The Big Four – Sonisphere Festival, Sofia (Bulgaria) 06.22.10
Posted by MP Schroeder on 06.24.2010
And so the day came when the planets aligned and metal history was made.
When it was announced that the big four bands of thrash-metal (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth & Anthrax) would leave behind their differences and share the stage at Bulgaria’s Sonisphere Festival, the metal community reeked of skepticism and speculation. Was it being done to cash in on nostalgia? Would there be any on-stage drama that would sour the occasion? Would the bands jam together on stage? Would it all fall apart at the last minute? And, to make matters even more notorious, the event would be transmitted live via satellite to movie theaters around the globe so fans of all four bands didn’t feel like they were being left out of one of metal’s most historic moments.
While some may argue that going to the movies to watch a concert is like watching a picture of the Mona Lisa, unless you are filthy rich (or live in Bulgaria or its surroundings) and with lots of time to spare, sitting comfortably in an air-conditioned room with high-definition sound and video is as close as you’re going to get to watching Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth & Anthrax give the most epic performances of their careers as a way to celebrate their years of being on the road dishing metal up the globe’s ass. Besides, at least in the theater where I watched the gig, the inexistence of appropriate space for moshing didn’t keep the Imperial Valley metalheads from crashing into each other when the images and sound instigated accordingly.
Opener Anthrax had a huge burden on its shoulders: to get the largest metal audience (Bulgaria and the world) in history going. The New York City band took the stage with an expression of lust for blood on its face, ready to get the job done as if its entire career depended on that one gargantuan gig. Returning singer Joey Belladonna fronted the onslaught in fine voice with entranced cohorts Scott Ian and Frank Bello at his side displaying an enthusiasm that swept away any suspicion that the atmosphere backstage was tense, you could tell they were having the time of their fucking lives. Anthrax’s song selection went straight for crowd pleasers like “Caught in a Mosh”, “Indians”, “Got the Time” and “I Am the Law”, and even included the favorite from the Neil Turbin era “Metal Thrashing Mad”. But the big surprise came when in between “Indians” the band broke down into Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” as an homage to Ronnie James Dio who was supposed to play Sonisphere with Heaven & Hell as well but passed away of stomach cancer before the date. After the hysteria that ensued Anthrax’s finishing of its set, it was clear, they had made it, they had successfully made a crack in the hull of the world’s skepticism and now it was Megadeth’s turn to blast the walls open with a salvo of precision metal.
Megadeth couldn’t have taken the stage in a manner more appropriate to its front man’s notorious bad luck: in the rain. But Dave Mustaine – being the ever resilient character – didn’t seem to care, for it was Megadeth’s moment to prove itself a tenacious metal contender that deserves not to be under the shadow of any other band. Opener “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” made sure the fire that Anthrax had ignited in metalheads’ hearts across the globe didn’t dim – if anything, it only made it burn brighter, after which a selection of certified classics (with the exception of new addition “Headcrusher”) such as “Symphony of Destruction”, “In My Darkest Hour”, “Sweating Bullets” and “Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?” kept the evening magical; the band ripped through its set with an almost note-perfect precision rhythmically anchored by drummer Shawn Drover and returning original bassist David Ellefson – guitarist Chris Broderick nailing the tough solos with conviction, Dave Mustaine singing his heart out without missing any notes of the guitar parts he had to tackle simultaneously.
When Slayer took the stage, Megadeth had left the audience tender and easy for the picking. Slayer of course stayed true to its name and obliterated the place with an unrelenting locomotive pace (albeit a bit sloppy) that left no time for catching your breath. “Angel of Death”, “War Ensemble”, “Raining Blood”, “South of Heaven”, and a pair of cuts from most recent album World Painted Blood (“World Painted Blood” and “Hate Worldwide”) were part of the barrage of brutality the only band of the night with its original lineup intact unleashed upon Sofia and movie theaters worldwide. After such a rush, was there still room for more metal madness? You bet!
With Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer as opening acts, Metallica was forced to dazzle anyway possible. Opener “Creeping Death” and following number “For Whom the Bell Tolls” sounded off and in need of a more concentrated Kirk Hammett, since he was having trouble with even the most simple guitar parts. However, things took an adequate shape quickly after and songs such as “Cyanide”, Fade to Black” and “Master of Puppets” were played with an intensity that kept the energy built up by the other bands from dying out. Closer “Enter Sandman” was the last song Metallica played before becoming one of the coolest bands on the planet for inviting Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer’s Dave Lombardo to play Diamondhead’s “Am I Evil”.
I know you wouldn’t believe it unless there was evidence:
To see Dave Mustaine share the stage with James, Lars and Kirk is priceless.
After making history with bringing together The Big Four (sans Tom Araya, Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman) on the same stage, Metallica still had juice for blasting “Hit the Lights” and “Seek and Destroy” like there was no tomorrow; at this point the theater had gone completely apeshit: there were people headbanging in their seats, people moshing in the exit corridors, and people screaming the words “seek and destroy!” as if they were at the front row of the European stage. Still, the greatest heavy metal party in the world had to end and after Metallica took its final bow, the show was over – though the events that took place that night will live on forever in the annals of metal history.
The 411: I still can’t fathom the idea that I saw what I saw that night. To see years of animosity between bands that were meant to do something like this a long time ago finally come to an end so the fans could bask in some of the best live music on Earth is an experience that will last a lifetime. Even though I can’t say that I was there, I can say that I was experiencing one of metal’s most historic moments minute by minute, notwithstanding, from afar and accompanied by other likeminded people who knew that they too were being part of something special. I’d be a total asshole if I graded this any lower.