Bands switch out members all the time, and while most fans don’t bat an eye when a new bassist or rhythm guitarist gets introduced, replacing a singer is usually a controversial move. The voice is often the component that listeners most identify with a given group’s sound, and swapping in someone new almost always has a dramatic effect on the way the music resonates. Plus, the vocalist often also serves as a band’s mascot, in a sense, and changing that up can change everything.
Sometimes, bringing in new blood is absolutely essential to the longevity of a project, and for this list, we wanted to highlight singers who went above and beyond when they joined a new band behind the mic. From screamers who gave no-name groups the missing “x” factor to make them stars, to respected crooners that ushered already-popular bands into their next successful era, these are the 16 greatest replacement singers ever.
Video of Pantera – I'm Broken (Official Video)
Pantera could’ve found a similarly competent glam-metal singer to keep the band moving during their teased-hair salad days after their split with Terry Glaze, but no one other than Philip Anselmo could’ve reinvented the group’s sound and attitude the way the NOLA rising star did. Dimebag Darrell, Rex Brown and Vinnie Paul needed someone who could not only keep up with the unmatched power of their grooves, but actually surpass their musical ferocity with snarling poise and feral charisma. Anselmo was the man for the job.
Video of Anthrax – Madhouse (Official Video)
Anthrax had already gone through three vocalists before Joey Belladonna showed up, but there’s a reason he stuck around and was there to help catapult the New York group into the thrash stratosphere. Belladonna’s high-octane performances are an essential component of their immortal run of classic albums, but it was also his singular showmanship during their madhouse live shows that cemented his place in the canon of metal’s most beloved maniacs.
Video of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
Norway’s Mayhem were already a notorious band before frontman Dead’s death by suicide. Enlisting Hungarian vocalist Attila Csihar — whose sepulchral, throat-singing-inflected croak still sounds like no one else — the black-metal firestarters reached their apex, in terms of creativity both and controversy, with De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, a genre-defining masterpiece surrounded by real-life violence. Csihar rejoined Mayhem in 2004 and fronts them to this day, having also lent his ghastly vocals to drone lords Sunn O)) and Joey Jordison’s Sinsaenum, among many projects.
Video of Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast (Official Video)
There’ll always be a vocal minority of the band’s fan base who champion the Paul Di’Anno years, but c’mon, Iron Maiden didn’t become Iron Maiden until the former Samson powerhouse Bruce Dickinson stepped in. With a high-flying belt only rivaled by the Metal God himself and an infectiously energetic stage presence that he’s maintained even into his sixties, Dickinson didn’t just transform the sound of Iron Maiden, but the sound of heavy metal itself.
Video of The Time To Kill Is Now
Cannibal Corpse’s first four albums with Chris Barnes behind the mic are some of death-metal’s crucial texts, but George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher has done an immaculate job translating those songs live while also upgrading the band’s sound with his slightly less garbled and more precise growls . Beyond his voice, the man’s giant stature, superior head-banging skills and affable sense of humor make him a great face of a band as grisly and over-the-top as Cannibal Corpse.
Video of Children of the Sea (2021 Remaster)
Have there ever been bigger shoes to fill than the ones Ronnie James Dio slipped into when he joined Black Sabbath in 1979? The metal godfathers hadn’t put out a truly great album in roughly half-a-decade, and their split with Ozzy Osbourne made it look like they might never do so again, but Dio’s gallant singing on Heaven and Hell breathed new life into the group and tweaked their sound for the decade ahead. There’ll never be another Ozzy, and Dio’s greatest strength is that he wasn’t trying to be, which is what made his era of Sabbath so refreshing and successful despite the odds.
Video of ARCH ENEMY – My Apocalypse (OFFICIAL VIDEO)
Arch Enemy have had three vocalists throughout their history, and current scream-singer Alissa White-Gluz is an undeniable talent behind the mic. However, the Swedish melodeath mavens wouldn’t be the band they are today if Angela Gossow didn’t replace OG vocalist Johan Liiva at the turn of the millennium. Her diabolic roars and wicked shrieks provided the perfect accompaniment to Michael Ammott’s sinfully catchy guitar riffs on songs like “Nemesis” and “My Apocalypse.” And live, she never failed to drop jaws.
Video of Napalm Death-Suffer The Children
UK grindcore originators Napalm Death have counted over 25 different players as members of the band over 40-plus years of trailblazing extreme music, but Barney Greenway is a long-timer, boasting over three decades, across two stints, as the group’s frontman. First replacing Lee Dorrian, who split to focus on his doom band Cathedral, in 1989, Greenway has distinguished himself with harrowing vocals, outspoken leftist politics and ferocious, tantrum-like live performances.
Video of AC/DC – Back In Black (Official Video)
In early 1980, AC/DC were riding high on the success of Highway to Hell, their most popular album to date. Then tragedy struck: Electric lead singer Bon Scott died from asphyxiation after passing out from alcohol poisoning. It could have been the end for the band. Instead, Angus and Malcolm Young forged on, enlisting the glass-shattering Brian Johnson, whom Scott had turned them onto before his death. Johnson’s first album with AC/DC? Oh, you know, only Back in Blackthe best-selling hard-rock albums of all fucking time.
Video of Killswitch Engage – The End Of Heartache
Killswitch Engage had just signed to Roadrunner Records and released what is now considered to be a metalcore classic, Alive or Just Breathing, when Jesse Leach quit the band, due to mental-health and vocal issues. Enter Blood Has Been Shed singer Howard Jones, who brought a formidable presence, dynamic range and sophomoric humor to the frontman spot. He also helped Killswitch to some of their greatest accomplishments, including a Grammy nomination (for “The End of Heartache”) and platinum record (As Daylight Dies), before being replaced himself by a returning Leach in 2012. History works in mysterious ways.
Video of Corrosion Of Conformity – Albatross
Pepper Keenan first transformed Corrosion of Conformity’s sound as their rhythm guitarist, aiding in slowing down their crossover-thrash rippers into sizzling sludge-metal lunges on 1991’s Blind. By the time 1994’s Deliverance rolled around, he was co-writing the songs and standing behind the mic, and his drawly croon finally gave the long-running group the vocal signature they’d been searching for — one that rocketed the North Carolina crew to stoner-rock supremacy on tracks like “Albatross” and “Clean My Wounds.”
Video of Dream Theater – Pull Me Under [OFFICIAL VIDEO]
After parting ways with original singer Charlie Dominici, Dream Theater auditioned over 200 people in order to find the right voice of the band, and LaBrie was their guy. The virtuosic prog metallers didn’t just need someone who could belt; they needed a vocalist to imbue their dense sonic journeys with a triumphant melodicism — all while keeping up with their mercurial time signatures. From his smash performance on their 1992 breakout, Images & Wordsto his continued contributions today, LaBrie has been an integral part of the band and a pillar of the prog genre.
Video of Faith No More – Epic (Official Music Video)
Mike Patton was just a college student when Faith No More approached him in 1988 replace original Chuck Mosley, intrigued by the singer demos he had released with spasmodic genre-smashers. Bungle. Patton soon took the funky alt-metal stars to epic new heights rising (pun intended) and has since cemented himself as one of heavy music’s most revered vocalists: a man of a thousand voices and even more projects, from Bungle and Fantômas to Tomahawk, Dead Cross and beyond.
Video of The DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN – “Setting Fire To Sleeping Giants” (Official Music Video)
Jersey mathcore leaders Dillinger Ecape Plan embarked on a nationwide search for a new vocalist after Dimitri Minakakis’ 2001 departure, releasing an instrumental version of fan favorite “43% Burnt” and asking interested parties to send in vocal takes. The best of the best? Baltimore’s Greg Puciato, who brought a Patton-esque vocal range to the group’s Pollock-ian palette. What TDEP couldn’t have known from his audio submission was what a force of nature he would be onstage, diving off balconies, running on heads and otherwise both thrilling and terrifying concertgoers.
Video of Black Flag – Rise Above
Black Flag’s fourth and longest-running vocalist, Henry Rollins was just a kid when he joined the incendiary Hermosa Beach hardcore crew, but he quickly established his place as the band’s definitive frontman. Live, his confrontational intensity was and still is unmatched, and lyrically, the punk icon brought a new attitude to the band, as well. “We couldn’t do songs with a sense of humor anymore,” guitarist Greg Ginn once said. “He got into the serious way-out poet thing.” He dove even deeper in that direction with his post-Flag group the Rollins Band and, of course, that unforgettable guest shot on TOOL’s “Bottom.”
Video of Slipknot – Wait And Bleed [OFFICIAL VIDEO]
You have to be pretty fucking special to front a metal band with eight masked mad men banging, shredding, scratching, burning shit and sometimes breaking bones around you. Original ‘Knot vocalist Anders Colsefni was a fine Anselmo impersonator, but Corey Taylor’s acrobatic vocal ability to spray spastic, guttural, rap-inflected, Satan-infected bursts of verbal carnage — and then also sing his ass off on earworm hooks that’ll never escape Maggots’ brains — puts him in a league of his own.