20 Greatest Comebacks in Hard-Rock and Heavy-Metal History | Revolver

20 Greatest Comebacks in Hard-Rock and Heavy-Metal History

These artists shook the world by rising from the ashes
rage against the machine 2022 MOHLMAN crop peace, Justin Mohlman
photograph by Justin Mohlman

Heavy music is for underdogs and comeback kids, anyone who has been considered down and out, but kicked and scratched to earn respect and make their place in this unforgiving world. It's no wonder then that headbangers love a good comeback story — and that heavy music has been full of them.

From unexpected reunion tours to dazzling new albums that rival the records that made them famous in the first place, here are 20 of the most surprising and inspiring comebacks in all of metal, punk and hard-rock history.

AC/DC come back in black

Having sold over 50 million copies worldwide, Back in Black is the bestselling hard-rock album of all time, an accomplishment that's all the more incredible considering that AC/DC recorded it just months after the 1980 death of revered singer Bon Scott. The group considered disbanding but ultimately continued with the blessing of Scott's family, and their comeback album — with its opening bell tolls and equally resonant title — is heavy music's definitive statement of rebirth

Alice in Chains come back in blue

When lead vocalist Layne Staley passed away in 2002, it seemed like the final nail in the coffin of Alice in Chains, who had already been largely sidelined for years due to substance abuse issues. But in 2005, the surviving members reconvened to play shows, and soon after, enlisted new singer William DuVall and made their first original record in 14 years, 2009's Black Gives Way to Blue. Named Revolver's Album of that Year, it stands up to anything in their discography, and they've continued to chug along ever since. 

At the Gates slaughter again

No record inspired more contemporary metalcore (see Killswitch Engage, As I Lay Dying, Darkness Hour, et al) than Slaughter of the Soul, these Swedish melodic death metallers' final studio album, released a year before their 1996 breakup. To say that their return to the stage in 2008 was meaningful to a generation of metalheads who never got to see them live is like saying fans at those reunion shows were singing along to every word of "Blinded by Fear": They were fucking screaming along to every word.

Avenged Sevenfold rebound after living a nightmare

Drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan was a childhood friend to his bandmates and a major songwriter to his band, so when he died unexpectedly in late 2009, it was a crushing blow that nearly ended the group. But Avenged Sevenfold rallied and called in one of Sullivan's idols, Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, to record on and tour behind their mostly completed new record, Nightmare. It debuted at No. 1 on the charts, A7X's first album to do so, and re-ignited the band's passion to push ahead.

Carcass reinvent the steel

Carcass' comeback came in waves. The Birmingham, U.K., death-grind trailblazers blew people's minds when they re-materialized onstage in 2008 after a whopping 12 years out of the game, and the tours that followed weren't just lazy cash grabs — the dudes could still rip. However, even more impressive was their 2013 comeback album, Surgical Steel, arriving 17 years after their last and legitimately rivaling all of the material from their Nineties heyday. It's one of the greatest reunion albums in metal. Period. 

Celtic Frost return to the eve

Celtic Frost's reunion was short-lived but monumental. Having been a crucial building block in the extreme-metal fortress, the Swiss band — helmed by the core duo of Thomas Gabriel Fischer, a.k.a. Tom G. Warrior, and Martin Eric Ain — came roaring back in 2006 with the stunningly great Monotheist and a career-celebrating world tour, including U.S. dates with Type O Negative. Sadly, the album proved to be both reunion record and swan song, the final nail put in the band's coffin when Ain died in 2017 at age 50.

Faith No More show fans they CAN have it

There's only one word to describe what it was like when Faith No More reunited to play shows over 10 years after the alt-metal superheroes fell to pieces: EPIC. With vocalist Mike Patton's calendar seemingly always packed with a variety of zany projects, it seemed impossible that he would ever find the time. That FNM would then later release their first new album in nearly two decades, 2015's Sol Invictus, and it would be awesome — well, that was a minor miracle.

Foo Fighters rise from the ashes of Nirvana

How do you pick up the pieces when you're the drummer of the most important rock band on the planet and your frontman dies by suicide? Well, you become the frontman of your own band, of course, write hit single after hit single, and sell over 10 million albums in the U.S. alone. Amid this, you use your now-astronomical fame to spotlight your favorite metal singers with a killer side project (check Probot ASAP, if you're not already in the know). Dave Grohl now faces another tragedy — the death of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins — but we know he'll come back again, stronger than ever.

Guns N' Roses make it happen in this lifetime

The name of GN'R's initial reunion run says it all: The Not in This Lifetime... Tour. Because that's how improbable the reconciliation of Axl, Slash and Duff seemed for a long-ass time. Bad blood and bitter words constituted their decades apart, but it turns out, all fans needed was a little patience. The trek — which spanned from 2016 to 2019, and marked the core trio's first performances together in nearly 25 years — owns the title of the third-highest-grossing concert tour of all time. Even more amazing, the guys are still getting along and the reunion continues.

Iron Maiden get Bruce back

At the end of Bruce Dickinson's then-final concert with Maiden in 1993, magician Simon Drake "killed" him, using the band's titular torture device. Far from dead, the vocalist pursued a successful solo career while his bandmates recorded their two least successful albums to that point, with singer Blaze Bayley. But when Dickinson returned in 1999, it sounded as if they hadn't missed a step. These days, Maiden continue to sell out stadiums playing great material both new and old, cementing their spot as metal's still-vital pioneers.

Judas Priest get their Metal God back

When the Metal God himself Rob Halford departed Judas Priest in 1992 to apply his shrieks and howls to heavier and, in the case of 2wo, more industrial endeavors, he left a gaping void. They filled it with the singer of a Priest tribute band and released two middling albums with brutally un-Priest-like songs such as "Decapitate," but luckily, Halford softened his "never again" stance in 2003 and returned screaming for vengeance. The band, now celebrating over 50 fucking years in the metal game, continue to rock huge stages worldwide and release quality material. 

God gives Head back to Korn

In 2005, after becoming a born-again Christian, OG guitarist Brian "Head" Welch left the band that had made him famous: As the joke went, "Korn gave Head to God." The nu-metal godfathers soon also split with founding drummer David Silveria, and spent years trying to re-find themselves creatively. When Head re-joined the group onstage at Carolina Rebellion in 2012, it seemed like a heartwarming one-off, but a year later he was back for good. Korn have been on a hot streak ever since, with 2019's The Nothing standing out, in particular, as their best album in over a decade.

Metallica find 'Justice' after tragedy strikes

Bassist Cliff Burton was, in many ways, the heart and soul of the Eighties thrash juggernaut that was Metallica, and his 1986 death left the band and the whole scene reeling. But the group forged ahead, welcoming Flotsam and Jetsam's Jason Newsted into its ranks with wasabi snorters and other ruthless hazing techniques, and crafted its most ambitious album yet. ...And Justice for All skyrocketed them to new commercial heights, on the back of the song "One" and its stark music video.

Megadeth sees Dave Mustaine turn a firing into fire

"No warning?" asked Dave Mustaine when Metallica booted him over his erratic behavior in 1983. "No second chance?" He wouldn't get one from them, but the thrash-metal world welcomed him back later that year with a new group, named after a word he found on a pamphlet during his bus ride home to L.A. from Metallica's New York abode. Within the decade, Megadeth would become the second-best-selling metal band of their generation, and they're a still a genre pillar to this day. 

Misfits get back an original

2016 was an amazing year for reunions. First, GN'R, then the Misfits. In fall of that year, founding members Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only — plus Only's brother, guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein — performed together for the first time in 33 years, under the name the Original Misfits. For a gnarly, underground horror-punk band that played basements in their first incarnation, the results were incredible, culminating in a monumental sold-out headlining gig at Madison Square Garden.

Mudvayne return, so fucking determined

Even though fans clamored for it for years, Mudvayne didn't come back until it was fully on their own damn terms, which made their eventual comeback all the more special. The alt-metal aliens ended their 12-year hiatus with a few chaotic festival shows in 2021 (including one when frontman Chad Gray played while suffering from COVID) and then hauled ass across the country on a 2022 summer tour that rejuvenated them as bandmates and fully made up for all the lost time. Now, new music is even on the way.

My Chemical Romance's new parade

To many punks, metalheads and goths who grew up in the 2000s, My Chemical Romance are their Nirvana. The New Jersey band lifted emo's ragged hooks and raunchy guitars out of VFW halls and into stadiums, built up a formidable discography — and then dipped for six years while their legacy metastasized. The way they've conducted their momentous reunion — playing shows with young openers, packing the setlists with hits, and dropping their heaviest song yet as a one-off single — has ensured that they've still got their edge.

Rage Against the Machine's public service announcement

Rage Against the Machine's latest reunion has been one of tension and release. After nine years, they were supposed to hit the stage in 2020 until the pandemic squashed that — and then again, and then again while the world grew shittier and the band's political screeds became more relevant than ever. Finally, they took the power back in summer 2022, and played riotously hard through Zack de la Rocha's leg injury, staying true to their convictions and reaffirming their status as all-time greats. 

Soulfly takes flight after Sepultura's split

Sepultura were at the height of their power and popularity in 1996, having released a career-defining album, Roots, early that year. Then everything went to shit, and the Brazilian metal trailblazers acrimoniously split with founding frontman Max Cavalera, whose brother, Igor, remained in the band. Suddenly unmoored, Max had a lot to prove and lots of pressure. He responded with a new band, Soulfly. The group's self-titled 1998 debut was a "life-changing" success, Max told Revolver, complete with the song he's most proud of: "Eye for an Eye."

System of a Down wake up, skip the makeup

System of a Down had only been releasing music and touring at a national level for eight years when, at the height of their Grammy-winning notoriety, they decided to go on hiatus in 2006. Suddenly dissolving at the peak of their powers like that was devastating, so when they reunited for a string of shows in 2011, it felt like an act of divine intervention. After gigging sporadically in the ensuing decade, they dropped their first songs in 16 years in 2021. C'mon, guys: Now we need that album.