15 metal artists who went solo and blew audiences away even more
Whether it’s a less than amicable split with their former band or an unfulfilled urge to pursue a different path of musical creativity, the biggest names in the metal world have tried going solo at one point. However, it takes a certain caliber of artist to hold up a career under their name alone, whether it’s a long-term departure from their status quo or a temporary break to fill a career gap.
Many have tried, but few have succeeded in creating a name for themselves without the bands that got them there. We’ve gathered the 15 best solo metal careers that made a difference to the metal landscape around them, from Yngwie Malmsteen and Rob Zombie, who became a larger name than their previous outfits, to Bruce Dickinson and Till Lindemann, who replaced a break in their career with something truly iconic.
Where else to start than with the Prince Of Darkness himself? Fired from heavy-metal pioneers Black Sabbath in 1979, Ozzy Osbourne wasted no time in establishing his name separately from his Birmingham bandmates. He launched a solo career on the back of debut record Blizzard Of Ozz in 1980. Osbourne’s distinctive tones and unmistakable aesthetic led the charge for metal’s most renowned solo venture over the last 40 years, supported by phenomenal guitarists to provide the necessary gripping riffs. Osbourne has blasted out everything from the timeless “Crazy Train” to recent reflective ode “Ordinary Man” and even traded collaborations with Post Malone on “It’s A Raid” and “Take What You Want.”
As if laying the foundations of metal stalwarts Sepultura alongside his brother Igor Cavalera up until 1996 and fronting the nü-metal pioneers Soulfly a year later wasn’t enough, Max Cavalera has never been one to take life in the music industry laying down. Solo venture-come-supergroup Cavalera Conspiracy took to the stage in 2007 as a means of bringing the Cavalera dynasty back together in spectacular fashion, stepping aside from the boundaries laid by both outfits and unleashing a maelstrom of musical chaos. Every one of Cavalera’s ventures proves that pure metal courses through his veins.
Finnish symphonic titans Nightwish and their founding vocalist Tarja Turunen may have parted on less than amicable terms in 2005 after nine years of crafting their now-iconic reputation, but her story was never destined to end there. Releasing a Christmas-themed album Henkäys Ikuisuudesta the following year, Turunen’s operatic solo career provided a platform for eight glittering albums. She explores fantastical atmospherics on “I Walk Alone” and experiments with metallic infusions on “Tears In Rain.” The freedom to decide her own musical path has resulted in some of Turunen’s greatest work.
The creator of the devil horns may have brought his own brand of heavy-metal greatness to his stints in Rainbow and Black Sabbath, not to mention the countless lesser-known bands he fronted in the 1960s. However, it took Ronnie James Dio going solo in 1983 to realize his full potential on his own steam. Let’s face it: Any solo career opening on a debut like Holy Diver is bound to be one of epic proportions. Dio’s astounding presence, elaborate storytelling and inimitable tones made him one of the fundamental pillars of heavy metal. As a result, he’s left a gaping hole in the music world behind him.
Contagious industrial-meets-groove-metal outfit White Zombie may have returned to the grave in 1998 amid reported internal conflicts and a general feeling that the band had run its course. Even so, frontman Rob Zombie’s colorful career continued to walk the Earth and craft even more infectious horror-themed hits. From the success of the band’s “More Human Than Human,” Zombie’s solo outfit cultivated ageless floor-fillers such as “Dragula” and “Superbeast” to cement his reputation as metal’s horror king. Along the way, he was armed with seven albums, no less unusually titled as you could expect from an icon of hallucinogenic, morbid imagery—the most recent being The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy. We tried to warn you.
Of course the hardest-working man in heavy metal has enjoyed a fully fledged solo career since 2000. After temporarily departing from the Judas Priest lineup post-Painkiller in 1992, Rob Halford sought a return to his traditional heavy-metal inclinations and took on the title of Halford to christen this new era of the iconic frontman’s career. Four Halford albums and countless collaborative ventures with musical family and friends later, he’s now well established as a personality separate from his success in Judas Priest. Halford brings the true spirit of heavy metal to anything he touches.
Doro Pesch isn’t called the “Metal Queen” for nothing—this lady keeps the spirit of metal alive and kicking by merely existing. As the original lineup for German heavy-metal outfit Warlock disintegrated in 1988, leaving Pesch as the only founding member, a legal battle ensued for the band’s name. It forced a change of title to Doro and morphed the ashes of the band into her solo career. While keeping Warlock classics such as “All We Are” and “I Rule The Ruins” alive onstage, Doro now crafts exquisite heavy-metal anthems built for air guitars and horns held aloft.
Juggling the storming success of Iron Maiden and an intense solo career at the same time is no mean feat. Yet, Bruce Dickinson makes it seem like another day in the life of a metal genius. “Bring Your Daughter… To The Slaughter” was originally written and recorded for Dickinson’s independent venture for his first solo effort, Tattooed Millionaire, in 1990. However, it wound up becoming Iron Maiden’s only U.K. chart-topping hit. Intent on distancing himself from his main band’s progressive template, particularly as he left between 1993 and 1999, Dickinson’s six primarily self-crafted albums tried on a variety of metal stereotypes from beyond the Maiden umbrella. It proved his mettle not just as a frontman for a metal legacy but also as a standalone purveyor of great hits.
In the numerous years since Armenian metal maestros System Of A Down last produced an album, their genre-decimating frontman Serj Tankian has churned out four full-lengths and three EPs. They all explore the wide expanse of rock and metal that SOAD could never dream of approaching. From 2012’s punk-rock-doused Harakiri to the shoegaze elements of 2021’s Elasticity, Tankian’s independent career proves to be much more experimental than SOAD’s Mezmerize and Hypnotize. Plus, it’s far less restricted to the band’s established order, fostering a musical freedom that allows us a better look into the mind of Tankian.
The Runaways may have only lasted four years together in the ’70s, but their guitarist Lita Ford took her shot at individual success in 1982, pursuing her rock and metal roots to light the spark of a solo career that would span over three decades and nine albums. Most known for her 1989 duet with Ozzy Osbourne on her track “Close My Eyes Forever,” Ford’s storming independent venture crafted singalongs such as “Kiss Me Deadly” and the riff-driven “Falling In And Out Of Love,” a perfect platform for her distinctive gravelly vocals and shredding abilities.
In 1975, after an ambiguous split from his teenage band known collectively as Alice Cooper, their theatrical vaudeville frontman pursued a solo career that instantly rocketed to global success. Keeping the band’s alias as his own, Cooper’s debut record, Welcome To My Nightmare, peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200, and the rest is history. Cooper adapted the band’s horrific onstage props of a guillotine, gallows and his infamous snake act into an iconic legacy show. “The Godfather of Shock Rock,” Cooper still plays the band’s hit singles, including “School’s Out,” at almost every solo show alongside his own successes with “Poison” and “Feed My Frankenstein” plucked from a whopping 21 records.
While Rammstein fans waited an entire decade for their next German industrial fix, frontman Till Lindemann was busy branching off on his own and establishing solo supergroup Lindemann in 2015. The outfit’s first album, Skills In Pills, not only cemented his persona outside of the Rammstein mold for the first time in 20 years. It also finally brought about the one thing any non-German Rammstein fan had been waiting for: Lindemann singing completely in English. 2019’s second installment, F & M, returned to the German language we know and love but remained true to his melody-driven, unpredictably quirky approach, far removed from the pummeling industrial of his comfort zone.
The shredder-in-waiting who was due to take on guitar duties for Michael Jackson’s This Is It tour before his untimely death, Orianthi has performed alongside Carlos Santana, Richie Sambora, Alice Cooper and Carrie Underwood, playing a supporting but no less stellar role in the careers of others. However, her solo career is where Orianthi has grown into a truly independent artist, taking the leading role she deserves since her debut, Violet Journey, in 2007. From the pop rock of “According To You” to the metal-tinged “Impulsive,” Orianthi can certainly hold her own.
After an illustrious career on his own, it’s easy to forget someone as independent as Yngwie Malmsteen was ever in a band in the first place, let alone two. Both Steeler and Alcatrazz were springboards for the heavy-metal giant in 1983, only a year before his first individual venture, Rising Force, would lay the foundations for a 22-album solo outfit, using up the world’s supply of neo-classical metal riffs and screaming solos. Inimitable in his approach, image and limitless energy and passion for his craft, there’s no stopping Malmsteen.
The stars aligned for the commercial success of hair-metal legends Twisted Sister in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but those same stars slipped off course and resulted in the band’s disbandment by 1988. Their 1987 album, Love Is For Suckers, was intended as their iconic vocalist Dee Snider’s first solo venture. However, it would take years of downtime before his debut, Never Let The Bastards Wear You Down, hit shelves in 2000 and Snider’s independent but no less powerful alias was unleashed upon the metal world. Ever since, his inimitable stage presence and memorable persona has resulted in four other solo albums, including Dee Does Broadway dedicated to his love of theater and show tunes. His next effort, Leave A Scar, arrives July 30. Oh, and he wrote a Christmas song called “The Magic Of Christmas Day (God Bless Us Everyone),” which Celine Dion turned into a hit in 1998.