Heavy metal is, was and will forever be an international phenomenon (and someday, no doubt, it will go intergalactic). Still, when it comes to the proper headbanging arts and sciences, many aspects of metal seem, in large part, as American as apple pie (served from your enemy’s skull, of course).
Metal’s roots extend deep into our stateside soil. The music’s dark soul and hell-hammer impact arose from the very first Mississippi Delta blues riffs. Later, hard rock madmen such as San Francisco’s Blue Cheer and Detroit’s the Stooges directly shaped the fire from which metal would finally emerge.
Perhaps even more importantly, heavy metal continues to flourish in the U.S., largely through local scenes where fans gather in their masses (just like witches you-know-where) and via social media, which keeps headbangers constantly connected like an endless, ever-expanding mosh pit. While surveying these local scenes, a question arose: Could one actually take the crown as The Most Metal City in America?
That’s where you come in. Take a look at our alphabetically ordered list of the top 13 U.S. metal capitals and submit your vote. There can only be one. Throw your horns wisely!
Local Heroes: Mastodon, Sevendust, Fozzy, Baroness, Kylesa, Order of the Owl, Black Tusk, Sadistic Ritual, Royal Thunder, Mangled, Stuck Mojo, Attila, Dead in the Dirt, Woe Is Me, Death of Kings, Comes With the Fall, MonstrO, Dropout, Follow for Now, Disfigurement, Hellgoat, Living Decay, Spewtilator
Atlanta’s metal scene matches its dripping sweatbox climate: it’s become the premiere sludge outpost of the 21st century, spearheaded by Mastodon. The annual ProgPower Festival has been an international gathering of soaring artists and adventurous metalheads since 2001. Local label Boris Records is one of the most vibrant outlets for new metal anywhere.
A relatively young vibe permeates the Georgia metalscape, and you can ride that vibe while wailing live band “Metalsome” karaoke at the Dark Horse Tavern or downing drinks and tongue-banging burgers at The Highlander.
Local Heroes: Clutch, Pig Destroyer, The Obsessed, Dying Fetus, Kix, Misery Index, Magrudergrind, Earthride, Wrathchild America, Iron Man, Mystic Force, Ilsa, Against Nature, IronChrist, Rancid Decay, Revelation, Unorthodox, Wretched
The home of Maryland Death Fest, the U.S.’s biggest metal festival, not surprisingly keeps the brutality going all year long. Coupled with the nearby D.C. metal community, Baltimore has long been a headbanger’s paradise: just look no further than the immortal 1986 documentary, Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Although the beloved Black Mess record store shuttered up this year, just Metal Mondays at Ottobar to get a raging hurricane of Maryland madness.
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Local Heroes: Type O Negative, Biohazard, Sir Lord Baltimore, Dust, Carnivore, Fallout, Tombs, Life of Agony, Candiria, Cattlepress, Merauder, Vauder, Seventh Void, Unlocking the Truth
Brooklyn’s metal heritage dates back to Sir Lord Baltimore’s 1970 groundbreaker Kingdom Come, and extend on through the unparalleled ’80s dominance of L’Amour as the single mightiest metal club on Earth. At present, the borough’s bustling hotbed of new music boasts an incredible metal front, as well as two of our planet’s presently most ferocious metal bars—Duff’s in Williamsburg and Lucky 13 in Gowanus—as well as Saint Vitus, a headbanger’s dream live music venue.
Local Heroes: Disturbed, Ministry, Trouble, Bongripper, Macabre, Yakuza, Atlas Moth, Pelican, Coven, Nachmystium, Soil, Bones, Aftermath, Broken Hope, Slauter Xstroyes, Hessler, Earthen Grave, Lair of the Minotaur, Empyrean Sky, Indian, Novembers Doom, Dope, Veil of Maya, Wrath, The Skull, Sacred Warriors, Cianide, Cardiac Arrest, Kommandant, Sons of Famine, Usurper, Sweet Cobra
The frozen concrete and Midwest work ethic of Chicago has made it a metal town dating back to 1969, when local psychedelicists Coven unleashed the very first satanic rock album. That history carried on with Trouble’s doom innovation, as well as Al Jourgensen and Ministry’s Wax Trax industrial revolution. Today, Chicago metal actively and vibrantly spans every subgenre, with all practitioners united by a single love: that for metalhead hamburger mecca extraordinaire, Kuma’s Corner.
Local Heroes: Pantera, Damageplan, Hellyeah, Absu, Drowning Pool, ASKA, Devourment, Baring Teeth, A Dozen Furies, Pinkish Black, Power Trip, Warbeast, Mothership, Terminator 2
As the Misfits (in)famously sang, “Texas is an outrage…” and the metal capital of the state that produced icons on the order of Lee Harvey Oswald, Roky Erickson, J.R. Ewing, and Leatherface has kept true to those words. Pantera, of course, put Dallas on the metal map and the city keeps heads banging now by way of killer venues such as Reno’s Chop Shop, Tomcats West, and Trees, which features its own Dallas Metal Scene Showcase. Don’t forget to pay tribute to the peelers at The Clubhouse, a heavily metal strip bar co-owned by the mighty Vinnie Paul. Talk about horns up!
Local Heroes: Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Black Dahlia Murder, Halloween, Bury the Silence, Grand Funk Railroad, Seduce, The Stooges, The MC5, Chugger, Frijid Pink, Caligari, Cactus, Brownsville Station, Repulsion, Heresy, John 5, Kill Tomorrow, A Study in Scarlet, Splice Inception, Suburban Bloodshed, As Empires Decay, Dead Against, 6 Prong Paw, Bury the Silence, Battlecross
The Motor City has been an infernal metal foundry since the late 1960s, when giants strode up on the order of Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, the Stooges, the MC5, and Grand Funk Railroad. Detroit’s inherent metalocity has roared ever since. Legendary venue Blondie’s dominated for decades, with Harpo’s presently bringing the noise is full face-smashing Michigan fashion.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Local Heroes: Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, Slayer, Mötley Crüe, Jane’s Addiction, Megadeth, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Poison, Tool, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, L.A. Guns, Goatsnake, L7, Coal Chamber Static-X, Buckcherry, Ides of Gemini
No single byway has, can, or likely ever will surpass L.A.’s Sunset Strip as the living, leering, louder-than-lust embodiment of heavy metal in the 1980s. Simply consult the 1988 documentary masterpiece, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. Additionally, L.A. largely begat alt-metal in the form countless acts inspired by Black Flag’s hardcore mutation, the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s funk front, and Jane’s Addiction’s art-rock deviance. As America’s show biz epicenter, L.A. will always attract heavy hitters, and the city’s present metal movement holds true to that tradition, especially as it transcends and even invents new variations.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Local Heroes: Down, Eyehategod, Crowbar, Exhordor, Acid Bath, Soilent Green, Witch Burial, Goatwhore, Haarp, Severed Mass, Thou, Six Pack, Ossacrux, Red Shield, Fat Stupid Ugly People, Barghest, Mountain Of Wizard, Ritual Killer, Superjoint Ritual, Gasmiasma, Viking Crown, House Of Goats, Southern Isolation, Gristnam, Knight, Clearlight, Kingdom of Sorrow, Classhole, Abysmal Lord, Solid Giant
NOLA, the debut album by the Phil-Anselmo-led doom supergroup down, is the sound not just of New Orleans metal, but of the city’s sweltering, voodoo-baked, pirate-hearted very soul. Headbanging Big Easy icons on the order of Eyehategod and Crowbar further reflect that feeling, although New Orleans metal continually evolves and expands to summon forth new aspects of the locals’ swamp-soaked concepts and visions. It’s not all sludgey and slow, though: New Orleans metal is a bloody gumbo of styles and spices. Check the racks at Skully’z Records, then drown in the drinks and sounds of The Dungeon and Siberia.
Local Heroes: Red Fang, Yob, Toxic Holocaust, Agalloch, Danava, Poison Idea, Black ‘n Blue, Wild Dogs, Witch Mountain, Lord Dying, Wizard Rifle, Saints, Norska
From up high and to the left, Portland’s eclectic metal scene rocks with the rebelliousness and individuality that has always defined this Pacific Northwest outpost. Aside from the exploding array of local artists, Portland’s metal-intensive hangouts and venues rank among the most adventurous anywhere. Perhaps nothing so embodies the local spirit as the Black Water Bar, a vegan heavy metal eat-and-drinkery. The Lovecraft Bar provides a nightly spook-show spiked with horror metal flourishes. Portland can also lay claim to its own heavy metal bowling league.
Local Heroes: Gwar, Lamb of God, Pentagram, Municipal Waste, Iron Reagan, Cannabis Corpse, Cough, Windhand, Inter Arma, Deceased
On the surface, Richmond seems an unlikely wellspring of metal madness. It all makes sense, though, when pondering the most iconic, innovative, inspiring, and all-out insane band of metal marauders that the city has (yet) launched: Gwar! Aside from a steady succession of top-tier metal acts in an astonishing array of varieties—Lamb of God (groove/metalcore), Pentagram (doom), and Municipal Waste (thrash)—Richmond also boasts Vinyl Conflict Records and the one and only GWARbar.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
Local Heroes: Metallica, Exodus, Testament, Faith No More, Deafheaven, Blue Cheer, The Melvins, Y&T, Acid King, Animosity, Orchid, Forbidden, Vio-Lence, Leviathan, Possessed, Death Angel, Sadus, Heathen, Animosity, Lääz Rockit, Hammers of Misfortune, Skin Lab, Light This City, Early Graves
Metal met punk in the San Francisco Bay Area, thrash exploded from there, and that spirit continually rages among the local environs. SF metal stretches all the way back to Blue Cheer in the late-’60s and includes ’80s and ’90s detours into the art rock of Faith No More and sheer demented overwhelm of the Melvins. Ruthie’s Inn in nearby Berkeley served as thrash’s cradle back when; contemporary SF-area metal hotspots include Thee Parkside music venue and Shaxul Records.
Local Heroes: Jimi Hendrix, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Queensryche, Metal Church, Mentors, Tad, Big Business, Sanctuary, Skin Yard, Mother Love Bone, Demon Hunter, Burning Witch, Zeke, Nirvana, Nevermore, Himsa, Bundle of Hiss, Gruntruck
Although most immediately identified with grunge, the seeds of Seattle metal first sprouted with psychotic Pacific Northwest ’60s garage rockers such as the Wailers, the Sonics, and the Frantics before changing everything upon the arrival of Jimi Hendrix. As alluded to, local punks incorporated their love of Black Sabbath, Kiss, Ted Nugent, Zeppelin, and even their fellow Washingtonians Metal Church into their sound and aesthetics, and the ’90s most defining and commercially successful hard rock movement resulted. At present, Seattle metal is a happening hotbed where local bangers gather at the vegan Highline Bar for shows.
Local Heroes: Deicide, Cannibal Corpse, Death, Morbid Angel, Six Feet Under, Savatage, Obituary, Atheist, Iced Earth, Kamelot, Cynic, Hate Eternal, Circle II Circle, Nocturnus, The Absence, Trauma, Massacre, Resurrection, Crimson Glory
Tampa, Florida is hot as hell. The relentlessly scorching climate alone can instantly fill anyone with thoughts of hellfire, damnation, and eternal, infernal torment. Fortunately, in the late ’80s, a number of locals gave vent to such satanic torment by creating death metal, and planet Earth has been rocked from below ever since. Metal still abounds in Tampa, even (actually, especially) as the scene has grown beyond just death metal. Slake your thirst and catch live music at the legendary Brass Mug, and rest assured that the nearby Mana Recording Studios, owned by Hate Eternal’s Erik Rutan, is laying down tracks for the hardest, heaviest bands currently pulverizing humanity.