Brits have been starved of heavy metal on their TV screens. Here are ten stellar performances that managed to make their way onto the airwaves.
I have to say I’m envious of the amount of media outlets in the U.S. that feature metal bands. Several late night talk shows play host to the genre, featuring everyone from Lamb of God to Body Count. When it comes to the UK however, it’s a completely different story.
As a Brit myself, I know the frustration of seeing every genre but metal find an audience on British television shows. Whether its talk shows like Graham Norton’s or live music shows like Jools Holland’s – heavy metal rarely gets a look in. Despite being the birthplace of heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath, televised performances of the genre tend to be extremely limited.
And that’s where this list comes in. It includes the best live performances (so no miming or playback) to ever be shown on British TV. Whether it be a headbanging performance on a kids’ educational programme or a messy stage invasion – these ten live displays prove why more metal should be broadcast on British screens. Because, while there hasn’t been a bucket load of them, anytime a metal band gets the chance, they usually leave a lasting impression…
10. Mastodon – Black Tongue (Later… With Jools Holland, 2011)
Arguably the biggest metal band of the 21st century, Mastodon made a trip to the UK for promotion of 2011’s The Hunter. What transpired was an almost flawless performance of album opener “Black Tongue.”
The band has faced criticism in the past for some of their television performances (mainly “Oblivion” on Letterman), but such fears are quickly quelled with this stunning display of musicianship. Not only does it sound spookily similar to the recorded version, but it also exemplifies what a powerful force the band are when they’re firing on all cylinders.
This marks the last time that a metal band has performed on Later… With Jools Holland, which is evidence of how underrepresented heavy metal is on British television.
9. Faith No More – Ashes To Ashes (TFI Friday, 1997)
Probably the most fearless promoter of heavy metal, the now defunct TFI Friday had a unique brand of zany humor, great guests and even better musical acts. So when Faith No More strolled into town, their booking on the show was a no brainer.
Performing the riff-heavy stonker “Ashes to Ashes”, the band go all out in the most hair-raising way possible. Of course, eccentric frontman Mike Patton provides the goods in the form of his trademark vocal range – one that refuses to falter for the duration of the song despite his crazed on-stage spasming. Seriously, note for note, Faith No More knock this one out of the park.
After a breathtaking performance, presenter Chris Evans proclaims them as the “the loudest band ever on the show.” And really, what metal band would turn down that accolade?
8. Rollins Band – On My Way To The Cage (Later… With Jools Holland, 1997)
This unshackled performance featured on Later… with Jools Holland epitomizes the sheer intensity that only comes from heavy metal. Led by the always intense Henry Rollins, Rollins Band rattle through a killer rendition of their 1997 track “On My Way to the Cage.”
Once this one gets rolling, there’s virtually nothing that can stop it. Thick slabs of low-end bass, frenzied guitar riffing, and a belting drum workout help to propel Rollins forward in his quest to decimate your eardrums. A rip-roaring solo puts the icing on this explosive cake.
There’s no antics here, just a continuous head of steam. The song is a little underwhelming in its studio form, but live, it transforms into its own unique beast.
7. Metallica – The Day That Never Comes (Later… With Jools Holland, 2008)
Appearing on Later… With Jools Holland in 2008, metal titans Metallica performed arguably the best track from Death Magnetic – the progressive stunner “The Day That Never Comes.”
The group don’t rely on stage theatrics here, instead allowing the melodic beauty of the song to speak for itself. But it's during the midway breakdown that they really show how proficient their chemistry is. Dual guitar lines, blues-inspired bass sections and a face shredding solo all interlock to create an impressive wall of sound.
It’s the performance of a band who are ecstatic to be playing their new material, and on a musical show which doesn't include many metal acts, their contrasting style to the rest of the featured guests makes it even more effective. Oh, and James Hetfield’s microphone is working so that’s a plus!
6. Sepultura – Refuse/Resist (The Word, 1994)
We’re pretty sure every audience member stage dives during this thunderous Sepultura performance. Featured on Channel 4’s counterculture ‘90s show The Word, the band rattle through their stellar hit song “Refuse/Resist” with serious rage to boot.
Beginning with a rabid audience racing to the stage after being released from a cage (yes, you read that right), the live performance quickly takes a turn for the heavy when that oh so brilliant guitar refrain kicks things off. From there, the band proceed to play their iconic single with fiery determination. Screams from Max Cavalera to “f**k s**t up” only incites the raging crowd even further, presumably leaving non-metal fans aghast, while leaving metal fans seriously impressed.
It always helps when you’ve got a song as supreme as “Refuse/Resist” in the arsenal, but with this performance in particular, the Brazilian outfit really show just how heavy they can get.
5. The KLF Vs Extreme Noise Terror – 3 A.M. Eternal (Brit Awards, 1992)
So, you’re up for a Brit Award, you’re opening the show, and you’re one of the most talked about groups in the country. What do you do? Well, if you’re influential London dance act The KLF, you enlist the services of grindcore outfit Extreme Noise Terror, announce your retirement live on TV, and leave a dead sheep at the entrance of the aftershow party.
That’s exactly what the group did, with a live performance at the awards show that is still shocking to this day. From a technical standpoint it’s completely shambolic, but that’s exactly what it needed to be. Sections drop in and out during the chaotic display, featuring growls, heavy guitars and some seriously loud feedback. Compared to the blissful original track, this version is the complete antithesis of it. They mercifully end it with a machine gun toting, cigar smoking Bill Drummond firing blanks into the rafters, before declaring their departure from the music industry over the PA.
Impressively, the duo stuck to their guns (no pun intended) by never reforming after the gobsmacking performance. While they may not be metal, there’s no denying that this is the most metal thing that you could possibly do.
4. Napalm Death – You Suffer + From Enslavement To Obliteration (What's That Noise?, 1989)
Here’s one that is just bizarre on so many levels. A kids’ educational show + Napalm Death doesn't quite fit together, which is what makes this 1989 performance such a wonderfully weird one.
After a delicate orchestral performance by a children’s ensemble, the mood quickly changes when presenter Craig Charles introduces grindcore legends Napalm Death. Featuring the blink-and-you'll-miss-it “You Suffer”, an interesting interview on the group’s lyrical and musical style, and ending with a particularly aggressive rendition of “From Enslavement to Obliteration” – the band probably scared millions of British kids from their brief stint on the show.
Never a band that likes to take the easy route, Napalm Death faced their toughest critics to date here – children. On an unrelated note, epileptics should probably refrain from viewing this video editing nightmare.
3. Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name (The Word, 1993)
Another metal band who shook The Word’s foundations were Rage Against the Machine, with their 1993 performance of “Killing in the Name.”
The track is sheer high-energy stuff, with its bouncy riffs and rebellious singalongs, it’s no surprise that the crowd go completely mental here. It’s all about that classic breakdown though, with audience members even getting in on the “f**k you, I won’t do what you tell me” section. Towards the end, the stage gets swarmed with fans, which is the perfect finale to a performance that’s as musically tight as it is wonderfully confrontational.
Little did the band know, that over 15 years later, they would be performing the track live on British radio after hitting the Christmas No. 1 spot on the Official UK Singles Chart. They proved, though, that the expletive-filled song probably isn’t the most radio-friendly, especially with the BBC’s strict broadcasting policies…
2. Slipknot – Wait And Bleed (TFI Friday, 2000)
I remember watching this one when I was nine years old, and not believing what I was seeing. TFI Friday was broadcast at 6 p.m. in the UK, meaning families were probably sitting around the dinner table watching Slipknot’s first UK appearance in pure disbelief.
The group deliver a storming performance of “Wait and Bleed”, featuring everything from cameras breaking to Sid stage diving. With their unique appearance and killer songwriting, these guys were always destined to reach the pinnacle of metal. It was a ballsy move for the show to put such an extreme act on at that time, but one that epitomized the hit programme’s eclectic vision.
Early Slipknot had such a raw sound compared to the other metal bands of the time, and it comes through here with real bare brutality. The masked madmen certainly earned some new fans in the UK with such a reckless, but exciting musical performance.
1. Iron Maiden – Running Free (Top Of The Pops, 1980)
With punk’s popularity fading in Britain, the state of rock music was quite precarious as the ‘80s approached. Thankfully, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was just about to get rolling. Leading the charge were balls to the wall rockers Iron Maiden.
What’s most interesting about this performance, however, is not so much the performance itself, but the story behind it. Top of the Pops was notorious for its mimed performances (bands like Nirvana and Oasis infamously mocked the show’s setup), with The Who being the only band up until 1980 to get their way when it came to playing live. That is until Iron Maiden demanded that they be allowed to perform their single “Running Free” live. They were rewarded for their unwavering stance, when the show’s producers begrudgingly gave it the green light.
In terms of making a statement, making good on your promises and making a racket – Iron Maiden did all of this with stubborn artistic integrity. Heavy metal should be fearless and go against the grain, and that’s why “Running Free” is our choice for the best metal performance to ever be broadcast on British television.
See Also: 10 Great Metal Performances from the '90s on American Television