As a fan of 80s Metal, I’ve seen many band break-ups, and each one is a little bit devastating. As a kid growing up in the Midwest, I would STUDY these groups, learn their members’ likes & dislikes, commit birthdays to memory, and buy jeans embroidered with stars because Richie Sambora had a similar pair. So when a well-loved band lost a vocalist or replaced a guitarist, I wondered if life would go on?
Years have passed since the 80s Metal zenith, and, yes, life has continued. In fact – and this has been a mind-altering revelation – some bands are BETTER with a new lineup. Yes, we may always feel nostalgic about our favorites, and the music they produced. But as we’re all collectively aging, and (presumably) maturing, we appreciate the quality of each band member right alongside their musical prowess.
Here, a love letter to three of my favorite classic bands, who all now feature incredibly talented new musicians.
I’ve seen L.A. Guns three times in three different cities over the course of the last year. I don’t know if this makes me a stalker, or a super-fan, but I’m OBSESSED with the band’s new lineup. Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns provide the OG foundation; the sound that originally put L.A. Guns on the MTV map. While Phil’s voice is as strong as 1987, and Tracii’s guitar style is still, for sure, my all-time favorite sound, please direct your attention now to three new band members: guitarist Ace Von Johnson, bassist Johnny Martin, and drummer Shawn Duncan.
Your eye doesn’t know where to look first! Rockstar bandana and perfect 5 o’clock shadow aside, Ace is a beast on the guitar, and there is a complete fullness to the band’s sound that indicates a true master at work. Johnny Martin literally could not get any cooler. Not only is he an incredible bassist – the wardrobe! We’ve got vests, we’ve got neckerchiefs, we’ve got fedoras. If you ever wish for an 80s Metal glow-up, look no further. And Shawn Duncan quietly sneaks in behind the drum kit – and then lets loose on a version of “Rip and Tear” that makes you wonder why you have not seen more shows with Shawn Duncan on percussion. If you can’t see L.A. Guns in concert three times per year like yours truly, at least shoot for one performance. It’s well worth the price of admission.
At a recent Faster Pussycat show at the iconic Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood, there was a moment where lead singer Taime Downe stood back, looked around the stage, and smiled like a proud dad. The reason for that? There are two new Pussycat band members in particular who have created a VIBE and given this whole FP project a fresh feel. Let’s start with the 28-year-old Sam Bam Koltun, an LA-based guitarist who I could actually watch play all day long. Sam is magic on the stage. He’s electric, he’s magnetic, he’s everything you could ever want in an 80s Metal lead guitarist.
Sam seems to have a modern sensibility, but also a respect for the Faster Pussycat catalog that permeates the way he plays. And if you like your bassist to come with a hefty side of personality, look no further than Danny Nordahl, a.k.a. “Slim Tender.” Now perhaps one of the most recognizable members of the band, outside of Taime, he’s especially entertaining on social media, and every show I’ve been to has featured Slim mingling in the crowd before and after a set. With Taime’s new (sober) zest for life and this killer band rocking the hits, this is a live show that will leave you fully satisfied and ready for another.
Replacing arguably one of the all-time greatest 80s Metal vocalists, Sebastian Bach: now that’s a difficult task. But one that Skid Row has tackled since Bas left the band all the way back in 1996 (!). Enter Swedish lead singer Erik Gronwall. After winning Swedish Idol in 2009, he became known for his vocal range and power. His 2021 cover of the Skid Row hit “18 And Life” was the first indication that Erik + Skid Row might be a match made in heaven.
Erik joined Skid Row in March 2022, and the band released their first album together later that year. This is one of the few bands I’m excited to see out on the road, specifically because I want to catch the new lead singer live. Replacing a lead singer is usually the kiss of death for most bands, but Skid Row has found an exciting addition that could keep the group recording and touring for years to come.
The moral of the story? Don’t give up on your favorite band simply because the lineup changed. Incredible musicians can join up with some of our classic OG favorites and produce music that feels familiar, yet completely new, all at the same time. And that is a gift.
The Best 80s Metal Bands With New Lineups article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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