It sucks saying goodbye — especially when you're bidding farewell to a badass band like, oh, you know, the group that invented heavy fucking metal, or to an iconic artist like, say, the Man in Black himself. When said musicians bow out with albums that stand up against their best, however, it cushions the blow just a bit. Below, are 10 final records that did just that in the cases of their various makers, who range from math-metal contortionists to post-punk depressives but all changed the face of music.
A Rick Rubin-produced behemoth more than a decade in the making, 13 marked the first Black Sabbath LP since 1984 to feature more than two founding members. Even with the absence of original drummer Bill Ward (replaced on this LP by Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave fame), the doom icons' curtain call brims with the otherworldly chemistry fans know and love, making it a fulfilling, fiery — and most importantly, fun — farewell to the original and definitive metal band.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest metalcore albums ever created, the second and final full-length by Washington mathletes Botch imagined a bold new future for their associated genre, driven by brainpower — headspinning polyrhythms! Atypical time signatures! Cultural commentary! — rather than brute force. Between the 10-and-a-half minute punk epics ("Man the Ramparts") and punctuated freakouts ("Modrian Was a Liar"), We Are the Romans proves nothing short of a brilliant clusterfuck, and once you hear it, your life will never be the same.
The fourth album in Johnny Cash's American series — which saw the iconic country artist paired with producer Rick Rubin and delivering stripped-down cover songs and haunting originals — may at first seem like an unlikely pick to appear on a heavy music site, that is until you press play. The last album to be released by Cash before his death in September 2003, American IV features the Man in Black unleashing devastating covers of Depeche Mode, Simon & Garfunkel, Hank Williams and more; but it is his emotionally crushing take on Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" that seals the deal. In fact, Cash's song and accompanying video were so powerful and personal that Trent Reznor himself was overwhelmed: "I popped the video in, and wow ..." he told Alternative Press in 2004. "Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps ... Wow … [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn't mine anymore."
Rising from the ashes of Hellhammer, Swiss extreme-metal innovators dropped two back-to-back, game-changing avant-metal albums — Morbid Tales (1984) and To Mega Therion (1985) — before descending into two decades of lineup changes, creative misfires and breakups. No one could have predicted what founding vocalist/guitarist Tom Gabriel Fischer and bassist Martin Eric Ain had in store when they reunited and delivered 2006's Monotheist — a fucking behemoth of a record that seethes with palpable viciousness and some of the heaviest songs of their storied career (see "A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh"). Alas, the reunion was short lived: Fischer left the band in April 2008 due to irreconcilable differences and Celtic Frost officially disbanded later that fall. When Ain passed away from a heart attack on October 21st, 2017, Monotheist was cemented as Celtic Frost's final, furious headstone.
Florida-based progressive death-metal act Death's seventh album is considered by many to be the pinnacle of guitarist/vocalist Chuck Schuldiner's vision — an extreme-metal high-water mark full of adventurous structures, technical, brutally sublime solos and expressive razor-sharp vocals. Sadly, the album would ultimately be Death's swansong, as Schuldiner was diagnosed with cancer the year after its 1998 release, and passed away from complications from the disease in 2001.
Dillinger Escape Plan left nothing off the table during sessions for their swansong Dissociation, approaching every aspect of the recording process — the virtuosic instrumental performances, the wide-ranging and emotionally raw vocal acrobatics, the interwoven arrangements, the seamless mixes — as as definitive statement on the band itself. The resulting album condenses 20 years of spazz-prog greatness down to a single, feral object: the perfect monument for one of the most insane bands in heavy-music history.
Before the band's career was cut short due to the tragic suicide of riveting frontman Ian Curtis, Joy Division released two utterly perfect LPs, Unknown Pleasures and Closer, the latter being a varied and brilliant collection of guitar and synth-driven proto-goth post-punk. Nearly every superlative has been laid upon Closer, and all of it is valid. One of the most important records of the 20th century — and one that influenced everyone from the Deftones and Nine Inch Nails to Neurosis and Type O Negative.
Sometimes it's hard to take In Utero on its own terms and block out the cultural firestorm around Nirvana in the early Ninetiess and post Kurt Cobain's death. Finality looms over the album, as the trio knew the record might be the band's last as a unit, and the LP screams to this day as a scathing riposte to fame and commodification. "Scentless Apprentice" twists up a nursery school rhyme for a noise-rock jam, "Milk It" polishes the aggressiveness of their debut Bleach, with "Tourette's" following in the same vein. It's still a thrilling, unhinged listen, punk rock to its core — the sound of a band reclaiming its name for itself.
Pantera's Reinventing the Steel isn't just the band's swansong, it's also their most underrated effort. The only record in the band's catalog to not have hit the platinum mark, it contains one of four Pantera songs to get a Grammy nom ("Revolution Is My Name") and features some of Dimebag's most inspired guitar shredding and Phil's most anthemic chest-thumping choruses. The whole thing makes for a jaw-dropping collection that gets entirely too little credit.
Released to scant attention but now regarded as a modern classic, Slint's 1992 sophomore album Spiderland quietly shook rock to its core with its subtle, deceptively simple and yet broadly cinematic songwriting. "Breadcrumb Trail" travels through a prism of different emotions, alternating between joy and despair in close quarter. "Don, Aman" encapsulates the feeling of being on an island away from society and friends, the manic pace of the bare riffs taking precedence over lyrics. With their final album, Slint left behind a foundation for post-rock's instrumental landscapes to bloom, for post-hardcore to turn further inward and even for black metal (see Bosse-de-Nage) to reach for artier heights.