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It often feels like an overnight success when a metal band finally makes it, but these artists honed their craft in the underground — sometimes for decades — before breaking out.

If you were one of the few to witness a live show from Sleze or Children of the Anachronistic Dynasty… congratulations. You saw a legend before they became a legend. Check out these obscure bands who had soon-to-be-famous vocalists below.

Before Layne Staley helped kill hair metal as one of grunge’s greatest vocalists, he was in a hair metal band himself. The band was Sleze — made from a group of students Staley met at Shorewood High in Washington. In the mid-80s, Sleze made a cameo in a truly horrendous low-budget movie called Father Rock, performing inside a church in full glam attire. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, you can check out that piece of history below.

The plan was set — make old school death metal, sign to Roadrunner Records and become the next Sepultura. Repugnant were close to making that vision a reality, but frontman “Mary Goore” ultimately ended up on a different track… singing as a demonic Pope in another throwback metal act — Ghost. Tobias Forge still has a soft spot for death metal, and Repugnant’s sole full-length album, Epitome of Darkness, still holds up.

This is seriously one of those diamonds in the rough. Enemy Soil made some killer crust grind in the ‘90s, featuring Agoraphobic Nosebleed vocalist Richard Johnson and future Pig Destroyer vocalist J.R. Hayes. The 1997 album Ruins of Eden features 11 studio tracks, where you can hear Johnson doing vocals, and five live tracks with Hayes screaming like a banshee. 

If you listen to the C.A.D. song “Burn About Out” at half-speed, you may recognize one of the definitive alt-metal tracks of the 1990s. Before he formed Tool, Maynard James Keenan was the flamboyant vocalist for Children of the Anachronistic Dynasty. Based in Michigan, C.A.D. was sort of a mishmash of alt styles. It was only until the hypnotic focus of Tool came into play that “Burn About Out” became “Sober.” 

Maybe “obscure” isn’t the right word to describe Adventures, because this offshoot of Code Orange experienced some success in the indie rock space. It’s just surreal to watch members of the vicious hardcore band perform such soft, heartfelt music years before they broke out with Forever. “Heavenly” is just a phenomenal song and it leads us to wonder if Reba Meyers was on-route to become hardcore’s PJ Harvey.

Plenty of fans know Bruce Dickinson sang for the band Samson before he joined Iron Maiden, but how many of you have actually watched the Biceps of Steel VHS? It’s one of the silliest damn things ever put to tape. Bruce’s voice, though? WOW! His pipes were there from the get-go. Just listen to the pre chorus to “Vice Versa.” 

Just one of many bands Ralph Saenz fronted over the years, you can really see hair metal struggling to stay alive in this 1993 footage below. Saenz truly earned his metal cred, and the dedication to his craft finally paid off when Steel Panther released their hilarious Feel the Steel in 2009. Take a bow, Michael Starr… you took the long road and walked it. 

Down in the swamps of Georgia, a bizarre act called Four Hour Fogger set the stage for one of the 21st century’s greatest metal bands. Guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds and bassist Troy Sanders would go on to form Mastodon, but Four Hour Fogger was much more raw and violent than the prog metal giants. Let’s just say the instrumental work in Four Hour Fogger was way better than the vocals. 

Before Seth Putnam became one of metal’s most controversial vocalists with Anal Cunt, he was in a band called Satan’s Warriors. The band was just as silly as it sounds… but entirely on purpose. Putnam was just as ridiculous in Satan’s Warriors, squealing like a deranged monkey while rocking a bare midriff in the footage below. Apparently, this song is called “Jesus Has a 1-Inch Penis With a Mole on the Side.” 

This is genuinely awesome. Before Ronnie James Dio committed his phenomenal voice to heavy metal, he sang in a classic vocal group. If Dio had been born a few years earlier, he could’ve been Paul Anka or Frankie Valli. Obviously things worked out for Dio in the end, but it feels like he existed in an entirely different universe in songs like “An Angel Is Missing.”

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