The Big 4 Live from Sofia, Bulgaria (with Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax)

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Facts and Figures

Genre: Documentaries

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director: Nick Wickham

Producer: David May

The Big 4 Live from Sofia, Bulgaria (with Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax) Movie Review


We deal in irony here in Britain as our default mode, so it should be no surprise to anybody that we've turned our backs to Heavy Metal, a format which has undeniably been our most successful musical export. Created almost by accident, there's little argument that it initially owed its structure to the imported blues, but by the time Black Sabbath emerged from working class Birmingham at the end of the sixties, the brutalised low end, booze, drugs and devil worshipping choreography of modern metal was all our own work.

Since then it's spread around the globe like a virus, a movement which has spawned a dozen sub-cultures, each of them in turn creating their own folklore.

And it's still wildly successful: world's best selling group? Forget Take That.

It's Australia's AC/DC, whose last album Black Ice has shifted five million copies plus to date and in total have clocked up a staggering eighty million sales. So how do we celebrate originating this phenomenon? Well of course we react in true empire fashion; we ridicule it, somehow embarrassed by the notion that we can actually be any good at anything.

Lecture over. Thrash metal for those of you who want a history lesson is one of a dozen recognisable genres which the host has spawned, coalescing in the early eighties around a group of American bands who in part took their cues from Maiden and Priest, mixing this hubris with the velocity of hardcore punk outfits from both sides of the Atlantic. Oh and of course, there was the all pervasive influence of Motorhead. If you haven't heard of it and are wandering why you should be bothered, somewhere along the way to its peak c.1986-88, it almost killed off the spandex and poodle rock of Motley Crue and Van Halen, an act for which I think we can agree we should all be truly thankful.

The May 2008 issue of Metal Edge listed the top 50 thrash albums of all time, with the top 5 going like this; fifth was Among The Living by Anthrax, four was Metallica's 1983 debut Kill 'Em All, at three was MEGADETH's Peace Sells, But Who's Buying, in at two was Slayer's dark epic Reign In Blood, and top of the pile was messrs' Hetfield & co. again with Ride The Lightning. Already recognised as the the 'Big Four' of the DVD's title, if only Metallica have gone on to touch the mainstream, the other three have continued in one line up guise or another right through until today, although remaining partially forgotten outside metal circles. By which I mean in Britain.

The title of this two part film may lack inspiration, but the product itself is pretty much the definitive belated Christmas gift for your 'Mad' uncle Phil, who I promise will spend its five hour duration in silent awe knocking back can after can of Fosters and getting all misty eyed for Castle Donnington. Each of the four bands have a history which would take hours to do justice to here, safe to say that the back story is that for decades the notion of Megadeth's Dave Mustaine sharing a tour bus with Jeff Araya of Slayer and pretty much anyone from Metallica seemed as farfetched as Rage Against The Machine having a Christmas number one.

Time's apparently a healer though, and as part of the Lollapollooza-esque Sonisphere travelling circus the titular big four were finally reunited for the first time in Poland in June 2010. Taken from a subsequent date in Sofia, The Big Four recaptures the reunion in full, with each of the three 'support' bands getting pretty much a complete set captured faithfully here.

I'm not sure if they drew lots but Anthrax are first up, lead singer Joey Belladonna working the early day crowd during a highly kinetic hors d'oeuvres which features their benchmark shredders Caught In A Mosh, Got The Time and I Am The Law. Associating the term 'Fun' with a band that named themselves after one of the most dangerous diseases in the world may seem a little inappropriate, but their appeal is rooted in not taking themselves too seriously, and Belladonna works the crowd like the road-tough veteran that he is. Tattoo rating: 3/5.

I must admit I'd lost touch with Megadeth, but obviously some serious kiss and make up has taken place recently, perhaps as a result of thrash's enfant terrible finally ditching his Nero complex; either way, by the time he takes to the rain soaked stage the crowd are going absolutely bonkers, and although he barely moves or speaks between numbers, the adulation leaves an obvious impression. It's not a set for the uninitiated - hell, it's not a day for the uninitiated - but the sodden acolytes get Hook In Mouth, Skin O' My Teeth and Symphony of Destruction amongst others, with the whole thing having the impression of a victory parade. Tattoo rating: 2/5.

Slayer are next, an outfit for whom the phrase 'Courted controversy' seems made for. The Big Four certainly isn't a production which has much in the way of eye candy for the ladies, featuring as it does a large proportion of greying middle aged blokes, and Slayer's Jeff Araya in particular seems to have left his Just For Men back home. Thankfully however his band still make the same gut wrenching noise which proved that they were about much more than (Just) offending America's moral majority, and on South of Heaven and the inevitable Raining Blood they send their circle pits into a pinball ecstasy of flailing limbs and punishment by sweat. Tattoo Rating 5/5 (And that's just for Kerry Collins).

Whether or not you believe Metallica were unfairly caricatured in the 2004 documentary Some Kind of Monster, it was certainly the kind of negative portrayal which might've killed some lesser bands. For them quite the contrary transpired though, and it seems the experiences of the early noughties contrived to have made them almost unsinkable. The main event here as they are everywhere and without argument the largest metal band on the planet, it would be easy at this stage of their careers for Hetfield & co. to coast along taking the money in Rolling Stones mode, but they absolutely shred this thing. Having a back catalogue anyone except Angus Young would give his plectrum for helps.

Within the first half dozen songs we're treated to For Whom The Bell Tolls, Harvester of Sorrow and Fade To Black, each of them landing like national anthems with a crowd who are singing word perfect, and by the time Sad But True arrives the ugly bowl of a stadium is a sea of pumping fists and open mouths.

The main difference between Metallica and the rest though becomes obvious right about that point; whilst all three of the others have at least one or two moments at which you can have sneaky pee break, the headliners demand your complete attention. It's what marks out truly great bands, and their last four pre-encore tracks - Master of Puppets, Blackened, Nothing Else Matters and Enter Sandman - are as definitive in a heavy metal sense as possible. Sandman deserves a special mention, if only for the fact that if the transition between build up and that opening riff doesn't make those hairs stand up, you're surely an X-Factor contestant. Adrenalin spiking, almost anything after that would be anti-climactic, and whilst well meaning and clearly redemptive for all concerned, the mass jam featuring all four bands on Am I Evil lacks a similar intensity. After and with the stage now clear again, there's time for two more towering kiss-offs from ancient history, Kill 'Em All's Hit The Lights, followed by the simply immense closer Seek And Destroy. Extras? There's a mostly tedious fifty minute documentary, probably worth watching for the incredible awkwardness of Mustaine and Lars Ulrich in conversation backstage, and the revelation that most of Anthrax use super glue to bind their split fingers together during a show.

It would be easy to dismiss the audience's reaction from within Albion as driven by a lack of sophistication amongst our European cousins, that somehow the clichés which exist in heavy metal are only for the backward and naive. And there's also some horrible notion of 'The global language of rock', of its implicit connection to something more primordial which exists in all of us, no matter what amount of product we put in our hair. But the fact remains that 40,000 people being given the night of their lives can't be wrong, wherever they're from - just ask your Uncle Phil.

Andy Peterson


Contactmusic

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