According to records, these are officially the 10 loudest concerts of all time

Photos of Manowar, Deep Purple, Motörhead and Kiss playing live
(Image credit: Manowar: Peter Wafzig/Getty Images | Deep Purple: Michael Putland/Getty Images | Motörhead: Pete Still/Redferns | Kiss: Kevin Winter/American Idol 2009/Getty Images for Fox)

Metal concerts are loud! Trust us, we’ve got the tinnitus to prove it. After all, rock is meant to be played at maximum volume, and it’s almost certain that one of the key ingredients that attracted you to heavy music in the first place was hearing the inner-ear-destroying rush of pounding drums and massive guitars. Over the years, it’s developed into something of a badge of honour to be the loudest band in the world. Here, we present the 10 most ear-splitting concerts of all time, judged by world record achievements.

Metal Hammer line break

Blue Cheer – various, 1968

The first band to be recognised by the Guinness Book Of World Records as the loudest on record were San Francisco proto-metal trio Blue Cheer. Unfortunately, there was no one event or concert measured for exactly how loud they were, but as one of the first bands to use Marshall stacks, they were generally considered to be the loudest gig going experience of the era.

Deep Purple – Rainbow Theatre, London, 1972

By the time the loudness wars were ramping up, the title of “world’s loudest band” became more hotly contested. Deep Purple were named the loudest musical act on Earth in the 1975 edition of the Guinness Book Of World Records. Their 1972 show in London’s Rainbow Theatre was measured at 117 decibels, and apparently it was so cacophonous that it rendered three audience members unconscious.

The Who – The Valley, London, 1976

One year after Deep Purple terrorised the ears of Guinness’s judging panel, hard rock legends The Who smashed their record like a dropped vinyl. On May 31, 1976, at Charlton Athletic Football Club (AKA “The Valley”), the sound was registered at a whopping 126 decibels – and that reading was taken at a 100-foot distance from the speakers. No wonder Pete Townshend is basically deaf. 

Motörhead – Cleveland Variety Theater, Ohio, 1984

Although it was never recognised officially, Motörhead’s 1984 gig at the Cleveland Variety Theater in Ohio has gone down in infamy. Lemmy and co.’s set was allegedly measured at 130 decibels, before it was cut short as plaster from the ceiling started to rain down on the audience below. Two years later, the venue was shut due to safety concerns.

Iron Maiden – Monsters Of Rock, Castle Donington, 1988

In the 2000 edition of the Guinness Book Of World Records, Iron Maiden were featured, not as the loudest band, but as having the largest PA system in recorded history. This was for their headline performance at the 1988 Monsters Of Rock festival, blaring metal to 100,000 people. The PA, consisting of 360 Turbosound Cabinets, took five days to construct and peaked at an ear-bleeding 124 decibels. 

Manowar – Hannover, Germany, 1994

In 1984, Manowar were called the loudest band ever by the Guinness Book Of World Records. They then ended up breaking their own record 10 years later, achieving 129.5 decibels at a concert in Hannover in 1994. However, worried it might encourage more bands to increase volume to even more dangerous levels, Guinness removed the record from its books. Spoilsports.

Gallows – The Laney Factory, Birmingham, 2007

Before Frank Carter helmed the Rattlesnakes, he was in this supremely noisy punk crew. In 2007, the band reached a ridiculous 132.5-decibel volume at a studio in the midlands. Although it wasn’t technically a performance open to the public, researchers at the Brighton Institute Of Modern Music verified Gallows played as loud as a jet engine for roughly a minute.

Manowar (again) – Magic Circle Festival, Westfalen, 2008

Gallows may have stolen their record for a year, but no band has ever been as committed to making a racket than Manowar. They reclaimed their title as the loudest band of all time during a soundcheck for their Magic Circle Festival appearance in 2008. A PA containing, amongst other things, 64 subwoofers managed to power Manowar to 139 decibels.

Sleazy Joe – Hasselholm, 2008

Swedish punk band Sleazy Joe are far from a household name. In fact, they appear to be famous for one thing only: a Manowar-esque dedication to being the loudest band on the planet. In 2008 they managed to peak at 143.2 decibels, which is mad! There is, unfortunately for the band, no official record of this, so we’re basically taking their word for it.

Kiss – Bluesfest, Ottawa, 2009

Bluesfest in Ottawa, Canada, actually had a 90-decibel sound limit for its 2009 iteration – something that glam metal legends Kiss destroyed with their headlining performance, which apparently peaked at 136. It was brief, with complaints from local residents meaning that the sound engineer had to turn everything down. However, for that period, Kiss were up there with the loudest bands of all time.

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.