Not all sports are equal, some are more metal than others. A lot more. But what’s the generic criteria for a sport’s metal quotient? Like many traditional games, heavy metal is an exercise in speed, endurance, surgical technicality and violent, bone-crushing rhythms. Risk plays a central role in both metal and sports — not just the risk of failure but the risk of debilitating injury. Metal musicians are routinely breaking legs, popping ribs, falling off of stages, surviving jolts of electricity and of course, dealing with the grisly and sometimes fatal realities of automobile accidents. On the other side of the stage are the circle pits — teeming pools of majestic aggression, balanced by a strict code of ethics understood only by those ballsy enough to enter.
Great athletes and musicians understand how to play a part, but the ones who change the game are those who redefine their roles and put everything on the line each time they take the stage or field of play. Despite football being an incredibly captivating sport, it’s just not metal; infected by an embarrassing culture of gel-haired prima donnas diving and crying that relegates it somewhere just above tennis but below synchronised swimming. BASE jumping and skydiving require balls of iron but while those are truly insane activities that require a lot more skill than just falling, they lack the element of mano-a-mano competition.
And so, without further ado, here are the ten most metal sports in descending order, with that sport’s spiritual sub-genre of metal.
Metal Genre: Hardcore
Peerless in its savagery, the centuries-old game of Buzkashi, considered the Afghan National Sport by some, literally means “goat grabbing”, and it involves teams of men on horseback fighting for possession of a goat carcass with the goal of circling the field and dragging it into the designated scoring area. Games can last for several days. Every bit as ruthless as it sounds, this game originated during the Middle Ages in Central Asia and just as they did back then, Buzkashi riders use whips and kicks to fend off and to distract their opposition. Falling off horses and getting trampled is as common as England getting knocked out of a major tournament. We at Metal Hammer love our pets and animals of all shapes and sizes and are happy to report that modern variations of the game substitute balls for carcasses. Nonstop wholescale insanity.
Metal Genre: Glam metal
Society will never lack dour, self-important buzzkills who relish in condemning pro-wrestling as fake. Such smug unoriginality wrongly assumes that scripted plotlines and choreographed manoeuvres establish a lack of real violence. Bull. Shit. The world of professional wrestling is one of the hardest in sports, beginning with a regimen that sees most up-and-comers on the road for 300 days a year, battering the holy hell out of their bodies by flopping off of the top rope onto rings made of real wood and real fucking steel, lifting ridiculous amounts of weight and taking real-world punches all week long. Just like in metal, these guys do it for the love of the game and a shot at the big time. Sadly, not all wrestlers have health insurance and with the sport dominated by injury, painkiller abuse is not uncommon, leading to an exponentially-higher death rate than most jobs. Factor in the back-slapping brotherhood between wrestling and metal (Motörhead, anyone?), and this easily makes the list.
Metal Genre: Power Metal
The world record for bench press most recently fell in 2013 at a Cajun powerlifting competition in Texas, when some dude benched 1,102 pounds (500kg). That’s like putting the four or five chubbiest guys in the office on top of a very sturdy platform and bench-pressing them. These guys lift pant-shitting (literally) amounts of weight all day long and the diet of a kodiak bear pales in comparison to what powerlifters pack away every day to maintain mass. If you’re serious about this sport and you dedicate yourself to moving ridiculous amounts of weight, you most assuredly will get injured and good luck buying anything remotely fashionable unless you look like a boss in a tank top. Mouth off to a powerlifter and he’s likely to beat you with a Honda. Incredibly metal.
Metal Genre: Doom
Up through the ‘80s, marathon runners were rightly regarded as batshit-crazy health nuts with deep psychological disorders. Why else would somebody voluntarily run that far? Ten years later, marathon training entered the mainstream and by the dawn of the noughties, you couldn’t swing a pair of overpriced trainers without hitting five people who’d run at least two marathons. Unlike all other species, humans have an ego that demands we set limits and break them in our quest to see just how far we can take this whole life thing. Enter the ultramarathoner. These freaks run 50 and 100 mile races without batting an eye and the gruelling, soul-crushing competitions can take anywhere from eight hours to over two days. The mind of an ultramarathon runner must simultaneously conjure a zen stillness, a laser focus on the next ten meters, and the ability to ignore the fact that most of the blisters on your feet are now oozing rancid pus, your quads feel like somebody’s hitting them with pipes, there’s nobody around you for miles and if you stop to drop that deuce in the woods that you so badly need to release, your legs might be unable to resume cadence. So you block out the realisation that you have 40 miles left and you just keep running. The most metal ultramarathon – (hell, the most metal race of all time) is the Barkley Marathons – 130 miles through gnarly woods, pretty much around the clock for two days straight. These are the athletes you want in your group when the zombie apocalypse hits.
Metal Genre: Nu Metal
According to a study by the University of North Carolina, the average life expectancy of an NFL player is 55 years – that’s what playing football at that level will do to your body. If you retire at 35, there’s an excellent chance that you’ll be dining with Julius Caesar and Al Capone inside of twenty years. Why? Because American football is fucking brutal. First, to reach this level of play, you’ve spent at least ten years playing your balls off at the high school and then college level, subjecting your body to the sort of trauma intended for heavy bags and crash test dummies. If you make the NFL, maintaining that fitness isn’t enough, you need to take your game up a good three or four notches (admittedly a murky measurement). Most NFL players are built like comic book superheroes and the 300-pound linebackers are as fast as squirrels. Yes, they wear pads, which are routinely used in ferocious, rule-skirting fashion. Relieved of rugby’s requirement to safely wrap around the player you’re tackling, in the NFL players can block from the blindside, cut runners off at the hips and generally turn themselves into 200-pound freight trains, often colliding loudly enough to echo through a sold-out stadium.
NASCAR/Race Car Driving
Metal Genre: Speed Metal
You’re barreling down a stretch of road at 220mph only a couple feet away from cars on all sides of you. If another driver moves unexpectedly, everybody’s fucked. And by “fucked” we mean, “you die horribly in a terrifying maelstrom of burning gasoline and twisted metal, as your body skids down the roadway one part at a time.” In no other sport on this list is the risk of death as real as it is in race car driving. Throw in the fact that especially in NASCAR, you’ve got a bunch of good ol’ boy drivers who have zero problem starting shit with each other in pits and on the track, and you’ve got one metal-ass sport.
Metal Genre: Black Metal
Euphemistically referred to as “The fastest game on grass,” hurling most closely mirrors a battle scene from Vikings. You’ve got athletes fit as footballers wielding flat wooden clubs wrapped with metal grabbing, balancing and smashing the hell out of a rock-hard missile just a bit smaller than a baseball. Equal parts Aussie rules football, lacrosse, hockey, football, baseball and street-fighting, hurling is as deeply-embedded in Irish culture as Guinness. Played by fearless, steely-eyed latter day gladiators with superhuman hand-eye coordination, hurling is one of the most exciting and brutal things you’ll ever see.
Metal Genre: NWOBHM
15 men on a side with no equipment other than the odd scrum cap; a device invented after players kept losing ears during games. Any sport that routinely boasts the risk of losing a body part is pretty freaking metal, but today’s rugby goes even further. 30 years ago the game was played by a bunch of beefy Europeans with full-time jobs, today’s rugby player has the fitness and build of an NFL linebacker and the on-pitch intensity of a wolverine. One of rugby’s most beloved rules is that there’s no blocking for the ball carrier, who must either score, pass, kick or get the ever-loving shit hammered out of him by an opposing player. Unlike it’s younger brother, the NFL, rugby doesn’t stop just because a player’s on the ground — the teams form something of a wall of death over the guy on the ground, trying to push the other team back, all the while punching, grabbing and kicking the fuck out of each other with steel cleats. Games are 80 minutes with one halftime break, unlike the NFL, which features just over 10 minutes of pure action. Rugby players are among the hardest men on Earth. Fact.
Metal Genre: Metal. Just metal.
We don’t need to dive into this one in any great detail. Precious few people could make it through even half of an average training camp, where the fighter spends day after day running, lifting, fighting and occasionally having to lose 10 or 12 pounds in a couple of days. It’s not simply about learning the best way to batter the fuck out of a stranger; it’s about learning how to withstand a punch so hard that your forehead opens up and blood starts pouring down your face — a development that you must entirely disregard, remaining focused on the task of 1) avoiding another one like that; and 2) punching the hell out of the guy in front of you. In MMA, you throw in not just crazy jiu jitsu moves, but dudes kicking the piss out of each other’s legs and faces. Any sport where a contest is decided when one of the contestants is rendered unconscious is metal as fuck.
Metal Genre: Thrash
You’ve got bruising behemoths flying around a sheet of ice on steel blades at speeds of up to 30mph, carrying sticks with blades at the end and battling for a rubber puck hard enough to shatter a femur. Hockey is everything that football/soccer is not — rough, violent and ultra-high in intensity. Teams secure possession through endless shifts of bludgeoning hits, 60mph passes and slapshots that routinely approach 120mph. It’s not at all unusual for a defending player to block such a shot by diving in front of it. The hand-eye coordination to make it in hockey is otherworldly and if you’ve ever met a hockey player with all of his original teeth, then wait until he turns six. The advent of face masks — for both offensive players and goalies — is still a relatively new development in the sport; back in the ‘70s, guys played without helmets and goalies without masks. Though many lament the culture of fighting so deeply entrenched in the game, dropping gloves and settling scores during the game is an accepted part of hockey and once the punches start flying, referees generally don’t bother to get involved until the combatants hit the ice. A hockey shift is essentially a nonstop sprint back and forth down the ice; think suicide drills from your soccer/basketball days, only do them for an entire game. The off-season training regimen for an NHL player is flat out nuts, primarily because the regular season lasts a gruelling 82 one-hour games, with 16 teams moving on to the play-offs for four more best-of-seven series. Contrast that to the NFL season, where athletes play 16 games — remember, only about 11 minutes of real time action — or premiership rugby, which is 22 matches. The combination of preternatural fitness, tactical precision, mental toughness and the jaw-dropping acts of violence that a player absorbs during the game elevates ice hockey to the most metal sport on earth.