11 Classic Metal Tours Where The Openers Should Have Been the Headliners


Putting together a concert’s bill can be treacherous. As the headliner, you want the bands that open for you to be solid, partly to keep the crowd around, partly to nicely warm them up, and partly to let everyone know you support good acts. But every so often, that backfires, and your opener is just too damned good. Suddenly, you’re playing to a crowd who likes you fine, but is really interested in knowing about that second band on the list.

In the history of metal, this has happened countless times, much to the headliners’ dismay. Whether it’s bringing out a young band who’s more exciting than you or thinking you can headline over a classic act who kill it live, many bands have found themselves blown off the stage by the scrappy upstarts they just threw a bone to.

Here are 11 tours where the openers should’ve closed out the night…

Coal Chamber/Slipknot – Livin’ La Vida Loco, 1999

We take it Coal Chamber hadn’t heard reports back from Ozzfest ‘99. That trek featured Slayer, Rob Zombie, and Black Sabbath, but everyone walked away talking about this weird fucking band from Iowa. The rumor is that after a few nights of Slipknot blowing Coal Chamber and Machine Head off the stage, the band asked their then-manager Sharon Osbourne to throw them the nine-piece off the roster – but that Sharon said it was the only thing keeping the whole tour going. In ‘99, people saw these nine Michael Myerses and obviously just…didn’t know who they were fucking with.

Twisted Sister/Metallica – Europe, 1984

Even Dee Snider has (sort of) admitted this one! In December of 2011, Dee talked about how he thought Metallica wouldn’t go anywhere – until he saw them billed over Twisted Sister on a flyer in Holland. “​​I went into their dressing rooms and said, ‘Guys, the people are clearly here to see you. I’m not a complete asshole. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m the headliner. It’s obvious you’re the guys that everyone is coming to see.’” A class act, that Dee Snider. Metallica, of course, would quickly grow out of opening for anyone.

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Megadeth/Motorhead – Gigantour 2011

Look, you could argue that Megadeth are louder, heavier, and at times faster than Motörhead. And Gigantour was Dave’s show, so we understand why he wanted to headline. But Motörhead were just…older? They were a legendary band, a band that seemed incredible in part because they were still around blowing hats off of heads. To have a band with such a legacy open for you just doesn’t feel right. Who is there to see after Lemmy?

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Nile/Napalm Death/Strapping Young Lad – The Art of Noise Tour 2003

It’s obvious that Nile (or the tour’s organizers — not to put this on Nile) just played this wrong. They were having a moment, and everyone was impressed by their technical prowess, so they got to headline…but Nile play thorough technical death metal about ancient Egypt. Napalm Death play the most rabid grindcore alive, and Strapping Young Lad play hyperactive cyberthrash, two genres that exist to steamroll anything in their path. As such, though Nile are always impressive live, they couldn’t keep up the momentum of their openers. We were just exhausted by the time “Black Seeds of Vengeance” came on.

Black Sabbath/Van Halen – Never Say Die! Tour, 1978

It was a perfect shitstorm. Black Sabbath were puffy, hung over, and tired from all the blow. Van Halen were hungry, excited, and super-energized from all the blow. And apparently, Sabbath were aware that this was going to be a mess – the story goes that Ozzy he walked in on the first night, heard Eddie Van Halen playing “Eruption,” and went and sat speechless in his dressing room. This would also be the tour where David Lee Roth snorted him the Oz a fugue state. So yeah, rough times for Sabbath in 1978.

Pantera/Slayer – Extreme Steel Tour, 2001

You just don’t headline over Slayer. It’s a stupid move. First of all, Slayer are a band that hit really hard for a very specific kind of listener, so you’re guaranteed to lose a large portion of your audience the minute the band leave the stage. Second, Slayer are just so good live that all your crowd will do is compare you to the blistering set they just witnessed. It didn’t help that Pantera were coming off of Reinventing the Steel and at the height of their band dysfunction, making Slayer look all the more tight and clinical. Even metal legends can’t top that ravenous blaze.

Korn/Rammstein – Family Values ‘98

No one could’ve known. Korn were huge, while Rammstein were this ultra-heavy novelty act with one big song. No one realized then that these Germans were actually intent on putting on the most awesome live metal show anyone could attend. And while the band certainly didn’t blow Korn off the stage every night, they definitely cemented themselves as an act who need to be seen to be believed. Today, we’re aware of what Rammstein is, but in ‘98, we weren’t ready for the storm on the horizon.

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Halford/Testament/Immortal/Amon Amarth – The Metal Gods Tour 2003

Man, it’s tough when each opener could have headlined over the other – but all of them probably should’ve headlined over the headliner. Halford’s solo material was rad, to be sure, but he stacked his bill with acts who leave it all onstage and sound savage where he was jubilant. As such, it was no wonder that by the time the crowd had been through the onslaught of ripping Viking death metal, muscular black metal, and kickass thrash, they were ready to call it a night. In the long run, it didn’t matter – the tour famously squalled a few dates in, to perhaps no one’s surprise.

Motley Crue/Type O Negative – U.S. Tour, 1994

On the one hand, the remaining members of Type O Negative have been publicly grateful to Mötley Crüe for taking them out on tour in ‘94, and we can understand why Mötley Crüe wouldn’t let such a young band open for then. But this was right after Bloody Kisses came out, in the heart of Type O’s initial rise to acclaim. They were popping off then, while the Crüe was trying to figure out where they stood. It’s no question which band was better suited to close out the night. Mötley just hadn’t yet seen the writing on the wall.

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Kittie/Disturbed – Canada, 2000

Once again, a classic case of just not yet knowing what a band was capable of. Disturbed were young then, while Kittie was riding a wave of acclaim and attention off of their debut album Spit. Reading reviews from the era, people are complimentary of Kittie, but Disturbed always get the most adjectives in their description. It was only a matter of time before the band conquered the world. And hey, maybe they needed to open for Kittie to get there – but they were definitely not a band we’d let open for us, even during their salad days.

Slipknot/Slayer – Tattoo The Earth, 2000

Slipknot also failed to heed metal’s biggest live rule – never follow Slayer – but that backfired on them a little differently than it did for Pantera. Despite their sonic chaos, Slipknot’s sound is lush and deep, layered like a Scooby-Doo sandwich. Slayer’s music, meanwhile, is aural bleach, scouring and cleansing like acid (especially in 2000, right before God Hates Us All dropped). After a long day at this massive fest, which included sets by Sevendust, Coal Chamber, and then-young acts like Hatebreed and Mudvayne, fans were fed a helping of toxic bleach, then offered a tall, multi-faceted sandwich. Surprisingly, the latter’s flavor did not overpower the former’s.

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