine might still harbor that little bit of resentment at not being a part of the Metallica family anymore, he has more than carved out his own place in metal history, creating masterpieces to call his own like Rust in Peace.

Once Metallica started to become global superstars with The Black Album, Dave seemed to chase that kind of radio success like an Olympic sprinter. While most of Megadeth’s late ‘90s work like Cryptic Writings featured some more radio-friendly material like “Trust,” Risk was the real jump off the deep end, working with pop producer Dan Huff to craft some of the tunes on here.

The experimentation may have led to some interesting ideas like the electric violin on “Insomnia,” but the majority of the record tends to be Dave trying to cash in on the “Enter Sandman” style hits, with songs like “Crush Em” sounding absolutely wretched with its “We Will Rock You” style chorus.

Despite having some conviction in the songs being good, even Dave had to admit that the attention that was paid to this album just didn’t work for Megadeth, saying that these songs were more suited to any other generic pop band than the guy who wrote songs like “Holy Wars.” While some of these songs might have their bright spots, you would never suspect that any of this is the work of one of the Big 4 either.  

Diabolus in Musica – Slayer

Of all the Big 4 of thrash metal, Slayer seems like the last band that you would pick to stray too far away from their metal roots. If you listen to Reign in Blood just once, you know that these guys are not ones to compromise, and they only seemed to get heavier as the decades wore on, making songs that were a lot more in tune with Black Sabbath’s darkness and going for something a lot more menacing.

When metal started hitting its stride again in the late ‘90s though, Diabolus in Musica was the first time F*CKING SLAYER caught a hype train. Of all Slayer’s records, this is the one that feels the most disconnected from their classic sound, being influenced by a lot of the nu metal that was coming out around this time.

This isn’t a case of Slayer suddenly going Limp Bizkit or anything though. While we may have been spared the idea of Tom Araya rapping one of these songs, a lot of the tracks on here feature that same detuned crunch fest that a lot of nu metal bands were getting up to around this time, with Kerry King sounding like he’s trying to write riffs for Sepultura or Coal Chamber.

While some hardened metalheads didn’t bat an eye at the time, the person who saw through the facade more than anyone was actually Kerry himself, thinking in retrospect that Diabolus was his least favorite project that he worked on specifically because of the trend-chasing. Then again, if you were going to get on the nu metal train, it’s probably smart to steal from the best of the best like Sepultura. 

One More Light – Linkin Park

Towards the beginning of the 2010’s, it looked like Linkin Park was just about to turn over a new leaf. After spending the first half of the decade going down the electronics road on records like A Thousand Suns, The Hunting Party was a great return to form for them, picking up right where Meteora had left off and giving us some of the heaviest songs they had made in years.

Mike Shinoda had talked about rock losing its edge during that album’s promo release, so how did they end up turning in one of the most shallow records of their career just a few years later? Looking to originally make an album for their kids, One More Light feels like the band is trying to play more of a young man’s game, drenching every song in some of the buzziest keyboards and different atmospheric washes as they can.

This isn’t the cool Joe Hahn-inspired work either, with songs like “Heavy” and “Battle Symphony” sounding like they’ve been lifted out of a Chainsmokers song from around the same time more than anything connected with nu metal. It’s not like the fans didn’t see through the band’s experimentation here either, getting pissed at the band for leaving rock behind altogether and leaning into their pop-influenced direction.

Any band can get over a bad album, but the passing of Chester Bennington a few months after the record came out helped put everything into perspective a bit more. One More Light might not be their best record by a longshot, but even without their lead singer up front, Linkin Park will always be able to overcome whatever obstacles are in their way.

Generation Swine – Mötley Crüe

The reason why Mötley Crüe have gotten this far is their intention to keep the party rolling wherever they went. While Dr. Feelgood may have been the end of the era of Vince Neil in the band, their new vision with John Corabi definitely had its fair share of highlights, getting a lot more guttural after dates playing out on the road with Metallica.

When Vince managed to come back into the fold though, the Crue’s classic sound was about to get interesting when it got its ‘90s makeover. While there are bits and pieces of Generation Swine that come close to the classic Crue sound like “Afraid,” the majority of this album is Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee trying to shoehorn Motley into a completely different genre.

In trying to shake things up though, most of this record fluctuates between every single hip genre that was going on in the ‘90s, trying to cross Nine Inch Nails with Stone Temple Pilots and Oasis and arriving nowhere close to any of them. Though Nikki’s self-deprecating lyrics about how fame sucks on a song like “Find Myself” at least shows the irony of the whole situation, it’s not enough to save the rest of the album, as well as Tommy’s ballad “Brandon,” which sounds like it should have been better suited to a forgotten solo album than right in the middle of the proper album.

No one’s going to argue the Crue’s pedigree as bad boys, but the middle-aged Nine Inch Nails schtick wasn’t really going to get them in the good graces of metalheads. 

Trash – Alice Cooper

From day one of Alice Cooper’s career, he always prided himself on being the almighty villain of rock and roll. There may have been bad boys like Keith Richards around the same time, but the main draw behind Alice was just how legitimately insane he seemed whenever he took the stage, maiming baby dolls and eventually being killed several times during his act.

So when you have someone like that playing it safe, you know that something’s gone terribly wrong. During Alice’s career resurgence thanks to Wayne’s World, Trash might be the real low point of his pop years, sounding a lot closer to the traditional hair metal bands that were clogging up the Sunset Strip at the time.

Although he did have help from some veterans of the scene like Kip Winger on bass, there’s not that much present from Alice’s glory days on here outside of the megahit “Poison,” which became one of the many crossovers that he would have from around this time.

Even though this album might have been one of the least inspired records in his catalog, it did manage to endear rock’s resident madman to the future generations of rock musicians, featuring on tracks by Guns N’ Roses and getting back in touch with his roots later in the ‘90s with records like Brutal Planet and Dragontown. When you look at where Alice had come before hitting the ‘80s though, Trash might just be a piece of self-deprecating humor that just didn’t go over well.