"Now that was a metal moment."
Metallica frontman James Hetfield's words—uttered after he and 13 members of Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, and, of course, his band performed Diamond Head's proto-thrash classic "Am I Evil?" together in Sofia, Bulgaria, last year—might well be the understatement of the century. After all, these aren't just the members of any old garage metal band; these musicians play in the groups that make up the Big Four of thrash metal, four bands that redefined metal with their earliest releases and never let go of the innovative spirit, all the while selling millions of records. These are the four groups who continued and built on the lineage of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Kiss, and Motörhead to pave the way for more extreme subgenres like death metal, grindcore, black metal, and metalcore. Moreover, the mere four minutes and 37 seconds they spent playing music together onstage had been 30 years in the making. Fueled by offstage jealousy and rivalry in the media, this sort of onstage union—not to mention the fact they've toured together and are appearing together in the U.S. for the first time ever on April 23 in Indio, California—would have seemed unthinkable a decade ago.
The one constant is that every time these bands have crossed paths, it's been a big deal. The first collaborations date back to 1981, when Metallica formed with a lineup that featured Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, bassist Ron McGovney, and a fiery redhead named Dave Mustaine on lead guitar. Together, Hetfield and Mustaine pioneered a vicious guitar attack, which shook the underground on early demo releases like their infamous and well-circulated No Life 'til Leather tape. Mustaine would take these techniques with him when Metallica kicked him out of the band in 1983 because of his alcoholism. He'd later share some of these tips with Slayer guitarist Kerry King, who was the second guitarist on Megadeth's first five concerts and was already a formidable guitar presence in his own band.
In 1986 and 1987, each band would release its masterpiece. Metallica would record the orchestral Master of Puppets, containing juggernauts like the title track and thoughtful ballads like "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)." Megadeth would unleash the unpredictable fury of their Peace Sells…but Who's Buying album, showing off Mustaine's equal penchant for topical sarcasm and catchy hooks. Slayer would strip back their sound on the 29-minute Reign in Blood as they pondered dark subject matter like the Holocaust and hell. And Anthrax embraced pop culture and musical technicality on Among the Living, containing anthems like "Indians" and "I Am the Law." Around the time of these releases, music writer Don Kaye saw the connection in the bands' histories and artistic successes and began referring to them as the "Big Four" in the U.K. music magazine Kerrang! The phrase stuck.
And yet, despite the implied sense of unity in the term, the Big Four more often worked in competition, rather than harmony, with each other throughout the '80s, as they tried to top each other in terms of speed, musical intricacy, and controversial lyrics. Some of the sense of rivalry would fade away in 1991 with the triple billing of Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax on the Clash of the Titans tour. But at the same time, new, more personal tensions rose between the Megadeth and Slayer camps, when Mustaine made an unwelcome comment to King, prompting a media feud that would last for almost the next two decades. Shortly after the Clash of the Titans, Anthrax underwent a number of lineup changes, which never affected the quality of the group's creative output until it came to a peak in the late 2000s, when the band cycled through three lead singers, leading to an eight-year-and-counting gap between albums.
Meanwhile, the same year as the Clash of the Titans tour, Metallica shot to superstardom on the back of their self-titled "Black Album," which has since gone 15-times platinum and sold over 30-million copies worldwide. The next year Megadeth released their commercial breakthrough, the double-platinum-selling Countdown to Extinction, but neither band's success could stop the on-again, off-again feuding between Mustaine and Metallica, who had replaced him with founding Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett. This feuding came to a head with the release of Metallica's 2004 documentary, Some Kind of Monster, which included a scene where a teary-eyed Mustaine confronted Ulrich, footage Mustaine didn't think would be included. And with that began a complete breakdown in communication.
Then something happened. In 2009 Metallica, by then consisting of Hetfield, Hammet, Ulrich, and bassist Robert Trujillo, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, causing them to reflect on what brought them there. They came up with the idea of touring with the other bands in the Big Four. The timing was perfect, as Anthrax were on the verge of reuniting most of their classic '80s lineup—now featuring frontman Joey Belladonna, guitarists Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano, bassist Frank Bello, and drummer Charlie Benante. Moreover, tensions had subsided between Slayer—vocalist-bassist Tom Araya, guitarists King and Jeff Hanneman, and drummer Dave Lombardo—and Megadeth—whose lineup currently consists of Mustaine, guitarist Chris Broderick, newly returned founding bassist David Ellefson, and drummer Shawn Drover—who co-headlined the Canadian Carnage tour that year. With all of the pieces in place, the unthinkable happened and the groups announced a series of shows in Eastern Europe. The final show, which took place on June 22, 2010, in Sofia, Bulgaria, and featured the Big Four's encore jam of "Am I Evil?", was broadcast in movie theaters all over the world and released on Blu-ray and DVD as The Big 4: Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax—Live From Sonisphere Festival, Sofia, Bulgaria (Warner Bros.) and has subsequently gone double platinum.
More than just a "metal moment," the four bands' rendition of "Am I Evil?" was equally historical and poignant. When Hetfield and Mustaine embraced, as well as when Hammett and Mustaine embraced, at its conclusion, there was an audible swell in the audience. The performance resonated with all of the bands—it was a testament to everything they've achieved over the past three decades. When it was all done, Ian told the documentary makers backstage, "Now I guess when I get asked that question, 'What's the best thing you've ever done,' I can say getting onstage with all those dudes in Bulgaria was the high point of my career."
Now that career high is leading right back to where it all started, the United States, for the Big Four Festival. Everything has remained copacetic between the bands since that night in Sofia, Bulgaria, and all are in good spirits to play on the same stage as each other in April. At press time, only Slayer had befallen a minor setback, as guitarist Jeff Hanneman contracted necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating bacteria, though he was on the road to recovery. In the meantime, Slayer were playing with guitarist Gary Holt, a founding member of the band that begat Kirk Hammett: Exodus. As such, Revolver is hopeful that Hanneman has fully recovered by the time of the big show.
In the meantime, and in the spirit of celebrating everything the bands have achieved, together and apart, Revolver has gathered together eight members of the Big Four—Metallica's Ulrich; Slayer's Araya, King, and Lombardo; Megadeth's Mustaine and Ellefson; and Anthrax's Ian and Benante—to talk about all the metal moments that have led them back together.
IN THE BEGINNING
REVOLVER Slayer and Metallica played together early on, while the guys in Metallica still lived in Los Angeles. What do you remember about seeing each other?
TOM ARAYA We played with them at a club called the Woodstock in Anaheim in the early '80s. I thought they were awesome. We had gotten ahold of their "Hit the Lights" tape, which was fucking amazing. When I saw them, it was with Ron [McGovney, Metallica's original bassist], and Dave Mustaine was playing. I guess we saw the original lineup.
DAVE LOMBARDO From what I remember of that Metallica show, it was brutal. It was like metal, like darker metal than Judas Priest. It had more edge. That's the best way to describe it.
KERRY KING Seeing Dave play in Metallica was why I was a Mustaine fan before I even played in Megadeth. When that happened, I was flattered that he wanted me in the band for a kid my age. I was like, Wow, I must be doing all right if this guy wants me in a band with him.
Lars, what did you think of Slayer?
LARS ULRICH I remember that there was a Deep Purple cover in their repertoire. I think it was "Highway Star," which was pretty cool. It's 1982, you're in L.A., and basically everything that's going on at that time has some form of Mötley Crüe type of vibe.
ARAYA We came up with our brand of music, living in L.A., wanting to be against the metal scene there. 'Cause everyone was looking like girls and we wanted to look like men. [Laughs] We developed a style of music that obviously offended a lot of people in L.A. [Laughs]
ULRICH When we saw the Slayer guys, they were obviously doing something that was even more different than some of the other bands that were left of center. And they just took it faster and harder.
The place we played with them was kind of a local hole in the wall, down there in the Orange County suburbs. Obviously at that time, they weren't "Angel of Death" Slayer yet, but they were on their way, certainly. And you could definitely feel that this was a musical force to be reckoned with.
Metallica moved to San Francisco to join up with bassist Cliff Burton. Did you ever run into each other when Slayer gigged up there?
LOMBARDO They came to our show at the Stone [in San Francisco]. I remember Hetfield had a denim jacket or a leather jacket, and it said "Razorback" on it. It was kinda cool. And Lars, we would go out and have sushi and get beers and check out some bands at local venues where we were at.
ULRICH I've got a pretty good memory, but it certainly gets a little spotty. I remember a lot of late nights. There was a lot of just, you know, aggressive, fun, drunk energy and nights out. If Dave remembers eating sushi, then I'll definitely take that. But that one I don't recall. I'm sure we had a good time doing it. It was probably more about the [Japanese alcoholic beverage] sake than the sushi, if you know what I mean.
Dave, what do you remember about writing music with Metallica at the time?
DAVE MUSTAINE I had always called us, as a group, the "Four Horsemen." Before I was in Metallica, I really loved this band called Montrose, and their guitarist was Ronnie Montrose. He went on to form a band called Gamma. One of their records [1980's Gamma 2] had a shark fin cutting through the grass, which I thought that was so awesome. Anyway, he had a song on there called "Four Horsemen," which I did with my band Panic, which I was with before Metallica.
So when I joined Metallica, I had the song "Mechanix," which I wrote, and "Four Horsemen" was a suggestion of mine to do 'cause we were doing cover songs. So that had planted the seed with James. And one day when we were coming to rehearsal, Lars had just said something about slowing down my song, "Mechanix." I had just gotten to the studio with Cliff [Burton, Metallica's bassist], and we had been listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I was being a jerk, so I played "Sweet Home Alabama" instead of "Mechanix," and that's basically the middle part of what would become Metallica's "Four Horsemen."
Shortly after moving to San Francisco, Metallica started getting a lot of attention once their demo tapes started circulating. Scott, since Anthrax were based in Queens, New York, at the time, is that how you guys discovered them?
SCOTT IAN We were friends with [then-Megaforce Records owner] Jonny Z., who owned the record store called Rockn' Roll Heaven, down in Jersey. That store had all the best import stuff, so on the weekends, Danny Lilker, the original Anthrax bass player, and I would go there to hang out. It was all metalheads down there, listening to metal. We were aware of Metallica as soon as Jonny Z. had gotten the No Life 'Til Leather demo. They had sent it to him, looking for a record deal or any kind of interest. When he played that for me for the first time, I was like, "Wow!" I had never heard anything like that before. It was like Motörhead, but with way more intense guitar riffs and guitar tones. It clicked in my head at the time, So there are people somewhere else in the world other than just in this tiny little record stand in a flea market in New Jersey that are actually kinda doing the same thing we're doing.
At the time, there was the New Wave of British Heavy Metal stuff, then obviously the smaller stuff that we were really into like Raven, Anvil, and Venom, and that whole scene. And then we found out, OK, there's this band named Metallica from the West Coast that are kind of likeminded… They're into the same stuff we are obviously.
It wasn't long before Jonny Z. brought the band to New York so they could play a few gigs and record their debut, Kill 'Em All. At what point did you meet them?
IAN I was there the day Metallica showed up in New York to greet them. Jonny Z was like, "I'm bringing Metallica to New York to make an album. They're driving over in a truck and they have nowhere to live. We got them a rehearsal room in your same building. Can you meet them and help them out?" "Yeah, of course."
What was your first impression of them?
IAN They were just dudes just like us, but they drank a lot more. We didn't really drink all that much back then. So it was like meeting these dudes that were somehow able to function musically and drink a whole shit ton. [Laughs]. Sometimes you tried to keep up with those guys back in the day, and that was like, you know, that was a big mistake. But they were just awesome dudes that we were friends with instantly, fast friends. We would bring them back to our house just to shower or give them our toaster oven or refrigerator. We just became friends immediately.
Lars, what do you remember about Metallica's first trip to New York?
ULRICH We hung out in Jersey for a couple days with Jonny Z. and then he was basically like, "I've got a place for you guys to hang, up in Jamaica, Queens." We had our own gear with us, and we ended up going to a place called the Music Building, which was basically this big old fucking furniture warehouse or something. There was no heat. There was no hot water. But when you're 22 years old, you're full of spunk. It doesn't matter. We had a room, we had all our gear there. We slept in between the gear, and we slowly got to know the Anthrax guys. Scott Ian, or Scott Rosenfeld, as I think he was called at the time, lived pretty close to there in a middle class, upper-middle class neighborhood in Queens.
I have a clear recollection of being over at his house. I remember he lent us a toaster oven. And we would get those Chunky soups—the ones in those red cans, that had, like, bad sirloin beef and fucking shitty vegetables. We would put those in the toaster oven and we would heat them up that way. And that was our hot meal.
But we started slowly playing gigs with Anthrax. Neil [Turbin] was the singer at the time, and they were heavily into Priest and Maiden. I don't know if Diamond Head and the Mercyful Fate had shown up on their radar at that time. But I think that we certainly all interchanged ideas and influences and the whole thing.
CHARLIE BENANTE I liked Diamond Head—I didn't love Diamond Head like they did, like Lars did. For me, my favorite band out of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was this band called Tygers of Pan Tang. I just thought they were awesome.
ULRICH Since we liked the same stuff, Anthrax became one of the bands we would hang the most with there. I remember sitting at somebody from Anthrax's house watching MTV. MTV had just started and was slowly starting to play, every hour there'd be like a Judas Priest video or something, so we'd sit around and wait. We would just wait and see if, like, [Iron Maiden's] "Number of the Beast" or something would come on. [Judas Priest's] "Living After Midnight." They even played the occasional Saxon video, it was like that was the big deal. But those were fun times, sitting around, drinking a lot of Coors Light or whatever else the local New York beer was at the time.
While in New York, Metallica kicked Dave out of the band and sent him back to San Francisco. Not long after, he formed Megadeth. What do you all remember about Megadeth's early days?
LOMBARDO I remember seeing Megadeth at Slayer's rehearsal in Tom's house before they hit the stage. And I remember Gar Samuelson, the drummer, was amazing. He was really, really good. I thought they were amazing musicians with what they did, with the guitars and the scales and that technical stuff.
Kerry played with Megadeth early on. What were those shows like?
DAVID ELLEFSON He played the first five shows with us as our second guitar player. I think Slayer was a little bit on the fence with what they were doing, what their direction was. Kerry always claimed that he saw Dave play with Metallica at the Whisky [a Go Go venue in Los Angeles] and how it changed his life. Playing with us, Kerry was such a natural fit with Dave's guitar playing style. He just fundamentally understood how to play those riffs.
Kerry, did you learn a lot from Mustaine about guitar while you were in Megadeth?
KING Well, if you listen to him, he'll fucking say, "Yeah." [Laughs] As far as he's concerned, he'll tell you he fucking created me. [Laughs]
Listen, I've learned to take Dave with a grain of salt. He means something, and it just comes out different. [Laughs] I think everybody's learned that over the years. I'm sure I did learn stuff from Dave. I was very young. I think he's got a couple years on me. He'd been doing it longer than me.
What was it like for the rest of Slayer to see Kerry play with Megadeth?
LOMBARDO It was awkward. It was a little awkward, yeah. But you know, it worked out, and of course the band continued.
ARAYA I guess Dave [Mustaine] was trying to make a supergroup. And I guess Kerry didn't really…I guess their personalities clashed. [Laughs] He did five shows with them and kinda said, "Eh." [Laughs] When he was playing with them, me, Dave [Lombardo], and Jeff [Hanneman] were like, "Oh well, I guess we can go on." It wasn't gonna stop us from doing what we were doing. In the end, I like to think Kerry made the right decision. [Laughs]
David, what do you remember about Kerry's decision to stick with Slayer?
ELLEFSON During those first few shows, we did an in-store [appearance] at the Record Vault in San Francisco. All these fans were going up to Kerry going, "Dude, Slayer, Slayer!" And I think Kerry kind of had a second thought, like, Wait a minute, maybe I shouldn't be joining Megadeth, maybe I should go back home and kick my bandmates' asses and get everything in gear.
I think Kerry making that trip with Megadeth up to San Francisco in February 1984, that again changed Kerry's whole perception because he got to be right up in the Bay Area and saw thrash metal front and center for what it was. It's funny, 'cause I think he went back home and Slayer wiped the makeup off their faces. They definitely got out of L.A. mode and into thrash-metal mode.
Lars, how much attention did you pay Megadeth early on?
ULRICH I don't remember getting that into the first record, but when Peace Sells came out in '86, it just blew me away. That was right up my alley. That literally became my favorite record for a long time. Dave would come up and play here a lot. And I would always go find him, and we would drink and do lots of drugs and sit around. For those years, '84, '85…me and him got over our issues really quickly at that time.
Whenever we would play shows in L.A., I remember at the …And Justice for All tour, we played down in Irvine Meadows, and Dave came down and hung out at the last couple shows at the Justice tour. This may have been '89, and we just hang out. I remember actually when we finished the …And Justice for All album in L.A., in the summer of '88, I went to some apartment and played it for him at 5 in the morning. We were sitting there, playing "Blackened" and a bunch of other stuff while we were busy keeping ourselves awake. Me and Dave had kind of a friendship and a cool thing going at that time, up through most of the '80s.
It wasn't until both bands started getting bigger that this whole kind of thing started happening in the press, which was really kind of different than what we had going between us. There was almost like two relationships there. The press loved the whole Megadeth-Metallica [rivalry]. And I sort of think it got a life of its own. And in some way, you could argue that the thing that the press was doing about setting our bands up, eventually started kind of transcending itself into our personal relationship and probably became a big part of the fact that over the '90s it got a little frosty at times, you know what I mean?
When do you feel you rekindled your friendship?
ULRICH Dude, it's been so on and off over the years. We played a bunch of shows with them in '93, towards the end of the "Black Album" cycle, where they played with us in Europe, where we were very close again for a while. We played together again in, fuck, I think '99 at Milton Keynes, in England. And I think Dave came up and was kinda on a promotion tour for his new record, and he came up and hung out at the show and I remember him playing songs off Risk. We would always hang out when we were in the same city.
The time where it got the chilliest, where there was an obvious stop in communication, was after Some Kind of Monster came out, and that whole thing with that scene in there, which we don't have to go into. That stopped for about four or five years or whatever.
But other than that, up through the '90s, we would see each other here and there. We would hang out. It would be all good. There were just two parallel trajectories. There was this big Metallica-Megadeth thing in the press, and then there was Lars and Dave hanging out, kind of doing their thing on the side, which was at times a little odd. You'd go, "Wait a minute. I'm supposed to not like this guy 'cause that's what's in this week's [U.K. metal magazine] Kerrang!" It was kinda weird.
Obviously things are on the up and up now. One of the most touching parts of the bonus documentary on the Big 4 DVD is when you tell Dave how much your son loves his band.
ULRICH Myles, my oldest, is a huge Megadeth fan. And for a while, a couple years ago, on the commute to school, we'd go through these phases, whether it's Rage Against the Machine, or System of a Down. And there was a phase where we were listening to a lot of Megadeth. And his favorite song was "Hook in Mouth" [off So Far, So Good…So What!]. So there was a while there, three or four years ago now, where basically I would wake up in the morning and get my kids ready for school, and get in my car at 7:40 in the morning and start blasting "Hook in Mouth" for the morning commute to school there. [Laughs]. Sort of a different vibe from 15 years earlier.
THE BIG FOUR
Each band seemed to get their footing in the mid '80s, releasing classic albums in 1986 and 1987. When do you remember first hearing the term the "Big Four" in relation to you?
LOMBARDO Probably nine months ago or something. It was in July or whenever we started out on the first Big Four tour.
ELLEFSON Here's the funniest thing about all this. We did not come up with the name "thrash metal." The media did. And we didn't come up with the "Big Four"—the media and the fans came up with the Big Four. So it sort of turned into this legacy of mythological proportions now. And it's kind of like we are the four deities [laughs] that are bestowed with the honor of carrying this whole thing forward.
There were several other bands around at that time. I mean, certainly Overkill was on the East Coast keeping pace with Anthrax. On the West Coast, Exodus, Forbidden, and Testament up in the Bay Area. Down in L.A. there was Dark Angel and a few other contenders. There was a handful of bands, certainly around the U.S. if we focus on the U.S. being the origin of thrash metal. But I think at the seed of the scene, it's interesting how Metallica was just a phenomenon, how quickly and how fast that thing grew for them.
BENANTE I believe it came from [Kerrang! writer] Don Kaye. And that was it. That was kind of like the brand. It was the Big Four.
ULRICH I thought it was [former Kerrang! editor] Geoff Barton who gave birth to the phrase the "Big Four." But Geoff Barton traces it back to Don Kaye. So either give him credit or blame him. [Laughs]
ARAYA For me, it would have been back in the '90s. Otherwise, we wouldn't have come up with the "Clash of the Titans." The Big Four was a phrase that I heard a while ago. And it was a very fitting phrase—"The Big Four…" You know, "F. U. C. K." [Laughs]
IAN For me, personally, it's something I've really never paid attention to until it became an actual thing. When Metallica came to the other three bands and asked us, "Hey, do you guys wanna go out and play some shows? Do the 'Big Four'?" It's like, OK, why not own it at that point?
ULRICH All four of the bands of ours were the ones who sorta…I don't know how you say it without sounding like you're full of yourself. We're the ones that became the most high profile…there you go. [Laughs] And in some perverse way, we have managed to kinda stick around, and, arguably, the four of us are in better shape than we ever have been all around, in terms of being on top of our game. Certainly, I think we share the long roads that we've all traveled in the last 25, 30 years.
ELLEFSON One of the things that I found really interesting when we were at the shows last year is that even though all four bands were notorious for helping create this scene of thrash, every band sounds uniquely very different from each other. And you're not just getting one riff or one blast-beat drum blasting at your head for six hours to the point where it gets monotonous and boring. It's four really diverse bands who do four really different styles within thrash. And I think that's what makes it really cool, because every band didn't just do one thing. Every band really started to evolve and do different things. And that's what makes it a musical trip down thrash-metal lane.
David mentioned a number of other influential thrash bands. There are many bands beyond the Big Four that made a significant impact, aren't there?
KING Absolutely. I remember when we did the European Big Four shows, people would ask me, "Why you? Why are you guys the Big Four?" And like, "You guys named us that. It didn't come from us." The press named us that. Sorry Exodus, sorry Testament. There's bands that to this day are still kicking ass. And it's like, Why can't they be a part of the Big Four? And I'm like, Hey, I wish they could be a part of this as at least openers cause they're still relevant as well.
LOMBARDO If there would've been a big five, I would pick Exodus, 'cause Metallica did take Kirk Hammett from Exodus. So if there was one band, another band, it would be them. I don't know if anyone else has any other opinion. That's what I think.
BENANTE Yeah, I always felt that Exodus was one of those bands that should've been included in the Big Four as the fifth band or whatever. When it comes to a first album, if you wanna talk about thrash metal, Bonded by Blood for me, is probably No. 1. I listen to it nowadays and the hair on my arms stands up when I hear it because it just brings me back to that time 'cause it was absolutely fucking crazy. And the songs on that record, they're just awesome.
And then, you know, if we lived in a perfect world, maybe the other band on this bill would be Pantera. People relate to the Big Four bands, 'cause we had more of that street vibe. And I think if any band came from the four bands it would be Pantera.
Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax toured together on the Clash of the Titans tour in 1991. Up to last year, that was the closest people go to seeing the Big Four together.
BENANTE Throughout the '80s, the Big Four title remained with all the bands. And then somewhere in the '90s one of the Big Four became huge. It was really no more Big Four. It was like your older brother went to college and became Bill Gates. [Laughs] It was like, "Make sure you write sometimes please." And that was it. No longer was there really the Big Four. Metallica was this thing unto itself. They were this huge entity. When they have a record like the "Black Album," when something is like Back in Black or Dark Side of the Moon, that's it. That's it, you know, goodbye. You don't need anything else. You're set. So while all of us still had success, you know, I guess that time was done.
KING I think we rose to prominence at the same time. And three of us were on Clash of the Titans—Metallica didn't need us. They don't need us now. I think it's just the cool factor of the four bands going together. It's real similar to '90, when we did Clash of the Titans, 'cause I remember the three of us joined together, and I knew Metallica wouldn't be a part of it 'cause they didn't need us. They're on the "Black Record," man, they were jettisoning themselves to superstardom. And now, they're still superstars and the three of us can band together like we did on the first U.S. run, but I think the cool factor of all four being together is the enticing thing.
What is it you feel unifies you four bands as the Big Four? Just growing up together at the same time?
ULRICH Growing up together—that's a lot. [Laughs] That's a lot to begin with. I think that obviously. Also, it never really dawned upon me, and I think it was Mustaine who said at some point last year that it may just be that these four bands are four of the biggest of the later-day hard-rock bands coming out of America. In terms of the real hard-rock stuff. I never really thought of it as an American thing, but I think he's right about that.
KING Yeah, I remember Mustaine saying something like, "We're the four biggest metal bands from the U.S." I never even considered that. And I went, Wow, that's pretty cool. I'd throw Pantera in there, too. But just even to be in that statement, I kinda read it and went, No shit.
We're pretty unassuming guys, the crew I role with. We don't think of our legacy. I only think about stuff like this when journalists and people bring it up. And it's the same kinda thing, when Dave made that statement. It was like, Wow, I never thought of that. It's really cool.
ARAYA One thing that unifies us is we're a lot like our fans. As people, we're fans of the music as it is. I know I'm in Slayer, but I'm a big fan of the band Slayer. Whenever we work on new material I always have to take a step back and listen to it as a fan and go like, Wow this is fucking awesome. [Laughs] That's something that we've always done. It would be safe to assume that all four bands do that. That they sit there and they listen, and they think, OK, you know, I'm a fan. You have to like what you do, and if you're a true fan, you're always gonna be on the mark 'cause you're a fan just like all your fans.
ULRICH Obviously, we all come in one way or another from the same musical seeds, the generation before us—the Judas Priests, and the Iron Maidens, and the Motörheads, and the Saxons and so on. They were a group of bands. We were the next round of bands that certainly had the one thing in common: that we were all influenced and inspired by the Judas Priests, the Iron Maidens, the Motörheads, the Saxons, the Diamond Heads, the list goes on obviously. So that's all. And obviously we had a lot of crossover. We were playing shows with Slayer back in '82 in L.A. Megadeth came out of the whole thing that happened with Metallica in '83, and Anthrax kind of became our partners in crime and our brothers in arms when we were out in New York. We all came from the same seeds.
Anthrax and Metallica, in particular, were always very close. And you were on tour together in 1986 when tragedy struck and Cliff Burton was killed in a bus accident. What are your fondest memories of him?
BENANTE I remember one time when we were on tour together with the U.K. It was us and Metallica and Puppets had just came out. One morning, it was Scott myself, Cliff, and Kirk. We went to breakfast. We were ordering, and I was just talking about "Puppets," the song, and I was like, "What the fuck did James yell out right before the guitar lead?" And Cliff just goes, "I think he says, 'Pancakes.'" And throughout the whole tour I'd be on the side of the stage, and Cliff would just look to me before that part and mouth the word "Pancakes." And it became "Pancakes"—but of course he says, "Fix me."
I told James that story, and he was like, "Thank you so much for telling me that story. There are moments from that period with Cliff that I don't remember much about him. And you telling me this story gave me that memory again." After I told James that story, someone told me the next night, "James was looking all over for you, man. He was screaming, 'Pancakes!'" but I wasn't on the side of the stage. I thought that was pretty funny. That's one of my fondest memories of Cliff. Just that type of sense of humor.
THE ROAD TO SOFIA
How did the idea of doing shows together as the Big Four first come up?
ULRICH We were sitting around in Paris one night in 2009, after playing a couple shows. It was right before Metallica were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Biff [Byford, Saxon vocalist] was there, and we were hanging out having a good time in a sort of celebratory mood. And we were also all sort of in a little bit of a nostalgic mood because of the whole Cleveland thing. We were in the process of inviting all our friends and all our partners in crime to come to Cleveland
We were talking and various things got kicked around over a couple glasses of wine, celebrating the Bay Area thrash scene or getting some of the bands together. There was just a lot of that type of stuff at 2 in the morning, most of it nonsense. But there was definitely a spirit there and we decided it would be fun if we tried to undertake something that would get everybody together. It wasn't for business or anyone's career or any of that horseshit. It was just kind of for fun. It came out of a very organic and pure vibe.
IAN Charlie and I got invited to Metallica's induction into the Hall of Fame. After the ceremony, we were at this party in this small bar with Lars. We had all had a bunch of drinks, and Lars said to Charlie, "What do you think about the Big Four?" Charlie was like, "What do you mean what do I think about the Big Four?" He goes, "Doing it. Like going out and playing shows with the Big Four."
BENANTE Scott and I just looked at each other like, "Yeah, that would be awesome." All these things just went off in my head. From a fan's perspective, it would be, Wow. This would be like Woodstock for metalheads.
IAN We were like, "Yeah!" And Lars was just kind of like, "Yeah. Uh huh." He took a sip of his drink and we didn't really talk about it as far as I can remember.
The next day I was thinking about it, and I just chalked it up to, you know, we were drinking. Nothing would ever come of it. It was kinda later in the year that we heard rumors that there was a possibility we were gonna be doing these Big Four shows. And now here we are. It really is a privilege that all four of us get to do this. People care so much all over the world about this music that we make.
MUSTAINE There's a lot of different versions of how it came together, but I'll just tell you mine, which is probably closest to the truth. We were asked and we agreed. [Laughs] I was told that James had said that he wanted to do this, and I think it was a great idea.
KING Me and my manager talked about it. I think at the end of the day it has to come from Lars and James being into it. I think once they realized this might be a good idea, they grabbed on and said, "Let's go."
ULRICH Then it came to be and we ended up doing the Big Four shows in Europe 15 months later. It was just a great run. Nobody really knew what was going to happen or how it was going to play off. But everybody seemed to have such a good time. The spirit and the vibe was there. It seemed to work not only for the fans who were really excited but also the bands seemed to be really cool, it was kind of like a vibe. It was like celebrating everything that the movement kind of stood for, but also the progress each band made and celebrating today. It wasn't only about 1984 or whatever.
What do the Big Four shows mean to you?
ULRICH To me, the Big Four signifies pride and history. It signifies a point in time that we were a part of. There was a real kind of excitement in the air, there was a scene, there was something that was greater than ourselves, something that we all felt we were a part of. And then over the years some of these things become, I don't know, like folklore. You got to be careful about how it plays out, so it doesn't become so nostalgic that it becomes cheesy. But I think somehow this whole thing managed to kind of carve a path that stayed pure, that didn't get too contrived, and stayed kind of credible.
MUSTAINE Well, I was really honored to be able to be part of this whole scene. For years, I was the black sheep. I was the guy easiest to not like, if you know what I mean. And a lot of that came from stuff that I said and things that I did. But a lot of that can be attributed to the time we were living in. We were all struggling, there was a lot of alcohol, lot of drugs. I had dabbled in witchcraft and black magic and picked up all kinds of really bad juju from that. And that haunted me for years. People were saying, Oh Dave's got such a tough life. Well, no, Dave hasn't, Dave's got a great life. I would have had an even better life if I hadn't been dicking around with black magic.
ELLEFSON What it meant to me is that we were no longer competing against each other but rather joining forces for the common good of the scene. And I think in years past we were still all scratching and clawing our way up, and at this point we've all been to the top of the mountain and we know what the view looks like. [Laughs] I think it was cool that the four of us could stand next to each other, figuratively, and while playing "Am I Evil?", literally, and really do something special for all those fans that supported us all those years.
IAN When you really break it down, what amazes me is the fact that these four bands have been around as long as we have and are all at the top of our game, still doing what we do so well. And people all over the planet want this thing called the Big Four. Everyone on the planet wants us to come to their local stadium and do a show for them. And that just blows my mind. When you put in perspective, it's been 27 years since [Anthrax's debut] Fistful of Metal came out, and July will be 30 years since Danny Lilker and I started the band. And that I'm going out and playing these shows 27 years later, I don't even know how to put that into any kind of context or perspective. It's too mind-blowing for me.
BENANTE Let's face it, without Metallica doing this, this would never happen. So I'm grateful to them for doing this, for the other bands as well. Not only for us, but for the fans. I'm glad Anthrax have the lineup together that we have right now, with Joey [Belladonna] singing, 'cause that was part of the Big Four: his voice, with those records, with these songs. And I think that's what people want to see.
ARAYA These shows say a lot for metal. It says a lot for a genre of music that we kind of molded and shaped. It says a lot about the music that the bands for going as long as we have. 30 years, for us. It's a long time. [Laughs] That's a really long time, and it was special.
This tour is something we wanted to do back when we did the Clash of the Titans. That was something that came up back then. And believe it or not, that was something that Metallica was approached back then about. And it ended up only being the three. So this pretty special.
LOMBARDO There's camaraderie in this camp. In the metal world, there's camaraderie. I think it's really cool that it's come to that. Loving a style of music and doing a big festival like this really promotes the positive energy all these bands have to offer. Although some of us are a bit on the dark side—like, I'd say Slayer, musically. But there is some good to the music.
ULRICH The Big Four means…what does it mean? It means music, friendship. It means memories, it means drunken haze. It means all kinds of nutty things.
Metallica kicked off the first European run of Big Four shows with a dinner where only band members were invited. What do you remember about that?
ULRICH The night before the first show, we asked everybody if they wanted to come and hang out and have a meal together, just chill and not do a whole kind of big fancy thing with minders and assistants and bodyguards and managers and all that type of stuff. Everybody was pretty into that, so the night before the show, the first show, everybody showed up at the restaurant somewhere in Warsaw, Poland, and it was sort of like high school reunion. It was just sort of like seeing a bunch of friends, some of whom you'd seen recently, some you hadn't seen for quite some time. And we just hung out in a room together and ate some Italian food and drank wine and swapped stories about our lives, past, present, and future. It just felt effortless.
LOMBARDO I remember sitting at the table with Trujillo, Lars, and Mustaine. Everybody just kind of gravitated to a table and just struck up conversation. And we had an awesome time.
IAN They wanted it to be just bands only, no crew, no management, no girlfriends, no wives, no nothing. And at first it was like, That's a little weird. You can't bring your wife? We all know each other's ladies and everyone gets along fine, but I was like, Yeah, whatever. OK. But then I totally got it when it was just the 17 people in the Big Four in the room, which of course has never happened before. We've all hung out with each other, but that's the first time we were all in a room together. And for, like, three hours it was, we all just got to catch up, and laugh, and eat and drink, and just have it be completely social with no business, no pressure, no anything. The vibe was amazing. And I have to say, that vibe of that kickoff dinner just carried through the next two weeks. It just made everyone super happy to be there.
BENANTE I remember at one point, I was at the table with Lars, Mustaine, and Lombardo, and someone at the table said, "Oh, my God. Turn around." And for some reason all the bass players were sitting at the same table together, and it was very weird. So that became a little bit of a joke. Usually there are drummer jokes, but that was a bass player joke.
ARAYA I ended up sitting with the bass players. [Laughs] No, I ended up sitting with Robert Trujillo, who I've known for a long time through Suicidal [Tendencies, with whom Trujillo played from 1989 to 1995], who's a really sweet guy. So I was really glad to see him. He's done really well for himself, so I was really proud of him. I talked to him, I talked to Dave Ellefson, Frankie [Bello]. We were talking about kids and family and how life has been. And how grateful of where we are that 30 years have passed and we're still here, doing it. It was just really personal. It was a really good way of getting acquainted with everybody.
KING The funny thing was, me, [Megadeth drummer] Shawn Drover, and I think [Megadeth guitarist] Chris Broderick were hanging out in the bar the longest. And we go into where everybody's eating, and there's only one table left 'cause everybody's filled up the tables. So it's me, Drover, and Broderick, and I looked up and said, "Dude, there's a lot of fucking famous people in here." It was really weird.
IAN I remember standing there at that dinner talking to Lars, or talking to Kerry maybe, I can't remember, but six feet away were Mustaine and Kirk in the middle of a 15-minute conversation and a bug hug. I had never seen the two of them in the same room before, and I have known both of them for 28 years. There were just so many amazing moments like that.
BENANTE Seeing James and Dave together that night was awesome. And I think, at that time, everybody was just like, How old are we? How old are we now to keep harboring some feelings from 1983? Is it worth it? There wasn't one person in that room that was like, "Fuck you." There was nothing like that. If it was anything, it was a respect for everyone in the room.
Did you all hang out together much after that during those SEVEN dates?
ELLEFSON Well, I remember on the very first show, James Hetfield was outside of Metallica's dressing-room compound. He was there greeting all the bands as they showed up and as we'd get on our golf carts and ride up to the stage—you know, 'cause it was like a half-mile away. So as we got in, we'd be escorted up to the stage, and James is out there giving us the high five. Like, "Go team, go!" There was a lot of good hospitality. I really felt like Metallica really went way out of their way to really make it a very accommodating experience for all of us.
BENANTE On any given moment you would see some of the Slayer guys in our room, hanging out or our guys in the Megadeth room hanging out. We were all together. You see us onstage on that DVD, and believe me, we are so excited to be doing this, and I think you can see it in our faces.
LOMBARDO I think the night before the show in Bulgaria, Lars had a hell of an evening with the other guys. They tried to get me out, but I was like, "Nah, man, I have a show tomorrow." They were like, "Come on. We all do." I was like, "No, man, I can't." I was beat. I just held back.
What happened the night before your show in Bulgaria?
ULRICH We had some drunken nights in Bucharest, with a bunch of the Anthrax guys, I think Frankie and Charlie, and Shawn from Megadeth. We were sitting around at the hotel bar and, then we all went out to some club and there was all kinds of stuff. There was a lot of nutty stuff going on. You'd go out to a club and somebody hands you a cocktail or some sort of shot that's just the wrong color, but you sort of just go with it anyway. And all of the sudden you're fucking you've got like neon coming out of your stomach. I remember walking across, like, a freeway at 3 o'clock in the morning and ended up some bushes.
KING I wasn't there. [Laughs] You can't blame me for that one.
You ended up in some bushes? How did that happen?
BENANTE I had gone out and then I came back to the hotel at about 12. And then I came back to the bar there and Shawn from Megadeth and my nephew, Frank from the band, were in there. And I sat down to have a drink with them. Then Lars came down, it was 12 o'clock. He had just woken up. And we started drinking, and before you knew it, we went out. Just to a couple bars and everything, we had a fucking blast.
LOMBARDO They were texting me, "Get the fuck out here. We need you."
IAN I wasn't there, so I probably have the best story of it 'cause I got it fresh. Somehow, one way or another in his drunken state, Lars decided to take a running leap into some giant hedges. And he got caught in the hedges and they had to pull him out, and he was like, "God, I hadn't done that in 25 years." He goes, "And that's what's great about this tour."
BENANTE The next day, Lars was like, "Did I dive into a bush?" And it was like, "Yeah, dude. You did." And he was like, "Man, I had so much fucking fun that night." We just all kinda had a blast. You know, we had crazy nights, but that one was one of the best ones.
AM I EVIL?
Famously, most of you got up onstage and jammed on Diamond Head's "Am I Evil?" in Sofia, Bulgaria. How did that come together?
ULRICH I think that we felt we should try and see if we can get everyone together. Also, there was the whole worldwide satellite thing. It seemed like an obvious place to share, there was just such a good vibe going on. We wanted to let the fans get a chance all over the world to share in that good vibe.
IAN I think I was sitting in a bar with [Slipknot and Stone Sour vocalist] Corey Taylor somewhere a night or two before we actually did it, and I got a text from Kirk saying, "Hey, in Bulgaria we're thinking about doing 'Am I Evil?' with everybody, so let your guys know." And I wrote him back, "Yeah, of course. We're in."
ULRICH The reason we picked "Am I Evil?", is because obviously playing a Metallica song would've seemed a little selfish. All of the musicians would certainly share that thread in Diamond Head in terms of influence. It's probably difficult to find a band that's more responsible for, or at least indirectly responsible, for thrash metal. And "Am I Evil?" is just a great, anthem-like song that also has the quality of not being super complicated. So it just seemed like the right kind of vibe to share with everybody for five minutes that wasn't necessarily going to send people back to the rehearsal room for days on end. Mustaine and a bunch of these guys obviously knew the riff, too, and it just seemed like a logical choice.
BENANTE The first message I got about it was, I think Kirk sent it to me, "You're gonna play guitar." That was the first message I got. And it was like, Fucking killer. That would be great. And I think other people thought, how is the drummer gonna be playing guitar when the other drummers are doing nothing? So all of a sudden a snare drum got put in my lap. And I was like, OK, I'm OK with that, too.
LOMBARDO I love jamming. I do it all the time out here at home in Hollywood. So I had a blast doing it, I wasn't going to turn down this opportunity when all my other friends were up there. It was like, All right, let's go.
What do you remember about rehearsing the song?
ELLEFSON It was great. As soon as I walked into the rehearsal room, Robert Trujillo was like, "Hey, Junior, glad you're here." And he hands me the bass. He was like, "Here you jam." And I was like, OK, I guess I'm the bass player in this little endeavor right now. So I played, and that was fun for me to sit there and be that guy. Lars was the drummer of course, and so we were kinda hanging by each other, because he and I have gotten along really well over the years. And I look and I see Broderick, Hetfield, Mustaine, Scott Ian, Joey Belladonna, and everybody standing there. And it was one of those classic moments. I remember as I kid, I would flip through a guitar magazine and see a classic photo of Jimmy Page, Paul McCartney, and, like, Keith Richards all being in the same room together. To me, that was our moment. It was just these guys who have never all stood in a room together before. And especially with their guitars on, creatively working on something together.
And I gotta say, James Hetfield was a really gracious host. He made it relaxed and fun and it was cool because we were essentially being invited into the Metallica secret chambers. [Laughs] They made it very relaxing and very easy and very fun.
ULRICH I might have been the tardy one. Everyone was kind of standing around, looking at each other. And I was like, "OK, let's play something." So we started playing [Judas Priest's] "Breaking the Law." We just loosened up and started having fun.
ELLEFSON The funny thing was, everyone had been practicing all day. It's just one simple riff, and we've got everybody backstage at rehearsal set up in our dressing room as well. So Scott and Charlie and Frank and everybody is coming into our tent, and we're back there jamming and rehearsing and working on stuff as well. It was one of those things were everybody wanted it to be just note perfect. Everybody out of passion was just like, I want this to be the greatest thing ever.
ULRICH There was a time, sure, where there was a competitive edge to all of us, but I really don't feel that anymore. No matter how much anybody will push it in the press, or how many people don't buy it, I can tell you hand-on-heart that there's no competitive edge. It's not a bunch of 27 year olds trying to see who's got the biggest dick. Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, Metallica, we all kind of have our own little niche, our own little unique place. So it's not sorta like, Who's better at this? 'Cause at the end of the day we all do our own thing. And when it comes to drums, Dave Lombardo is, by far and away, God. There's no competitive edge, but if there was, Dave would win. Lombardo could kick the rest of our asses with just a whip of his little finger. So there was no competitive edge. That's the thing that I can truly say is the biggest difference now.
If someone had said 15 years ago, let's try and do this, people probably would have sat there and grumbled over this and that. But now, all four of us do our own thing, and we celebrate the fact that everybody's unique and individual. And maybe it kinda just took everybody going through what we've all been through getting to this place. I don't know if it would've been possible 20 years ago.
ELLEFSON it was just so cool that everybody rose up to that occasion. And again it translated out on the stage, 'cause we were out there just grinning like a bunch of kids on the sandbox.
One of the emotional high points of the jam is when Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield hug.
MUSTAINE When the song was over, I went over and I hugged James. The crowd was deafening. When we played the song, everyone was cheering and stuff. But at the end, when I went over and hugged James, it was like ROAR! And I was thinking to myself, Man, if this isn't the brown and the green gargantuas getting together, like in [the 1966 Japanese monster movie] The War of the Gargantuas, then what is?
IAN I can't tell you how many times Dave said to me over the course of the two weeks, "Scott, I love this tour. I love this tour so much, this is so great. It's so great for all of us." And he told me, "This is closure that I've been waiting for forever." It was awesome.
ELLEFSON I think to a large degree that was an unhealed wound until that moment. To watch Dave have that opportunity to reconcile and for the Metallica guys to really be open to that reconciliation…like, I get it, because I obviously grew up with Dave. I probably more than most really get it. To see that happen made it more than just a family reunion. That moment really healed years and years and years of an open wound that quite honestly needed healing.
It's funny that since that time, it's just been all goodwill ever since then. And it doesn't seem like there's any doors closed. And it just feels like everything was completely whole and made right in that moment in playing. It's funny that we play the song "Am I Evil?" and that's the song that creates reconciliation. [Laughs]
Lars, what was it like for you to be playing with Mustaine again?
ULRICH It was great. Listen, I've always admired him. He's an incredibly talented musician. Playing with him, it's not awkward. It was one of those moments you want to slow down. It was cool to see it again when I looked at the DVD. You could tell there was just a good vibe. And I hope that people kind of relate to that.
How did you feel when you were done playing the song?
BENANTE After we did it, we were all walking offstage, and I kind of stopped with everybody, and I was just like, That was a moment right there. And we were in the moment, but that was just a big moment that we really shouldn't take for granted, 'cause it was pretty special. I don't even think we were walking on the ground at that point. We were just kind of floating. The one thing about Metallica that I'll say, too, is that once we got up there and started playing, it was ferocious. It was just like, Holy shit. It was amazing.
IAN Look at that footage and you see everyone just is smiling, and all of the drummers are just having a ball. It was literally like everyone in that moment was 16 years old again. That's really what it was like being up on that stage. It's something that's never happened before and maybe will never happen again. I'm just glad we have it on film. Because being in the moment and doing that, that four and a half minutes seemed like it went by in five seconds. I'm glad I was able to watch it back afterwards and go, Jesus Christ, that was fucking awesome.
Tom and Kerry, you and your Slayer bandmate Jeff Hanneman didn't participate in the "Am I Evil?" jam. Why is that?
KING For "Am I Evil?", I had no time to work on it 'cause I had to edit our live performance for the Big Four broadcast that went to cinemas. I was the only one working on the Slayer video. Somebody had to do it, and it happened to be me. I happened to be the only other guy who would've been done the jam, but I couldn't do both.
Also, I told James before the show, "I don't want to get up there and be a detriment. I want to own it, and if I can't own it, I don't want to go up there." Looking back on it, I wish I could've done it, but I'm happy I didn't do it and fuck it up. [Laughs]
ARAYA I'm just not into jamming with other people. I thought it was cool that they did it. I don't know why, but it's just something I'm not into. James came in to talk to us about it, and I said, "I think it's great you guys are doing it. But I'm not into it. I'll come out and do the picture, but it's just not my thing." He was like, "Oh, OK." He seemed a little upset. Sorry. [Laughs]
Did you all keep in touch after the Big Four tour?
ULRICH I get the occasional text from Kerry, or I text Mustaine or hear from Shawn or whatever.
KING Lars texts me when he's in town. I know they played a concert at some video-game release, and Lars texted me, like, that day. It was a nice afternoon, and me and my wife were already four shots in and sitting in the Clubhouse. It was like, "Hey man, a little more notice, and I would've loved to been there. But I'm already buzzed and it doesn't sound like a good idea."
After the Big Four trek, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax toured together again on the Jägermeister tour. Kerry, you played Megadeth's "Rattlehead," off their first album, at the final show. How did that happen?
KING I did it just to make people shut the fuck up as to why I wasn't on the "Am I Evil?" thing. I think I probably brought up playing "Rattlehead" in particular, 'cause I had to go up there and represent who I am as well as who Megadeth was when I played with them.
ELLEFSON It's funny because "Am I Evil?", which is such a simple song, he didn't play on, but then he really wanted to come up and play "Rattlehead," which is an extremely complicated song, and very hard to play. He was practicing for three days.
KING Well, I had time to learn it, I learned it, like, three or four days prior. For "Am I Evil?", I had no time to work on it.
ELLEFSON He was really into it. He was like, "I want this to be great." He sound-checked it a couple times. And it was cool to see Dave and Kerry interact, 'cause I know there have been some things over the years between them. It was also cool that there wasn't even hierarchy. There were just two guys playing guitar together up on the stage. That was another really cool moment. It's too bad that didn't get captured on the Big Four DVD.
KING I think it was cool. Especially because Megadeth weren't playing that song. Dave had brought it up on an earlier tour, and I was like, "Well, let's not do it this early, I know we're gonna have more shows in the future. Why don't we maybe try it in the last show. It's L.A., it's where we all started this shit." And we did it. It was cool. I had a good time doing it. If I do it again, I'll do it better. It wasn't to the point where you can hear mistakes, but I just wasn't happy with the way I played it. I could've played it better.
Megadeth also played "My Last Words," off their Peace Sells album, at the request of Lars Ulrich on the Jäger tour. Was that just spur of the moment?
ELLEFSON Lars has come out to all the Megadeth shows and has been keeping up on what Megadeth has been doing throughout the band's career. And he said, "Man, 'My Last Words,' that's one of my favorite songs. Can you guys play that?" And you never know with Lars if he's hinting like, "You should play that," or if it was a request. [Laughs] But he said it a couple times. So we said, "You know, since we're learning all these songs to play for everybody as a request, like, we'd reference our fan club and ask them for different songs they'd want to hear, so we thought, What the hell. This is one of his, so let's learn it.
ULRICH That's my favorite song from Peace Sells. Between that and "Devil's Island," there's obviously great songs everywhere, but "My Last Words" has always had a special place in my heart. And I had been joking with him about playing it.
ELLEFSON We worked it up backstage originally, I remember in Romania at the Big Four show. And something just didn't feel right to put it in the set, so we just let it go. And then fast forward a few months, and we're playing at the Cow Palace in San Francisco on the Carnage tour, and Lars and James came down to the show. They came back to hang in the dressing room, and then we went to the stage, and I think on the way to the stage we said, "Hey, let's throw 'My Last Words' in the set tonight." [Laughs] So James and Lars are on the side of the stage, I think for our whole show, and it was just cool. It was like playing at the Stone years ago and all the guys in town came down. So we played "My Last Words," we winged it, and it came off pretty good actually. And the fans were thrilled because they hadn't heard that song played in years.
…AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
Finally, on April 23, 2011, the Big Four will perform together for the first time in the United States. What does that mean to you?
ULRICH First off, I don't want to be disrespectful to 49 other States, and I really mean that, but playing in Southern California, I think you can argue that there's a sense of homecoming. Metallica was formed in Southern California, Slayer was formed in Southern California, Megadeth was formed in Southern California. But no matter what you do, you're always going to end up doing something that somebody can find fault in. And that's just the nature of how this stuff works in 2011. But obviously to be doing it in America and in Southern California, I think it's really great.
ELLEFSON You know, I think it's interesting because as soon as one date was announced last year, I think it was the shot heard around the world. And fans went crazy. They were like, "Bring it here, bring it South America!", "Bring it to Australia," "Bring it to Japan." And on one hand, as much as I think we would all love to go on a full-blown world tour together, I also think that keeping it as an exclusive event that everybody can't have everywhere also is a cool approach to it. And it's interesting because all four bands have their own identity and fan base. Doing this one show keeps it as this really cool, unique festival. You know, when I was a kid, there would be, like, Iowa Jam, Texas Jam, California Jam, just these big festivals, and people would travel for miles, and sometimes several states away, to go to them. They'd do it because of this one lineup that was only happening this one time, and if you didn't see it that was it. So I think this Big Four mentality is kind of along the lines of an old-school, traditional festival concept.
MUSTAINE The funny thing is, I pictured us playing at the L.A. Coliseum. I've never been in Coachella, I don't know what it looks like. But looking back at history, we started off with just one show with the European dates, and it ended up being several. So I would say for those people that choose to pray, do so. And for those of you that don't, learn how to pray just for this. And I believe that if it's meant to happen, it's gonna happen. I personally would love to see more of these shows happen.
Do you think you'll be doing a jam like the "Am I Evil?" one at the U.S. show?
IAN If anything is gonna happen this time, I assume it will be spur of the moment. If Metallica's good at anything, it's not being predictable. The last thing any of us wanna do, I think, is go up and just repeat ourselves and be like, "Here it is again. We did it in Bulgaria and now we're gonna do the same exact thing." Although it would still be fucking amazing, but I'd wanna get up and do the whole song this time. 'Cause I wanna play that middle part. [Laughs] Let's do the whole song.
KING If Metallica wants to do the "Am I Evil?" thing, I told Lars after the fucking show, "Anytime, I will do that. I just need a second to learn it." But I'm sure I'll play with Mustaine again at some point. I really don't think it will be Coachella, though, because the last show we played together was Hollywood, so if we did it again, I'd be pushing for somewhere in Europe.
LOMBARDO If something else comes up, yeah, I'll be into it of course.
ULRICH I'd be lying to you if I told you the emails are flying back and forth, so I'm not gonna do that. But I'm sure that as we get a little closer, hopefully something will rear its head. Maybe we'll all come out and juggle together, who the fuck knows? [Laughs] Maybe all 17 of us will meet near the parking lot in and valet cars. "OK, Dave, You take that one. OK, Scott Ian, you take that one. Tom, you take that one." So we'll see, I'm sure something fun will happen. Fuck, this shit is always better when it's not planned out.
How do you expect U.S. fans to react to the show?
ULRICH I'm really excited to see what the American audiences are gonna get out of it. Obviously the festival setup has been a regular thing for many, many years in Europe. I think it's exciting now that Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, and Bonnaroo are bringing the European festival type of attitude and vibe to America. So to be able to do this with the Big Four in America is certainly going to be cool. And hopefully the response will warrant another visit or maybe even more Big Four shows in America at some point. We're off to a good start to getting some metal stadium gigs in America. It's kind of a rare thing, so we're psyched to be a part of that.
IAN I think it's gonna be awesome. The energy, I think, is just gonna be insane. People are gonna lose their minds. These will be the first people in the United States, unless you flew over to Europe this past summer, ever to see this lineup. I just think it's gonna be incredible.
BENANTE I knew about this show for a while now. And when it was announced, of course there were negative people on the internet, like, "Fuck this, one show." And you know, some people are so stupid sometimes. This is basically, probably testing the water. If it goes well, I'm sure there will be more.
ARAYA The fans that started with Slayer and Metallica, they're all my age or maybe a few years younger than I am, which puts them in their mid 40s. A lot of these closet Slayer fans, closet Metallica fans, closet Anthrax fans, closet Megadeth fans are now doctors and lawyers, police officers, firemen. They're all in high positions, and still enjoy metal. Also, you now see TV commercials with metal songs in them. You never would have seen that back then. The only reason you see it is because people making those commercials are probably fans. And trying to figure out how they can assimilate metal into American life. [Laughs] Assimilate it into the American fabric. I think that's where we're at.
What do you think the unification of the Big Four means for the metal world at large?
ARAYA 30 years leaves a mark. A big mark. We're leaving a strong metal legacy with the four bands. Giving the genre of music a lot of power [laughs].
ELLEFSON There was an ugly period of music during the late '90s, man, that was not favorable to heavy metal at all, especially to thrash metal. The fact that we all survived that, the Dark Ages of Metal, and continued to thrive with the second wind that we've all had here in the last few years is a testimony to our fans standing up for what they believe in, which is their love for thrash metal. And they're ultimately the ones that made this happen. So I think there's a genuine spirit and gratitude from all four bands to have the opportunity to go out and do this again.
IAN I hope it's inspiring. I've said this many times over 25 years. Right now there's a kid in his garage that's gonna form the next killer band. Someone's out there right now that's gonna write some riffs that people all around the world will be into. I can only hope that what we do onstage is super inspiring to somebody
I saw Kiss when I was 13 years old, and I walked out of that show saying, "This is what I'm gonna do. I want to do this with my life." I never, ever, ever strayed from that path. I can always hope someone watched what we did and they can take that energy that comes off of that DVD and off of our performances and the "Am I Evil?" thing, and is inspired by that to go out and make their own path.
MUSTAINE I look at it now, and I think this is the greatest period of my career to be able to have come full circle, to have started something, to have been kicked out, to have been welcomed back in, to be sitting on top of the world right now. You know, looking back at history, I didn't really have a great start, but I'm having a hell of a finish.