The Big Four : Thirty Years On
7th December 2016, 15:00
Posted by Tristan

1986 – a year almost every Metalhead will, at some point in their life will experience. Responsible for four of Metal’s biggest bands and almost four of the most influential albums in the Metal timeline. Bringing each a different aspect to the aggression that personified Thrash. Slayer took on the more morbid of tendencies with a particularly more visceral religious slant. Opting for more conspiracy theories and the government itself, Megadeth saw more into the military like vein. Anthrax the New York Thrash underdogs went for more of a well rounded if ever slightly crossover approach with their 1987 release Among The Living. Ending with the biggest band of all time Metallica are without a doubt the crowned kings of the big four and deservedly so. Taking on more of an introspective look into subjects ranging from war to inner torments the band simply got it right with (almost) every release.

But do the same bands still have their same setting at the top of The Big Four table? Moving into the future, not quite the hovering cars that were predicted but President elect being Trump, something no one would have predicted. Almost all bands have returned fully fledged this year, save for Slayer who didn’t get the memo unveiling theirs last September. Having released For All Kings, Dystopia and Hardwired…To Self Destruct all this year will each band be sitting at their previous setting of the Thrash table some thirty years on?

Circumstance has played a large part in the make up of these bands. Owing to the deeply saddening news of the passing of Jeff Hanneman, Slayer will never quite be the same entity ever again. As much as Kerry King does want to think he is the integral cog in the Slayer machine, some of the band’s biggest tracks have been through Hanneman’s talented fingers. Repentless in itself as an album was by no means a bad album but when it’s stacked up against such fierce opposition as the likes of their three counterparts or even their own back catalogue, it does beg the question, was it really the best they could do? Enlisting the playing ability of one Gary Holt of course the band hold the fort of the triplet riffs but the overall execution seemed slightly lacklustre. Which, given the build up to the records release seemed like some what of a let down.

Moving into the year 2016 we saw MegaDave stake his first claim to the throne of Thrash. Again, like Slayer the band are potentially the most changed out of all four. With a revolving line up throughout almost every single album cycle, save for Dave Mustaine. In a similar Slayer situation, both Mustaine and Ellefson remained after the joint decision to depart Megadeth when Chris Broderick and drummer Shawn Drover left. Seeing this perhaps as an opportunity, perhaps a blessing in disguise Ellefstaine (Megadeth) tapped Lamb of God sticksman Chris Adler and Angra guitarist Kiko Loueirio as their hired guns. Owing to commitments with Lamb of God, Adler declined Mustaine’s offers to join the band full time and have instead appeared on their record Dystopia this year performing select shows with the band as well. Understanding Dystopia’s context enables the listener to see how it is by and far the best Megadeth album in a long time. Rather than the somewhat tired rehashing of similar sounding riffs with uninspired shredding on the top sold because of the name Dystopia is instead a total evolution in the band’s sound. Overall darker, more mature there are themes both musical and otherwise that can be explored throughout its front to back listen.

Then later in February, Anthrax appeared to have cottoned on and released For All Kings. Their first album in five years since Worship Music, their second album since the return of singer Joey Belladonna and their first with new guitarist ex-Shadows Fall shredder Jonathan Donais. For All Kings is impressive as a record, firmly implemented in their Among The Living style roots, tracks are longer and show a slightly more progressive tendency whilst ensuring that New York bruiser edge still remains. Nevertheless the truly gruesome video for “Blood Eagle Wings” matches the song in its intensity. An inspired record, not to mention a rejuvenation of their sound, For All Kings is a fantastic statement of intent which has since seen the band become even more revitalised in the Metal world. Travelling the world and immortalising new songs Anthrax again should be proud of their stonking release but as the hype diminished, so did the playability, for me at least. Being somewhat too convoluted at times and being pretty long the album could be a big pill to swallow.

Which brings me to my next point. After performing with penguins and audiences all over the world, Metallica did it once again. Releasing their single “Hardwired” the Metal world collectively lost their mind when they heard new Metallica  material that was either Death Magnetic II or Lulu. In an instant the band had done what so many aspire to do. Replacing fans faith in a band can be one of the hardest things to do in their lifetime. Particularly one as illustrious as theirs, to only mention the first four Metallica albums is enough in itself. With bands nowadays striving to sound like even ONE of those albums here you have the band that created them, so what next?

What followed in Hardwired…To Self Destruct acts as a perfect compendium to the Metallica sound. Not one for compromise the band went big and released a double album. However with the album been cut down to twelve well suited portions, not only does each track stand out but makes a perfect argument. Some sounding like the more plodding Load-era Metallica, others going straight for the jugular. However what Metallica are consistently brilliant at is staying current, which for a band as old as they might be is no mean feat. Both releasing material that sounds like vintage Metallica whilst remaining current is key. Nevertheless what separates the band is their song writing. Sure there might be some naysayers out there who aren’t satisfied, when is there not? But here are twelve tracks of absolute genius, simplistic dynamics create hooks. Vocals working perfectly with both rhythm and lead lend it to be memorable throughout the entire journey. Given there’s 70+ music that is an incredible achievement.

The bottom line is, Metallica are the biggest Metal band on the planet for a reason. Stiff competition from all four horsemen of the Thrash movement no doubt,Slayer might be the fastest, Megadeth the most technical, Anthrax the most groovy but it will ALWAYS be Metallica that are the most memorable and releasing Hardwired…To Self Destruct the band have cemented their position once again, to be the kings of (Dad?) Metal once and for all.