All photos from MetOnTour.com unless otherwise noted.
Thousands packed stadiums across Eastern Europe as the fabled "Big Four" of American thrash metal -- Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax -- shared a stage for the first time. International interest resulted in one tour stop being recorded, edited, and beamed to movie theaters across the globe to an estimated 100,000 viewers.
I set out, rather cynically, to placate my inner 15-year-old's devotion to these bands. My more inquisitve adult side wondered what a metal concert in a movie theater would be like? Traditionally, yelling at a movie screen is usually reserved for slasher flicks and midnight screenings of Rocky Horror Picture Show. Would people get out of their seats and engage in usual concert behavior -- lyric-shouting, air instrument-playing, moshing and the like?
As far as the bands go, I anticipated four hours of ho-hum performances by once-great metal legends. Early audio problems during pre-show interviews led to MST3K-style commentary from the peanut gallery such as, "Hi, my name is Lars and I am slowly unlearning how to play the drums." I drafted my own quips and wondered how long the next four hours would drag.
But thanks to the great guitarists in these bands, I was reminded, riff by riff, what makes heavy metal so enduring and powerful. (Video of the historic 'Big Four' performance, and setlists from each band after the jump)
The Sofia Echo] overcame some early mixing issues to deliver a pretty solid set, led by the somewhat-clownish antics of frontman Joey Belladonna. Joey sounded pretty good almost 20 years since his stint with the band, his voice still strong but registering lower than in his heyday. Drummer Charlie Benante and guitarist Rob Caggiano carried this band through their set with very strong performances. Scott Ian gets most of the credit for Anthrax over the years, but it's Rob's soloing that deserved accolades here. I sighted the first and only movie theater mosher during "Indians" -- a large, bearded, older-looking fellow rumbling up and down the center aisle in what I hoped was self-aware irony to loud cheers of the audience. "Indians" was interrupted by a snippet of Black Sabbath's "Heaven & Hell" to pay tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio, appropriate since Belladonna is the only singer on the bill with the pipes to pull off the song.
One huge upside to the movie theater metal concert experience: no waiting between sets. Anthrax finished up, a graphic displayed on the screen, and we were transported forward in time to Megadeth's set. My short, skinny ass didn't have to worry about getting crushed by moshers on a concert floor or stinking like second-hand smoke after the show. I was kind of digging this!
Dave Mustaine glared menacingly at the sky as rain poured down during his final lead break of set opener "Holy Wars... The Punishment Due." For a man who had to essentially re-learn how to play the guitar after suffering nerve damage to his arm (he fell asleep with his arm over a chair during a rehab stint a few years ago), Dave's soloing was damn near flawless. Chris Broderick, easily the band's most gifted second axe-man since Marty Friedman's departure, added to the guitar heroics. The increasing speed of "Hangar 18" led to a frenzy of whipping hair and air guitar around the theater as the local crowd starting getting more into the event. There's always one downside to a Megadeth set, however -- Dave's voice still sucks live.
A short intermission prior to Metallica addressed the looming spectre over the event -- the death of Ronnie James Dio. Musicians shared stories about the metal legend, including the man's rather incredible vocal warm-up routine during his decades-long career (a beer and half a joint according to Scott Ian).
Darkness finally loomed as Metallica opened with an almost flawless "Creeping Death." James Hetfield's voice is not as aggressive as it used to be, eschewing gruffness for melody during "For Whom The Bell Tolls." Lars Ulrich's drumming was more competent than I expected but he still can't properly execute the machine-gunning of "One," arguably the most impressive moment of his career. Kirk Hammett's stellar guitar work serves as Metallica's only consistent connection to their past greatness.
During Metallica's set I noticed some very sloppy video editing in order to truncate the show and remove long between-song pauses. I had a hunch that the early sets by Anthrax and Megadeth were probably longer than they seemed -- after all how could sets by these four bands only take four hours? These obviously abbreviated performances were the biggest drawback to the
For the encore, Metallica invited every "Big Four" musician to the stage for their famous cover of Diamond Head's "Am I Evil?" Four drummers, four bassists, and eight guitarists, with Hetfield trading verses with Dave Mustaine and Anthrax's Joey Belladonna. The performance was slightly awkward -- I'm not sure Joey knew the song, or perhaps he'd partied a bit backstage -- but a historic moment in metal, nonetheless.
Check out video of the "Big Four" performance of "Am I Evil?" below.
Setlists by all of the Big Four
Caught In a Mosh
Got The Time [Joe Jackson cover]
Antisocial [Trust cover]
Indians / Heaven & Hell [Black Sabbath cover]
Metal Thrashing Mad
I Am The Law
Holy Wars... The Punishment Due
In My Darkest Hour
Skin O' My Teeth
Hook In Mouth
Symphony of Destruction
The Punishment Due (reprise)
World Painted Blood
Seasons in the Abyss
Angel of Death
South of Heaven
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Harvester of Sorrow
Fade To Black
Master of Puppets
Nothing Else Matters
Am I Evil? (performed by 'Big Four')
Hit the Lights
Seek & Destroy