Hard rock and heavy metal genres boast a remarkably passionate and loyal following around the world, with new markets developing and demand returning to territories that seemed to have quietened. But some of the major players wonder whether new acts are coming through fast enough to replace the veteran giants when the time comes. Christopher Barrett reports
Boasting a remarkably loyal fanbase, the hard rock and heavy metal genres remain in rude health, with acts including Iron Maiden and Metallica continuing to break attendance records around the globe.
Huge rock festivals including Live Nation Entertainment’s Download (cap. 111,000) in the UK and Spain, and International Concert Service’s Wacken Open Air (75,000) in Germany continue to sell-out.
Rod MacSween, joint MD of UK-based international booking agency ITB, has worked with some of the genre’s biggest acts and this year alone has tours with artistes including Guns N’Roses, Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss, Scorpions, Judas Priest, Prophets Of Rage and Megadeth.
As well as tours, his artistes have been busy at major festivals. Pearl Jam headlined Download during the European leg of their tour, which included two nights at London’s The O2. The band also headlined Spain’s Mad Cool (35,000) festival in Madrid and Portugal’s NOS Alive (50,000) in Lisbon.
The heavy metal market may have peaked during the 1970s and 1980s, but MacSween says the genre continues to attract new talent and the musical diversity of festivals and cross-pollination of genres is helping attract fresh audiences
“There is strong demand for the genre and the market continues to grow as new and younger audiences become engaged with it,” he says. “Rock and metal cross into other genres all the time, with tracks being sampled and intermixed with new music.”
Fellow agent John Jackson, founder of K2 Agency, also UK-based, which represents acts such as Metallica, Iron Maiden and Alter Bridge, is enjoying record results with rock and metal acts, not least Iron Maiden who recently completed their most successful tour in decades. Among the highlights of the tour was a sell-out show at Spain’s 50,000-capacity Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid.
“We have also seen Ghost reach a new level, becoming a festival headline act and not just at metal festivals, they have been headlining mainstream events too,” says Jackson.
Another highlight of the year has been seeing French death metal act Gojira, including a headline slot at the 15,000-capacity Bloodstock Music Festival in the UK.
“As much as everyone is of the opinion that metal is struggling, no one in metal has noticed that – the tours that we are doing sell more each year,” he says.
On the same theme, Alan Day of UK-based promoter Kilimanjaro Live says, “The general consensus that rock is dead is just not true, the thing with rock is that fans are consistent and reliable.
“Even if a band makes a duff record, the fanbase can be really forgiving and the live shows continue to sell well.”
Kilimanjaro co-founded international touring festival Sonisphere, and promotes shows with some of the genre’s best-known acts, including Anthrax, Nine Inch Nails, The Cult and Alice In Chains.
Among the acts Day is working with this year are Saxon, Danzig and Ministry.
A major event for Kilimanjaro this year was the two-day Stone Free Festival, headlined by Scorpions and Quintessential Yes, at London’s The O2 (21,000) in June.
Day says he is optimistic about the future of the genre having helped new acts to climb the venue ladder in recent years.
“Frank Carter and Rattlesnakes sold-out London’s O2 Academy Brixton (4,900) at the end of last year and they are well on their way to bigger rooms next year,” he says. “There is also Don Broco, who I have built all the way up to Wembley Arena [12,500], despite them not getting any mainstream media love.”
He believes now is a good time for new metal and hard rock acts but while the change in the media landscape has made it easier for new bands to get noticed, it is harder for them to break-out.
“With there being so many new acts and so much choice for fans it is difficult for an act to get that one big leg-up and break through the ceiling, but it does happen and there is plenty of potential out there with acts such as While She Sleeps, Stone Broken and Tesseract doing well,” says Day.
In Germany, Ossy Hoppe, MD of Wizard Promotions, says his company has had a busy year promoting shows with Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon, Obituary and Limp Bizkit.
“With Iron Maiden we played sold-out shows with capacities up to 30,000, and Limp Bizkit sold a total of 70,000 tickets this summer,” he says.
The company also organizes the Matapaloz Festival (40,000), a two-day event in June at the Leipziger Messe, in northern Leipzig. This year’s line-up included Megadeth and Arch Enemy.
“It is curated and headlined by Germany’s biggest rock band, Boehse Onkelz, who have also sold-out two stadium shows this year, in Frankfurt and Gelsenkirchen, with 90,000 tickets sold in 45 minutes,” says Hoppe.
The promoter says demand for the genre is consistently high and that sub-genres currently in vogue include Powermetal, Doom and Pagan.
“As we all know, trends come and go, but at the end it is the quality that counts,” he says.
Based in his home country of Brazil, Top Link Music director Paulo Baron is active way beyond its shores and borders.
The company works on tours across Latin America, from Chile and Argentina to Panama and Mexico. He also co-promotes shows across Europe.
Top Link also manages two of the biggest heavy metal bands in Brazil, Massacration and Angra. The latter have already played 108 shows this year, worldwide, including 32 in Brazil, at venues with capacities ranging from 900 to 4,400.
International acts he works with include Saxon, who played the Tropical Butantã (2,500) in São Paulo in May.
“Heavy metal has always been a very strong genre in Brazil, and it is currently growing in popularity thanks in part to the ongoing support of dedicated radio stations and magazines,” says Baron.
Often seeing three generations of fans at shows by veteran rock acts, he is confident that the genre’s pulling power is not likely to weaken any time soon.
“Great new bands are coming to Brazil from all over the world, and we have some great young bands here including Nervosa and Project46,” says Baron. “New bands are introducing new trends to the genre, while older artistes seem to focus on taking care of their legacy.”
Keeping the faith
Italian hard rock and heavy metal promoter Andrea Pieroni, president of the Vertigo, says it’s always a good time for metal, thanks to the genre’s steadfast fanbase.
Among the artistes he has worked with this year are Iron Maiden at Ippodromo San Siro (17,000) and Trieste Piazza Unità D’Italia (13.000), Scorpions and Deep Purple at Verona Arena (12.000), and shows by Nickelback and Bring Me The Horizon at the 10,000-capacity Milan Forum.
Pieroni launched Rock The Castle in Verona last July, a “boutique” festival, with a capacity of 10,000, and it sold-out. Among headliners were Megadeth, Carcass, Testament and A Perfect Circle, and he is now working on the 2019 edition.
“Italian metal fans are incredibly loyal because for them it’s a matter of faith, not only music,” he says. “The artiste is like the Pope and the show is their mass.”
A recent trend Pieroni has noticed in the local market is a rise in interest in acts who wear masks or paint their faces, such as Slipknot, Behemoth and Powerwolf.
Among the up and coming acts the promoter expects to do particularly well is Swedish rockers Ghost. “I’ve believed in them strongly since the very beginning and have promoted all their Italian shows so far,” he says.
Another promoter to have recently launched a new festival is Chris O’Brien, general manager of Destroy All Lines in Australia.
As well as working on tours by Bruce Dickinson, Polaris, The Bronx and The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, the company is behind the launch of the Good Things touring festival that will debut at Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse (20,000) on 7 December, then play Sydney’s Parramatta Park (20,000) and Brisbane Showgrounds (20,000).
The line-up includes The Offspring, Stone Sour, All Time Low and Bullet For My Valentine.
The former general manager of touring rock and heavy metal festival Soundwave, O’Brien joined Destroy All Lines in January 2016.
He says the Australian market has been in a transitional phase since the demise of Soundwave and fellow Australian touring festival Big Day Out, but now is a good time to launch a new event.
“The market has taken two to three years to correct itself and for people to get excited about going to festivals again,” he says. “We feel the time is right for a new boutique festival.
“It important not to get carried away, because it is very expensive for artistes to tour here, so we can’t afford to put on 40 international acts. We have to be very careful what we programme and how we position it.”
With a mix of genres including pop punk, heavy metal and hard rock, Good Things appears to be shaping up well. We went on sale two weeks ago and the response has been huge – we have already had to upgrade our Melbourne venue to a larger capacity,” says O’Brien.
Back in Spain, Rock N Rock are behind Rock Fest Barcelona (30,000), with this year’s four-day event hosting acts such as Kiss, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Scorpions and Megadeth.
The 2019 edition will be headlined by Def Leppard, with other already confirmed acts including Testament and Demons & Wizards.
Rock N Rock’s Perre Sabbay says that the demographic defying appeal of hard rock and heavy metal is always apparent at the festival.
“Rock fans are the most loyal of all music fans, because the passion comes from the heart and usually lasts for life,” he says. “We often get two, and sometimes three, generations at Rock Fest Barcelona.”
Other key shows the company has worked on in the past year were Halloween at the Wizink Center (15,000) in Madrid, Kiss at the same venue, and Nickelback’s Spanish debut at Palacio Vistalegre (7,000) in Madrid.
“It is a good time for the genre in Spain, especially for the classic bands who have been playing for decades. People are aware that they are getting towards the end of their careers and so do not want to miss any of the shows,” says Sabbay.
Latin America regional promoter Phil Rodriguez, CEO of Move Concerts, based in Miami, US, says this year has been relatively quiet for him on the hard rock front, and he has been working primarily on club and theatre dates including the Steve Harris British Lion tour of Brazil, Argentina and Chile in November.
Shows included Brazil’s Circo Voador (2,500) in Rio de Janeiro and Chile’s 4,500-capacity Caupolican Theatre in Santiago.
Rodriguez says the South American rock market remains strong but he is concerned about a lack of new major league acts breaking through.
“Who will be the Iron Maidens or Metallicas of tomorrow? “It’s a different landscape out there than the one these acts grew up and prospered in,” he says.
“When we promoted our Maximus Festival in Buenos Aires [Argentina] and Sao Paulo [Brazil], we went out of our way to introduce, and give a bigger platform to, newer acts in our markets, such as Shinedown, Hollywood Undead, Black Stone Cherry, Rise Against plus local artistes such as Far From Alaska.”
While there may not be too many huge new acts, the appetite for the genre remains undiminished, according to Rodriguez.
“It is a faithful and committed audience that does not dissipate with time or trends,” he says. “The downside is that sponsorship is lower than for pop acts, which is an unfortunate misreading of this market by companies.
“Ticket scaling is a very important consideration with the genre because fans push back when prices get too high.”
Among acts Colombia-based CKConcerts has promoted across the region this year are Fates Warning, Cradle of Filth, Therion, Destruction and The Rasmus.
The latter will play four dates in November, including shows at Bolivia’s Teatro al Aire Libre (5,000) in La Paz and Brazil’s Tropical Butanta (2,500) in Sao Paulo.
CKConcerts MD Christian Krämer says it has been a tough year.
“For South America it is a very bad time in general, many shows don’t sell well and the local currencies are very weak against the US dollar, which affects everyone as prices are higher,” says Krämer.
There is, however, a passionate fanbase in the territory who consider heavy metal to be a lifestyle and when marketing shows, he has found social media to be by far the most important tool.
While Krämer says he would like to be able to support fledgling acts, he has found it to be financially unviable.
“It is difficult to help new promising acts in South America, because of the high flight costs and the lack of in-house equipment at many venues,” he says. “You always have to make a big investment into each show. Putting on a new act that is not yet known, always means a considerable loss for the promoter.”
Mario Villacorta, promoter at El Salvador’s Two Shows, says the biggest local genres are Latin music and reggaeton but the company has had significant success by promoting a couple of big shows by major heavy metal acts each year.
Shows included Brazil’s Circo Among artistes promoted by Two Shoes in recent years are Aerosmith, Slayer and Iron Maiden, with the latter’s 2016 show at the Magico Gonzalez Stadium (35,000) in San Salvador breaking the country’s concert attendance record.
“The Iron Maiden show was the biggest in the history of El Salvador by far, with 26,000 people,” says Villacorta. “People here want to see the legends. Metallica has never come here but every time we announce a show by any other artiste, around 20 per cent of comments on Facebook are asking ‘when are you brining Metallica to El Salvador’?”
Villacorta says Two Shows has used the concerts by major international acts to give a platform for home-grown talent, including Araña and Dream Lore.
Another territory potentially underserved by major rock acts is South Africa.
Founded by Warren Gibson, Plug Music Agency handles artiste management, bookings and PR. Among heavy metal artistes it manages are Its Burden, Ruff Majik, Facing The Gallows and Dirty Moonshine.
“Demand for heavy metal here is growing daily and it was recently announced that Judas Priest are coming here in March for the first time and people are losing their shirts over that,” he says.
“It is a small scene here, compared to the US and Europe, but South African heavy metal fans are starved of live shows and the international acts are starting to realise there is huge demand and a significant touring opportunity here.”
In September Gibson worked on Krank’d Up, an annual one-day festival which took place at Sundowners (2,000) in Alberton, Johannesburg. Among the line-up was Miss May and SikTh.
“The festival’s focus is on progressive rock and hardcore. It has been going for seven years and started off with just local bands but now includes 19 local acts and two international acts,” says Gibson.