The 11 greatest final shows in heavy metal history

Photos of Metallica's Cliff Burton, Slipknot's Paul Gray, Slayer's Tom Araya and Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne playing onstage
(Image credit: Metallica: Ross Marino/Icon And Image/Getty Images | Slipknot: Gary Miller/FilmMagic | Slayer: Joseph Okpako/WireImage | Black Sabbath: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for ABA)

Final shows are bittersweet symphonies of parting. They represent the culmination of eras, legacies and, in many cases, lifetimes for both bands and fans. Choosing the right city, venue and setlist for a band’s last gig can be an exquisite torment, but planning a final show is a rare luxury afforded to only a lucky few: too often, bands take the stage one night, wholly oblivious that it will be their final show together. Here are metal’s 10 most brilliant final shows:

Metal Hammer line break

Cliff Burton (Metallica), 1986

Metallica’s early slogan was Metal Up Your Ass!, and bassist Cliff Burton embodied that spirit until the very end. His final show with the Four Horsemen – in Stockholm, Sweden, on September 26, 1986 – was a brutal thrash metal bender, boasting a setlist where every song is now a genre classic. Cliff sadly passed just one day later, after Metallica’s bus crashed in the Scandinavian wilderness.

Ronnie James Dio (Heaven And Hell), 2009

RJD’s final gig was with Heaven And Hell in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in August 2009: a poignant testament to the icon’s years fronting Black Sabbath. The frontman delivered a performance with power and grace, belting out classics like Neon Knights and The Mob Rules. Cruelly, Ronnie never performed live again. He died from stomach cancer on May 16, 2010, age 67.

Slayer, 2019

Slayer slashed their final chord on a balmy L.A. evening. Both a homecoming and a farewell, The Forum thronged with bellowing fans and A-list celebrities there to see the legends one last time. Without a hint of sentimentality, Slayer burned the venue down with a neck-snapping, 20-song assault. It was the most Slayer-esque of endings: loud, fast and leaving the world hungry for more.

Paul Gray (Slipknot), 2009

On Halloween 2009, beneath the neon shroud of Las Vegas, Paul Gray thundered his bass with Slipknot for the last time. Although the night proved an electrifying showcase of Slipknot’s live show, history would later re-cast it as a requiem. Gray’s death by accidental overdose on May 24, 2010, thrust the performance into legend: a haunting coda for a deeply-adored member of the metal community.

Black Sabbath, 2017

Birmingham’s infamous sons brought their heavy metal odyssey full circle in 2017. Culminating their 49-year reign, the arena buzzed with nostalgia, witnessing Ozzy Osbourne’s last invocation of generation-spanning classics like Black Sabbath, War Pigs and Iron Man. Sabbath’s send-off was laced with pyrotechnics, confetti and an arsenal of classic riffs. This was more than a concert: it was a heavy metal epoch’s resounding final note.

Motörhead, 2015

Motörhead’s final assault was nothing short of epic: a no-holds-barred, rock ’n’ roll apocalypse. The 16-song set unleashed a barrage of classics and fresh cuts, from Bomber to Ace Of Spades. Despite health struggles, Lemmy’s performance was fierce and energised but Motörhead were only days from the end. The legend passed away on December 28, 2015: a mere 17 days later.

Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan (Avenged Sevenfold), 2009

Avenged Sevenfold’s final concert with drummer The Rev marked an emotional milestone. Celebrated as a creative dynamo, his last performance showcased Avenged’s robust catalogue with fan-favourites like Beast And The Harlot and Almost Easy. It was a pivotal moment in their ascension to the metal pantheon. It would also be The Rev’s last-ever show before he died of a fatal overdose five months later.

Children Of Bodom, 2019

Children Of Bodom’s farewell concert was a monumental moment in metal history. After 25 years, the Finns’ fusion of melodeath and power metal culminated in this emotional finale. Frontman Alexi Laiho passed away in 2020, imbuing the evening with a sense of poignancy and finality. The band recently announced that the show will be released as a live album in December 2023.

Riley Gale (Power Trip), 2020

In the heat of the Philippines, Power Trip unleashed a sonic tempest: their unknowing final act of defiance. It was a livewire night, with the promise of years of metal domination, with frontman Riley Gale rallying the masses with his soulful howl. Nobody knew it was the end, but what a high-octane send-off it was before Riley passed in August, 2020.

Him, 2017

At 2017’s Helldone Festival, Him’s parting serenade echoed with gothic romance. Ville Valo’s melancholic croon amidst iThe Funeral Of Hearts captivated fans, forging an ethereal finale. The emotion of their love metal hymns swelled in the frostbitten air of Helsinki: a heart-wrenching farewell to a band that had masterfully blurred the lines between love, death and rock ’n’ roll since 1991.

The Dillinger Escape Plan, 2017

For their apocalyptic final bow, The Dillinger Escape Plan orchestrated a frenetic yet poignant adieu in the Big Apple. Amidst the raw pandaemonium and stage-diving antics, the mathcore maestros balanced bedlam with guest turns from Mike Patton, original singer Dimitri Minakakis and even a string quartet. It was a fitting swan song that left the band’s legacy intact and fans in awe.

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.

With contributions from