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The Big Four of schlock - 60%

Ziomaletto, May 13th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2010, 2DVD, Universal Music Group

Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth & Anthrax, the Big Four of Thrash Metal!... Ha, good one. That's the funniest shit I've seen since seeing Kong shoving a tree down Godzilla's throat (or an axe, if you've seen their latest rematch). Honestly, as of right now, only Megadeth seems to still fit the part of this whole "idea", as Slayer doesn't exist anymore, Metallica only scratches the surface of thrash and so does Anthrax. But hey, they apparently sell the biggest number of records, unlike other bands being much closer to thrash, like Death Angel, Overkill, Testament or Exodus, so it makes sense, I guess...? Whatever this marketing crap is, the idea of this four bands uniting for making a tour around the world was born. And it ended up in recording this DVD, which I manage to bought some long time ago. However, I feel like I could spent that money on buying an actual good DVD, if other bands like Overkill or Death Angel were more open to the idea of fucking doing them.

Chronologically, I should start with Anthrax, but I prefer to start from Slayer. "Fucking Slayer" (or "SLAYER, kurwa!" from where I come from), I always cringe when I hear that chant. It makes me feel like those people have no idea that thrash needs more than aggression and speed to be great. While it could seem like I hate Slayer - no, not really. When they actually put some effort, they really can produce some relatively good music, as shown with 'Show No Mercy', 'Hell Awaits' (which are two albums completely overlooked on this show - what are the odds!), 'South of Heaven', 'Seasons in the Abyss' and even 'God Hates Us All'. It's mostly the cult following of 'Reign in Blood' that really gets under my nerves, because this album only has hollow aggression and speed to offer. And nothing else. But that didin't stopped metalheads from calling it "magnum opus" of thrash and compare every competent album to this mediocrity. But that's a story for another time.

Honestly, this show is really weak. Not only the setlist sucks, offering very little variety out of Slayer's entire catalogue (it's mostly the big hits from 'Reing In Blood', 'South of Heaven' and 'Seasons in the Abyss', with three song from then-latest release 'World Painted Blood', 'Disciple' from 'God Hates Us All' and 'Jihad' from 'Christ Illusion'), but the song performances are also lacking punch. Hannemann and King were never anything special, but now they've really set the bar to the new low. Solos feel sloppy, as if playing those songs thousand times wasn't enough. I guess it's a nice thing to see Slayer in the iconic OG line-up before Jeff passed away, but to be honest, these guys are/were past their prime. Well, most of them, because Dave Lombardo is Dave Lombardo and Dave Lombardo is fucking awesome. Even if Slayer's music doesn't give him much of a room to vary his playstyle. Arguably, the lowest point of this show is Tom Araya. His vocals are just a pain to listen to. At some moments he sound like he's struggling for breath. Maybe he should have taken some vocal lessons to learn how to utilize your energy during singing better. Hell, maybe that would let him do the proper high-pitched screams again.

Another problem is the sound, which is quite muddy. While on 'Vile' by Cannibal Corpse it works for album's atmosphere, here it's just annoying. Live perfomances for me should sound clean enough to hear every member doing their work. Only drums sounds a bit passable, while King's guitar seem to overpower Hannemann's guitar in the mix, and Tom Araya seems to be completely lost, both vocally and with bass guitar. For better or worse, it's perhaps a good thing Slayer ended their career. Araya seems happy with retirement, King can play his horrible solos elsewhere (which I pity to whoever decides to join his new pet project) and Lombardo provides his skills for Suicidal Tendencies and Philm. Overall, I rate it around 35%. Too much bullshit for me to recommend. 'Decade of Aggression' is much likely a better choice.

Next in the list, Anthrax. And again, it's pretty "meh". The musicianship is much tighter than Slayer, though. And as long as Charlie Benante isn't allowed anywhere close to 'Fast as a Shark' by Accept, I'll take him. But there are two things dragging this show down. First, setlist. I'll just gonna ask, where is 'Among the Living' (the song)? Where's 'A.I.R.'? Or 'Gung-Ho'? Or anything from 'Persistence of Time'? You had the time to play a song from much rather despised John Bush era, but nothing from 5th album? Not even a cheesy 'Belly of the Beast'? I guess that Joe Jackson cover of 'Got the Time' is the representative of 'Persistence of Time', but I'll rather have an original song here.

But even with better setlist the show would still be disappointing, because Joey Belladonna can't sing to save his life anymore. While the band seem to have a lot of fun performing the songs, Belladona drags the entire show down. In the 80s he may seemed a little bit like Bruce Dickinson knock-off, here it's even more evident, since his vocals downgraded just as much as Bruce's. It's again painful to listen, especially during 'Heaven and Hell' cover. Sorry Joey, but Mark Osegueda is the only one who can fucking nail this song. And again, Belladonna is struggling to keep his breath during singing a lot of times. And people have balls to say they're the best of out the 4. Yeah, fuck no.

One advantage they have over the rest is sound, which is clean, and sleak, and exactly how a modern live show should fucking sound like! It's right there with first part of 'The World is Ours' by Motorhead, 'Dark Roots of Thrash' by Testament or both Metallica's DVD from year prior. The drums have enough punch in them, the bass is audible, and guitars are just perfect. The only complaint is Belladona's voice being a bit hidden in the mix, although that might be a good thing... Overall, 50%. The musicianship and sound can't save a show with this disgraceful vocal performance. And to think I used to say this show was the best. What a joke. Get yourselves a copy of 'Alive 2', it's a much better Anthrax expierience with Belladonna that doesn't sound like a watered down version of modern Bruce Dickinson. Who already is a watered down version of classic Bruce, which is... Yikes.

Okay then, Metallica. The biggest out of 4, the most recongizable, and of course have to put out the biggest and longest show. Well, I'm not so sure about that. Problem one, the setlist became way too formulaic at the time. We start with 'Creeping Death', so of course it only makes sense to follow-up with 'For Whom the Bell Tolls', correct that with 'Fuel' and a forgotten gem from 'Ride the Lightning' or '...And Justice for All', a ballad (at least 'One' appears much later on), a 'Death Magnetic' song (it's not 'Broken, Beat & Scarred', thank God), followed up by 'Cyanide', 'Sad But True', another ballad, 'All Nightmare Long', ANOTHER BALLAD, 'Master of Puppets', thrashy song with intro (and it's not overlooked 'Fight Fire With Fire' or 'Battery'), duo 'Nothing Else Matters' and 'Enter Sandman', cover song, and two 'Kill 'Em All' songs, the second one being obligatory 'Seek and Destroy'.

I mean, at this point Metallica released 2 official albums which have this setlist structure, and countless of bootlegs from other shows. How hard it was to do some fucking changes? It wasn't until 2014/2015 when they're finally shaken the formula up, but seeing almost exact same-y setlist for 3rd time, with few song appearing on the THIRD RELEASE IN A ROW, makes me absolutely LIVID, to put it mildly. Like, why should I buy this release over, let's say, 'Orgullo, Pasion y Gloria' or 'Francais Pour Une Nuit'? Because without it, I'm only losing Big Four's joined performance of 'Am I Evil' (and aside from Lombardo, Slayer didn't even bother to show up, so fuck'em) and other three concerts, but aside from Megadeth, I wouldn't cry over losing them. And right now, I'm kind sick to death of hearing 'Blackened' or 'Cyanide', and don't even get me started on fucking 'One'. Why not give 'My Apocalypse' or 'The Shortest Straw' some exposure? Yeah, I know they're on 'Quebec Magnetic'. But before 2012, QM was nowhere near close release, so again, what does Metallica fan gains by buying this release?

Problem two, perfomances. I know it's cheap to make fun of Lars' poor drumming skills and Kirk's excessive attachment to wah pedal, but it's just too easy. Apparently, they did improve in the last few years on 'Hardwired' tours, but it's all too little, too late. And Kirk is still unable to play one solo without his livesafer. Something that was charming in the 80s, is now pathetic. Thankfully, Rob and James are league above the other half of the Metallica. I mean, Rob comes from Infectious Groove, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Label Society and played for Ozzy fucking Osbourne, so what else is there to say? Metallica always had a nose for great bassists, and Rob is no different (even if Burton's creative inputs and Newsted devilish backing vocals will always be missed). James was always a tight rhythm guitarist, sometimes even providing some great solos ('Master of Puppets' and 'Nothing Else Matters' being most prominent examples) and while his voice is rather a huge downgrade from 80s, he's nowhere near as bad as Araya or Belladonna. And he's without a doubt a great frontman, encouraging audience to sing with him, giving some peptalks and stuff.

Problem three, sound. While I can compliment 'Orgullo, Pasion y Gloria' and 'Francais Pour Une Nuit' for their clean and sleak sound, this one however starts to show some cracks. The drums feel like they're trying to remind the 'And Justice for All' era, to which I say: "STOP!", while the bass seem to trying to find its place in the mix. That might be only complaints about the sound, cause guitars and vocals are good enough. And of course, the 'Am I Evil' with other bands is a highlight for a lot of people, but my would rather be 'All Nightmare Long' - hearing this song live every time feels great, and even with those performers this song's atmosphere is more than enough to make it worth a listen. My rating for this show is somewhere around 65%, 70% at most. I'm getting sick of hearing 'Blackened', 'One' and 'Cyanide' on each of the DVD they've released. And Lars and Kirk should really start to suck it up and practicing a lot, because if it wasn't for James and Rob, they would probably be thrown out of the band long time ago.

I decided to save the best for the last, i.e. Megadeth. Hell yes, that's one show that I can't complain about much. Or rather, I'd need to resort to nitpicking to actually find flaws. Setlist is great for a show that lasts only 1 hour (although 'Holy Wars' being played twice is questionable for me), the musicianship is top notch, and the sound is great. Well, okay, now for complaints, number 1, lack of Dave's interaction with crowd. I know he's not as great of a vocalist, but as a charismatic persona, he should interact with audience more. Here he only says couple of words before 'Head Crusher' and that's it. Live performances have this advantage of interacting with the crowd, yet Mustaine didn't decided to use that. Shame, cause this show, while being fantastic, definitely needs to catch a breath. Number 2, while drums and bass sound fucking perfect ('Hook in a Mouth' opening proves that), the guitars feel muddled, and sound like they've caught a stage fright...? Although it's probably due to rain during the perfomance, and some nasty weather is not enough to spook out Megadeth, so I can forgive that. Aside from that, though, I have no complaints. 90% from me. Funnily enough, I considered the show to be the weakest out of entire 4 back in the day I bought this DVD. How the turns have tabled indeed...

Honestly, 'The Big Four: Live from Sofia, Bulgaria' is rather a disappointing release. 1 show is a complete disaster, other two are hampered by certain musicians, and only one actually delievers on what fans want. This is really far from what, in comparison, Testament or Motorhead can offer in terms of live perfomance, and it's definitely inferior to all of those bands' previous live recordings, 'Decade of Aggresion' and 'Live Shit' especially. I would just recommend to check out those bands' other DVDs, because it's really not worth it just for the sake of Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Dave Lombardo performing 'Am I Evil'. Well, that, and the fact that these bands aren't really the 'Big Four of Thrash'.