For decades, musicians have turned their amplifiers up to 11 in a quest to blow audiences away with their walls of sound.
From old-school heavy metallers to cutting-edge electronica artists, bands across a range of genres have shredded eardrums, damaged buildings, and even caused earthquakes from the sonic booms they’ve produced.
In this article, we’ve outlined 10 of the loudest bands in history, described the impact their audio assaults have had on their audiences and arenas, and detailed how each of them earned their reputation as ear-ringing soldiers of sound!
Lemmy Kilmister and his crew started out with the goal of being the loudest, dirtiest, fastest, harshest band in the world, and many will say they succeeded.
Their live gigs could reach a mighty 130 decibels, and venues around the world suffered the consequences.
At the Cleveland Variety Theatre in 1984 they caused the plaster on the ceiling to crack and fall onto the audience below, while in the UK they broke the roof of Newcastle City Hall, shattered the windows in Wolverhampton Polytechnic, and set the speakers on fire at Port Vale FC.
It’s no surprise then that they titled one of their live albums ‘Everything Louder Than Everyone Else’.
This electronic duo proved they could match any heavy metal band for sheer destructive noisiness when performing at the Brixton Academy in June 1996.
Their concert was measured at 137 decibels and the brutally loud beats tore chunks off the building. Having covered their audience with lumps of plaster and dust blasted from the walls and ceilings, the group weren’t invited back to perform at the venue for another four years – and only then on the condition that they turned the volume down.
My Bloody Valentine
This alternative rock band practically reinvented how guitars could sound on their 1991 album Loveless, immersing the songs in layer after layer of feedback and distortion. When performed live, the combined force of all the levels of sound became frighteningly, notoriously noisy.
While touring to promote the album, the band set out to test their audiences’ ability to bear the extreme volume for sustained periods of time, which led to one journalist describing the shows as ‘more like torture than entertainment’.
Fans attending gigs were often handed earplugs before entering, and despite the band spending over 20 years either on hiatus, broken up entirely, or unsuccessfully trying to record the follow-up to Loveless, the early days left their mark in the form of chronic tinnitus.
‘I regard it as a friend,’ singer/guitarist Kevin Shields has said.
On May 31, 1976, 75,000 people packed into Charlton Athletic’s football ground in London to see a line-up headlined by The Who. Their performance that evening was measured at 126 decibels… 100 feet away from the speakers.
However, being among the loudest bands in history came at a price for the members, with Roger Daltrey telling reporters in 2018, ‘I advise all you rock-and-roll fans – take your f***ing ear plugs to the gigs. If only we had known when we were young… we are lip-reading.’
American psychedelic rockers Blue Cheer are considered a pioneer of extreme loudness, being the first band ever listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as loudest band in the world.
In the late 1960s their volume levels were well beyond what people were accustomed to, with fans at their gigs commonly having to abandon the first few rows as they couldn’t withstand the noise.
Blue Cheer were so loud that they had to record outdoors, with part of their second album being recorded on a San Francisco pier.
These power metal troublemakers often write songs influenced by tales of swords, sorcery, fantasy, and mythology, being well known for their epic, crushing sound. It seems appropriate then, that Manowar have seemingly been on a quest to hit levels of loudness that no other band can possibly complete with.
In 1984, the group were named by the Guinness Book of World Records for delivering the loudest performance ever, and they have since broken their own record on two further occasions.
Their current personal best decibel count was achieved during a sound check at the Magic Circle Fest in 2008, when they reached a mighty 139 decibels.
Another band recognised as the loudest in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records, Deep Purple are among the originators of inflicting supreme noise punishment upon their all too eager audiences.
A whole generation grew up with Deep Purple pummelling their eardrums and earning their place in rock folklore, while some fans ended up taking harder hits than they ever expected, as three audience members attending a 1972 gig at the London Rainbow Theatre were knocked unconscious by the force of the sonic assault they were subjected to.
Gene Simmons’ latex-clad showmen had their heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, so it is perhaps surprising that their loudest moment came in December 2009.
During a performance in Ottawa, Canada the band hit an extraordinary 136 decibels. Apparently the concert was so loud that the noise complaints from the city’s residents forced the band to turn down the volume mid-show.
During a show in Auckland, New Zealand on December 13th 2011, Dave Grohl and his crew literally made the earth shake. Over the course of their 3-hour set, the band caused ground movement similar to a volcanic tremor which was felt up to a mile away.
Clearly though that wasn’t enough, as the following year they played a gig in Belfast to 32,000 fans which could be heard up to 12 miles away – resulting in 140 noise complaints being made.
These rock gods have long been regarded as one of the best, loudest, and most influential bands ever. Known as one of the founders of heavy metal, Led Zeppelin’s concussive crunch hit harder than almost every band who’d come before.
Anecdotally, many music journalists believe the group’s performances during the 1970s were the noisiest of that decade, but their legacy of loudness gained official recognition when The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) measured a performance of Heartbreaker at an astonishing 130 decibels.