The magazine's title is onomatopoeic and derives from the noise made when smashing an electric guitar.
Kerrang! was first published on the 6 June 1981, edited by Geoff Barton, initially as a one-off supplement in the Sounds newspaper devoted to the current New Wave of British Heavy Metal (or 'NWOBHM' for short) and the rise of other hard rock acts such as AC/DC, who appeared on Kerrang!’s first cover.
During the 1980s and early 1990s the magazine placed many thrash and glam metal acts on the cover (like Mötley Crüe, Slayer, Bon Jovi, Metallica, Poison, Testament) but later discarded them when grunge acts such as Nirvana rose to fame. Readers often criticise the magazine for repeating this process every time a new musical trend becomes popular; for example, there are many complaints about Kerrang!'s current emphasis on emo and metalcore music, particularly stemming from the fact that the magazine continually printed issues with My Chemical Romance on the front cover for several weeks, following the release of their album, The Black Parade.