It sucks saying goodbye — especially when you're bidding farewell to a badass band like, oh, you know, the group that spearheaded death metal or the Cowboys From Hell themselves. When said musicians bow out with albums that stand up against their best, however, it cushions the blow just a bit. Below, are 15 final records that did just that in the cases of their various makers, who range from hardcore contortionists to extreme-metal pioneers but all changed the face of music.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a less-than-great album in Bolt Thrower's discography, but the English death-metal vets truly went out on top with Those Once Loyal. Released in 2005, their eighth record didn't add any ambitious sparkles to their skull-crushing sound; they just zeroed in on what they'd spent the last 20 years mastering — bulletproof riffs that churn like tanks rolling over stacks of bodies. At under 40 minutes, Those Once Loyal is remarkably efficient and still endlessly re-playable.
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.
Rising from the ashes of Hellhammer, Swiss extreme-metal innovators Celtic Frost 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 — which would come to hold the ironic stature of both a brilliant comeback album and a scintillating send-off.
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 swan song, as Schuldiner was diagnosed with cancer the year after its 1998 release, and passed away from complications from the disease in 2001. His legacy lives on.
Dillinger Escape Plan left nothing off the table during sessions for their grand finale, 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.
For hardcore fans of a certain age, Have Heart are as sacred as Minor Threat. The Boston band's second and final record, 2008's Songs to Scream at the Sun, has one of the most iconic album covers in the genre, and its songs are undeniably moving — lyrically evocative, musically throttling and altogether bleeding emotion — no matter what type of punk you prefer. It was a mic drop for the sound hardcore took on in the 2000s, largely spearheaded by Have Heart themselves and the Boston scene from which they emerged.
Few would call ...And the Circus Leaves Town Kyuss' best album, but with the benefit of hindsight, it's become regarded as a worthy conclusion. Released in 1995, a year before their breakup, the desert-rock pioneers' final toke underperformed commercially and disappointed some diehards by dialing back the jamminess of their last two LPs without fully committing to the tight, rollicking party anthems Josh Homme would later make with Queens of the Stone Age. Over time, the way the album wobbles between girthy riff dances and psychy instrumental detours has become its charm, and songs like "Catamaran" and "One Inch Man" are all-timers.
Sometimes, it's hard to take In Utero on its own terms and block out the cultural firestorm that is Nirvana, both pre 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 — the sound of a band reclaiming their name for themselves.
Pantera's Reinventing the Steel isn't just the band's swan song, 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 Philip Anselmo's most anthemic chest-thumping choruses. The whole thing makes for a jaw-dropping collection that gets entirely too little credit.
Having delivered the knockout one-two punch of 1992's self-titled LP and 1996's Evil Empire, Rage Against the Machine sealed their legacy with album No. 3. "Testify," "Guerilla Radio" and "Sleep Now in the Fire" slash and burn with vintage fury, but for all its sonic ferocity and radical politics, The Battle for Los Angeles still amazingly debuted at the top of the Billboard chart — over Mariah Carey's Rainbow, no less. Sadly, it would be the band's last LP of original material, followed only by 2000's Renegades covers album.
Rush didn't need to make another amazing record. The prog-rock royalty had already solidified their legacy with 2112 and Moving Pictures — albums so accomplished that even snotty punks can't scoff at the craftsmanship — and a multi-decade run as one of the tightest live bands on the planet. Even so, they cracked another homer on 2012's Clockwork Angels, their first concept record in 30 years and a late-career high point that some fans rank among their very best work. The only downer is that it ended up being their final one. Clearly, they still had so much left in the tank.
Although the specter of a new System of a Down record has loomed over the metal world for over 15 years now, the last one they released was a helluva way to go out. Hypnotize, the Irish twin of their other 2005 opus, Mezmerize, saw the alt-metal auteurs continue to refine their songwriting chops — the striking catchiness of "Lonely Day," the breathtaking grandiosity of "Holy Mountains" — without sacrificing any of their oddball charm (see: "Vicinity of Obscenity," "U-Fig").
Title Fight have one of the most fascinating creative trajectories of any punk band this century. After beginning as a melodic hardcore group, they slowly introduced more Nineties alt-rock elements into their sound, culminating with their genre-transcending 2015 opus, Hyperview, which was a novel fusion of shoegaze and post-hardcore. It was a game-changer for their scene, and a controversial achievement for the band that's only become more revered and mystical as their unspecified hiatus drags on.
Knowing Peter Steele's morbid sense of humor, he'd probably crack a smile knowing that his final record before his untimely death is called Dead Again. Type O Negative's seventh album sees Steele wrestling with a tumultuous few years away from the limelight (drug abuse, his conversion to Christianity, a stint in jail) but musically, there's a sense of hope in the gleaming dirge "September Sun," the gloriously Sabbathian "Profit of Doom," the Misfitsy ripper (and Dimebag Darrell tribute) "Halloween in Heaven" and Type O's longest song, the epic "These Three Things." It's a faithful, if bittersweet, farewell.
Complete with the mouthful of a subtitle — Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head — White Zombie's fourth and final album sent off the funky disco-metal munsters at the peak of their powers — more human than human, as the LP's unforgettable single goes. Astro-Creep also launched frontman Rob into a highly success solo career, but for many fans, his music never got better than on this Nineties classic.