10 times massive metal bands played ridiculously intimate concerts

Photos of Bring Me The Horizon, Metallica, Slipknot and Iron Maiden performing live
(Image credit: Bring Me The Horizon: Steve Jennings/WireImage | Metallica: Matthew Eisman/WireImage | Slipknot: Gus Stewart/Redferns | Iron Maiden: Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

As a metal fan, there’s nothing better than a gig in an intimate venue. Seeing a band you love tear through some of your favourite tunes, inches from your face, crushed up amongst a couple hundred other sweaty metalheads is one of life’s great joys.

Of course, when you get to the level of some of heavy music’s biggest bands, those venues are swapped for arenas and stadiums, and the chance to see them up close becomes incredibly rare. Rare, but not impossible. Here are 10 times massive metal bands turned back the years to play a tiny, tiny show.

Metal Hammer line break

Metallica – 850 people, 2016

Metallica are the biggest metal band ever; London’s House Of Vans holds 850, roughly a hundredth of the crowd the band usually plays to in the capital. Never the twain shall meet, right? Well, on the release day of their tenth studio album, Hardwired... To Self Destruct, the band decided to play the most intimate of intimate shows at the tiny venue. The night that followed was absolutely legendary.

Iron Maiden – 1,000 people, 1988

Most Iron Maiden fans know that – on August 20, 1988 – the band played a mammoth set at the Monsters Of Rock festival to 100,000 people. What they may not know, however, is that they played a dinky warm-up show in London just three days beforehand. The Beast tore through tracks as grandiose as Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son to a crowd of no more than 1,000 at Queen Mary’s College.

Slipknot – 220 people, 2020

The most intimate Slipknot show the UK’s ever seen. On January 26, 2020, The Nine were mere hours removed from headlining London’s 20,000-capacity O2 Arena and played to a crowd about a hundredth of the size. They invited just 220 maggots to the nearby Maida Vale Studios for a hyper-intimate, six-song set recorded for BBC Radio 1. Somehow, Psychosocial and Duality sound even rowdier in the sweaty surroundings.

Avenged Sevenfold – 200 people, 2013

Months after Hail To The King thrust the band to number one on both sides of the Atlantic, Avenged Sevenfold gave a tiny L.A. gathering a belated Halloween treat. The California jocks levelled the Red Bull Sound Space on November 1, with a minuscule 200 people in attendance, blasting through classics and new hits alike. Guitarist Zacky Vengeance and drummer Arin Ilejay even dressed up as a skeleton and Groucho Marx for the occasion.

Van Halen – 325 people, 2012

2012 was a banner year for Van Halen. That February, the band released A Different Kind Of Truth: not only their first studio album in 14 years, but their first with classic frontman David Lee Roth since 1984. The hype was astronomical, as telegraphed by when the band rocked up to the mere 325-capacity Cafe Wha? in New York and had Jimmy Fallon and John McEnroe in attendance.

Nine Inch Nails – 800 people, 2013

Trent Reznor had kept industrial superstars Nine Inch Nails on hiatus since 2009. So, it couldn’t have been more exciting to learn that, a week before their comeback album Hesitation Marks was to be released, they were returning with a show at London’s 800-capacity Scala. Those lucky enough to get tickets saw a 22-song greatest hits set, with David Bowie and Joy Division covers stacked alongside classics like Closer.

Bring Me The Horizon – 850 people, 2015

That’s The Spirit marked Bring Me The Horizon’s mainstream breakthrough, peaking at number 2 on the UK and US charts. To celebrate its release, the band played a show at the 850-capacity House Of Vans in London. Two weeks prior, Oli Sykes and the boys were sub-headlining the Reading and Leeds festivals beneath Metallica. Plus, the next time they were in London, they headlined Alexandra Palace in front of 10,000 fans.

Mötley Crüe – 500 people, 2023

The night before they co-headlined London’s 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium, glam metal legends Mötley Crüe decided to rock up at the 500-person Underworld in Camden. It turned out to be their smallest show on UK soil in around three decades. Those there commented on how much more energised the band seemed by their surroundings, grittily blasting out their bangers without the usual frills and distractions of an arena show.

Machine Head – 600 people, 2002

Machine Head may have been struggling off the back of the lacklustre Supercharger in 2002, but they were still way too massive for a gig to 600 people to make any sense. Robb Flynn’s groove metal wrecking crew levelled the Garage in London on July 3, mixing covers with iron-clad classics. The only thing more badass than seeing Machine Head up close is seeing Machine Head play Creeping Death up close.

Killswitch Engage and Hatebreed – 600 people, 2013

If there were ever a cursed gig, it’s this one. Killswitch Engage and Hatebreed were supposed to headline Hevy Music Festival in 2013 – until it got cancelled last-minute. A rumoured replacement gig down the road at London’s Brixton Academy never happened, so the pair played the 600-capacity Garage instead. The bands started late due to the kerfuffle and Killswitch’s Jesse Leach reportedly had food poisoning, but the sets were still incredible.

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.