I was talking to a friend a couple of days ago when he brought up how Flyleaf aren’t quite as good with their new singer, Kristen May, as they were with their original vocalist Lacey Sturm. He then went on to ask the question “how many bands have been more successful after their original singer has been replaced?”
It’s a good question – how often do you hear of replacement singers bringing about a new era of a band, only for that band to disappear into anonymity? Some bands like Drowning Pool or Tesseract have become a revolving door of singers, with four in nineteen years and five in twelve years respectively. In Drowning Pool’s case these changes have caused a lack of consistency, as each vocalist has been very different, resulting in four quite distinct phases; their straight-forward metal formula not providing a distinct enough sound to tie their discography together. However, Tesseract have chosen very similar vocalists, especially in recent years, making the transition as seamless as possible.
Many of the well known classic rock acts have made vocalist changes, but not all of them have been successful from it. Perhaps the most notable example is AC/DC, who had the unfortunate task of replacing Bon Scott (who himself was not the original vocalist) after he died in 1980. Unwittingly Scott had scouted his own replacement, telling the band how he rated Brain Johnson, the singer of Geordie at the time. His death followed a period of international success with a popular run of albums including Powerage and Highway to Hell, making Brain Johnson’s job even harder. Fortunately for the band their next album Back in Black would become one of the biggest selling albums of all time, joining classics such as Dark Side of the Moon and Rumours.
Migrating into the world of classic metal acts, both Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden have made notable vocalist changes. Black Sabbath are an example of a revolving door band, who never quite recovered properly after firing Ozzy Osbourne. Five different vocalists followed his dismissal (of which four featured on releases) with varying levels of success, but even the much loved Ronnie James Dio couldn’t quite live up to infamous Osbourne-Sabbath partnership. However, Iron Maiden’s vocalist change proved much more successful. Their third front man Paul Di’Anno featured on the band’s first two albums, but was quickly replaced after drugs started to adversely affect his live performances. His replacement was a certain Bruce Dickinson, who made his mark immediately on The Number of the Beast and has since grown to be one of greatest metal vocalists of all time, cementing Iron Maiden’s place in metal history.
My final example is a more recent one. Slipknot wouldn’t be the band they are today if they hadn’t replaced their original vocalist Anders Colsefni. Colsefni featured on their demo album Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat., displaying a limited vocal repertoire, which ultimately led the band to source new vocalist Corey Taylor. Slipknot’s new front man brought with him an ability to perfectly execute both screamed and melodic vocals, providing foundation for their future commercial success, whilst retaining their characteristic heaviness.
Whilst there are a handful of positive examples (others include Dream Theater and, rather annoyingly, Genesis), for most bands a change in singer never really works out well. This is because the vocalist is such an integral part of a band’s musical identity and replacing them is analogous to changing musical direction – a sure-fire way to divide a fan base. The same can sometimes be said about distinctive guitar players or other notable instrumentalists, I mean imagine Guns ‘N’ Roses without Slash’s licks. Oh, wait…
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