Following the classic rock groups that came out of the ‘70s, including bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, a new genre picked up momentum: thrash metal. Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer, also known as the Big Four, were the bands that put thrash metal on the map. They fueled a revolution of harsh, punk-infused metal that first gained rank through the underground scene. These bands also established the backbone for the future of metal as they became the voice of an embittered youth. When the Big Four having played on the same stage for the first time ever in the United States in April 23 of 2006, a reminiscence of the histories of these bands helps convey just how much these bands have given to music.
Metallica was formed in 1981 by lead singer James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich. The band was influenced by early heavy metal and hard rock bands like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, and by punk rock acts like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. Metallica's eponymous fifth album, "Metallica," also known as "The Black Album," is the band's best-selling record. It produced four of Metallica's most famous singles, including "Enter Sandman" and "Nothing Else Matters." Metallica has sold over 100 million records worldwide. Stephen Thomas and Greg Prato of Allmusic have called the band "easily the best, most influential heavy metal band of the ‘80s, responsible for bringing the music back to Earth." They have achieved both underground and commercial success with their fast tempos and long instrumentals. Metallica is one of very few bands that have kept their audience, if not expanded it, over their 30-year career. They will continue to do so with their 10th studio album, which is currently being written.
Slayer was formed in 1981 by guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King. The group gained worldwide recognition with their 1986 album "Reign in Blood." The band is known for combining hardcore tempos with fast, aggressive material. Their controversial album art and lyrics have garnered them much criticism, caused record delays and even bans from religious groups. Subjects of the lyrics include religion, warfare and serial killers, hence the band name, Slayer. Even with the criticism of certain religious groups, musical analysts hail Slayer for having greater musical strength than any of the other members of the Big Four. According to MTV, "Their music was directly responsible for the rise of death metal." They have released 11 studio albums and two live albums.
Anthrax was formed in 1981 by guitarists Scott Ian and Danny Lilker. One of their albums, "Among the Living," has been described as their breakthrough album. This record took a different approach than their previous albums by evoking the band's humorous and experimental sides while still staying true to their thrash metal roots. Lyrically, the album focused on comic books, films and Stephen King novels. The song "I Am the Law" is based on the British comic character Judge Dredd, and the track entitled "A Skeleton in the Closet" is based on the Stephen King novella "Apt Pupil." The album was dedicated to the memory of Cliff Burton, Metallica's former bass player, who died in a bus accident while on tour. Anthrax subsequently toured Europe with Metallica to promote the album. In 1991, Scott Ian, Anthrax's lead guitarist, developed the idea to crossover with rap legends Public Enemy to record their hit "Bring the Noise." This track was the basis for the rap-rock collaborations that generated critic and fan praise throughout the ‘90s. Linkin Park and Rage Against the Machine were among the many rock groups that would successfully follow Anthrax into this new genre. With over 10 million records sold, Anthrax continues to influence novel rock bands with their rejection of the thrash metal look and their keen sense of humor.
The fourth member of the Big Four, Megadeth, was formed in 1983 by singer and guitarist Dave Mustaine after he departed Metallica after two years, and bassist David Ellefson. Mustaine, the main lyricist of the band, frequently writes about themes such as war and politics, and, more recently, religion. The song "Shadow of Deth" consists of lyrics taken directly from the King James Bible. Since the band's start, there have been over 20 musicians as official members of the band at different times, with Mustaine and Ellefson being the only consistent members. The band's album, "Peace Sells...but Who's Buying?" is considered one of the most significant records of the thrash metal genre. Megadeth has released 12 studio albums and three live albums, and has sold over 25 million records worldwide.
Clearly, the Big Four have had an immense influence on not just the thrash metal genre, but also the entire rock scene. Their recent performance on April 23 gathered a crowd of more than 50,000 fans. The highlight of the night was when all four bands took to the stage toward the end of Metallica's show to play a cover of Diamond Head's "Am I Evil?" Metallica then finished with their famous set-closer, "Seek and Destroy," surely leaving fans thinking they had just witnessed a moment in rock history.