Legacy Metal Acts & The Comeback Record: A Definitive Guide

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It’s time to explore a series of phenomena that appears to appear mostly in metal: only in metal is it the case where long time bands get a spark lit under their asses and come back with some of the best work of their careers. Whether it’s reigniting the original spark and creating music that harks back to the old days (Metallica, Megadeth), mixing old with new (Anthrax, Kreator, Slayer), simply making a great example of their respective sub-genres (Cannibal Corpse, Carcass, Napalm Death), striking gold for the first time over a long career (Arch Enemy), or doing something innovative (Gorguts); whether having not made an album for over a decade (Atheist, Cynic, Gorguts) or releasing albums non-stop and finally making something great again (Megadeth), there are many examples of so-called Legacy metal acts putting out great work after many, many years… very difficult to find in most any other genre. Of course there’s the occasional swing and a miss from bands looking to make a comeback (At the Gates), and one’s that are respectable, but just miss the mark (Exodus).

Some other parameters: the following releases not only are great examples of each bands respective work, they were all also relevant or buzzing at the time of release; all of these bands have been around for at least 20 years; and another common thread: many of the bands are yet to have made a follow-up. A few who have, have shrunk back into the sub-par, unfortunately, while a few made respectable follow-ups. Read on to see which is which.

To set further parameters, I’m labeling this a Definitive Guide because each album is getting full-review treatment (album highlights, numerical rating, and purchase and streaming links), but with the focus being on the comeback itself. Some album titles are linked to full reviews elsewhere on the site.

Here it is, the 20 albums that make up

The Definitive Guide to the Metal Comeback Record:

Anthrax – Worship Music (2011)

worship_music

Time since previous release: 8 years (We’ve Come For You All, 2003)
Time since last “essential” release: 24 years (Persistence of Time, 1990, 3.75 stars)
Follow-up album any good: No (For All Kings, 2016, 2.75 stars)

Written without “Classic Lineup” vocalist Joey Belladonna’s input, he stepped back in at just the right time – Anthrax elegantly mix their old-school thrash leanings with newer, heavier, and sometimes even more melodic elements, and came up with an excellent mix of sounds and excellently exemplified what it means to write a good metal song. Read the full review here.

Highlights: “The Devil You Know”, “Fight ‘Em ’til You Can’t”, “I’m Alive”, “In The End”
Rating: 4/5
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Arch Enemy – War Eternal (2014)

Time since previous release: 3 years
Time since last “essential” release: N/A
Follow-up album any good: No (Will to Power, 2017, 1 star)

Arch Enemy, a band I never much cared for, siphoned off Alissa White-Gluz from her then-current band The Agonist (well, it’s more complicated than that, but not exactly relevant here), and wound up creating an absolutely stunning example of melodic death metal, this after being a band for 19 years. Unfortunately, Alissa uses no clean vocals here, but the song craft is just so strong, and melodic for that matter, it doesn’t even matter. The orchestral instrumentation is absolutely epic on several tracks as well: the intro track, the intro to “You Will Never Know My Name”, and “Time is Black” all come to mind in this regard.

Highlights: “Never Forgive, Never Forget”, “War Eternal”, “Time is Black”
Rating: 4.5/5
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Atheist – Jupiter (2010)

Time since previous release: 17 years (Elements, 1993)
Time since last “essential” release: 17  years (Elements, 1993, 4 stars)
Follow-up album any good: N/A

While certainly not matching the unparalleled excellence and innovative spirit of 1991’s Unquestionable Presence, nor the experimentation of 1993’s Elements, Jupiter is the sound of a band who sounds like they never spent so much time apart. The only aspect of this album that signals the bands age is Kelly Schaefer’s strained vocals. Yet much like Atheist’s previous releases, Schaefer’s vocals are a unique force to contend with and you’ll either like ’em or you won’t. They are a lot more shreiky this time around though, to the point where I’m sure it’d be a major turn-off even for long time Atheist fans. Atheist’s musicianship is still absolutely top-notch on this release, however.

Highlights: “Second to Sun”, “Fictitious Glide”, “Live and Live Again”, “When the Beast”
Rating: 4/5
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Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black (2017)

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Time since previous release: 3 years (A Skeletal Domain, 2014)
Time since last “essential” release: 25 years (Tomb of the Mutilated, 1992, 3.25 stars*)
Follow-up album any good: N/A

Here, Cannibal Corpse simply put out a consistent, no-frills, straight-forward death metal record…as they’ve been doing for the better part of two decades now. The difference here is this one is just a cut above the rest. On this release, they keep it a bit more old school (death metal old school, not old school Cannibal Corpse) and it works in their favor.

*I chose Tomb of the Mutilated as the bands most recent essential album only because it contains some of their most well-known and best songs. They’ve put out a lot of decent, but same-y albums since then.

Highlights: “Code of the Slashers”, “Only One Will Die”, “Red Before Black”
Rating: 4/5
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Carcass – Surgical Steel (2013)

Time since previous release: 17 years (Swansong, 1996)
Time since last “essential” release: 20 years (Heartwork, 1993, 4.25 stars)
Follow-up album any good: N/A

Surgical Steel is an undeniably top-notch melodic death metal album. It flows well, the songs are strong, and the album is incredibly consistent. There are even a couple throwback moments of more classic heavy metal stylings à la Carcass’ 1996 album, Swansong. If you have even a passing interest in the sub-genre, this is a must-listen album.

Highlights: “1985″ into “Thrasher’s Abattoir”, “Cadaver Pouch Conveyer System”, “A Congealed Clot of Blood”, “Unfit For Human Consumption”, “Mount of Execution”
Rating: 4.25/5
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Cavalera Conspiracy – Inflikted(2008)

Time since previous release: 12 years (Roots, 1996)
Time since last “essential” release: 12 years (Roots, 1996, 3.75 stars)
Follow-up album any good: No (Blunt Force Trauma, 2011, 2.25 stars)… but their 2017 release Psychosis is quite good!

The “Legacy” part of designating Cavalera Conspiracy as such, is from the two Cavalera brothers, Max and Igor, vocalist/guitarist and drummer, respectively. Best known for their work together in Sepultura. As such, it is Sepultura who Cavalera Conspiracy and their legacy is being compared to and being called a comeback for, because let’s face it, Sepultura hasn’t done anything note-worthy since Max left, and Soulfly has been pretty middle-of-the-road since their inception as well, aside from a handful of great songs, and the mostly good Conquer (2008).

Inflikted is a hell of a return for these brothers. They put out another couple middling albums together in 2011 and 2014 before yet again making another really good album with 2017’s Psychosis.

Highlights: “Inflikted”, “Sanctuary”, “Black Ark”, “Ultra-Violent”
Rating: 4.25/5
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Cynic – Traced in Air (2008)

Time since previous release: 15 years (Focus, 1993)
Time since last “essential” release: 15 years (Focus, 1993, 4.25 stars)
Follow-up album any good: Yes (Carbon-Based Anatomy EP, 2011, 4.5 stars)

A lot had changed in Cynic’s 15 year absence. In their case this meant coming back to a scene completely ready to embrace them. Cynic returns sounding like a modern metal band in top form. It’s hard to believe they came from the same Floridian Death Metal scene that spawned Atheist and Death, but here it is. There is still enough to set them apart from their contemporaries though: complicated rhythmic patterns; songs that are structured in a progressive format without having prog rock lengths; the moments of cerebral calm; and the pillowy soft vocal delivery, sometimes vocoded – a sound the band innovated, but has also become familiar in the metal world thanks to popular-in-the-scene bands such as Between the Buried and Me. This is as great a comeback as there can be. The band followed this album up 3 years later with a far more experimental (and excellent) EP called Carbon-Based Anatomy. Their 2014 LP Kindley Bent to Free Us was a bit of a letdown, but not bad by any means. It also does feature the excellent track “True Hallucination Speak”.

Highlights: “Space For This”, “Evolutionary Sleeper”, “King of Those Who Know”
Rating: 4.25/5
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Death Angel – The Art of Dying (2004)

Time since previous release: 14 years (Act III, 1990)
Time since last “essential” release: 14 years (Act III, 1990, 3.75 stars)
Follow-up album any good: Yes, pretty good (Killing Season, 2008, 3.75 stars)

I haven’t listened to Death Angel all that much, but 14 years is a long time between albums. 14 years is also a long time to come back with an album that is widely considered a good release. Act III and The Art of Dying are both solid, solid albums.

Highlights: “Thrown to the Wolves”, “Thicker Than Blood”
Rating: 3.75/5
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Dying Fetus – Wrong One to Fuck With (2017)

Time since previous release: 5 years (Reign Supreme, 2012)
Time since last “essential” release: 19 years (Killing on Adrenaline, 1998, 4 stars)
Follow-up album any good: N/A

Dying Fetus offer little in way of career progression here, pretty much sounding just as they have since the early 2000’s. Instead, they gave us what is perhaps their best example of what they do best – pummeling, technical death metal. I think it’s at least a notch or two above any of their previous work and is likely to bring a not insubstantial amount of new fans into the fold.

Highlights: “Fixated on Devastation”, “Panic Amongst The Herd”, “Wrong One To Fuck With”
Rating: 4/5
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Faith No More – Sol Invictus (2015)

Time since previous release: 18 years (Album of the Year, 1997)
Time since last “essential” release: 12 years (Album of the Year, 1997, 4 stars)
Follow-up album any good: N/A

Personally, as a long time Faith No More fan I couldn’t have hoped for nor expected a better return. Patton’s voice doesn’t sound quite as good as it used to, though this also relates to my second gripe with the record: it’s not a great recording. When you’re going to put out an album where over a million people are going to hear it, or at least hear songs from it, recording quality should be a prime concern. The band recorded it themselves. It’s passable, but it distracts from the body of the work, regretfully. Truthfully though, it picks up right where Album of the Year left off, and that’s commendable.

Highlights: “Superhero”, “Motherfucker”, “Matador”
Rating: 4/5
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Gorguts – Colored Sands (2013)

Time since previous release: 12 years (From Wisdom to Hate, 2001)
Time since last “essential” release: 12 years (From Wisdom to Hate, 2001, 4 stars)
Follow-up album any good: Yes (Pleiades’ Dust EP, 2016, 4 stars)

Falling somewhere between 2001’s excellent From Wisdom to Hate and 1998’s groundbreaking and incredibly challenging Obscura, Gorguts found a winning combination of their more Avant-Garde tendencies with their death metal roots. It is better in practically every way for it. This is a unique record in the canon of death metal and one of the genre’s best. It’s as if art students set out to create a death metal record. It has serious artistic integrity, yet enough care was taken this go around to make it a bit accessible, especially relative to Obscura. In so doing, Gorguts created a high watermark for modern death metal.

Highlights: “Le Toit Du Monde”, “Colored Sands”, “The Battle of Chamdo”
Rating: 4.5/5
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Judas Priest – Firepower (2018)

Time since previous release: 4 years (Redeemer of Souls, 2014)
Time since last “essential” release: 28 years (Painkiller, 1990, 4.25 stars)
Follow-up album any good: N/A

Judas Priest are another of those bands that consistently put out good records, where if you like their general sound, they hardly disappoint. That said, this is no Painkiller. I highly doubt it will have the level of appeal as that album either. What it is though, is one of Judas Priest’s most solid entries since then and a pretty great album in general.

Highlights: “Firepower”, “Lightning Strike”, “Never the Heroes”
Rating: 4/5
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Kreator – Gods of Violence (2017)

Time since previous release: 5 years (Phantom Antichrist, 2012)
Time since last “essential” release: 27 years (Coma of Souls, 1990, 4 stars)
Follow-up album any good: N/A

Much like Cannibal Corpse, Kreator has been consistently putting out good albums throughout their career. There is a point though where you just have to say “damn, they can still put out an album this good?” If I had to choose just one album post-Coma of Souls though, it’d be Gods of Violence. It’s a great update to their sound and the songs are  solid throughout.

Highlights: “World War Now”, “Satan is Real”, “Totalitarian Terror”
Rating: 4/5
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Megadeth – Endgame

Time since previous release: 1 year (United Abominations, 2007)
Time since last “essential” release: 18 years (Rust in Piece, 1990, 5 stars)
Follow-up album any good: No (Thirteen, 2011, 1.75 stars)

Megadeth have made two great albums: 1986’s Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying and 1990’s thrash masterpiece Rust in Piece. Their first and third albums are very good, but due to a variety of circumstances, the production/recordings just don’t cut it for me. Considering Endgame is their 12th album, it was quite a shock they put out another great album. Especially considering they hadn’t even put out something half-decent since Countdown to Extinction, and the three follow-up’s to this album are god-awful. Nevertheless, here it is, an album that actually re-sparked interest in the band in the metal world.

Highlights: “This Day We Fight!”, “Endgame”, “Head Crusher”, “How the Story Ends”
Rating: 4/5
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Metallica – Death Magnetic (2008)

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Time since previous release: 5 years (St. Anger)
Time since last “essential” release: 17 years (Metallica)
Follow-up album any good: No (Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, 2016, 2.5 stars)

Highlights: “The Day That Never Comes”, “All Nightmare Long”, “My Apocalypse”
Rating: 3.75/5
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Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat(2015)

Time since previous release: 3 years (Utilitarian, 2012)
Time since last “essential” release: 28 years (Scum, 1990, 4.5 stars)
Follow-up album any good: N/A

Napalm Death are another band who’ve been largely consistent. Still, there are always those albums that just have that something special about them that make them stand above the rest, both of their competition and in referencing the bands discography. Scum‘s innovation and importance can’t be understated, and as such it will always be the essential album this band released. But for those with simply a fleeting interest in the genre, outside of Pig Destroyer, Apex Predator… Easy Meat is one of the few must-have’s.

Highlights: “Apex Predator – Easy Meat”, “Metaphorically Screw You”, “Cesspits”
Rating: 4.25/5
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Obituary – Obituary(2017)

Time since previous release: 3 years (Inked in Blood, 2014)
Time since last “essential” release: 25 years (The End Complete, 1992, 4.25 stars)
Follow-up album any good: N/A

Obituary’s debut album Slowly We Rot (1989) is a death metal classic. The band also started putting out consistently decent albums since their 2005 release Frozen in Time, following a slew of weak albums after 1992’s The End Complete. It took their 2017 self-titled release, however, to bring back major interest in the band. It’s no wonder, because it is indeed a great album.

Highlights: “Sentence Day”, “Brave”, “Ten Thousand Ways to Die”
Rating: 4/5
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Refused – Freedom (2015)

Time since previous release: 17 years (The Shape of Punk to Come, 1998)
Time since last “essential” release: 17 years (The Shape of Punk to Come, 1998, 5 stars)
Follow-up album any good: N/A

While not really a metal band, and even a bit of a disappointing comeback to boot, it’s still a commendable (and risky) effort. Following up an album as paradigm-shifting and critically acclaimed as The Shape of Punk to Come makes for quite literally, a tough act to follow. Aside from the $250,000 payday to come back and perform at Coachella, I see little reason why the band got back together. Perhaps it was two of the members getting back together with the old-school hardcore punk project AC4 (which is great, and really authentic sounding, by the way) which re-lit the fuse. Perhaps it was an honest desire to put forth more of their unique hardcore-infused experimental sound. Maybe it was a combination of these things. Regardless, the results here are a bit uneven, though it is quite good overall. It’s just hard to get over the disappointment of not exactly doing justice to the legacy they’d left behind. A part of me feels they probably shouldn’t have went through with this project once their guitarist left. Still, they gave some great songs to hold us over in case of other future releases, as well as a couple sweet tours, which were absolutely amazing to see. They are true performers… I’ll call this a winning proposition overall.

Highlights: “Elektra”, “Dawkins Christ”, “Françafrique”, “Servants of Death”
Rating: 3.5/5
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Slayer – Christ Illusion (2006)

Time since previous release: 5 years (God Hates Us All, 2001)
Time since last “essential” release: 16 years (Seasons in the Abyss, 1990, 4.25 stars)
Follow-up album any good: No (World Painted Blood, 2009, 2.25 stars; Repentless, 2015, 1.5 stars)

Dave Lombardo’s return behind the kit reignited this band to a level not seen since Lombardo was last Slayer’s drummer on 1990’s Seasons in the Abyss. Christ Illusion is a fantastic compromise between the heavier, nu-metal inflicted God Hates Us All, and their classic thrash sound… mostly because it skews heavily back towards thrash metal, while tastefully updating their sound to better reflect the time period. It is quite possibly in Slayer’s Top 3 albums and one of the best returns to form in metal history.

Highlights: “Skeleton Christ”, “Eyes of the Insane”, “Black Serenade”
Rating: 4.25/5
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Testament – The Formation of Damnation (2008)

Time since previous release: 9 years (The Gathering, 1999)
Time since last “essential” release: 20 years (The New Order, 1988, 4.5 stars)
Follow-up album any good: Quite good, then okay (Dark Roots of Earth, 2012, 3.5 stars; Brotherhood of the Snake, 2016, 2.75 stars)

It’s a banal and ultimately pointless conversation, but if there were to be a Big 5 of thrash metal, Testament gets my vote. Sure, they came to the party a tad bit late, but they raged out of the gate with two absolute classics of the genre: The Legacy (1987) and The New Order (1988). Here, the band makes a high-profile comeback after vocalist Chuck Billy seemingly conquered cancer; rejuvenated and ready to rage once more, The Formation of Damnation is a noteworthy return, and Testament have been an active band ever since (and I’m seeing them with Slayer, Lamb of God, Anthrax and Napalm Death… that’s three other bands on this list, in August! Score!).

Highlights: “More Than Meets the Eye”, “The Formation of Damnation”, “Henchmen Ride”
Rating: 3.75/5
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There you have it, so say I. Missing anything? Comment below!

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