Most bands go through at least one artistic overhaul throughout their career. Sometimes, it doesn't resonate with listeners and they have to hear fans yell "play the old shit" for the rest of eternity, but occasionally, a metal band is able to radically change direction on a record in a way that's absolutely amazing — even if it takes some fans a few years to come around to it.
We asked our readers to vote for their favorite album that marked a successful pivot in a band's musical style. Switch-ups of all stripes were represented in the picks, but the top five vote-getters are ranked accordingly below.
Avenged Sevenfold's City of Evil was a controversial album when it came out. The 2005 release saw the ambitious O.C. band completely forego the snarling metalcore they built their initial fanbase on, diving headfirst into lengthy, glammy speed-metal compositions with all-clean vocals and proggy, dueling guitar leads. Ironically, every A7X album since has been a pretty drastic change of course from the last, but City of Evil remains their starkest switch-up and one of their most beloved opuses.
For Sound of White Noise, Anthrax got the type of makeover that can kill a band's career. Coming out of the Eighties, the New York gang were one of the foremost thrash bands in the world, but after 1990's dazzling Persistence of Time, Anthrax parted ways with vocalist Joey Belladonna and enlisted replacement frontman John Bush, who remained with the band for over a decade. In this instance, many fans were pleased with "the new guy" and the band's embrace of more mid-tempo alt-metal songwriting. Belladonna returned years later and fronts the band today, but Sound of White Noise still has its loyalists.
Cowboys From Hell gave Pantera a second ground zero. After pursuing a middling glam-metal career throughout the 1980s, the Texan band completely reinvented themselves on their 1990 album and basically became a new band. Dimebag Darrell's precocious shredding on their hair-spray-caked early material was reinforced with a steelier, nastier guitar tone, and he and his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul, mastered the signature power groove — buttressed by vocalist Philip Anselmo's fuming roar — that changed metal forever.
Deftones were always the artsy dudes hanging in the back of the nu-metal party — happy to partake in the evening's refreshments, but too introverted and sophisticated for the nookie nonsense. After a couple album's worth of sneaking celestial riffs and glossy-eyed melodies into fidgety nu-metal bangers, they finally came fully into their own on White Pony, masterfully marrying the guazy atmospherics of shoegaze and the heart-rending resonance of goth-rock with the sheer heaviness of metal. They've never looked back since.
It has to be this one, right? Metallica's fifth album, 1991's "Black Album," is one of the most successful musical pivots in all of rock history. Before this record, Metallica were the kings of thrash, but they were nearing the ceiling of what a metal band who wrote eight-minute speed suites could accomplish. Following the lead of the burgeoning grunge and alt-metal movements, Metallica slowed down their sound to a mighty stomp, pared back the noodling and wrote skyscraping anthems like "Enter Sandman," "Nothing Else Matters" and "The Unforgiven" — songs that revamped not just their own sound, but the sonics, look and feel of metal at large. For better or worse, depending on who you ask.