Top 10 loudest bands – Who is the high decibel king?Last night at the Swans gig the inevitable conversation started.

The conversation happened after the gig because it was impossible to talk during the show because of the sheer avalanche of noise but post show the debate started who is the loudest ever.

It’s oen of the biggest myths in rock music that loud is good, many powerful bands don’t opt for volume, but the visceral delight of the pure power of noise cannot be denied. This Top 10 is not scientific and it reflects the thoughts of everyone who joined in the debate…

1. Swans

The current Uk tour has been loud. So loud that two people feinted at the gig in Manchester and you could feel the hair on your arms move and the air in the room shake – this was not just for show – it was a really effective use of the brutal power of  volume.

2. Sunn O

At their recent Manchester gig people actually attempted to talk to me during the band’s show – all I could see was their mouths moving and the bands volume felt like a blizzard…

3. My Bloody Valentine

The indie fans favourite and the band that gets mentioned in all the despatches about loudest band ever. When they played ATP recently an insider told us that MBV’s decibel level was less than that of Buzzcocks who played the same day. There is no denying that they are loud, especially during the noise section of ‘You Made Me Realise’ but compared to a metal or industrial band they may not be that loud…Mogwai were also mentioned in despatches…

4. Motorhead

Famously the band whose T shirt reads ‘everything louder than everyone else’ Motorhead are certainly pretty deafening, especially Lemmy’s legendary bass which tends to drown the rest of the band out.

6. The Who

The Who were the first band who got famous for playing loud – they invented the whole notion of volume in rock and it became the standard answer in ‘Who is the loudest band?’ for a whole generation of people who didn’t even know what hearing problems were. Guitarist Pete Townshend now has tinnitus.

7. Leftfield

It’s not necessarily rock or indie music that is the loudest, it’s a mistake to think that guitars are the loudest instrument – with the space of techno there is more opportunity to make high volume and Leftfeld have one of the highest recorded volumes of any gig ever.

8. Manowar

Faintly silly metal outfit Manowar still have the highest decibel reading of any band recorded.

9. Sonic Youth

In our survey many people claimed that Sonic Youth were the loudest band they have ever heard. Certainly a loud band but maybe some of the people we surveyed have never been to a metal gig.

10. Spinal Tap

Must be the loudest band of all time because of their amp that went to 11 out of 10…

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


    • Dinosaur Jr were deafening when I first saw them in ’89. Didn’t see Husker Due but Sugar in about ’92 were punishingly loud.

      • I remember feeling physical pain when seeing/hearing Sugar at Roskilde Festival 1992. The bass was so loud that I felt like being punched in the gut.

  1. I think the Swans is the title winner here! They’re the loudest band I’ve ever seen; Motorhead pales in comparison. Second loudest band I ever saw (though as I only saw them once I don’t know if this is representative of every gig) was Soundgarden at the Bierkeller. GBH really killed my ears once too. Alas after 30 years and hundreds of gigs I have hearing loss and tinnitus in one ear. I still attend gigs regularly (Gojira, Madball and Conflict in 3 consecutive days this week) but I now wear professional ear plugs to cut the volume but not the quality.

  2. I walked out of a Motorhead gig due to the ridiculous volume they were playing at, or was it actually because they were crap and we’d only gone because of the support band, The Wildhearts?
    I would say Leftfield are the loudest band I’ve ever seen, you could feel the air been knocked out of your lungs by the bass.
    More recently, the ‘everything louder than everyone else’ award goes to Pop Will Eat Itself who wrecked my ears for 3 days after their York gig earlier this year.

  3. Killing Joke were probably the loudest band I’ve ever experienced. I could feel the vibration thumping up my legs just stopping short of my testicles, the beat thumped in my chest too as if Tarzan was standing behind me banging my chest for a Tarzan. yell! Luckily i had ear defenders in my pocket
    (so i could sleep on the camp site at Download) I had to put them in!

  4. Are gigs quieter than they used to be or is it just that my choice of bands isn’t quite as loud as it was in my teenage years?

    Sepultura are the loudest band I’ve seen – uncomfortably so for a small-ish venue. More surprisingly, The Charlatans were so loud you couldn’t really tell what they were playing, until the sound was turned down mid-set.

  5. so many variables not being discussed. most of these bands are interchangeable depending on the size of the room-size of the p.a., microphones, subs, sound engineer, etc. stage volume is what should be measured-then SUNN would win no doubt.

  6. i have been told that ‘godspeed you black emperor’ was very very loud in the 2000’s. I never felt like checking if that was true though.

  7. Led Zeppelin are the loudest group i saw.Easily louder than ACDC who i saw twice at indoor and outdoor venues.Zepp blew Sabbath away,no contest there.The other band that i thought were as loud as Zepp were Deep Purple on the Perfect strangers tour.

  8. Einsturzende Neubauten, Dublin 2004… my ears were ringing for two days after wards… their first song was one of the quieter numbers from the new album and who ever was responsible for the sound had turned volume way up, so when the band finally played their louder songs it was like getting hit in the chest with a sledge hammer. It was totally worth the temporary deafness.

  9. Agree. Swans is the loudest. But I’ve been to a Killing Joke concert a couple of years ago and that was almost as loud as Swans.

  10. having been in the business for nearly forty years, I can say without a shadow of a doubt the three loudest bands by a mile are/were: Slayer, Oasis & the Prodigy. In fact touring with the Prods irrevocably damaged my hearing forever & doing the same with Oasis didn’t help either…

  11. The show Swans played last year in London is definitely the loudest I’ve seen (and I’ve seen MBV 3 times). Loud enough that I was at the front and the first proper riff knocked my head backwards. This year’s was loud but not quite as much. Also nowhere near the more than 2h30 they played then.

    As part of the electronic vindication I should say Magnetic Man (don’t judge me, I wasn’t there for them) had a bass so low and loud for a few seconds air just didn’t go in my lungs and I thought I was going to die asphyxiated by bass.

  12. I’ve seen Motorhead 16 times, and they ARE fucking loud (after their Leeds gig in ’97, after I’d been right at the front row, up against the right-hand PA stack, I coudn’t hear anything at all for two days and was still partially deaf a week later), but the loudest band I’ve ever seen is Manowar (Manchester Apollo 1988). You could feel everything in the venue – the floor, the walls, the air itself, your own face) vibrating to the bass frequencies. It was insane.

  13. The second I read the title of this article, the word that instantly popped into my head was “SWANS”! Never before have I witnessed a band using volume like a weapon, until I saw Swans earlier this year. You have to experience it to believe it, but make sure you bring ear protection, no, seriously, you will need it. I also think The Fall are a notable band missing from this list, considering every time I’ve seen them in the past few years MES has taken a liking to going round all the amps and fiddling with the knobs in an apparent attempt to distort and boost the volume as much as possible.

  14. I’ve never forgotten John Peel on his show describing Ian McNabb’s Icicle Works, then just breaking through, as the loudest band he’d ever heard. My votes are for DAF and the League of Gentlemen (Robert Fripp plus Barry Andrews and Sara Lee), who both came close to literally bringing down the house at Liverpool Eric’s/Brady’s.

  15. Although I have yet to see My Bloody Valentine live, and I do believe they are loud, I’ve seen Swans and Sunn O))) and Sunn is easily the most decibels of any concert I’ve ever been to. However, their show is mostly, if not all, pretty low frequencies. I don think a tone above 1khz was uttered aside from some feedback. Hands down Sunn. If you think otherwise, you’re wrong.

  16. […] But before buying tickets, buy ear plugs: MBV makes good on its reputation of playing one of the loudest live shows to ever exist, and it’s worth every sludgy, punkish […]

  17. Disaster Area, in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, chapter 21:
    “In both size and shape the sound rig closely resembled Manhattan.

    Risen out of the silos, the neutron speaker stacks towered monstrously against the sky, obscuring the banks of plutonium reactors and seismic amps behind them.

    Buried deep in concrete bunkers beneath the city of speakers lay the instruments that the musicians would control from their ship, the massive photon-ajuitar, the bass detonator and the Megabang drum complex.

    It was going to be a noisy show. “

  18. Status Quo at King George’s Hall, Blackburn mid 70’s the show was so loud the ornamental plaster in the Windsor suite below, fell off the ceiling and gig had to be stopped for 5 mins because it became unsafe.

  19. Not seen the Swans since the 80s in Leeds. Always remember it though. They came on and started with a quiet one, ‘In My Garden’, with Jarboe singing. Leeds crowd shouting “get yer tits out!” & “louder!”. At that point we spotted the guitarist wearing ear defenders. Then song 2 started. Not heard anything like it. A third of the audience couldn’t hack it and walked out pretty much straight away. We moved to the back of the room and watched people’s hair shaking, and more people leaving. We started coming up on the mushrooms we’d necked just beforehand, which, in hindsight, wasn’t the smartest idea. My mate Bob went to the front, which was easy now as most of the remaining people were back from the stage and well spread out. He stayed there until Gira stopped doing his tipple-overs or whatever he did on his stage carpet and started bellowing “you must kill the child!” directly in his face. Great gig & definitely louder than the 2 MBV gigs I’ve seen.

  20. I was at the official ‘ loudest gig [Who , Charlton, ] and yes, Zep ,Purple and Sabbath were loud when i saw them..but for shere visceral power , check the new cosmik champions – The Lucid Dream …

    • I’ve seen some really noisy bands but the one that certainly stands out in my memory is The Jesus And Mary Chain. It was like being in a wind-tunnel. You could practically see the G-force on people’s faces.

  21. I saw MBV in a pub and it was ludicrously loud. Another loud one was fudge tunnel supporting Fugazi in kilburn. It was so loud the drinks were falling off the tables due to the vibration.

    • I also saw MBV in a pub I’m wendover, my ears hurt for a week and I saw fugazi in Kilburn. Fudgetunnel supported and were ludicrously loud. Glasses were moving across the tables because they were vibrating so much.

  22. That’s weird, I didn’t know there was only one type of PA system, guitar amp, sound engineer or venue.

  23. I was going to say Killing Joke then realised i did this 3 years ago!
    So I’ll give you the quietest gig..
    David Bowie at Wembley on the Reality tour. We were at the back, I was with my friend Gary, he was pissed and had the urge to shout Bowie a few times. A woman with posh accent turned round and said “Do you mind, I’ve paid £50 to see David Bowie and all I can hear is you calling his name”! So my mate said fuck this asked if I wanted another beer and went to the bar. Whilst he was away I tapped the woman and said “I’m really sorry about my friend, he’s special needs and I’ve bought him out for the day”. she said she was terribly sorry she didn’t know and how awful etc!
    Gary returned with drinks I explained what I said and because he was on seat next to chairs, he was rolling around on the stairs in hysterics.
    The posh woman turned round to me all concerned asking if he was alright! He lost the plot even more laughing till tears rolled down his face!

  24. 3loudest gigs – Motörhead in 1990, Guitarwolf from Japan and Mad 3 also from Japan. The latter left me stone deaf for 2 days and 25 years of gigs have left me partially deaf with permanent tinnitus. The price of Rock and Roll!!!

  25. God Damn are currently proving themselves to be one phenomenally loud live band. After the last gig I saw them play, my ears failed to work properly for three days.

  26. Dinosaur Jr at the forum in Kentish town. I was in front of J and I swear my hearing has never recovered properly. Loud doesn’t even begin to describe it.

  27. Loudest recently was JAMC Psychocandy show at Barrowlands last year earsringing for days, slightly disturbing at my advanced years, I should know better , but f#cked if I`m wearing earplugs to a gig, somebody mentioned Oasis earlier, saw them at Glasgow Cathouse, Shakermaker time, they were seriously loud, hearing fucked for days after, saw MBV 5 times now and they defo work at VERY high volumes obviously.

  28. I once saw a band @ Southampton Guildhall around ’93 supporting PJ Harvey who were quite literally deafening-they were called Gutless. Thought we’d take cover in the bar but it made no difference! More recently PWEI-ears were ringing for 2 days after!!

    • tf are you talking about? they have 15 studio albums, 12 live albums, 3 EPs, at least 20 singles, 14 compilations, and many other various releases. I might even be undercounting them, this is all off the top of my head.

  29. Swans as previously said.
    Dinosaur Jr- old Greek theatre- Melbourne late 80’s. My ex had to leave the venue.
    Have heard that Slayer and Sunn o))) are super loud.
    Beasts of Bourbon first gig made me deaf for days.

  30. The loudest concerts I can recall going to was back in the 80s when I saw Slayer open for Judast Priest. The other was Anthrax open I mg for Kids. For days after the concert I was going hug?? Evertime I thought someone said something to me. Now I wish I had taken precautions because I have a harder time hearing as I grow older!

  31. Loud music destroys hearing. I would urge all concert goers to use quality ear protection. Not cheap but you need to invest.

  32. How about Slayer? I saw them back in 2015. I walked out of that arena with my ears and head feeling like they had just exploded. I had to stay off of school because of an incredible migraine and I could not hear anything!

  33. Led Zeppelin Dallas Memorial Auditorium Physical Graffiti louder than that Deep Purple last show of the perfect strangers tour which was their reunion

  34. Boy am I late to this party.. None the less, my experiences from the earlier years of the 2010’s should give you a laugh. One of my best buds and I traveled around to different gigs especially between 2013-14 including seeing Swans twice and MBV once. Where’s the punchline? He actually fainted twice during the middle of MBV! Pretty ironic considering Swans are the ones notorious for such things. Tbh, We were pretty sure it was due to heat exhaustion + him not hydrating properly.. Other people were passing out as well as the venue just kept letting people in and the place turned into a sauna. Anyway, I can’t keep anything short, so I’m gonna continue in another comment..

  35. *Continued* My friend also challenged himself at the beginning of the MBV show to see how long he could last w/out protection (and lasted about 3 songs lol). Also, he claimed when we saw Swans he decided to remove his plugs just to see what it sounded like. He said it was night and day comparison, musical with them in.. nothing but a giant screechy wall of sound with em’ out.

    I think the only other act we saw that came close to the volume of those two was one of my favorite ambient/electronic sound artists (Tim Hecker) who has the most earth shaking bass frequencies. Every molecule of your whole body inside and out was vibrated by this bass!

  36. Swans (children of god tour Eindhoven NL 1987/88

    SunnO))) Melkweg Amsterdam

    Gnod (fuzzfest Eindhoven NL 2018)

    Melvins (Stag tour Willem 2 Den Bosch NL)

  37. Napalm Death at the Voodoo Lounge in Dublin, the PA they had with them was for a much bigger venue, my ears were ringing for a week afterwards, most gigs it was only 1-2 days afterwards

  38. Another vote for Killing Joke – I saw Motorhead a couple of times but the loudest Joke gigs I went to were louder. Never seen Swans though.
    Of course as some have said it depends on PA, venue, where you are standing etc


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