“Kirk Hammett said, ‘Ah, Cannibal Corpse – that’s an interesting name!’” 20 legendary metal bands remember their first shows

Photos of Iron Maiden, Metallica, Nightwish, Slipknot and Killswitch Engage performing live
(Image credit: Iron Maiden: Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images | Metallica: Samir Hussein/Getty Images | Nightwish: Sergione Infuso/Corbis via Getty Images | Slipknot: Jay West/WireImage | Killswitch Engage: Elsie Roymans/Getty Images)

The biggest stars in heavy metal were not always the biggest stars in heavy metal. Every band in this grubby little genre had unglamorous beginnings, paying their dues in bars, clubs, youth centres or wherever else they could get a gig. And the below list proves it. Metal Hammer’s compiled the stories of 20 heavy music superstars’ first-ever concerts, featuring Metallica suffering from stage-fright, Iron Maiden in a church and audiences throwing tobacco at Opeth.

Metal Hammer line break

Metallica (Radio City, Anaheim, CA – March 14, 1982)

James Hetfield (vocals/guitars): “The first gig was at Radio City, and I was just singing. There were a lot of people there, maybe 200, because we had all my school friends and all Lars’ [Ulrich, drums] and Ron’s [McGovney, bass] and Dave’s [Mustaine, guitars] buddies.

“I was really nervous and a little uncomfortable without a guitar, and then during the first song, Dave broke a string. It seemed to take him eternity to change it and I was standing there really embarrassed. We were really disappointed afterwards. But there were never as many people at the following shows as there were at that first one.” (via Kerrang!)

Iron Maiden (St Nicholas Hall, London, UK – May 1, 1976)

Terry Rance (guitars, 1975–76): “The biggest scandal in the history of Iron Maiden must be the fact that half the audience at the first show were nuns!” (via This Day In Metal)

Slipknot (The Love Shack, Des Moines, IA – November 5, 1995)

Corey Taylor (vocals, 1997–present): “I was there for the very first [Slipknot] show in ’95, and it was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. They didn’t come from the backstage; they walked through us. They didn’t even have to push anyone out of the way. They didn’t tell anybody what they were doing. And when they came on stage, all they did was hit one crazy-low note, and Joey [Jordison, drums] blasted probably for 30 [seconds] to a minute.

“I’m front row, and I remember saying to myself, clear as day, ‘I’m going to be the singer for this band.’ I’d never felt that before, never felt it since and, literally, two years later they ask me.” (via Loudwire)

Avenged Sevenfold (Civic Center, Walnut Creek, CA – February 11, 2000)

Zacky Vengeance (guitars): Avenged Sevenfold’s first concert ever was at The Walnut Creek Civic Center in California and we were unbelievably sloppy. We didn’t have any real gear, we didn’t know how to play, we were trying to flail our guitars around to try and incite a mosh pit… but it turned out pretty good, it was fun!” (via Metal Hammer)

Black Sabbath (County Ballroom, Carlisle, UK – August 24, 1968)

Geezer Butler (bass): “We went down like the Titanic. I was told I couldn’t play bass properly and that Ozzy [Osbourne] was a shit singer. Then we were in a massive brawl while loading up the van. So not a great experience. We decided to become a four-piece, rather than a six-piece after these [early] gigs.” (via Metal Hammer)

Ghost (Hammer Of Doom IV, Würzburg, Germany – October 23, 2010)

Tobias Forge (vocals): “We didn’t know each other, as a group. We had been rehearsing for fucking three weeks or something. […] It was a very hard crowd. It’s not like Argentina when everyone’s just crazy and screaming and jumping around. When we got to London, the day after, the crowd was absolutely avid. There was an explosion when we played.” (via Loudwire)

Slayer (Los Angeles, CA – 1982)

Dave Lombardo (drums): “We were playing so hard that we actually broke the drum riser. It was just a little riser, but it was still pretty funny. We were just so into the music that we didn't even realise we had broken it until after the show.” (via Metal Hammer)

System Of A Down (The Roxy Theatre, Hollywood, CA – May 28, 1995)

Andy Khachaturian (drums, 1994–97): “When I found out that we were having our first show, I came up with the idea to hold up a white cloth banner with some writing spray-painted on it right before we started playing the set. […] The light technician put a spotlight on the banner and it read, ‘1915 1.5 million always remembered’ [referencing the date and number of people killed during the Armenian genocide]. I think I made my point that night. I remember the guys telling me how much they were moved by it.” (via AllSOAD.info)

Nightwish (Kitee, Finland – December 31, 1997)

Tuomas Holopainen (keys): “There were about 300 people there, everybody knew each other and it was New Year’s Eve, so it was all our friends and family, and it was great. I could sense that all the people there were proud of a band from their hometown getting a record deal and putting an album out, which even went into the national charts in Finland at number 37. So there was a healthy feeling of pride throughout that whole concert.” (via Metal Hammer)

Megadeth (Ruthy’s Inn, Berkeley, CA – February 17, 1984)

Dave Mustaine (vocals/guitars): “The [first Megadeth] shows were out of control because hardly anyone knew what moshing was. They weren’t familiar with crowd surfing. Kids would just jump up on the stage and there was no stage diving protocol. Some of them would run over to you and grab your mic stand to get some picks off. They’d bang into your guitar or try to scream into the mic. Then someone would shove them off the stage. It was pure balls-to-the-wall metal insanity.” (via Metal Hammer)

Sepultura (Belo Horizonte, Brazil – December 1984)

Max Cavalera (vocals/guitars, 1984–96): “The show was at a small pub in Belo Horizonte and there were only about 20 people there. Out of the 20 there, three guys had Motörhead shirts on and they were the only guys that liked what we did. It was just noise really – Napalm Death would’ve been proud! My guitar was totally out of tune, and the bass player didn’t even show, so it was a power trio: me on out-of-tune guitar, Igor [Cavalera] on drums, and Wagner [Lamounier], our first singer on vocals.” (via Metal Hammer)

Motörhead (The Roundhouse, London, UK – July 20, 1975)

Lemmy Kilmister (vocals/bass): “It was awful. The Lemmy, Larry Wallis [guitars], Lucas Fox [drums] lineup was pretty bad, you know. We were doing a lot of covers and supporting Greenslade of all things. I had this blue painted skull (real skull) on my amp. It didn’t help. It was terrible.” (via Aural Innovations)

Machine Head (Oakland, CA – August 16, 1992)

Robb Flynn (vocals/guitars): Machine Head played our first show at a house party on Woolsey Street in Oakland, CA. House party isn’t really the right word: our friend / man-of-many-hats Mike Scum was getting evicted, so as a fuck you to his landlord it was a destroy-the-house party with Machine Head as the soundtrack.

“Across the street from Mike was an infamous punk rock house, called The Woolsey House, and all of them came over and gleefully took part in the destruction. Many a hammer was punched into the walls. We bought several kegs, and raged HARD. When the police eventually came, I proudly walked up to his glass front door sporting my ‘fuck the police’ shirt and refused to let them in since they didn’t have the authority to enter.” (via Instagram)

Killswitch Engage (The Palladium, Worcester, MA – November 18, 1999)

Jesse Leach (vocals): “[Killswitch Engage supported] In Flames, Shadows Fall and Dark Tranquillity, I think. I was a really antisocial, strange person back then, so I don’t remember much about it. I was the kind of person that would play a show and disappear. I didn’t like talking to people. I was a really annoying person back then, so there’s your answer.” (via Loudwire)

Opeth (The Cage, Sundbyberg, Sweden – February 2, 1991)

Mikael Åkerfeldt (vocals/guitars): “I remember the crowd was throwing snus tobacco at David [Isberg, original singer] in his face. They stole his microphone stand and he walked offstage for some reason. I don’t know where he went, he just disappeared for some reason and I was just standing with my back towards the crowd because Anders [Nordin, drums] didn’t really know the songs. I just stood there and kind of nodded to him, ‘The next part is kicking in now.’ It didn’t go down well; I think [the audience] hated us, and for a very good reason because we absolutely sucked that night.” (via Metal Talks)

Gojira (village fête, Tartas, France – 1996)

Joe Duplantier (vocals/guitars): “I could tell you everything about that show. 1996 in Tartas, which means ‘paper’ in the Malgache language, because there’s a paper factory there. It’s in the middle of nowhere. They were having a summer celebration and traditionally they invite local bands to play. There was a reggae band, an accordion player and then us. It was outside, in the evening. The stage was the back of a truck and half the set we played was Sepultura covers, but we felt like we were fucking Metallica!” (via Metal Hammer)

Halestorm (talent show, Schuylkill County, PA – August 9, 1997)

Lzzy Hale (vocals/guitars): “[Halestorm] stepped nervously on stage… well, I was nervous, I don’t think Arejay [Hale, drums] has ever been nervous in his life! Armed with a Casio keyboard and a Frankensteined kit Arj had put together […] we played our original five-minute opus Love Is Power. It was the first song we’d ever written together, in lieu of a bridge to the song we put a drum solo in the middle.” (via Instagram)

Saxon (Rotherham, UK – 1979)

Biff Byford (vocals): “​​The first gig we played as Saxon, back when we were still called Son Of A Bitch, was an afternoon show at a little pub in Rotherham, to about five people. And we only played it because we were just getting together, so that was like a trial gig to see if it worked. Then we had some posters made, saying ‘Saxon (formerly Son Of A Bitch)’ and we started shopping around for gigs in places like The Boat Club in Nottingham – small rock venues across the country. And then I suppose the next thing we did was the Motörhead tour in 1979.” (via Metal Hammer)

Amon Amarth (Stockholm, Sweden – 1992)

Johan Hegg (vocals): “It was at the youth club where we rehearsed. We had four songs, I think, but I don’t remember much. I remember the headliner was Dissection and all the bands were playing with our drummer’s drums, so after the gig he had pig’s blood over them and he didn’t clean them up, so they had pig’s blood forever. I was about 19 I think. We weren’t that good.” (via Metal Hammer)

Cannibal Corpse (River Rock Cafe, Buffalo, NY – March 22, 1989)

Alex Webster (bass): “For our first show we advertised by handing out a whole bunch of flyers at a Metallica show. We were opening for Dark Angel for our first show – the one show that they did in Buffalo. And we handed out 8,000 flyers for that show, and my friend was getting an autograph from [Metallica guitarist] Kirk Hammett and he was using one of the flyers to get the autograph. Kirk Hammett said, ‘Ah, Cannibal Corpse – that’s an interesting name.’” (via Moshville Times)

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.