Metallica: Are they now the biggest metal band on the planet?

Metallica band
Metallica (Image credit: Herring & Herring)

Metallica are one of the hardest working bands around and have toured almost constantly since the release of 2016’s Hardwired… To Self-Destruct.

The tour kicked off on October 26, 2016, in Puerto Rico, and there are more shows planned later this year and into 2020.

Now, a new report by Pollstar has shown just how many tickets the band have sold since 1982 – and it’s a staggering 22 million, which have grossed $1.4 billion in the process.

To put that in perspective, the report compares those ticket sales with AC/DC (14.3m) and Ozzy Osbourne (10m and 13.2m if combining Ozzy and Black Sabbath).

Pollstar say Metallica’s nearest competitors in hard rock and heavy metal when it comes to money generated from ticket sales are Guns N’ Roses who have grossed a total of $800m down the years – helped in part by their ongoing Not In This Lifetime tour.

However, Pollstar say Metallica aren’t quite the biggest overall touring artist yet, with U2 currently holding on to the top spot.

Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich says: “I keep thinking and forcing myself to think all our best years are still ahead of us. We may even turn professional and do this full-time one day.

“That’s the MO. It’s always, ‘What’s your favourite record?’ It’s the next one, the one we haven’t recorded yet. It’s always about the possibilities, always about what can be, what’s coming. 

“That, to me, is what this is all about and I think that attitude is a big part of the why Metallica still connects to so many people around the world.”

Ulrich adds: “What’s happening in Latin America over the last five years is crazy, what’s happening in places like South East Asia is crazy, what’s happening in Eastern Europe – it’s unbelievable.

We can go into a place like Estonia and play to 60,000 people and it’s just incredible

Metallica's Lars Ulrich

“We can go into a place like Estonia and play to 60,000 people and it’s just incredible what the energy is, the event itself and how appreciative they are that you come there.

“It’s really cool that that can still happen. As long as that keeps happening, we’ll keep doing it.”

Artist Group International’s founder and chairman Dennis Arfa goes further than saying the band are simply the biggest when it comes to hard rock and heavy metal.

He tells Pollstar: “I think Metallica may be the biggest band in the world. Not only are they a stadium attraction, but they sell out in secondary and tertiary markets where you wouldn’t see many artists playing at all. 

“The fact they can do the type of business they do all over the world – the two biggest apparel pieces in the world are a Yankees hat and a Metallica t-shirt. This isn’t a 10-year phenomenon, this is a stadium band since the mid-’90s and they have continued to win on the biggest levels.”

Ulrich concludes: “I used to say, ‘Metallica is James and I and Kirk and Rob, we are Metallica and Metallica belongs to us and you don’t fuck with Metallica.’

“I don’t think like that at all any more. I think that Metallica is all of us, and Metallica belongs to everyone. Metallica is more like a state of mind or ethereal position or situation. 

“Nobody owns Metallica. It’s a place we go and a place we escape to and a place where we can feel better about who we are and connect to other people and to the fucking universe.” 

Earlier this month, Metallica played two landmark S&M2 shows in San Francisco, with footage from both nights set to be screened in cinemas for one night only around the world on October 9.

Here are eight things we learned from what turned out to be a quite incredible weekend with Metallica.

Scott Munro
Louder e-commerce editor

Scott has spent more than 30 years in newspapers, magazines and online as an editor, production editor, sub-editor, designer, writer and reviewer. Scott joined our news desk in the summer of 2014 before moving to the e-commerce team in 2020. Scott maintains Louder’s buyer’s guides, scouts out the best deals for music fans and reviews headphones, speakers, books and more. He's written more than 11,000 articles across Louder, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer and Prog and has previous written for publications including IGN, the Sunday Mirror, Daily Record and The Herald, covering everything from daily news and weekly features, to video games, travel and whisky. Scott's favourite bands are Fields Of The Nephilim, The Cure, New Model Army, All About Eve, The Mission, Cocteau Twins, Drab Majesty, Marillion and Rush.