A dream came true for fans of an entire genre in 2010 when the Big 4 of metal - Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax - finally appeared together on the same stage.

The chances of seeing the groups at the same show once seemed impossible, especially with longtime disagreements among some of the members. Notably, Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine, who’d been kicked out of Metallica, took decades to get over it.

Perhaps some day the story of those behind-the-scenes negotiations will be fully told. For fans, though, the important thing was that, on June 16, 2010, all four thrash icons played together in Warsaw, Poland, followed by a run of European festival shows and including a theater broadcast from Sofia, Bulgaria, on June 22. Further dates were added, though only two Big 4 shows were held in the U.S. – one in Indio, Calif., on April 23, 2011, and at Yankee Stadium in New York on Sept. 14.

Many differences were settled as one of the greatest moments of thrash metal taking place when Mustaine hugged Metallica frontman James Hetfield after the mass jam of “Am I Evil” in Sofia. And then it never happened again following the New York show – and it probably never will. Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax went their own ways again, and some of the feuds even resurfaced, but all four have provided more memories.

Watch the Big 4 ‘Am I Evil’ Jam

Anthrax

From the outside, it seemed as if Anthrax barely survived the years leading up to 2010. While their 13-year run with John Bush at the helm was well-received, it wasn't as popular as their Joey Belladonna era. An attempt to unite both eras by having the two singers take turns fronting the band resulted in bruised egos. Dan Nelson was recruited to sing on the Worship Music LP. Even though the album came close to completion, relations with Nelson collapsed under unexplained circumstances. Bush briefly agreed to return, but the frontman’s heart was no longer with Anthrax, and he didn’t want to commit full time. In an almost fairy-tale ending, Belladonna and his former colleagues settled their differences and the classic-era singer led them onstage in Poland.

The next challenge was to re-record Worship Music; in 2011, the release of a new version of “Fight ‘Em ’Til You Can’t” showed what the new-old lineup sounded like. The album that followed appeared to reestablish Anthrax as a major force. Then, in a surprise move in early 2013, guitarist Rob Caggiano quit the band to produce Volbeat’s new album; a month later he was announced as their new guitarist, seemingly upsetting Scott Ian and Charlie Benante in the process. “It just got to the point where I felt I was spinning my wheels,” Caggiano said. “It really boiled down to the fact that it was never a creative outlet for me. I never had an emotional connection to the music.”

Watch Anthrax's ‘Fight ‘Em ’Til You Can’t’ Video

Anthrax moved on with Jon Donais on guitar. The 2016 album, For All Kings, gave fans a look at what this new lineup was capable of, with Ian crediting the band’s newfound stability for positively influencing the LP. “We knew who the five people were who were going to be performing on the record,” he explained. “That makes a big difference as compared to when you’re just writing and writing, and eventually it all comes together and you redo it and redo it, because we redid a lot of stuff when Joey rejoined the band again.”

The eight-minute torture-themed video for “Blood Eagle Wings” certainly got attention. “I think it’s our masterpiece of a song,” Ian boasted at the time. “It’s the biggest, coolest thing we’ve ever written." For All Kings pleased Benante so much that he said he’d be happy if it was their last LP because it would mean they’d “go out on a high.” He later clarified, “I think we have a lot more music in us.”

Watch Anthrax's ‘Blood Eagle Wings’ Video

Anthrax are reportedly planning a new album, though the project was put on hold to join Slayer’s farewell tour. “There’s been, like, this rebirth of people noticing the band … and it makes you hungrier,” bassist Frank Bello said in 2018. “This is a very, very hungry band. … I don’t know what it is, but there’s a very fierce energy going on within the band. We can’t wait to see what’s next. So, if anything, we’re just getting started, I think. There’s a whole new generation of kids and fans coming out. I think our fan base is growing big time.”

Megadeth

Drug addictions, lineup changes and legal battles were just some of the challenges faced by Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine in the early part of the '00s. The return of original bassist David Ellefson in early 2010 injected renewed energy into the group, momentum that carried into the Big 4 concerts.

Still, the last Big 4 show featured an additional drama - one that Mustaine didn’t reveal until much later. He'd been told he needed neck and spine surgery just before the New York appearance on Sept. 14, 2011, and decided he couldn’t perform. However, a comment from Metallica manager Peter Mensch about being a “pussy” over his pain convinced him to go ahead. “So, they gave me a bunch of injections in my neck and put me in a neck brace, and I flew out there and I played the concert and I came back,” he recalled. “I had tape all over the stage that said, 'Don't head bang.' I would have died if I head banged that night.” He later underwent the surgery.

With the Big 4 shows behind them, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax toured without Metallica under the banner American Carnage, in part reenacting their Clash of the Titans tour of 1990-91. Mustaine explained that a new attitude allowed him to welcome Ellefson back, even after the bassist attempted to sue the Megadeth frontman. “There's just no way that I can think that I deserve to be forgiven if I'm not going to do the same,” Mustaine said. “I'm not saying it's the Christian forgiveness that I experienced with Dave Ellefson that has permeated the whole tour, but I will say this: Everybody is getting along really well, and we are getting along better than we did when we did Clash of the Titans.”

Soon enough, Mustaine got back to the business of making records. Megadeth released the song “Sudden Death” in 2011, followed by their 13th studio album, Thirteen. “I can honestly tell you that it’s gotten to a point now where I’ve accomplished everything I’ve wanted to in this world,” Mustaine said of the LP. “That includes playing with my old band again, being friends with them, being able to get onstage and do solos with my old band, the fact that I’ve got my old bass player back, and the fact that we’ve made what I believe is our best record ever.”

Watch Megadeth's ‘Sudden Death’ Video

Super Collider followed in 2013, a pace of work Mustaine put down to enjoyment. “I think that writing music is one thing and making it is another,” he said. “If you make music, you hope you don’t have to worry about writing it, because writing sounds like a chore, doesn’t it? ... I figured that I just need to write from my heart and not from my head anymore.”

The run of good times ended suddenly when, in 2014, drummer Shawn Drover and guitarist Chris Broderick quit within hours of each other and went on to form their own band, Act of Defiance. In the following months, attempts were made to reunite the lineup that made the classic 1990 album Rust in Peace, but the bid failed for a variety of reasons. “I think anyone that has something as good as Rust in Peace in their history doesn't want to revisit it unless you are going to top it,” that era’s guitarist Marty Friedman said later. “I didn’t see any reason to mess with that. I didn’t see a reunion being what it could be and what the fans deserved.” (The death of drummer Nick Menza in 2016 made the reunion impossible.)

Mustaine later said the lineup reunion idea had been Ellefson’s and that Drover and Broderick quit because they discovered talks were being held. “I think David had said something along the lines of the fans wanting Nick and Marty back. And, you know, that doesn’t feel good,” the band leader revealed. “I love my partner David and I respect him enough to have given it a try. What I would have preferred was that Shawn and Chris weren’t hurt in the process, and that they would have been able to have a much happier transition into their new group and us into this version of Megadeth.”

Mustaine hired Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler and Angra guitarist Kiki Louriero as replacements, releasing the album Dystopia in 2016. “I think my songwriting style was carved out a long time ago,” Mustaine observed of the album’s theme. “There are four basic proponents that make up what I write about: war, politics, drugs and the occult. That’s kind of my Mount Rushmore. I can’t climb back up the mountain and do a face-lift on any of those things.”

Adler’s position was always effectively temporary, and he recommended Dirk Verbeuren as his full-time replacement, while Louriero remained aboard. The Dystopia title track won a Grammy in 2017 – though the ceremony organizers were criticized when the house band played a section of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” as Mustaine walked onstage. “You can't blame 'em for not being able to play Megadeth,” Mustaine tweeted later.

Watch Megadeth's ‘Dystopia’ Video

In June 2019, Mustaine was forced to cancel a run of shows after being diagnosed with throat cancer. “It’s clearly something to be respected and faced head on – but I’ve faced obstacles before,” he announced. “I’m working closely with my doctors, and we’ve mapped out a treatment plan which they feel has a 90 percent success rate. Treatment has already begun.” By October he said he was given the all-clear. “They hit the cancer really hard, nine doses of chemo and 51 radiation treatments, which just beats the hell out of you,” he later recalled.

With Mustaine’s return to health, Megadeth turned their attention to their next LP. “We've been working on it, and it's written, and it's ready to be recorded,” Ellefson admitted in early 2020.

Slayer

Before the Big 4 shows, Slayer frontman Tom Araya had undergone surgery on his neck and back, a necessity after years of head banging. “I'm doing good,” he said in the weeks leading up to the concerts. “I just can't do that,” he explained of his trademark moves. “With a plate in your neck, it's not a good idea to do that. The only disclaimer I can have for people is there's nothing wrong with head banging, just do it in moderation. And understand at some point it could damage you. … I’m still gonna rock out, I just won't be able to metal out!”

People wanted to know how long he thought he could continue – especially since he’d asked the question himself several times in the past. “It's hard to answer that," he said. "That's a tough question to answer at the moment because of how I feel. At the moment, I feel great. Six months ago, it was a different story. ... I’m in that age frame where shit starts happening. Whatever synchronicity clock is going on in my body, I'm at its mercy."

Guitarist Kerry King accepted later in 2010 that the band’s end was getting closer. “That's not to say anything about us hanging it up," he clarified. "I'm just having fun. I don't feel old, and I think the live product we put out is as good, if not better, than anybody. That's what it's about."

King received some flak from fans when he failed to take part in the all-band jam of “Am I Evil” to close the Sofia show, but he later explained it wasn't an attempt to offend anyone. “Mustaine came to me that day and James [Hetfield] came to me that day saying, ‘Hey, it would be really cool if you played.’ I knew Jeff [Hanneman] wouldn't do it, and I knew Tom wouldn't do it. And I also knew after we played that neither one of them would edit our video that was going to cinemas in a couple hours, so I told James and Mustaine both, ‘Listen, man. I’ve gotta edit our video before I can even think about playing with you guys.’ So, the entire time of the set change between Slayer and Metallica, I was editing that video. I came running to the tuning room after I got done picking the songs, and they were already onstage.”

It was Hanneman who bowed out of Slayer first – though it was originally supposed to be a temporary layoff. In 2011, he reported that a spider bite resulted in the contraction of necrotizing fasciitis, leaving him in critical condition. “I was an hour away from death,” he said later, explaining that he’d been bitten while lying in a hot tub. “Didn't even feel it. But an hour away later, I knew that I was ill. ... I could see the flesh corrupting. The arm was real hot.”

Exodus guitarist Gary Holt replaced Hanneman, whose appearance for Slayer’s encore at the Big 4 show in California on April 11 that year proved to be his last. He died in May 2013 of disease connected with alcohol.

Hanneman’s death wasn’t the only turmoil Slayer faced in 2013. The departure of drummer Dave Lombardo – the result of a contractual dispute – left fans reeling earlier in the year. He claimed he’d been dismissed because his bandmates didn’t want to tackle financial issues he discovered in the band’s accounts. He said 90 percent of income was being handed out before the musicians got a share and that “this is not the way a band's business should operate.”

Araya later said Lombardo had been only “jamming” with Slayer “for a while,” and because he previously left the band, he “wasn’t a partner.” “We had ongoing issues, and finally he put us in a position where we had to find someone to replace him," the frontman explained. "He wasn’t happy, so he decided to have his Facebook rant and told the world about a lot of issues going on within the band that are legally binding and private. I thought that was wrong and it was upsetting.”

The hiring of short-term stand-in Jon Dette (who also played with Anthrax) along with returning member Paul Bostaph helped calm nerves. Attention eventually turned to Slayer’s 2015 album, Repentless, which was dedicated to the memory of Hanneman. Released that September, it showed that Slayer still knew how to be Slayer.

Watch Slayer's ‘Repentless’ Video

Despite public statements from band members regarding another LP, Araya finally called time on Slayer, leading to their announcement of a farewell tour in 2018.

“After 35 years, it's time to collect my pension,” the frontman explained. “When we started off, everything was great, because you're young and invincible. And then there came a time where I became a family man, and I had a tough time flying back and forth. At the level we're at now, I can do that. I can fly home when I want to on days off and spend some time with my family, which is something I wasn't able to do when [my kids] were growing up. Now they're both older and mature. So now I take advantage of that. It just gets harder and harder to come back out on the road. Thirty-five years is a long time."

Watch Slayer Bow Out

A few days after the show, King’s wife, Ayesha, confirmed on social media that there was “not a chance in hell” of a reunion. In March 2020, the guitarist signed a new guitar deal, and even though he didn’t reveal any of his future plans, he hinted, “Let’s just say Dean didn’t sign me for nothing!”

Metallica

Metallica entered the Big 4 concerts on a high, having been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. They followed the monumental performances with a surprising and poorly received collaboration with Lou Reed. Titled Lulu, the 2011 art-poem album failed to find an audience, though the band defended its integrity.

“We’ve always hovered in our own autonomous little bubble," drummer Lars Ulrich later noted. "And if you look at Lou’s career, he’s always been on the periphery, on the fringes.” While the intention might have been admirable, the practice was disastrous – Lulu sold 13,000 copies during its first week of release, making it one of Reed’s biggest sellers in years but one of Metallica’s lowest, before it quickly dropped off the charts.

The band had no regrets. Ulrich later said, “Twenty-five years from now, you're going to have millions of people claiming they owned the record or loved it when it came out … of course neither will be true. I think it's going to age well. … In some ways it's almost cooler that people didn't embrace it, because it makes it more ours, it's our project, our record, and this was never made for the masses and the masses didn't take to it. It makes it more precious for those who were involved.”

Metallica’s next flop came in the form of Through the Never, a 2013 concert film that dragged viewers through a pointless plot that got in the way of the musical performance. Ulrich admitted the experience was “overwhelming” but still worthwhile. “In the music world, you get very used to controlling your environment and in the film world there is nothing to control," he said. "It's just like a complete clusterfuck … and there's a bizarre beauty in that.” Despite his enthusiasm, the movie earned only $6 million at the box office after costing $18 million to make.

Watch Metallica's ‘Through the Never’ Trailer

Metallica's Orion Music + More festivals took place in 2012 and 2013. Even though both events lost money, they were massively enjoyed by fans. So, too, were the 30th-anniversary concerts from the previous year. When Metallica became the only band to perform on every continent following a show in Antarctica in 2013, and opening themselves up to a new audience by headlining the iconic Glastonbury festival in 2014, it started to become obvious the band was serious about repositioning themselves. “What does it mean for our careers?” Hetfield had pondered in 2013. “We don’t care. We’ve never really cared, but at this point we really don’t. We’re artists, and we’re driving this train — we can drive it straight into the wall if we want to.”

By buying back their catalog and launching their own label, Blackened Recordings, Metallica continued reconstructing their business approach that came to fruition with the release of Hardwired … to Self-Destruct in 2016. Every song had a video. Every band member made themselves available for interviews. Fans saw behind-the-scenes action of every step of the process. Metallica finally explained themselves fully in their own language.

Commenting on the fact that the LP opens with the words, “We’re so fucked!” Hetfield said, “‘Hardwired’ is the first song on the album, but it was actually the last song we wrote. In my mind, it’s more of a summary of the whole album than an opening statement. Lyrically, I wanted it to be really simple, fast, quick and punk rock. The idea is to make it communal. You know, we’re fucked. All of us. But we’re blessed as well, because we’re all in this together.”

Listen to Metallica's ‘Hardwired’

With new understanding on their side, Metallica began publicizing their charity work, announcing donations to food banks in every city they played and promoting days of action to get fans involved. They set up their All Within My Hands Foundation to further their operations. “For many years, we were quite skeptical about certain elements of the charitable path that we saw some of our peers in the entertainment world take,” Ulrich explained. “We would at best be doubtful about the grandstanding that others often took in their efforts that ended up primarily looking like they were patting themselves on their backs and trying to steal the spotlight away from their supposed good deeds. So, for many years, Metallica gave back almost 100 percent under the radar.”

The band celebrated the 20th anniversary of its 1999 orchestral album S&M with two live shows and the S&M2 concert film. Whatever was meant to happen next was derailed when Hetfield – who’d been open in recent years about his addiction issues – returned to rehab. While no specific reason was given for his 2019 relapse, Metallica said in a statement, “As most of you probably know, our brother James has been struggling with addiction on and off for many years. He has now, unfortunately, had to re-enter a treatment program to work on his recovery again. … We appreciate your understanding and support for James and, as always, thank you for being a part of our Metallica family.”

After several months out of the public eye, Hetfield reappeared in February 2020, and, asked about the band’s next album, he replied, “We don’t know. … That’s the beauty of this. We’ll sit down and figure out what works best for us. Whatever is coming up, we don’t know. And we kind of thrive off of the fear of the unknown, a bit, and being scared just enough to feel alive.”

That was before the coronavirus shut the world down. “The people that make all the software and all the stuff that we use to record are sitting right now trying to figure out how Lars and James and Kirk and Rob can make a Metallica record from four different locations from four different states," Ulrich said during lockdown. “That’s obviously something that we’re circling and we’re very excited about.”

 

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