Heavy Metal Controversies That Left People Outraged

List Rules
Vote up the metal controversies that deserved the backlash.

Heavy metal as a genre has always courted controversy, but a few artists in particular are lightning rods for audience outrage. In many of the following cases, the artists included here had no intention of doing anything more than titillating their audience, but then there are the church-burning, bird-beheading, riot-starting bands who dropped bombs and never looked back.

Not every one of the following controversies is as upsetting as the last, so it's up to you to vote and decide which ones are the heaviest of them all.


  • Mayhem's Entire Career
    Photo: Until The Light Takes Us / Variance Films

    Mayhem is one of the most fascinating, if not controversial, metal bands of all time. On one hand, they played a part in creating black metal, a genre designed to tear down the rules of rock 'n' roll while looking straight into the abyss. Mayhem's music is not only bleak and nihilistic, but also free of the virtuosic confines that were strangling the metal genre at the time.

    In 1991, Mayhem graduated from talking about destroying polite society to actually giving it a shot. When their signer, Pelle Ohlin (AKA Dead), died by suicide with a shotgun, the band took photos of his body and used the most horrendous image as the cover for one of their albums. In '92, Burzum frontman and Mayhem's then-bassist Varg Vikernes inspired members of the black metal community to burn down 1,000-year-old churches in the name of erasing Christianity and Western modernity from Norway.

    Things escalated on August 10, 1993, when Vikernes stabbed Mayhem guitarist Øystein Aarseth (AKA Euronymous) in his apartment. Vikernes was sentenced to 21 years for the crime (he was released in 2009 after serving nearly 15 years), but the black metal controversy stirred by Mayhem lives on.

    230 votes
  • Mötley Crüe's Singer Was Convicted Of Manslaughter
    Photo: Bjornsphoto / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

    Throughout the '80s, Mötley Crüe courted controversy as a means of free advertising, but their faux Satanism and hard-partying ways didn't draw nearly as much bad press as when singer Vince Neil got behind the wheel of his car on December 8, 1984, with Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle in the passenger seat. 

    At the time, Neil was under the influence and made a liquor store run in Hollywood. Neil ran straight into another car, injuring everyone inside and killing 24-year-old Razzle on impact. Neil served 30 days for vehicular manslaughter and paid a $2.5 million fee, then he went off to continue performing with Mötley Crüe at their peak. In 2010 he told Blender:

    I wrote a $2.5 million check for vehicular manslaughter when Razzle died. I should have gone to prison. I definitely deserved to go to prison. But I did 30 days in jail and got laid and drank beer, because that's the power of cash. That's f*cked up.

    243 votes
  • Guns N' Roses Caused A Riot In Montreal
    Photo: Guns N Roses: Welcome To The Videos / Geffen Home Video

    Guns N' Roses were the bad boys of the 1980s and early '90s, but sometimes being bad isn't so good. While on a co-headlining tour with Metallica in 1992, the hard-living hard rock band ruined everyone's good time after Metallica frontman James Hetfield received second- and third-degree burns after he was accidentally hit with pyrotechnics during the intro to "Fade to Black."

    Hetfield was rushed to the hospital, and rather than immediately take the stage and save the day, Guns N' Roses took their time getting in front of the audience and bounced after 55 minutes of starting and stopping. The already upset audience flipped when Axl Rose and company bailed, and a riot broke out that spilled out of the auditorium and into the streets. Stores were looted, cars were overturned, fires destroyed much of the area, and thousands of former GNR fans burned the band's merch. 

    Is the controversy still alive? No version of Guns N' Roses has played Montreal since 1992, so in many ways, it's as if they're still avoiding the fallout.

    155 votes
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    190 VOTES

    Metallica Went To War With Their Audience By Suing Napster

    Metallica Went To War With Their Audience By Suing Napster
    Photo: Some Kind of Monster / IFC Films

    When Napster made its way online in the late '90s, it allowed users to trade music through its peer-to-peer network. Suddenly, music was free to anyone with an internet connection, and Metallica was less than thrilled with this new technological endeavor.

    After an unfinished version of their track "I Disappear" leaked to 20 radio stations via Napster, the band - along with the RIAA - sued the upstart tech company, USC, Yale, Indiana University, and some 300,000 users for “copyright infringements, unlawful use of digital audio interface device and violations of the Racketeering Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).”

    Even though Metallica was absolutely right to recognize the slippery slope created by Napster, the way they went about it led their audience to not just turn on them, but tear them to shreds. Metallica is still one of the biggest bands in the world, but in the early 2000s, they were public enemy No. 1 because of their stance on online music trading.

    190 votes
  • Nine Inch Nails Made A Fake Snuff Film In The Sharon Tate House
    Photo: Nine Inch Nails: All That Coule Have Been / Nothing/Interscope

    Trent Reznor spent much of his early career mired in controversy, but whether or not he deserves all the negative attention is up for debate. Following the release of the band's debut Pretty Hate Machine, he was public enemy No. 1 in the industrial music scene for making music that was too pop-oriented, but the real nasty press came with the release of the Broken EP.

    Recorded in tandem with The Downward Spiral, tracking for the Broken EP took place at the infamous Sharon Tate murder house on 10050 Cielo Drive. Renamed "Le Pig Studios," Reznor worked there for more than a year to craft some of the most brutal and disturbing music of his career. One of the many projects that Reznor worked on during his 18-month stay in the house was The Broken Movie, directed by Peter Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle and Coil.

    The 20-minute film works both as a long-form music video for the EP and a commentary on snuff films. More than just a collection of music videos, the film features scenes of fictional torture, murder, and suicide. It was never officially released, but Reznor did float copies to his friends, and those friends bootlegged the heck out of The Broken Movie. Reznor never meant to release the film because it "felt too stunty," but the pirated copies made audiences believe Reznor had produced a legit snuff film full of real deaths. Shortly before his death, Christopherson commented on the film's notoriety and his regrets over the project, saying:

    Because everyone was making bad dubs of bad dubs, what I considered at the time to be pretty obvious clues that this was a fake and actually making a comment about those things were lost by the bad quality. So unfortunately a lot of people, especially kids, started to believe that it was a real snuff movie. [It] was never my intention to bring harm to people. I do think people can be harmed seeing things, especially unexpectedly, that put them in the position of empathizing with someone being tortured and murdered. That's a hard thing to watch.

    122 votes
  • German metal dudes Rammstein got into trouble with the wrong cannibal when they released the song "Mein Teil" ("My Piece"), based on the crimes of Armin Meiwes. Meiwes was sentenced to just over eight years in prison for meeting a man on the internet and eating him. To make matters more upsetting, Meiwes filmed the crime before claiming he did nothing wrong because his victim wanted to be eaten. 

    Rammstein guitarist Richard Kruspe told MTV.com that he wrote the song as a way to try and understand how someone could get to that point in their lives. Meiwes sued the band after claiming he never gave the band permission to tell his story in their music. The lawsuit didn't harm the band's prospects, as the single was nominated for best metal performance at the 48th Grammy Awards.

    132 votes