Heavy metal is a music genre that has conquered the world, spawning countless spin-offs from black metal to grindcore to stoner rock. While it still maintains its alt-edge and fearsome image, we’re sure even your grandma has heard of it. Selling millions, if not billions, of albums/t-shirts/gig tickets worldwide. But did you know that heavy metal started here in Birmingham?
Two of the genre’s pioneering bands Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin – who along with Deep Purple make up the ‘unholy trinity’ – have ties to the city. With homages to Ozzy Osbourne everywhere. Meanwhile, grindcore legends Napalm Death also come from Birmingham and the city is still churning out some of the most brutal bands the world has ever seen. So we’ve rounded up some of the most heavy metal spots in Birmingham every metalhead fan should visit.
1. Ozzy the Bull
What’s more metal than a giant mechanical bull that has glowing red eyes and can breathe smoke? Ozzy the Bull – named after the Black Sabbath – won our hearts during the Commonwealth Games. The 33ft beast now sits proudly in New Street Station fiercly gazing over busy commuters. If you’re looking for another Sabbath-connected statue, Antony Gormley’s Iron Man lives in Victoria Square.
New Street Station, Station St, Birmingham B2 4QA
Iron:Man, Victoria Square, Birmingham, Birmingham B1 1BD
2. Black Sabbath Bridge & Bench
Metalheads from around the world have made the pilgrimage to the Black Sabbath Bridge on Broad Street. Such bands as Anvil, Anthrax and Behemoth have all made the trip too to share the bench with Tony, Bill, Geezer and Ozzy. It was unveiled by Tony Iommi, the band’s lead guitarist, (and Jasper Carrot) in 2019, and remains the ideal spot to rest your feet when visiting Birmingham. Nearby is the Broad Street Walk of Stars too – featuring all the members of the band.
Broad Street, Birmingham B1 2DY
3. Salisbury Tower
Taking a break from Sabbath (don’t worry, we’ll come back to them), to another of the Unholy Trinity. It’s time to dust off your vinyl collection for this one and find Led Zeppelin IV. Because on the back cover, is a high-rise block of flats: which some have recognised as being in Birmingham. Exactly where has been up for debate for a while, but this incredible research has seemingly put that to rest. It’s now believed to be Salisbury Tower in Ladywood.
The West Midlands has always been cautious to fully claim Led Zeppelin. Because while John Bonham is from Redditch and Robert Plant is from West Bromwich, both Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones hail from London. But this slice of metal history keeps Birmingham’s Led Zep connection forever.
Salisbury Tower, Middleway View, Birmingham B18 7DB
4. The Crown
While The Crown was built back in 1881, it didn’t really get going until almost a century later. Black Sabbath played their first-ever gig and, from the early 70s to the 80s, it was arguably one of the most important music venues in the UK. Led Zeppelin played some early gigs here, as did another iconic Brummie metal act, Judas Priest (as well as UB40, but we’re not talking about them here).
The Crown has been closed for almost a decade but has another chance at life. Arts organisation Birmingham Open Media (BOM) is in the process of resorting the pub, to build a new venue for the next generation of musical talent in Birmingham. The birthplace of metal lives on!
65 Station St, Birmingham B5 4DA
5. The Mermaid
We can talk about the birth of heavy metal all day and how it conquered the world. But another, even fiercer, genre was created here too. An extreme fusion of heavy metal and hardcore punk, the super-heavy and super-fast sounds of grindcore were born in Birmingham during the mid-1980s. Particularly at the defunct pub, The Mermaid, and particularly by its defacto house band, Napalm Death.
During this time, all manner of wall-shaking bands visited The Mermaid, which became a hub for Birmingham’s DIY music scene. But has since closed down. You won’t find any of that now in Sparkbrook. Just a popular Portuguese-style grill house, Farro’s.
402-406 Stratford Rd, Birmingham B11 4AD
6. The Devil’s Dog
Birminghan’s metal scene is not all the past though. Promising to be “Birmingham’s most brutal live music venue” when it opened earlier this year, The Devil’s Dog is exactly that. Not only is it building on the cultural impact of bands like Judas Priest, Napalm Death and Godflesh, but is acting as a platform for the next generation too. You’ll find some of the West Midlands’ most exciting up-and-comers playing here, as well as some established international acts too.
If this place doesn’t quite satisfy your bloodlust, however, there are plenty of face-melting venues around Birmingham to discover. Subside is a budget dedicated rock and alternative music bar that sells drinks “at wallet-friendly prices”. Scruffy Murphy’s is one of the rowdiest Irish pubs in Birmingham. While The Asylum has the capacity for shows at ear bleeding volumes.
The Devil’s Dog, 148 Adderley St, Deritend, Birmingham B9 4ED
Subside, 57 High St, Birmingham B5 6DA
Scruffy Murphy’s, Dale End, Birmingham B4 7LN
The Asylum, 38-43 Hampton St, Birmingham B19 3LS
7. Swordfish Records
If you consider yourself a real metalhead, then listening to Judas Priest through AirPods on Spotify isn’t going to cut it. You need records. And lots of them. Where better than the coolest record store in Birmingham? Swordfish Records started life on Hurst Street back in 1979 selling punk and post-punk vinyl. Having moved around a bit, it’s now on Dalton Street and still selling new and used vinyl and CDs, plus plenty of collectables. Stock up here.
66 Dalton St, Birmingham B4 7LX
8. Ozzy mural
The Prince of Darkness has been commemorated on Birmingham’s streets with this mural in Digbeth. Local graffiti artist, Robbie Jeffcott, paid tribute to the famous Brummie Ozzy Osbourne next to the UK’s first self-service bar Auto Brew. If you want to keep the Ozzy momentum up, head over to 14 Lodge Road near Aston Park. There’s no blue plaque outside, but this is Ozzy’s childhood home. (Just don’t annoy the people that now live there.)
The Custard Factory, 10-11, Greenhouse, Gibb St, Birmingham B9 4DJ
14 Lodge Rd, Handsworth, Birmingham B6 6LU
9. Home of Metal
Walking around Birmingham, you mostly wouldn’t know its birthplace of heavy metal. When compared to places like New York and punk, Liverpool and Merseybeat, or Detroit and techno. There’s nary a plaque or tour to celebrate its musical history. Home of Metal was set up to change that and “promote the music that was born in and around Birmingham”. It’s a big reason why we’re starting to see more of a celebration of it in recent years.
This culminated in a much-loved exhibition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery in 2019. But Home of Metal is still looking for a permanent metal museum in the city. In the meantime, it still hosts plenty of exhibitions and events around Birmingham for all to enjoy. To learn more about Home of Metal and what it’s up to head here.