A lineup change, especially involving a legacy act, has the power to send shockwaves through the heavy metal community. Hell, just recently we’ve been hit with two major lineup changes: not only has Mike Portnoy returned to Dream Theater, but Jay Weinberg has parted ways with Slipknot.
It’s instances more along the lines of the latter though that tend to ripple the hardest through our community. You have someone who has dedicated so much of their life to an act, has created so much music, and now they’re leaving. The chemistry they brought to their given band is now going to be stripped away – will the band sound the same without them?
Recent news of Weinberg’s split with Slipknot got us thinking of other instances we’ve had the rug pulled out from under us when it comes to lineup changes. Considering those who have left and/or been fired from their respective acts, we compiled the following list of the 10 most shocking lineup changes to take place in heavy metal history.
When it comes to the various lineups Megadeth has had over the years, Marty Friedman is one of the most iconic members of the band. Making his studio debut on Rust In Peace, Friedman proved himself to be a ferociously talented guitar shredder, bringing exhilarating technical finesse. Friedman cemented himself as a part of the band, which is why it gutted folks to hear that he was walking away in 1999. According to the guitarist (per Ultimate Guitar), “I didn’t think Megadeth were aggressive enough! When I left Megadeth, I wanted some contrast, I wanted some stuff that was totally non-aggressive and some stuff that was really friggin’ aggressive.” Although he’s no longer in the band, it’s been really cool to see him rock out alongside Megadeth at recent shows.
Slipknot has always expressed that they are a brotherhood, which is why it was so devestating to hear that Joey Jordison had exited the band in 2013. Alongside the death of fellow band co-founder Paul Gray, who passed away three years prior, Jordison’s departure marked another major emotional hit for Slipknot. Regarding his exit, Slipknot noted “personal reasons,” but upon initially commenting on the exit himself, Jordison expressed that he was “shocked” and “blindsided” by the news. In a 2017 interview with AXS.com, Jordison opened up about struggles he had endured involving a nervous system disease called transverse myelitis; he spoke about how this disease impacted his ability to perform and how he sought treatment for his health. Jordison claimed that members of Slipknot knew of his struggles, and yet, per his words (as transcribed by Blabbermouth): “I got visited in the hospital by one member of the band when they all knew I was in there. […] Next thing you know, I got exited from the band. And I don’t know why. I don’t understand what the deal was.”
Needless to say, it was wild to hear that one of the biggest bands in music had fired their singer, whose voice had become an essential component of their art. According to Tony Iommi, following the releases of Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die!, Ozzy Osbourne’s substance abuse got out of hand and he had become distant from Sabbath’s work – so they were forced to make a brutal decision. Via Loudwire: “We just couldn’t continue with Ozzy. As much as everyone wanted us to, we just couldn’t do it. Nothing was happening and it would have meant the end of the band. We didn’t want to fire him but we had to if we wanted to continue.” Ultimately, Osbourne was fired in 1979 and replaced by Ronnie James Dio, with Osbourne rejoining Black Sabbath years down the road.
Burton C. Bell – Fear Factory
For as much as Fear Factory is known for their metallic instrumental brutality, one of the band’s biggest draws was their original vocalist Burton C. Bell. Throughout his run with the band, Bell’s vocal performances were electrifying, further elevating the industrial extremity of Fear Factory’s music. Then in 2020, Bell announced his official departure from the band, and in 2023, his replacement Milo Silvestro was announced. Reflecting on Bell’s exit, Dino Cazares once shared with fans, “With all due respect to Burton but he lost the magic live long ago, he just couldn’t carry a clean note anymore.”
While he’s been back in the band for many years now, it came as one hell of a shock to hear that Bruce Dickinson was leaving Iron Maiden. Even after releasing several brilliant heavy metal classics and becoming one of the biggest bands in the music world, Dickinson wanted to explore what else life could offer in 1993. Among the comments he expressed in 2022 regarding his departure, Dickinson shared (via Metal Hammer): “I just thought that if I stayed with Maiden forever, all I would learn about was what it was like to be in Maiden. And in order to learn what it was like outside MAIDEN, you have to leave.” Dickinson returned to Iron Maiden in 1999 and has remained with the band since.
This recent lineup change has a little more nuanced complexities to it. Mick Mars is technically not out of Mötley Crüe – he has retired from touring with the band, and frankly, he seems pretty uninterested in being around them at the moment. Not long after announcing his retirement from touring, Mars’s replacement was announced, that being ex-Rob Zombie guitarist John 5. While John has taken on the role of touring guitarist for the band, he’s also worked in the studio with them. On top of all this, news came out earlier this year that Mars is suing his Mötley Crüe bandmates. In the suit, Mars alleged the band is attempting to cut his profit percentage shares from what he’s owed. Mars’ guitar work is such an essential element to Mötley Crüe’s sound, and it’s sad to hear how the band’s relationship has seemed to fall apart.
What makes this lineup change shocking is just how much time Jason Newsted spent with the thrash metal act. Newsted contributed to four of the band’s studio album releases, including what many consider to be one of their most popular and successful releases ever, The Black Album. While Newsted initially cited “private and personal reasons and the physical damage I have done to myself over the years while playing the music that I love” regarding his departure, he would later reveal more context behind his decision. In a past conversation with ScuzzTV, Newsted opened up about a conversation he had with his fellow Metallica bandmates, expressing a desire to work on another project. Upon hearing this, James Hetfield wasn’t down for the idea, and Newsted would come to find out he didn’t have the support of the band’s management to pursue the project. Following this, he eventually exited the band and was replaced by Robert Trujillo.
CJ McMahon – Thy Art Is Murder
Another controversial lineup change comes in the form of ex-Thy Art Is Murder vocalist CJ McMahon. This past summer, McMahon recieved backlash over expressing comments that were alleged to be transphobic; while he did apologize for these comments, it came as abrupt news to fans that not only had McMahon been kicked out of the band, but his vocals on their latest album Godlike had been entirely replaced. The former Thy Art Is Murder vocalist did release another statement on the matter, but at the time of this writing, Thy Art Is Murder has moved on without McMahon, replacing him with a new vocalist.
Sepultura was one of the biggest bands in the ’80s and ’90s, offering the masses a brutally exhilarating display of thrashing death metal across several albums. However, in 1996, after losing his stepson in a car accident, arguments pertaining to management intensifying, and tensions between him and other members of the band heating up, frontman Max Cavalera ultimately decided to walk away from Sepultura. Along with their instrumental extremity, Cavalera’s vocals had become an essential part of Sepultura, and picturing them without him was surreal to imagine at first. The band would eventually name Derrick Green as their new singer, and Cavalera would go on to focus on other projects, including Soulfly.
Jay Weinberg – Slipknot
Of course, we have to address the latest major lineup change to take place in heavy metal. Filling in the shoes of the late and brilliant Jordison would prove to be a tremendous task for most drummers, and during his time in Slipknot, Jay Weinberg not only paid honor and respect to Jordison’s work but also brought his own flair to the nu-metal act. Not much time has passed since news of Weinberg and Slipknot’s recent split, and the drummer has yet to release any sort of statement of his own regarding why he’s no longer in the band.