Bald, bearded, built like a block of cement, and blazing a guitar god path all his own in Slayer for the past three-and-a-half decades, Kerry King turns 51 on June 3. All fans of hard rock and heavy metal must bow to the majesty of King’s might on the six strings—and a lot of them would also have to slouch down to look Kerry square in those fiery eyes.
Kerry King, you see, stands just five-and-a-half-feet tall. Obviously, that status has in no way diminished his superhuman gifts as a guitarist, songwriter, and all around heavy metal badass. In fact, it’s quite the contrary: King reigns big time among a roster of extreme rock’s greatest and most gigantic talents who also top off below average height—but who are also way, way, way above average in the area that counts most: their music.
In honor of Kerry King’s birth, let’s countdown the most physically diminutive hard rock titans who prove that the metal is the only true measure of a man (and, in more than a few of these cases, a maniac).
In 1981, L.A. native Kerry King co-founded Slayer with fellow guitarist Jeff Hanneman (R.I.P.), forever transforming not just heavy metal but the very most outlying possibilities of rock’s furthest extremes.
In the years since, King has physically transformed from a longhaired thrasher in skate-punk gear to a chrome-domed bruiser boasting elaborate body art and an ever-elongating wizard’s goatee. Kerry’s no taller than he was back when he met Hanneman in a guitar shop, but he’s now thirty-plus years stronger, better, wiser, and, we dare say, as intimidating to look at as his guitar scorching is to hear.
While Jeff Hanneman may have loomed a full six inches higher than his shredding partner, on stage and in the studio, their invention, energy, and sheer heavy metal abandon stretched all the way to hell and back. We’re hugely grateful that Kerry’s still rocking among us to keep those fires burning.
The term “Napoleon Complex” is now largely derided as taboo to bring up when discussing not-tall hotheads, ranking as outrage fodder right alongside the “m-word” for short folk (i.e., the reason why this article isn’t titled “Metal Midgets”).
Nonetheless, when it comes to Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, the classic definition of “N.C.” is worth a look-see. Wikipedia describes this “disproven psychological condition” as being “characterized by overly-aggressive or domineering social behavior, and carries the implication that such behavior is compensatory for the subject’s stature.”
At five-six, Lars comes in multiple inches under even Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett (5’8”), let alone frontman James Hetfield (6’1”). Could Ulrich’s height have something to do with why, on a semi-regular basis, everyone on Earth gets pissed off at him? Nobody here knows anything about psychology, but we do know Lars…
For all their towering impact as one of thrash’s Big Four, height—or lack thereof—has proven a stormy topic in the history of Anthrax.
Specifically, the subject of size flared up over Scott Ian’s 2014 memoir I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax. In the book, the five-and-a-half-foot band mastermind Ian decries an early-career decision made by then-singer Neil Turbin, writing: “The biggest dick move Neil ever pulled was when he fired [original bassist] Danny Lilker behind our backs in January 1984. The main reason he did it, in my opinion, was because Danny taller than him. He honestly didn’t think someone should be taller than the front man onstage. He thought it made him look bad, so he tried to stand as far away from Danny possible, which was hard when we were playing stages the size of ping pong tables.”
Turbin sarcastically responded to Ian’s claims and his former bandmates by stating, “I wish them all the luck in the world on their new work of fiction. I’m sure it must be as good as The Lord Of The Rings.”
That’s got to be a Hobbit joke, right?
Band: Iron Maiden
Bruce Dickinson has spent a lifetime soaring to ever-greater heights, whether it’s while singing as the operatic frontman of Iron Maiden, or while he’s flying Ed Force One, the band’s private jumbo jet, as the operatic frontman of Iron Maiden who also happens to be a world-class pilot.
In addition to conquering the skies, the five-foot-six Dickinson continually stretches his talents in other fields. He’s an expert-level fencer, a prolific author and screenwriter, a radio personality, a TV host, and the brewmaster of Iron Maiden’s famous Trooper Beer.
That’s a lot to pack into any mere mortal’s lifetime, regardless of size. Then again, when you listen to Bruce—does he sound merely mortal?
Bon Scott, AC/DC’s original lead singer, clocked in at a relatively towering 5-foot-8 when he tragically departed the band, and this life, in 1980.
Perhaps literally not wanting to overshadow their fallen frontman, AC/DC replaced Bon Scott with Brian Johnson, vocalist for glammed-up heavy blues outfit Geordie, who, at full stretch, reaches just 5-foot-5.
Band: Cradle of Filth
Demure in height but diabolical in intensity and explosive delivery, Dani Filth has piloted the English extreme metal mayhem-makers Cradle of Filth to the furthest reaches of hard rock horror and black-hearted insanity for nearly a quarter-century.
Noticeably more diminutive than his Cradle of Filth bandmates, Dani has never displayed the slightest struggle matching them note-for-note and noise-for-noise, thereby spearheading the group to the forefront of at least 666 new forms of outrage on a regular basis.
Bands: Danzig, Samhain, Misfits
Glenn Danzig has loomed as a dominant, formidable, and even threatening figure since 1977, when he first pioneering punk-metal shock rockers, the Misfits.
Glenn grew darker and more enshrouded in the occult from 1983 to 1987 with Samhain. Since then, the muscle-bound, black-maned Garden State native has led his self-named outfit Danzig while exuding a vibe that combines Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, and his own hyper-intense evil.
Danzig’s music is what impresses most, of course, but it’s also cool to witness how much rage he can radiate out of a brickhouse frame that, still, measures just five feet and four inches. Glenn goes where eagles dare.
Ronnie James Dio
Bands: Dio, Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Elf
When Ronnie James Dio comes up, the first thing one thinks of is That Voice. It’s so mammoth, so propulsive, so definitively all-encompassing that it seems to transcend not just the cosmos but also every imaginable dimension of existence itself.
To hear Ronnie James Dio sing, in short, is to experience the very concept of “larger than life.” To see the five-foot-four Ronnie James Dio sing, in very short, is to understand that often the hugest rush into this realm for the sounds of the gods themselves come to us through some very petite gateways.
While hyperactively drumming for Slipknot, Iowa-spawned, 5-foot-3 metalhead Joey Jordison innovated percussive overwhelm to the point that, in a band where each member is assigned a numeric status, he came out definitively as #1.
Wearing a Japanese Noh mask, Jordison’s superhuman skills and creativity within Slipknot launched him upward and outward as an individual juggernaut. In addition to his side project, the Murderdolls, Jordison has also played drums as a fill-in for Metallica and System of a Down. In 2010, a Rhythm magazine readers’ poll awards Joey the title of “the greatest drummer of the past 25 years.”
Jordison and Slipknot parted ways in 2013, not happily. To what new project Joey will take his talent next remains a mystery, but one thing is for sure—it will be huge.
Band: AC/DC Height: 5’2
AC/DC is the biggest-selling hard rock/heavy metal act of all time, which, of course, is a singularly gargantuan accomplishment. So too, then, is the across-the-board shorter-than-average standing of every key member of the band (albeit some of them aren’t in the very most present incarnation). Let’s count them down—way down—shall we?
Cliff Williams, bassist—5’7”
Phil Rudd, drummer—5’6”
Brian Johnson, vocalist (as mentioned earlier)—5’5”
Malcolm Young, rhythm guitarist—5’3”
Angus Young, lead guitarist—5’2”
Yes, AC/DC’s human mascot, the endlessly energetic, musically maniacal, whirling-dervish-in-perpetual-motion who wields a Gibson SG like no other often looks like he could be dwarfed by his own guitar. It’s similar to how Angus dresses in a signature schoolboy outfit, while he’s stands smaller than many an actual schoolboy himself.
As such, Angus Young is the ultimate living proof that when it comes to heavy metal, size does matter—the size of your sound and how huge and hard and relentlessly it rocks. On all those fronts, and more, Angus Young reigns as an absolute giant.