Inspired by the Jakub Marian’s map of Number of Metal Bands Per Capita, Noisey’s Simon Davis took it upon himself to investigate which cities in the United States had the most heavy metal bands. Using the Metal Archives at Encyclopedia Metallum, he isolated the 22,983 US based metal bands from the 109,666 worldwide listed bands (the number has since increased to 109,891). While Finland, Sweden, Norway and rank as the “most metal” with over 630, 428, and 299 (respectively) bands per 1,000,000 residents residents compared to the United States which only has 72 per million. Seriously, Finland has so many metal bands that even President Obama mentioned it in a speech.
So here is the list of the top five cities with the most metal bands per capita in the United States according to Encyclopedia Metallum. It should also be mentioned that Los Angeles was the single city with the most bands listed in any one city (1,086), they only ranked #26 in terms of bands per capita.
1. Cleveland, OH : 837 bands
2. Portland, OR : 618
3. Pittsburgh, PA : 601
4. Rochester, NY : 582
5. Richmond, VA : 572
While the United States may not have nearly as many bands compared to citizens as the extreme music breeding ground that is Scandinavia, we have a large output of excellent bands that cannot be ignored. While I’m on the topic, you should also go check out our breakdown of United States heavy metal festivals. Part 1 and part 2 are available now, with even more to come.
As a Pittsburgh native, it comes as no surprise to me that Cleveland and Pittsburgh are sitting comfortably atop the list. They are similar sized, working class cities. Biased opinions aside, we actually have a pretty thriving music scene right now. With a variety of live music venues of all shapes and sizes, and a large number of local colleges, amazing shows are frequent, and local talented musicians are abundant. They once called us the “Steel City” because we were one of the world’s largest producers of steel, but I consider being one of the world’s largest producers of heavy metal bands to be a slight upgrade.
We have venues of all sizes, all shapes, and all varieties here in the Steel City. There is a place for every band, of every size. From the biggest of the big, Heinz Field: the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, to the smallest bar/restaurants.
Heinz Field, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ football stadium, is the biggest venue in the entire city. It does not get many shows, but when it does, they’re big. The 65,000-capacity venue received the Rolling Stones last year, and will be hosting Guns N Roses this summer. It was also the scene of the now infamous Hurricane Chesney. Consol Energy Center, one of the newest venue options, is home to the Pittsburgh Penguins and is a 19,758 capacity arena. It has seen the likes of Trans-Siberian Orchestra (probably the largest metal act to play there), Rush, and more. It’s one of the largest venue’s in Pittsburgh, and replaced the historic Melon Arena just a couple years ago. Fun fact: Rush played their very first show in the United States, and their very first show with Neil Peart, there. The only show that I had only ever seen there was AC/DC, back on their Black Ice tour.
We get many of the larger acts and touring festival at the First Niagara Pavilion (formerly Post Gazette Pavilion / Star Lake). It was a yearly stop for the Mayhem Festival, and hosts the Vans Warped Tour every year. Last year’s Summer’s Last Stand Tour with Slipknot and Lamb of God also packed the place. It’s a bit out of the city, technically in the town of Burgettstown, but when we see that on the tour date list we know that it means somebody is coming to Pittsburgh.
Two of our most popular venues, Mr. Smalls Theatre (650 capacity) and the Altar Bar (600 capacity), are actually converted churches turned concert venues. There’s nothing quite like seeing a metal band play beneath windows that still have the crosses in them. The acoustics are usually excellent, and the atmosphere doesn’t get much better. Nergal of Behemoth even gave Mr. Smalls a shout-out in his book “Confessions of a Heretic,” bringing a mention to a church venue he played at in Pittsburgh. There is some unfortunate news however, it was just announced this week that the Altar Bar will be closing this July and being “reborn as a church.” That’s going to be quite a blow to the music scene here, but those walls will forever be tainted for the parishioners. I will forever remember seeing Iced Earth perform the entirety of their 17 minute epic “Dante’s Inferno” under the cross at Altar Bar. Good times, good times.
One of the best additions to the music scene in the last few years was the indoor/outdoor venue Stage AE. It is a 2,400 indoors; 5,500 outdoors capacity venue that has served as the perfect middle-ground venue between Mr. Smalls and Star Lake, and is sandwiched right between Heinz Field and PNC Park, the playing grounds for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates (respectively). Since it’s addition to the city, it has brought more shows that I could care to count. Ghost is coming around to it this fall (again), and they will most likely sell-out the outside stage (again). Alice Cooper has hit the venue every year for the last three or four. Mastodon has come through numerous times. Megadeth, Rob Zombie, In Flames, Coheed and Cambria, Iced Earth, etc.
Then we have the Black Forge Coffee House. You read that correctly, we even have a heavy metal themed coffee house. Not only do they bring in acts from outside the city, but they also play host to many local bands and have them for CD release shows. And they have the best coffeehovse merch ever.
Pittsburgh is also home to many local music festivals. The Strip District Music Festival takes over the entire Strip District every winter, bringing upwards of 120 bands together throughout a dozen local venues. The Deutschtown Music Festival will be returning this July for it’s fourth year, bringing over 150 bands to the North Shore to over 20 different stages. These two festivals may not be solely metal, but they have been metal-friendly the last few years, putting many metal bands on their main stages. My own personal project, Heavy Metal Monessen, which is the only local music festival solely focused on bringing together Pittsburgh heavy metal bands, just completed it’s third year back in April.
We have a bunch of great local metal bands, many of which bring their own flavor to the scene. Dethlehem, a RPG-themed melo-death band, and Arcane Haven, a melodic metalcore outfit, have become two of the biggest bands in the local scene right now, and they have even expanded beyond the Pittsburgh realm. Greywalker is pure Pittsburgh hardcore/thrash metal, while Klaymore is a more traditional heavy metal/speed metal style, mixed with tongue-in-cheek humor. Solarburn, who has become a rising force in the scene, is a groovy, bass-driven, instrumental band that knows absolutely knows how to jam. They put their amplifiers through their paces when they play. Then there is Amplified alums The Existential Gentlemen, who bring a Victorian swing to the hard-rock side of metal. Even these are just a couple of the local talented bands to name a few, and is no way a comprehensive list.
This is where it’s sort of strange. Pittsburgh does not exactly have any metal radio stations. Sure, there is 105.9 WXDX, but I would be hard pressed to call them a “metal station.” I would barely even call them “rock” anymore. They play “alternative,” which can be as folkish as Mumford and Sons and as heavy as Avenged Sevenfold. There is a distinct lack of commercial heavy metal, so when I went off to college at California University of Pennsylvania in 2012 and discovered college radio and the wonders of creative freedom, I took full advantage of that with every opportunity. With all the colleges in the area, college radio stations are one of the best ways to listen to heavy metal in the city. Another option is the River’s Edge Radio Network, a 24-hour online radio station and podcast network that focuses solely on Pittsburgh music, Pittsburgh news, and Pittsburgh events. They have gone to great lengths to get involved in the local music scene by sponsoring festivals, interviewing and promoting upstart bands, and they have been quite heavy metal friendly.
Cleveland (from the perspective of a Pittsburgher)
Cleveland, Ohio, our rival city. It can get so bad here that all it takes it mentions of their football team, the Cleveland Browns, to get a scowl from your average yinzer [Yinzer (noun) an endearing/derogatory term for “someone who resides in or around Pittsburgh and has fully assimilated into the local culture”]. It’s really not surprising that they top us, however. For any Pittsburgh metalhead, it’s an all too frequent occurrence to see Pittsburgh skipped on many major tours, but Cleveland appearing on them. The Noisey article points out that, although on top of the list, many of the bands listed in Cleveland are inactive, and are apparently a “relic of it’s 90’s thriving death metal scene.” I’ll claim that as a victory for Pittsburgh (Read: Suck it Cleveland, our sports teams are better and so is our metal scene!)
In all seriousness, as fun as it is to talk trash on the city, they are the home to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, as well as labels Hell’s Headbangers and Shadow Kingdom. They have the House of Blues, which just a few years ago I caught Animals as Leaders and The Devin Townsend Project at. The used to have Peabody’s, a grungy little bar venue that would host some of the best international metal acts. In high school me and a buddy of mine made the trip out there just to see Hammerfall there, and they haven’t returned to the US since. Then there is the Agora Theater, which I caught Nightwish and Sabaton at last year, and also happens to host Hell’s Headbash. While I can’t get more in depth into their local scene, it’s pretty obvious to a yinzer that they get some of the best tours around. Fortunately they are only a two hour drive away. That’s reasonable enough to make the trip every so often for a show, like the upcoming Ne Obliviscaris tour.