The Big Four

Metallica/Megadeth/Slayer/Anthrax
Sonisphere: The Big 4 Live From Sofia, Bulgaria
(Universal)

“This is a celebration, man! These bands have been together almost 30 years, and we’re all still alive, still on the road!”  Metallica’s James Hetfield declares to the 50,000-odd Sofia crowd. Indeed, what with the various personal troubles that all four of thrash metal’s leading lights have weathered over the years, combined with the genre’s relative decline in popularity during the 1990s, it’s amazing that they’ve all survived long enough to finally unite for this summer 2010 jaunt across eastern Europe. The performances themselves, you’ll be pleased to hear, prove that these thrash veterans are in particularly rude health.

Anthrax have had more than their fair share of internal turmoil lately, but they seem to have stabilised with the return of Joey Belladonna to the fold. They blast through the likes of ‘Caught In A Mosh’ and ‘Antisocial’ with typical enthusiasm and gonzoid charm. Torrential rain accompanies the arrival of Megadeth, but neither band nor crowd are deterred in the slightest, the former unleashing a slew of their finest efforts as the latter mosh along in multi-coloured rain coats. The return of long-serving bassist Dave Ellefson has clearly rejuvenated Mustaine’s crew, and they still impress on technicality alone.

Slayer, meanwhile, just get on with being their usual hyper-speedy, musically brutal and lyrically sinister selves. Vocalist/bassist Tom Araya has recently recovered from back surgery, but his enraged howl still hits the target on classics like ‘War Ensemble’ and ‘Raining Blood’, whilst the more recent ‘Hate Worldwide’ shows that his band aren’t going soft in their increasingly old age.

Metallica, of course, have been masters of this stadium lark for years now, and tonight they rise to the occasion in typically grandiose style; flanked by countless pyrotechnics as the crowd roar themselves hoarse to ‘Creeping Death’, ‘Blackened’ and a suitably epic ‘Master Of Puppets’. A couple of ‘Death Magnetic’ songs help to keep things fresh, but the real treat is saved for the encore – namely, an all-star, 4-band rendition of Diamond Head’s NWOBHM classic ‘Am I Evil?’, with Hetfield, Belladonna and Mustaine trading vocals, and each drummer with their own snare. It’s quite a spectacle; one very much in keeping with the spirit of the day, and everyone involved is clearly enjoying themselves.

There’s also a 45-minute documentary that focuses on the preparations for the show, and on various members of the bands before and after they play their sets. It’s worth a look, if only because it really captures the sense of occasion. Here’s hoping that such a show will soon be repeated on UK soil; until then, this is a great document of a very special day for the pioneers of thrash metal.

Alex Gosman