Live music has effectively been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of metalheads worldwide. Because of its visceral nature and sheer volume, metal is best experienced in the concert setting. The quaking vibrations of the drums, the ear shattering feedback from the amplifiers, the thrill of headbanging next to your fellow hasher: These sensations can’t be emulated.
But the sad truth is that most of us won’t be going to a show anytime soon. Therefore, we must fill our yearning with the next best thing, whether it be livestream performances or concert films. We must bring the live show into our living spaces. Heavy Consequence takes a look back at some of the greatest metal concert films in an effort to curb our withdrawals. So crack a cold one, crank your home stereo, settle in, and enjoy some classic concerts from the confines of your living room.
10. Type O Negative – Symphony for the Devil
Release Date: February 24th, 2006
Why It Matters: Symphony for the Devil intersperses debauched home-movie clips of Type O Negative on the road with footage from their legendary performance at the Bizarre Festival in 1999. Wry, sarcastic, and musically magnanimous, the film is the defining visual document of the gothic metal luminaries. The late Peter Steele assumes the stature of a vampiric god, looming centerstage as he guides the band through a setlist of hits. If you needed further proof of Steele’s otherworldliness, observe the full bottles of wine he pulls from between songs, the empty decanters piling up on his bass cab throughout the set. Buy the DVD here.
09. Rammstein – Live aus Berlin
Release Date: August 31st, 1999 (original) / March 27th, 2020 (reissue)
Why It Matters: A young and hungry Rammstein tear through this concert in their home city of Berlin. Even in their early years — before “Du Hast” took the world by storm — the band exercised a penchant for provocative showmanship and shitloads of pyrotechnics. For example, the infamous water dildo scene during “Bück dich” that was censored in the original VHS release, notching the film an 18+ rating. Using the massive aquatic sex toy, frontman Till Lindemann and keyboardist Christian Lorenz mime anal sex (the same stunt that resulted in jail time after a 1999 show in Massachusetts). Over two decades since these ornery antics, the German band has become an industrial metal institution and Lindemann is still obsessed with all things sexual. And to the delight of all fans, the dildo scene has finally been uncensored for a new DVD reissue of Live aus Berlin (available via Rammstein’s webstore).
08. Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax – The Big Four: Live from Sofia, Bulgaria
Release Date: November 2nd, 2010
Why It Matters: On June 22nd, 2010, everything aligned. The first “Big Four” show remains a miracle of music industry might. Somehow, all four thrash bands were assembled for one legendary night in Bulgaria. The beef between Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine and his former bandmates in Metallica was put aside. Embracing their mutual status as the quadrangle of thrash, each band delivers an impassioned performance. Perhaps they were motivated by friendly competition; there’s a sense of urgency and expectation during each set. You can’t get much better than Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax playing their hearts out to low-key best one another. The true winners are all of us who get to watch this spectacle and travel to thrashland whenever we so choose. Buy the DVD here.
07. Opeth – Lamentations: Live at Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Release Date: November 24th, 2003
Why It Matters: Opeth are a band of many faces. They began as traditional death metal, then pivoted to prog, with subsequent albums moving further from their extreme metal origins. This film falls just past this crossroads, following the release of Damnation, when Mikael Åkerfeldt began to sing even more than he growled. The results are captivating, with cinematography as elegant as the music itself. Opeth practice perfection and exploration, and this footage lets us into their world both visually and sonically. The true essence of a good concert film — like any good show — is its sense of escapism. Opeth turn in an everlasting document of their 2003 selves. Purchase it on DVD here.
06. Judas Priest – Live Vengeance ’82
Release Date: 1983
Why It Matters: Judas Priest’s 1982 US tour: You can’t get more metal than this. Fresh off the release of Screaming for Vengeance, the set is laden with hits such as “Breaking the Law” and “You Got Another Thing Comin'”. The metal god Rob Halford patrols the stage flanked by guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton as they shred their asses off. So much of heavy metal’s imagery and substance derives from Judas Priest and footage from this era, particularly Live Vengeance ’81 (which was originally released on VHS as Judas Priest Live). The leather, the studs, the virtuosity — the path was paved. Get it on DVD here.
05. Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I and II – 1992 in Tokyo
Release Date: Mid-to-late 1992
Why It Matters: On February 22nd, 1992, Guns N’ Roses laid down the majority of Use Your Illusion I and II and other hits to an audience of worshippers in Tokyo. Axl Rose’s bulging biker shorts threatened to overshadow the musical significance of this cinematic moment in heavy music history. Guns N’ Roses’ down-and-dirty hard rock sound transcended ’80s glam metal and remained as popular as ever during the height of grunge. The transition between eras is incapsulated in this two-part concert film. Buy the DVDs here and here.
04. Metallica – Live Shit: Binge & Purge
Release Date: November 9th, 1993
Why It Matters: The pain of not including S&M is strong, but we had to choose 1993’s Live Shit: Binge & Purge as our obligatory Metallica selection for this list. The S&M film is beautiful, but Live Shit captures the band sweating it out, playing the songs as they were written. It’s unadulterated thrash, showcasing the musicianship this band possessed during the Jason Newsted era. They’d thrash out, and then shift to melodic rock on a dime. Some foolishly deride them for this. Live Shit proves them all wrong. Purchase the box set here.
03. Alice in Chains – MTV Unplugged
Release Date: October 8th, 1996
Why It Matters: Alice in Chains treated this transcendent concert as if it were a studio album. It was rehearsed for months — an infamously dark time for frontman Layne Staley, who appears addled and weary despite giving a masterful vocal performance. Staley and guitarist/songwriter Jerry Cantrell trade off on singing duties, bearing all the pain and catharsis of their songs, with the acoustic format stripping the band’s alt-metal down to its essence both musically and emotionally. The original studio versions sound overwrought by comparison, proof that Alice in Chains’ power resided in their art rather than their aesthetic. That power is forever suspended in time through this film and its corresponding live album. Light some candles and enter its warm, earthly realm. Stream it here.
02. Iron Maiden – Flight 666: The Film
Release Date: May 25th, 2009
Why It Matters: Not so much a concert film as it is a film about concerts, Flight 666 takes us behind the scenes of Iron Maiden’s global metal empire. Following their world tour in 2008/2009, frontman and certified pilot Bruce Dickinson literally flies the band from show to show in Iron Maiden’s own private airplane — gear, crew, and all. The magnitude of this colossal undertaking is portrayed in the film, which captures a human side of the band rarely seen. Their passion for their millions of fans knows no bounds; they suffer physically, travel constantly, and erect massive stages on seemingly every continent. The amount of work and resources that go into an Iron Maiden show is daunting, and at times, the tour threatens to collapse under its own weight. Yet, there’s a recurring image throughout the film — the ecstasy of the fans. Every time they fly the plane, build the stage, pull off the show, we see waves of smiling faces and true joy among the throngs of concertgoers clad in Maiden shirts. Purchase the film on Blu-Ray here.
01. The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years
Release Date: June 17th, 1988
Why It Matters: Filmmaker Penelope Spheeris’ documentary of ’80s metal culture is an endlessly entertaining spectacle, capturing all the absurdity and raunch of metal’s formative years. It doubles as a concert film and rockumentary. Performance clips of bands — some famous and some not — are interspersed with interviews from fans, curious parties, and the musicians themselves — often in precarious places (i.e. KISS singer-guitarist Paul Stanley is interviewed from his bedsheets, surrounded by women). Spheeris takes us inside seedy venues and sexploitative nightclubs, introducing a cast of characters equally hilarious, despicable, and sad. The delusions of going-nowhere hair metal bands like Odin are weighed against the more artistic mindsets of Ozzy Osbourne and Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, as Spheeris depicts metal’s philosophic divergence. While its most famous scene may be W.A.S.P. bassist Chris Holmes’ bizarre drunken breakdown in a swimming pool next to his mother, Decline is an accurate time capsule of heavy metal’s brush with mainstream culture and all the drug-fueled excess that came along with it. Stream the full movie here.