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The Big 4 to Crush Indio California

The Big 4
The Big 4
Courtesy Photo

Epic.

The word is overused in today's vocabulary. But The Big 4 concert on April 23rd in Indio, California is truly... epic.

Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax.

If one were to create a Tree of American Metal, these bands would be at the root level. They may not have pioneered the metal movement, but each, in their own way, picked up the flag and conquered battle grounds both commercially and artistically. Some have stayed more true to their metal origins than others, but all have undeniably shaped the American metal scene over the last three decades and influenced countless bands in their wake.

Put them all together on one bill, and it's an all night headbanger aneurism.

Here is a quick rundown of the legends involved:

Anthrax: Formed in New York in 1981. 9 Studio albums and 20 singles. The band featured singer Joey Belladonna for much of the bands earlier career. The music had decidedly thrashy skate/surf undertones with many songs paying tribute to comic books and other pop culture nods. It should be noted it was during this period the band became one of the first to experiment with a rap crossover approach, culminating in a 1991 collaboration with Public Enemy on a remake of their 'Bring The Noise'. John Bush became the band's vocalist in 1992 which began an era of darker, more progressively thrash orientated material. A re-union tour in 2005-2007 with Belladonna marked a possible return to the earlier lineup, but none resulted. The band attempted to reform with a new singer Dan Nelson, but that was also short-lived. A 2009 high profile European festival called, Sonisphere, saw the return of John Bush and a series of festival tours followed. As of March 2010, interviews were discussing the logistics of possibly having Bush re-record Nelson's vocals from the last album they had been working on. But then Joey Belladonna returned shortly after for the summer 2010 shows. It gets hard to follow, I know. But the 2010 Sonisphere festival saw the first time the Big 4 played together. Numerous shows followed with the classic Belladonna lineup. A December 2010 statement by guitarist Scott Ian said the band had almost completed a new album with Joey singing on all the tracks. So... by all accounts, expect a Joey Belladonna fronted Anthrax.

Megadeth: Formed in Los Angeles in 1983 by singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist Dave Ellefson. Mr. Mustaine was originally the guitarist for another of the Big 4, Metallica. But early personality clashes caused Mustaine's expulsion, and Megadeth was born. The band is responsible for 12 studio albums, three live albums, two EPs, 26 singles, 32 music videos, four compilations and one box set. Megadeth has had about as many members with over 20 individuals having been part of the group at different times (including a short-lived Kerry King from Slayer), Mustaine and Ellefson being the only two consistent and original members. Despite being obviously hard to work with, Mustaine is a guitar god. His mastery of the instrument in the metal form is rivaled by few. From memorable crunchy thrash riffage to solos of unholy speed and dexterity, Megadeth songs, in their best form, offer a refined and controlled razor sharp aggression coupled with a biting lyrical wit. The band has gone through multiple, somewhat inconsistent phases of their career and their offerings to the metal table, most likely attributable to the changing line-ups. Regardless, the machine that is Megadeth is a mountain of metal to behold, drawing from a wide range of material spanning multiple decades.

Slayer: SLAYER! Formed in Huntington Park, CA in 1981. By far the fastest and most aggressive (and most evil) of the Big 4. The songs and album art typically covered such family friendly topics as serial killers, Satanism, religion and warfare. Expected controversy ensued (especially in the bizarre period of the Parent Music Resource Center's 80s metal witch-hunt days) guaranteeing a legion of disenfranchised metalheads as a fan-base. However, it was far from just shock value, the band specialized in supersonic speeds and unearthly howling guitar solos that sounded like they were being sucked from the anus of Satan himself. Slayer, more than any of the Big 4, has managed to maintain much of their original sound and drive, while still managing to progress and expand their sound, without 're-inventing' it. 11 studio albums, two live albums, a box set and multiple videos has seen the band consistently holding true to their path of metal. Slayer has permeated the metal culture so thoroughly, one can often hear“SLAYER!” being randomly screamed out at metal shows when Slayer isn't even on the bill. Slayer mosh pits are legendary, making good use of any available emergency aid stations.

Metallica: Formed in 1981 in Los Angeles. By far the most commercially successful of the Big 4 and arguably the most influential. The band started in a garage and ended up selling out arenas around the world. With very little focus on image, and a lot of attention on the the riff, Metallica managed to crawl up out of the 80's LA hair band scene. Wearing only jeans and a t-shirt of their favorite band, they decimated the landscape with a rabidly loyal and ever-growing fan-base. Much of which the band has managed to alienate in their later career with questionable artistic directions. However, the band manages to maintain the respect earned from their first three releases with bassist Cliff Burton, as well as from much of the following albums that featured bassist Jason Newsted. What Metallica managed to do in a more accessible way than their peers, was songwriting. While the early albums worshiped the e-string riding riffage, a strong sense of songwriting was displayed. As the band matured, so did their concept of a 'song'. Their 1986 masterpiece “Master of Puppets” found monstrous, crushing guitars colliding with softer, intricate and complex acoustic movements and ambitious musical structures. But the band's commercial success and subsequent direction was realized with their 1991 “Black” album. The band has won nine Grammy Awards and had five consecutive albums debut at No. 1. As of December 2009, Metallica is the fourth best-selling music artist since SoundScan began tracking music sales in 1991. That's a lot of metal and a lot of metal fans.

“Most of the egos and sandbox issues from the Eighties and Nineties have dissipated,” says Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. “We actually enjoy each others’ company and are comfortable celebrating the past while continuing our path into the future. It’s cool. Who would have known that anybody actually still gives a shit? We’re very fortunate.”

And so are any of the fans lucky enough to brave the California desert that is Indio (better known as the site for the annual Coachella Music Festival).

This is a must-see for any metalhead.

The Holy Grail of Headbanging.

Epic.