Metal Hammer writers name their best gigs of 2023

Photos of Metallica, Green Lung, Ghost, Limp Bizkit, Sabaton and Code Orange performing live onstage
(Image credit: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images | Mariano Regidor/Redferns | Michael Buckner/Billboard via Getty Images | Elsie Roymans/Redferns | Burak Cingi/Redferns | Mariano Regidor/WireImage)

Heavy metal’s never better than when it’s being blasted out in-person – and no year has proved that more definitively than 2023. With live music’s instability right after the pandemic in the rear-view mirror, the past 12 months have overflowed with monumental tours. Metallica innovated yet again by playing two shows at every stop they made, Iron Maiden revived lost songs from their golden era for the Future Past run and Gojira finally claimed arena status. All the while, up-and-comers like While She Sleeps and Sleep Token crammed 10,000-plus people together for the very first time.

2023’s been so good for live heavy metal that getting one journalist to list every top-shelf show of the year just wouldn’t be enough. So, Metal Hammer’s global panel of critics have come together, each of them naming the most marvellous concert they’ve attended since January. From Ghost to Rotting Christ, stadiums to sweat-drenched basements, no gig was too immense or intimate to dazzle us.

Metal Hammer line break

Clutch (Rapids Theatre, Niagara Falls, NY – April 16)

The gorgeous Rapids Theatre is one of the few remaining shining lights on Niagara Falls’ otherwise sorry-looking Main Street. With a string of bigger locations just down the road in Buffalo, Clutch could easily have taken this show elsewhere.

But – opening with Earth Rocker under the venue’s otherworldly, grandiose ceiling – Neil Fallon and co. swept us all away on what turned out to be a wave of sweaty hard rock perfection. The Marylanders packed a career-spanning selection of bangers into their 20-song set and, when they’re on that kind of form, few other live acts can touch them.


Code Orange (Outbreak festival, Manchester, UK – June 24)

After a five-year absence from British soil, the anticipation at Outbreak for Pittsburgh’s most forward-thinking musical force couldn’t have been higher. After arriving onstage to Shania Twain’s I’m Gonna Getcha Good juxtaposed against images from Taxi Driver, Code Orange showed just how far ahead of every other hardcore band on the planet they are.

New songs from the then-unreleased The Above, all the classics, mountains of dry ice, dizzying blue lasers and utter, moshing chaos made Code Orange’s return everything everyone hoped for. Far more than just a set at a hardcore festival, it might also have been them waving goodbye to this type of bill, which can no longer accommodate their arena-sized ambitions.


Converge (Outbreak festival, Manchester, UK – June 23)

Metallic hardcore pioneers Converge had the honour of gracing Outbreak’s main stage on opening night – and it was carnage. The festival’s infamous lack of a barrier transformed punters into savages, and Jacob Bannon’s festering, heart-on-sleeve vitriol only served to spur on the chaos.

From the off, bodies were clambering onstage, while a constant stream of stage divers catapulted themselves out into charging circle pits. Seven-minute epic The Saddest Day served as the cathartic finale, Bannon lobbing his microphone into the air before storming into the wings: a literal mic drop after Converge spent a night reminding us why they remain the metalcore blueprint.


Ghost (Kia Forum, Inglewood, CA – September 11 and 12)

Was it the dancing skeletons, the string-and-piano quartet, the zero-tolerance policy towards mobile phones or the roll-out of 21 bangers that made Ghost’s two-night stand at L.A.’s Forum so epic? It was all that and more.

The Swedes’ twinned shows in Inglewood were both communion and coronation. It rubber-stamped them as modern metal’s greatest entertainers and Tobias Forge as an unholy ringmaster: equal parts perverse pope and concerned older brother (a speech addressing mental health was an unexpectedly tender moment). Plus, with a camera crew on hand to capture the show for an upcoming film, the whole world will eventually join in on the fun.


Gojira (Accor Arena, Paris, France – February 25)

Hearing 16,000 Parisians sing The Chant was such a spectacle that, after returning home, this writer got a Gojira tattoo down his forearm. The progressive metal behemoths finally headlined arenas in February, and they demolished their home country’s capital with monstrous yet conscious anthems.

Born For One Thing flaunted the band’s destructive riffs and uplifting choruses, not to mention the splendour of their lights and LED backdrop. Whereas Flying Whales incited all of Accor Arena to jump in frenzy, The Gift Of Guilt unloaded a bittersweetness seldom heard in extreme metal. Gojira were no longer rising stars: on that night, they became bona fide heavyweights.


Green Lung (Patterns, Brighton, UK – December 3)

Apparently, you needed three things to produce a truly classic live show in 2023: arena-sized heavy metal bangers; an electric, passionate crowd; and a Dorset Ooser. Green Lung’s gig at the intimate Patterns on Brighton’s freezing-cold seafront wasn’t just one of the best metal concerts of the year – it felt like the moment the stoner-doom collective’s potential for greatness was laid bare.

From the fantastic songs (did metal produce a better chorus this year than Maxine?) to the decked-out stage packing all manner of occult oddities, this was less a gig than a ceremony crowning the Londoners as British metal’s most exciting young band.


Limp Bizkit (Gunnersbury Park, London, UK – August 13)

“Our spaceship has landed, Limp Bizkit’s in your motherfucking house right now!” Fred Durst declared to a Gunnersbury Park overflowing with moshpits, red snapbacks and thousands of screaming fans.

The nu metal icons time-warped London back to the ’90s for one evening as they ripped into mammoth hits like Nookie, My Way, Break Stuff and Faith. Teasing the audience with witty one-liners, heavy bass wobbles and obliterating stage lights, each song was followed by an uproar of cheers and the clashing of empty beer cans. If this extravaganza taught us anything, it’s that Limp Bizkit never fail to bring the nostalgia back home.


Lingua Ignota (Islington Assembly Hall, London, UK – October 13 and 14)

Back in October, Lingua Ignota performed at the Islington Assembly Hall across two nights to finally lay her musical alias to rest. Before taking on the new title of Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter, the Californian took to the stage with her beautifully complex catalogue, dazzling London with a talent so silencing and mesmerising that it seemed otherworldly.

Stripped-back and performed entirely on piano, Lingua’s lamentations proved utterly hypnotic. Each deep vocal bellow, squall and demonic croak formed continuous waves of goosebumps across this writer’s arm – and a few tears down her cheeks, too.


Måneskin (San Siro Stadium, Milan, Italy – July 24)

For evidence of exactly how far Måneskin have come in a few short years, Milan’s San Siro on a violently stormy night in July was the place to be: 80,000 rabid fans, a literal deluge from the heavens, more volume than is normal at a stadium show, and absolute mastery of the circumstances from a band still on the rise.

Bassist Victoria De Angelis spent much of the show crowdsurfing, Thomas Raggi effortlessly conjured up the ghosts of guitar heroes past, and singer Damiano David was a sensational mix of finesse, fortitude and god-given charisma. And they say there are no more headliners!


Metallica (Johan Cruijff Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands – April 27 and 29)

Going to the first date of Metallica’s M72 world tour was already exciting enough – then came the pass to be in the Snake Pit! Although there’s copious footage on YouTube, nothing could compare to actually being in it, with the stage closely surrounding you at every side. Fans were locked, eyeball to eyeball, with James, Lars, Kirk and Rob so frequently.

When the show opened with Orion, grown men cried and hugged. What followed was a greatest-hits set that, alongside new 72 Seasons songs such as Lux Æterna and Screaming Suicide, reiterated why Metallica are still the biggest metal band on the planet.


Rotting Christ (Brick By Brick, San Diego, CA – February 21)

The purest essence of heavy metal isn’t found in stadiums or arenas. It’s in black-walled clubs like San Diego’s Brick By Brick: ground zero for the city’s metal community. In February, the Brick welcomed a face-melting black metal showcase, boasting veterans Rotting Christ as headliners, supported by the symphonic grandeur of Carach Angren, Uada’s mesmerising pagan anthems and one of the scene’s most vital new artists, Gaerea.

With bands and fans separated by inches, the surging communal energy reached exhilarating levels. Gaerea’s California debut left everybody joyful and hoarse, and the intensity never waned. 10 months later, locals are still talking about that night.


Sabaton (Wembley Arena, London, UK – April 15)

Boasting a lineup that opened with Lordi and brought Babymetal back to the UK, Sabaton’s Tour To End All Tours certainly lived up to its name. A sold-out Wembley Arena was treated to a triple bill of theatricality but, when the headliner stormed in with enough ordinance to topple a regime, things got blasted to a new level.

Explosions, motorcycles, replica bazookas… nothing was too outlandish. Moreover, Sabaton hit the stage with a sense of joyous enthusiasm that was impossible to ignore. Their anthems felt especially potent as a result, showing there was so much more to this power metal battalion than just being “the tank band”.


Watain (Uppsala Konsert & Kongress, Uppsala, Sweden – November 3)

Watain’s Cirque Du Brûlée commandeered UKK to toast 25 years of elite black metal. There was blood, fire, and knackered arcane pillars hand-crafted by guitarist Pelle Forsberg: an analogue hellscape which made Iron Maiden’s set-up look like a bouncy castle.

Sure, Erik Danielsson’s mic kept dying, but that’s part of the magick, right? The band were incensed, commemorating the occasion with cult covers, Hymn To Qayin’s first outing since 2015 and appearances from Mayhem’s Attila Csihar and The Devils Blood/Molassess singer Farida Lemouchi. Make Watain play Springsteen-length gigs, because the sole downside was all the gold omitted from their career-spanning setlist.


Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.