13 line-up changes that gave bands a new lease of life

No matter how successful the rock recipe, sometimes that one extra ingredient can take it to another level…

13 line-up changes that gave bands a new lease of life
Sam Law

Chemistry is everything. Sometimes bands lack that special spark from the off. Sometimes circumstance transpires to extinguish it. In certain special circumstances, though, all it takes is one small change to (re)ignite the energy and inspiration to carry them onto the next level, or into their next era. Whether it’s a keyboardist to layer up the atmosphere and electronic sheen, a guitarist to transform the vibe or a new vocalist who’ll completely change the voice of the band, these simple shifts can change everything.

We’ve sifted through five decades of the rock world’s most notorious firings, hirings and happenchance incorporations to pick out the line-up additions that really changed the course of music history…

Iron MaidenBruce Dickinson (vocals – twice)

We feel bad for Paul Di’Anno and Blaze Bayley, we really do. When it comes to Iron Maiden vocalists, however, there can only ever be one. Although Paul Di’Anno did sterling work on the band's self-titled 1980 debut and 1981’s seminal Killers, his increasingly self-destructive behaviour on tour meant that his time with the band was cut short. Following a meeting with legendary Maiden manager Rod Smallwood, ex-Samson frontman Bruce Dickinson – the ‘human air raid siren’ – was brought on board and 1982’s The Number Of The Beast began their ascent towards megastardom. In 1993, following unsuccessful experimentation on the part of both parties, Bruce left to pursue a solo career, allowing ex-Wolfsbane mainman Blaze to be brought in. Although the Blaze Bayley era – 1995’s The X Factor and 1998’s Virtual XI – had its fans, Bruce’s return to the fold for 2000 masterpiece Brave New World copper fastened the line-up that’s still going strong today.

Bring Me The HorizonJordan Fish (keyboards)

Sheffield firebrands Bring Me The Horizon weren’t exactly in a bad place before Jordan Fish came along. Across three brilliant albums they’d worked their way from grinding away in underground sweatboxes to swaggering across gaping main stages. Where 2010’s There Is A Hell Believe Me I’ve Seen It. There Is A Heaven Let’s Keep It A Secret hinted at arena-owning brilliance, 2013 follow-up Sempiternal was the point at which they became real megastars. Key to that was Worship keyboardist Jordan Fish who was brought on as a session player, but ended up making invaluable songwriting contributions and was named as a permanent member of the band in January 2013. When Jona Weinhofen, who’d filled a similar position since 2009, departed the band later in the month, the writing was on the wall that a new creative force was burning at the heart of BMTH. As we now know, their evolution was just kicking into gear.

NirvanaDave Grohl (drums)

Given, the undeniable genius at the heart of Nirvana was a certain Kurt Cobain. Genius alone can go unfulfilled, however, and as thrilling as 1989 debut Bleach felt, it didn’t quite have what it took to smash its way into the mainstream. Having seen several of sticksmen come and go, Kurt and longstanding bassist Krist Novoselic were introduced by Melvins frontman Buzz Osborne to 21-year-old Dave Grohl, who was looking for a new gig after his previous band (Washington D.C. punks Scream) had unexpectedly disbanded. Bringing a fresh percussive force to new compositions’ thudding underbellies with a confidence and star quality that would see him go on to front his own stadium rock outfit, he felt like the missing piece that lifted 1991’s Nevermind from brilliant obscurity to era-defining mainstream domination.

Arch EnemyAngela Gossow and Alissa White-Gluz (vocals)

When Swedish melo-death institution Arch Enemy started up in 1995 – the brainchild of prodigal Carcass six-stringer Michael Amott – few could ever have imagined what the band would become. For the first five years of their existence they were fronted by ex-Carnage/Devourment vocalist Johan Liiva and survived in effective but unremarkable semi-obscurity. That all changed when Johan was replaced by German vocalist Angela Gossow in 2000: a pioneering female voice in death metal and one of the most ferocious of her generation outright. The records that followed, especially 2003’s Anthems Of Rebellion and 2005’s Doomsday Machine, elevated the outfit to the top of the death metal tree. It could’ve all come unglued when Angela decided to step down in 2014. Instead, by endorsing The Agonist’s Alissa White-Gluz as her successor, she authorised a righteous refreshment that’s carried them on to enduring success.

Red Hot Chili PeppersJohn Frusciante (guitar – twice)

The funky, freaky styley core at the heart of Los Angeles’s world conquering rockers – vocalist Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea – has been in situ since Red Hot Chili Peppers' formation all the way back in 1983. Their playful timekeeper Chad Smith has been on board, constantly, since 1988, too. The texture layered up on top of that has always been dependent on their choice of guitarist, though. Although the great Hillel Slovak helped define their sound right up until his death from a heroin overdose in June 1988, it was his successor who would carry them to superstardom. John Frusciante was another troubled soul, struggling with substance abuse, but his ability to twist back and forth between club-scale funk and far grander stylings, led the quartet down the path to absolute ubiquity, first on 1989’s Mother’s Milk, then to far more confident effect on 1991 masterpiece Blood Sugar Sex Magik. He was forced to step away to battle his demons in 1992 (Dave Navarro, in turn, taking his place), but returned in 1998 to all-conquering effect with 1999’s Californication, 2002’s By The Way and 2006’s Stadium Arcadium. And, just like Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson above, he recently came back for another go at things!

blink-182Matt Skiba (guitar/vocals)

It’s hard to argue that Chicagoan Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba was a better fit for California pop-punks blink-182 than founding clown prince Tom DeLonge, but there’s little question that Matt was a saviour for them at the time. Throwing them a known-name lifeline on which to hinge a blink reunion was one thing. Injecting his own mordant sensibilities along with the adrenaline shot that brought them back from the dead was another thing entirely. 2016’s California arrived conspicuously light on scatological humour – and the vaguely pretentious perpetually teenage existentialism that had clung around the band since 2003 – but in its place was brooding darkness and more convincing shades of maturity. Matt might not quite have gotten them singing about suicide and serial killers, but daubed on plenty of his own compelling brand of black.

Black SabbathRonnie James Dio (vocals)

While Ozzy Osbourne will always be the definitive voice of Black Sabbath, the metal innovators were somehow able to keep building despite their decision to fire The Prince Of Darkness (run ragged by relentless touring, suffering the effects of alcohol abuse and frankly unable to go on) in 1979. It would take someone special to replace him. In diminutive ex-Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio, however – a substitution apparently suggested by Sharon Arden (later Osbourne) – they somehow managed to conscript another of metal’s all time icons. That the albums that followed (1980’s Heaven And Hell, 1981’s Mob Rules) can and often are talked about as contenders amongst the greatest Sabbath releases should make clear that Dio brought this behemoth back from the brink.

BaronessGina Gleason (guitar/vocals)

Although substantial changes to the Baroness ranks were always inevitable in the wake of those fateful moments just before 11am on August 15, 2012 – where the Georgian sludge rockers’ tour bus plummeted off a viaduct in Monkton Combe, just outside Bath – the last piece did not fall into place until years later. After long-term guitarist (and sole other pre-accident member) Pete Adams made the decision to part ways with the band in 2017, frontman John Dyer Baizley wasn’t sure where to turn next. Serendipitously, it transpired that a prodigious customer for his pedal company Philly Fuzz – Cirque Du Soleil guitarist Gina Gleason – lived just a few blocks away. Invited over to a no-pressure jam session, the job was hers within seconds. An immediate musical chemistry with John, and her ability to add another layer of vocal dynamic to compositions, were pivotal in the production of 2019’s incredible fifth LP Gold & Grey.

Faith No MoreMike Patton (vocals)

It feels impossible, nowadays, to envisage Faith No More (or indeed any number of his other projects) without Mike Patton at the helm. The San Franciscan funk metallers’ first two albums – 1985’s We Care A Lot, 1987’s Introduce Yourself – were of course, though, recorded with the late Chuck Mosley on vocal duties. Great as Chuck was, hard touring confirmed his incompatibility with his bandmates and he walked out/was fired on return home from a particularly trying European run in 1988. Mike was singing with his high school band Mr. Bungle at the time, but had known the band from meeting them at shows through the mid-’80s. Two weeks after being asked to join, he had written all the lyrics to what would become their defining, GRAMMY nominated 1990 masterpiece The Real Thing. Ever since, he’s been the heart of the band, while the wider cult of Mike only continues to grow and grow…

VolbeatRob Caggiano (guitar)

Danish rockabilly metallers Volbeat have been bubbling away in Europe, with varying degrees of success, for the best part of two decades at this point. Although as far back as 2008’s Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood and 2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven there were murmurings of a big time breakthrough, it would be their fifth LP that would smash past the glass ceiling. Ex-Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano had been helping to produce and contributing solos for Outlaw Gentlemen And Shady Ladies throughout production and established such a rapport with the members that he was invited to join on a full-time basis. Having gone into the studio as a trio and emerged as a far better and more rounded quartet, the stage was set, and another big name on board, for the still ongoing genre melding supremacy that would follow.

Napalm DeathMark ‘Barney’ Greenway (vocals)

Fittingly, Napalm Death started not with any kind of line-up stability, but in a state of sheer chaos. The Birmingham grindcore pioneers’ landmark 1987 debut Scum features two sides recorded by (almost entirely) different rosters of musicians roughly a year apart. From Enslavement To Obliteration and the Mentally Murdered EP saw some kind of order descend over proceedings with vocalist Lee Dorian and guitarist Bill Steer helping to guide the sonic hurricane. When the pair left, however – Lee to set up doom legends Cathedral and Steer to focus more intently on Carcass – it opened the door for their long-term frontman (and one time K! scribe) Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway to enter the fold. A more intimidating, forceful presence, he was key in ND’s swerve towards death metal for none more aptly-titled 1990 milestone Harmony Corruption and their inevitable passage into extreme music infamy.

NightwishFloor Jansen (vocals)

When Finnish symphonic metal titans made the daring decision to part ways with founding vocalist – and de facto face of the band – Tarja Turunen in autumn 2005, it was unclear how (indeed, if) they would be able to recapture the continent straddling dominance of old. Bringing in Swedish songstress Anette Olzon (who had at various points fronted rock outfit Alyson Avenue and an ABBA tribute band) they were able to plough onward, but Anette always felt too flighty, without enough classical steel for the trademark Nightwish approach and was dismissed in a storm of controversy in 2013. Initially, Dutch ex-After Forever/ReVamp vocalist Floor Jansen was brought onboard as a stopgap. Her face, attitude and more strident vocal style fit perfectly, however, and she was quickly named as a permanent member. Mainman Tuomas Holopainen has insisted that the band emerged stronger from the change of personnel. With the subsequent, uber-ambitious brilliance of 2015’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful proving arguably the greatest Nightwish record of them all, it’s hard to argue with that…

MegadethMarty Friedmann (guitar)

Following the disbandment of his previous outfit Cacophony in 1989 and the dismissal of Megadeth six-stringer Jeff Young (reportedly due to frontman Dave Mustaine’s suspicions that Jeff was having an affair with his girlfriend) in the same year, the stage was set for Marty Friedmann to join the thrash legends and complete their definitive line-up. The subsequent LP Rust In Peace would go on to be broadly recognised as the band’s trademark release. Marty managed to avoid the revolving door all the way until the year 2000 – enduring several less celebrated releases as well as the superb Countdown To Extinction – and, although there have been several accomplished players to fill his place, none have managed to recapture that priceless spark. We dare anyone to listen to Holy Wars… The Punishment Due, Hangar 18 or Tornado Of Souls and try not to crack out the old air guitar.

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