Synopsis: The Big Four is an expression designating the 4 most important U.S. metal bands like Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax. These are also the 4 groups best known for Thrash metal. It is since 1984 that young fans of Thrash Metal have begun to speculate on a concert that would combine the Big Four. Over the years, and after a few setbacks and tensions between groups, this vision of a reunion faded.
It would take twenty-five years before new rumors, stronger and with more presence on many sites and fan communities, resurfaced. On the occasion of the Sonisphere Festival 2010, the legendary Big Four shared the bill for the first time. This already legendary concert was immortalized for giving us the Big Four: Live From Sofia, Bulgaria.
On June 22, 2010, thrash metal greats Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax did a concert together at the Sonisphere Festival at Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia, Bulgaria. It was one of just a few on a small European tour dubbed “The Big Four” (i.e. the four thrash metal icons).
For posterity’s sake, the Bulgarian concert was recorded and broadcast “live” (there was a slight delay) in some 800 cinemas around the world. It was one night only, no retakes, no overdubs. It was to be a historic event: these landmark bands had never been on the same bill before.
Naturally, having been a fan of Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax to various degrees since adulthood (Hey, what can I say? I was a late bloomer…) , I was totally stoked to hear about this. I immediately tracked down the local presentation and contacted my friends to see if they’d join me.
And thus, on June 22, we made our trip to a cinema bursting to the seams with metalheads.
It was a memorable night, watching those legendary metal bands play for a MASSIVE crowd in Sofia. The broadcast was mildly glitchy, but the crowd that night was as fired up as we were and cheers erupted throughout the show. After three and a half hours, we walked out of there buzzing with excitement.
But I knew at the time that this would have to be released on DVD (and, hopefully, on blu-ray too): it had been filmed for the broadcast, so presumably there would be a way to package all of this into a keepsake of some sort. Not only would there be demand for it, but there would likely be tons of cash to be made.
I wasn’t disappointed: soon enough, the show was released in various iterations, including DVDs, blu-rays, and multi-disc boxed sets. But here’s the clincher: whereas the broadcast was edited slightly due to time constraints, the home video version was released in full, adding about 75 minutes to it!!!
I soon picked it up, drooling at the thought of seeing this unexpurgated version of such a momentous event, and fully expecting to relive the moment with a few friends thereafter. But the moment never came: scheduling and lagging interest in five hours of metal derailed my plan.
But I finally got around to it the other day: having watched ‘Through the Never‘ and ‘Some Kind of Monster‘, I decided to make November a Metallica month – thereby pushing me to finally get around to ‘Français pour une nuit‘ and ‘The Big Four’, which had both been sitting on my “New Arrivals” shelf for a couple of years each.
I just wasn’t sure how to go about it. Could I handle five hours of non-stop metal? And, by that same token, could my neighbours? So I decided to take a break between each set, in some ways recreating the concert experience (given that the bands had to take time to change over – all of them having their own gear and set-ups).
I decided to be prudent and go for one hour between each (giving enough time to rest and write up my notes), starting the Anthrax set at 2pm, the Megadeth one at 4pm, Slayer at 6pm, and Metallica at 8pm. I knew that Metallica’s show took place after nightfall, so it was somewhat coordinated. It would end at approximately 10pm.
I was ready. Are you?
(nota bene: all songs highlighted in red were not part of the original broadcast)
The blu-ray also comes with a 50-minute behind-the-scenes look at this historic mega-concert. It starts at 2pm that afternoon, when Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax began to make their way to the stadium. How long they’d been in Sofia is undetermined, and when Metallica made their way to the concert is another thing altogether – they seem to already be there.
By 3pm, we are backstage with Megadeth. Dave Ellefson was concerned about the rain, but thought that it would pass them by and hit Slayer (he even had a bet going with Shawn about it). He also talked about their travels and about the concert itself, which he knowingly states is really just a large-scale battle of the bands.
We also go backstage with Anthrax. Joey was wandering about, just checking things out, and Frank sourly talked about the joys of taking a crap at festivals. Meanwhile, Metallica was practicing “Am I Evil?”, as were Dave Mustaine and Rob Caggiano. Some of the other musicians were also tinkering with their instruments.
The bands eventually began to mingle, shoot the shit, talk about their kids, …etc. It’s all very convivial; despite Ellefson’s claims, this didn’t seem competitive at all. Lars tells Mustaine that, for one year, his kid’s favourite band was Megadeth. Dave seemed taken aback – mostly by the fact that it was “only” one year!
By a quarter past 4pm, Anthrax hit the stage. Meanwhile, Robert Trujillo and Kirk Hammett met with their fans. Tom Araya and Kerry King also met with their fans. What was astounding was the devotion of the Slayer fans, one of whom had a full back tattoo of King and the other who wept uncontrollably next to a bemused Araya.
By a quarter to 6pm, Megadeth went on – but only after a group prayer. Non-fans may be surprised to hear this, but one of the world’s most iconic thrash metal bands, a band that is named after nuclear warfare, is actually composed a bunch of deeply devout Christians. It sounds strange, but such is the case.
By a quarter to 7pm, so at about the end of Megadeth’s show, Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield met with their fans. I have no idea if these fans had been waiting around since 4pm, but if they did, they’re pretty damned devoted. On the flipside, I have to wonder why Lars and James made them wait for so long.
By a quarter past 7pm, Slayer hit the stage. By half past 8pm, the bands were practicing “Am I Evil?” backstage together. Slayer was noticeably absent. It was a very loose affair, but everyone seemed confident and were enjoying themselves. By a little past 9pm, Metallica went on – after a tongue-in-cheek huddle presided over by Kirk.
At 11pm, history was being made with the bands’ performance of “Am I Evil?” before a delirious audience. Scott Ian ended the documentary by telling us that it was the highlight of his career. Somehow, I’m not 100% convinced by his assertion; it sounded disingenuous. Still, for fans, it was totally unforgettable.
One thing that struck me about the documentary is that the interviews shown between the bands’ sets in the cinema weren’t included. What happened to those? Are they available as Easter eggs somewhere on the disc? I will have to find out, because those were essential parts of the experience.
The short series of concerts by ‘The Big Four’ ended up being successful enough that they organized a second run in 2011. None of those were not broadcast. Tom Araya of Slayer has since said that it is unlikely that it will happen again. Apparently band politics will likely prevent this,. which is a shame.
…but we have Sofia, Bulgaria on record, for us to savour. Forever and always.
Date of viewing: November 11, 2013