Metal Mania: Big 4 Prepare to Rock Yankee Stadium
Heavy metal titans Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax have been going strong for 30 years. Now they're sharing the stage for the first time.
On Wednesday, Sept. 14, four of the most popular and influential heavy metal bands in history, collectively known as The Big 4 of thrash, will perform for a legion of headbangers at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax all formed in the early 1980s, melding the heaviness of traditional metal bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest with the aggression of punk rock to create thrash, metal’s most enduring genre.
The groups have produced some of metal’s all-time greatest albums, including Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” Slayer’s “Reign in Blood,” Megadeth’s “Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying?” and Anthrax’s “Among the Living.”
Beginning in Europe in 2010, the bands began performing what they called The Big 4 shows, marking the first time all four groups shared a stage. The Yankee Stadium concert is the second American Big 4 show, following an April performance in Indio, Calif.
Though separate entities, the Big 4 are closely connected. Guitarist-singer Dave Mustaine formed Megadeth after being fired from Metallica in 1983. Slayer guitarist Kerry King joined Megadeth for its first few gigs before deciding to remain in his original band. And Metallica lived at Anthrax’s rehearsal space in Queens, NY, when the band arrived from California to perform its first East Coast gigs.
Following are excerpts from separate interviews conducted over the past month with Slayer bassist-vocalist Tom Araya, Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson and Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian.
What has your experience been performing the Big 4 shows?
Araya: To finally have the four bands together on one stage, it’s a metalhead’s dream. I’ve always been a fan of the bands. Its rejuvenated the whole metal scene and its re-exposed people to metal.
Ian: It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done, if not the best. Metallica made this decision to call us all up and ask if we wanted to go have some fun and be with our friends, and that’s what its been about. The shows we’ve done have been incredible and it’s an awesome thing for the fans.
Ellefson: It’s a phenomenon beyond anything any of us could have ever dreamed about. I like how we’re keeping it as these big festival events. There are these types of festivals all over Europe but we don’t have anything of this magnitude in the states. It’s a great night out.
What was the common thread between the four bands that led to the Big 4 collectively creating a new style of metal?
Araya: We started the bands around the same time, around 1981, and we all came up with this certain sound and style. That, to me, is what makes it special. And we’re still viable to the music scene 30 years later.
Ellefson: The common thread is that we all formed in the early 1980s and we were also the first generation of kids growing up that had both heavy metal and punk rock records in our record collections. Ultimately that combination formed thrash metal.
After recording your breakthrough albums (Slayer’s “Reign in Blood” and Megadeth’s “Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying?), did you have a feeling that you had created something special?
Araya: We had no clue that it would make such a big splash. For us it was just another album. We were just worried that it was too short (“Reign in Blood” clocks in at just under 29 minutes). I’m flattered that people picked it out to be this defining record for a genre of music.
Ellefson: When we were playing the songs live we knew the song “Peace Sells” was going to be a hit. It’s got such a great hook, lyrically. We realized at that point that we were on to something much bigger, musically and lyrically. We knew that our chops were shining.
What do you think makes those records thrash metal masterpieces?
Ellefson: When we recorded the album we were scraping and crawling and squatting and doing everything we could do to survive between tours. We had nothing to fall back on. To some degree that darkness and dangerous vibe went into the album. Also, we had played those songs live for almost a month before we went in the studio. That’s a totally different energy from just writing and rehearsing songs in the studio.
Araya: I think it’s the rawness of the record. Every song was intentionally fast, all crammed into this little package. Everyone else was doing this really long, slow and grinding stuff. Then, after “Reign in Blood,” everybody wanted to be fast or faster.
Metallica is the biggest heavy metal and hard rock band in the world, and many of the band’s newer fans may have never heard your albums. Do you see the Big 4 shows as a way to gain a new following as well as a treat for your longtime fans?
Ian: We absolutely understand that we’re getting to play to a huge audience that maybe has heard of Anthrax but has probably never bought a record and has certainly never seen us live. It’s giving us an opportunity to play to a ton of new people.
More on the Big 4:
- Band members: James Hetfield (guitar-vocals); Kirk Hammett (guitar); Lars Ulrich (drums); Robert Trujillo (bass)
- Notable former members: Dave Mustaine (guitar), 1982-83; Cliff Burton (bass), 1983-86, died in tour bus accident; Jason Newsted (bass), 1986-2001
- Place of origin: Los Angeles/San Francisco
- First album: “Kill ‘Em All” (1983)
- Latest Album: Death Magnetic (2008)
- Must Haves: Kill ‘Em All”; Ride The Lightning (1984); Master of Puppets (1986)
- Band members: Tom Araya (bass-vocals); Kerry King (guitar); Jeff Hannemann (guitar); Dave Lombardo (drums)
- Place of origin: Huntington Park, Calif.
- First album: “Show No Mercy” (1983)
- Latest Album: “World Painted Blood” (2009)
- Must Haves: Hell Awaits (1985); Reign in Blood (1986); South of Heaven (1988)
- Band members: Dave Mustaine (guitar-vocals); Dave Ellefson (bass); Chris Broderick (guitar); Shawn Drover (drums)
- Place of Origin: Los Angeles
- First album: “Killing Is My Business … And Business Is Good!” (1985)
- Latest Album: “TH1RT3EN” (To be released Nov. 1)
- Must Haves: “Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying?” (1986); “Rust in Peace” (1990)
- Band members: Joey Belladonna (vocals); Scott Ian (guitar); Rob Caggiano (guitar); Frank Bello (bass); Charlie Benante (drums)
- Place of Origin: Queens, NY
- First album: “Fistful of Metal” (1984)
- Latest Album: “Worship Music” (To be released Sept. 13)
- Must Haves: Spreading the Disease (1985); Among the Living (1987); Worship Music (2011) – Yes, it’s that good.
The Big 4 at Yankee Stadium, featuring Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth.
4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14.
Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY.
Tickets available as of press time: $123.50, $179.50
For tickets: 877-469-9849 or www.ticketmaster.com.