Heavy music is all about challenging taboos, breaking rules and shaking shit up. So it makes sense that the greatest bands are the ones that push their own boundaries as well as those of the world around them. They change, evolve and expand. This can sometimes alienate fans who just want more of the same, but that risk can come with great reward. From Pantera to Avenged Sevenfold, many bands have achieved their breakthrough moment after taking polarizing creative left turns. Below are 10 albums where groups radically switched up their sounds, with varying results.
1. Ministry - The Land of Rape and Honey (1988)
In the wake of two wimpy synth-pop records, Al Jourgensen rediscovered the joy of playing guitar and unleashed this unrelenting slab of industrial metal.
Result: A new lease on life for Ministry, and an album that pretty much set the template for Rob Zombie's entire solo career.
2. Slayer - South of Heaven (1988)
How do you follow up a thrasherpiece as blisteringly fast and resoundingly groundbreaking as Reign in Blood? You fucking slow it down and favor evil vibes over brutalizing aggression. Anyone who says that Slayer never changed their sound hasn't been paying attention.
Result: A bona fide classic that cemented Slayer's spot in the metal pantheon forever, and proved them to be much more than a one-trick pony.
3. Celtic Frost - Cold Lake (1988)
The massively influential Swiss avant-metal band massively alienated their fans by attempting to cash in with this credibility-destroying assortment of sub-Crüe hairspray anthems.
Result: A steaming turd so fragrant, Frost founder Tom Gabriel Fischer still cringes at the mention of it 25 years later.
4. Pantera - Cowboys from Hell (1990)
Their major label debut is such a gate-crashing, paradigm-shattering work for the Southern trendkillers that it's easy to think of it as their first album and forget that it's actually their fifth — not to mention that its four predecessors were glammy spandex metal.
Result: Pantera went from the hottest metal band in Texas to the hottest metal band in the world.
5. Metallica - Metallica (1991)
The world's biggest thrash band made a bid for rock superstardom with "The Black Album," which contained slower tempos, a more mainstream sound, and unabashedly hooky sing-alongs like "Enter Sandman," "Wherever I Roam" and "The Unforgiven."
Result: A record that goes on to sell over 16 million copies in the U.S. alone, yet continues to drastically divide Metallica fans to this day.
6. Carcass - Heartwork (1993)
For three eviscerating albums, Carcass were the kings of gory grindcore. Heartwork saw the Brits mop up the splattery lyrics and streamline their sound to a newly catchy, groovy style that some would dub "death 'n' roll."
Result: A touchstone of extreme metal — though it laid the groundwork for Carcass' generally derided Swansong.
7. Sepultura - Roots (1996)
After working industrial elements into their thrash attack on 1993's Chaos A.D., Sepultura went further afield on the follow-up, drawing upon both the percussive tribal sounds of their native Brazil and the down-tuned nu-metal of Korn.
Result: The most popular album of their career, which also unfortunately set the stage for the departure of frontman Max Cavalera.
8. Machine Head - The Burning Red (1999)
Having made their name with especially pummeling groove metal, Robb Flynn & Co. teamed with nu-metal producer Ross Robinson for album No. 3, started rapping, and even covered the Police.
Result: Cries of "selling out" and, accordingly, Machine Head's best-selling release to that point. Even so, the group has since moved back in a more thrash-inflected direction.
9. In Flames - Reroute to Remain (2002)
Pioneers of Swedish melodic death metal, In Flames hinted at a more mainstream sound on 2000's Clayman. With their follow-up, the band went all the way, adopting Linkin Park–esque choruses and industrial-rock riffage.
Result: Alienated old-school fans, but many more new converts, who would take the band to heightened popularity, particularly in the U.S.
10. Avenged Sevenfold - City of Evil (2005)
On their major label debut, the boys from Orange County took a left turn from their somewhat-schizophrenic metalcore sound and ended up in Bat Country, a land full of GN'R-level sleaze, Children of Bodomesque shred and NOFX's whole repertoire of whoa-ohs — not to mention, a whole lot of singing, and no real screaming.
Result: A TRL smash and a platinum album that catapulted A7X from just another guyliner-smeared Warped Tour band to full-fledged, vampire-grilled arena headliners.