Big 4: Let There Be Metal

A week or so after the hipsters depart from the formerly pristine grass of the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio but before the red-staters move in for Stagecoach, the blood-curdling, bone-thrashing mayhem of the first and only version of last year's European metal supershows will touch down on American soil. Featuring arguably the greatest metal lineup ever—Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax—the Big 4 Festival promises to deliver seven hours of shredding riffs framed by double-kick-drum rhythms, demonic vocals and good-ol' madness.

Seven. Fucking. Hours.

With each band playing full sets, the bill promises an all-out assault on any fan plucky enough to make it through the entire show. For metal fans, this is like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Who and Led Zeppelin lined up and ready to play on the same bill.

“This is a big deal . . . for us and for everybody involved,” longtime Anthrax drummer and primary music composer Charlie Benante said. “It's hard to take something like this nonchalantly; it's the kind of event you don't know if you'll ever see again.”

Led by Metallica and Goldenvoice, the promoters behind Coachella and Stagecoach, the event marks more than another gathering of metalheads in the Inland Empire. As all of the four bands are at or approaching the 30-year career mark, the show is a testament to the influence and staying power of heavy metal music itself.

With myriad incarnations of metal bastardized from Limp Bizkit and Korn to Slipknot and Rob Zombie, these four bands have stayed true to their roots. Yes, they've evolved through the years, but they've all clung to the brazen, undeniable heaviness that got them noticed in the first place.

Anthrax, the only East Coast outfit in the lineup, are the most precarious of the four. While the band trace their earliest origins to the New York hardcore speed-metal scene, there was a period where their style shifted and they meandered just enough out of genre to leave some fans bewildered. Still, their collaboration with Public Enemy on 1988's “Bring the Noise” may have done as much for hip-hop expansion into the mainstream as any track released that year.

“We all listen to different kinds of music, and we enjoy experimenting musically,” Benante said. “That's out of our system now, and it's strictly back to our metal roots.”

The band who strayed least from their roots are the particularly brutal Slayer. Spewing out one metal anthem after the next with such vivid titles as Reign In Blood and God Hates Us All, the outfit have grown to define what modern metal has become. After so many years belching soul-pummeling vocals, group mouthpiece and bass player Tom Araya is still thrilled at the prospect of being a part of a show like this.

“When we started I was just happy to hear our songs on a record. . . . That would have been enough,” he said. “Now that we've been doing this for 30 years, it's great to reflect a little and see what kind of impact we've had.”

Both Araya and Benante expressed the desire for the show to emerge into a nationwide tour—whether or not that happens is in the hands of Metallica—but hinted rather prominently that there may be a few more gigs on the horizon. In any case, the performance in Indio should be monumental enough to satiate metalheads for at least the near term.

“If I was a fan, I'd be blown away by this lineup,” Araya said. “I mean, what more could you really ask for? It's going to be pretty unbelievable.”


This article appeared in print as “Let There Be Metal: Fucking Anthrax, fucking Metallica, fucking Megadeth and fucking Slayer, on one fucking bill.”

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