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In the world of heavy metal, lead singers are as indispensible as riffs and distortion--that is, except for when they get used up and thrown away like yesterday's drumsticks. While frontmen are the face and voice of many bands, they seem particularly prone to quitting, dying or getting fired, leaving groups in the strange position of having to find an entirely new public image. Some bands, like AC/DC, have managed to make the most of replacement lead singers. Others, like Van Halen, haven't. With one of the greatest substitutes of all time, Ronnie James Dio, in town this week with his former Black Sabbath bandmates--who now play under the name Heaven and Hell--here's a look at some of the best surrogate figureheads in metal history.

Ian Gillan, Deep Purple
In the late '60s, original Deep Purple singer Rod Evans helped the band make a name for itself with psychedelic hits like "Hush." But after Evans got the boot in 1969, gritty belter Ian Gillan stepped in--and almost overnight, Deep Purple became one of the heaviest, loudest, most badass bands in existence, as evidenced by monstrous hits like "Smoke on the Water" and underrated albums such as 1970's Deep Purple In Rock.

Ronnie James Dio, Black Sabbath
When Ozzy Osbourne quit Black Sabbath in 1977, the band could very well have called it a day and still been considered one of rock's essential bands. Instead, the group recruited the diminutive Rainbow frontman Ronnie James Dio; the result was Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules, two of the most powerful albums in Sabbath's catalogue. The duo of discs has become so legendary, Dio now tours with Sabbath under the name Heaven and Hell. (Coincidentally, Ian Gillan would take Dio's place in Sabbath in 1983 for the Born Again album.)

Bruce Dickinson, Iron Maiden
Many diehard Iron Maiden fanatics still swear by Paul Di'Anno, the growling mouthpiece and former butcher who sang on Maiden's first two groundbreaking albums. But it was Bruce Dickinson's teeming imagination and operatic wail that propelled the band to its greatest heights with classics like The Number of the Beast and Powerslave -- not to mention the fact that Dickinson is a licensed jet pilot who personally flew the band around the world for its 2008 tour, a trip that was documented in the film Iron Maiden: Flight 666.

Barney Greenway, Napalm Death

Napalm Death has one of the most convoluted family trees in metal history--to the point where the band's epochal 1987 debut, Scum, features different lineups and different lead singers (Nic Bullen and Lee Dorian) on each side of the original LP. Things solidified a bit when blistering former Benediction vocalist Mark "Barney" Greenway was brought aboard in 1989--leading to a string of albums that influenced untold thousands of death metal and grindcore outfits.

Mike Patton, Faith No More

After wildman Chuck Mosley replaced Courtney Love -- yes, really -- as the lead singer of Faith No More in 1985, the group released two albums of inventive yet commercially unsuccessful rap-metal. Then came Mosley's replacement, the even wilder Mike Patton, whose signature vocal gymnastics on the album The Real Thing catapulted the group to superstardom in 1990. Patton has gone on to stretch his larynx to the most insane extremes in projects like Tomahawk and his original outfit, Mr. Bungle, but Faith No More has recently reconvened to play live shows. As for Mosley: He wound up becoming a replacement frontman himself, for the Bad Brains' H.R., in the early '90s.

Greg Puciato, The Dillinger Escape Plan
One of Mike Patton's post-Faith No More dalliances was The Dillinger Escape Plan, the brain-twisting post-hardcore outfit; Patton contributed vocals to the group's 2002 EP, Irony is a Dead Scene, while Dillinger was still breaking in its second full-time vocalist, Greg Puciato, who replaced frontman Dimitri Minakakis. Pucatio had big shoes to fill--but when his first full-length with the band, 2004's Miss Machine, was released, it was clear that Puciato had the soul, insanity and prowess to keep up with Dillinger's math-tastic riffage. And when 2007's virtuosic, genre-shredding Ire Works hit, it solidified Puciato's own place at the front of the pack.

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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