10 Worst Albums by Great Metal Bands | Revolver

10 Worst Albums by Great Metal Bands

From 'Lulu' to 'Illud'
metallica lou reed 2011 PROMO, Anton Corbijn
Metallica and Lou Reed, 2011
photograph by Anton Corbijn

Technically speaking, every band with more than one record has a "worst" album in their catalog. That doesn't necessarily mean it's bad (some Death albums are more stunning than others, but none could be considered even close to a disappointment), but occasionally ... yeah, even the greatest groups ever release a certified clunker. Some have been the result of lineup instability; others, shabby production or an ill-informed creative pivot. Whatever the reason might be, these are albums that diehard fans either would rather forget or will never stop hating on.

Even the best make mistakes — here are 10 prime examples.

Black Sabbath - Forbidden

The early Nineties were a particularly tumultuous era for Black Sabbath, and by the time they recorded 1995's Forbidden, the wheels were already falling off. Made in the midst of lineup upheaval, with Tony Martin returning on the mic, Sabbath's 18th record (and last until Ozzy, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler reunited for 2013's 13) just sounds lifeless and out of sorts. The odd production by Body Count's Ernie C. made Sabbath's usual warmth sound hollow and cold, and Ice-T's jarring appearance on the intro song makes for an awkward beginning that the record never recovers from. It's not unlistenable, but coming from the literal creators of heavy metal, it's an better-forgotten misstep.

Carcass - Swansong

Carcass' Swansong was supposed to be the U.K. extreme-metal pioneers' major-label debut, but things went very much off the rails. Label execs reportedly wanted lead growler Jeff Walker to take vocal lessons. Meanwhile, guitarist Bill Steer was losing interest in metal. The band broke up before the LP was even released. Not surprisingly, then, the result is a slog, a leaden left turn from the masterful melodic death metal of Heartwork into ham-fisted death 'n' roll that diehard fans prefer to pretend never happened. Carcass wouldn't make another record for 17 years, but at least when they finally did (with 2013's Surgical Steel), it was a triumphant return to form.

Celtic Frost - Cold Lake

On their first two albums, Celtic Frost — who grew out of the even nastier Hellhammer — helped pioneer black metal by whipping evil themes into some of the most demonic-sounding thrash of the Eighties. On their third album, they were unrecognizable — not just for musically pivoting to campy hair metal, but for reinventing their entire image to look like Mötley Crüe wannabees. Written with a completely new lineup other than frontman Tom G. Warrior, who took a backseat in creative process, Cold Lake is a pitiful realization of every fans' worst sell-out nightmares. Warrior himself would come to call it "an utter piece of shit" and "the worst album ever created in heavy music."

Iron Maiden - X Factor

It's a sweet irony that Iron Maiden called this album X Factor, because that's exactly what was missing from it. The British heroes' first of two mid-Nineties records without Bruce Dickinson as their frontman is seriously hampered by his absence. His replacement, Wolfsbane's Blaze Bayley, is by no means a poor singer, and his style is definitely suited for the NWOBHM sound that Maiden pioneered. He's just not Dickinson, and the rest of the band sound like they're dragging their feet without their usual man on the mic. The riffing is bland, nothing really pops and the artwork of Eddie getting vivisected is an apt metaphor for the band's dismembered state. Fortunately, Dickinson would return. 

Judas Priest - Jugulator

The problems Jugulator suffers from were by no means unique to Judas Priest. In 1997, metal's old guard were struggling to see where they fit into a vastly different sonic landscape, and without Rob Halford to guide them, Priest and their new singer Tim "Ripper" Owens figured they'd do what so many of their peers were doing in the late Nineties: follow Metallica's lead. Their 1997 album is clearly informed by the stomping hard-rock swagger of Load, with Owens foregoing his high wail to do what sounds like a gravelly Hetfield homage at certain points. It certainly doesn't sound like Priest, and the fact that it proceeded 1990's Painkiller, a mid-career peak, made Jugulator land with even more of a thud.

Korn - Korn III: Remember Who You Are

Korn were in a weird spot around 2010. The nu-metal OGs had just come off a 10-month hiatus, founding guitarist Brian "Head" Welch was still out of the band, and drummer Ray Luzier had just joined. In what seemed like a desperate move from the get-go, Korn reunited with producer Ross Robinson for the first time in 14 years to make a conceptual follow-up to their 1994 self-titled debut and 1996's Life Is Peachy. But Korn were in a very different place in their career, and the result felt forced and fell flat. Frontman Jonathan Davis put it most bluntly, admitting in 2022 that the effort "failed miserably."

Megadeth - Risk

Risk is an album where Megadeth gathered up everything that made them great — wicked solos, complex arrangements, kickass riffs — and threw them all out the window. The thrash pioneer's eighth album arrived in 1999 (a dark time for speed metal) and sounds like a ungainly attempt to fit in with the commercial sounds du jour: slow tempos, half-assed grunge hooks, hammy ballads and a face-palm-inducing shot at making a Jock Jams-style pump-up song. Even Dave Mustaine acknowledges it was a misfire, chalking it up to an inept manager gunning for radio play. "We were trying to do what we were told. And it backfired," he said in 2022. Lesson learned.

Metallica - St. Anger

St. Anger is such an iconic misstep that the mere mention of it can raise a hesher's blood pressure and make their salivary glands start producing bitter bile. After all these years, does it really deserve the vitriol it's been burdened with? Sadly, yes. Metallica's eighth record is bad in the most confounding ways, from Lars Ulrich's horrendous trash-can-lid snare tone and the awfully muddy mix, to the heinous lack of guitar solos. It'd be a frustrating listen no matter who made it, but doubly so for Metallica. How could a band with such elite talent make a record this misguided? The chaos chronicled in the documentary Some Kind of Monster goes a long way in providing an answer.

Metallica and Lou Reed - Lulu

Sorry to lay it on, Metallica, but how can Lulu not appear on this list? Based on the two "Lulu" plays by the German playwright Frank Wedekind, and mostly featuring grating spoken-word vocals, the metal heavyweights' 2011 collab with Velvet Underground icon Lou Reed delivered something that neither artists' fanbases wanted, certainly not Metallica's. Strange, pretentious and amelodic, Lulu can't be knocked for lack of ambition, but the fact that the "I am the table" meme is probably way more well-known and widely enjoyed than any actual song on the album says it all.

Morbid Angel - Illud Divinum Insanus

When Morbid Angel announced that they would be making a new album with OG vocalist David Vincent, their first together in 16 years, old-school death-metal heads were stoked. Then they heard the thing, 2011's Illud Divinum Insanus, and wondered if they were being punk'd. Forget the knotty riffery, volcanic solos and hell-raising lyrics of the Floridian trailblazers' early days; enter the Rob Zombie-esque industrial boogie of "Radikult" and the chest-thumping nu-metal stomp of "I Am Morbid." Guitarist Trey Azagthoth has since described the album as "a confused effort." Fans are still trying to pick their jaws off the floor.