Live From Sofia, Bulgaria (DVD)

The Big 4

Warner Brothers, 2010

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Big_4_Live_From_Sofia,_Bulgaria

REVIEW BY: Paul Hanson

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/02/2010

The day on which the Big Four of thrash metal played on the same stage, and then jammed on a single song, has been captured. It happened in June 2010 when the bands played as a part of the Sonisphere Festival series. One of the concerts was in Sofia, Bulgaria on June 22, 2010. This concert was sent to movie theaters by satellite in HD. If you didn’t pay the dough to sit in a theater and watch this concert, you can now get it on DVD. You get four concerts – Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, and Metallica – on this one DVD.

It was quite the concert, judging by the musical performances. There is also a documentary that shows such things as the bands talking to each other, the Metallica meet and greet, and all the band members practicing the song they eventually played together on stage.

This DVD is the next best thing to being there. The camera angles are not annoying. What that means is that when there is a guitar solo, the camera is on the guitar solo, not on the vocalist getting a drink at the back of the stage or on the bass player. When the camera shows the crowd, it shows fans with the fingers as devil horns in the air, having a good time. At various points in the band performances, a mosh pit breaks out. There is crowd surfing and plenty of beer glasses held up in jubilation. There’s not quite a 50/50 split between the crowd and the bands, but there is certainly a lot of attention given to the crowd.

Of the four bands that play, Anthrax had the hardest job as the opener. I am not sure how the sequence of bands was chosen, but I agree with the lineup order. As Anthrax takes the stage, the sun is lighting up the faces of the band’s five members. Vocalist Joey Belladonna paces the stage like a caged metal vocalist and leads the band through a set of predominantly older material. Nothing from Volume 8, for example, is played. Opener “Caught in a Mosh” mingles with Spreading the Disease’s “Medusa” and “Only” from Sound of White Noise. It’s a good set. They play their songs verbatim except for a taste of Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” during “Indians.” Considering that Ronnie James Dio had just passed, it makes total sense for Anthrax to pay homage to the late great vocalist during a concert that celebrates heavy metal. Their set ends with “I Am The Law.”

Megadeth comes on next and by this time in the day, there is rain falling. Actually, it’s a downpour at times. The camera catches vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine looking up at the sky, as if to ask, “Really? Are you serious?” Megadeth has gone through countless lineup changes. The stage backdrop is from 1990’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Rust In Peace and only Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson played on that recording. An interesting fact is that in the band's 25 active years, Megadeth has had 20 official members. Current members include Mustaine, guitarist Chris Broderick, bassist Ellefson, and drummer Shawn Drover. The music is tight. Mustaine snarls his vocals and Broderick nails the guitar solos of guitarists that have long since departed. In context, Mustaine and company’s material is technically complex, with a lot of starts and stops. Drover keeps the chaos in order. Again, for this concert, the band kept their set list to predominantly older material except for “Head Crusher,” which is from their End Game release. Ending their set with a reprise of “Holy Wars” was a good choice and gives closure to their set.

Slayer bounds on stage next with vocalist/bassist Tom Araya, guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King, and drummer Dave Lombardo behind his trademark wall of drums. With a smile, they launch their way through a fantastic set, focusing on what the crowd wants to hear. They do not play anything from their punk covers release. They do not even play “Stain Of Mind,” which I have seen them play in concert. They focus, instead, on “South Of Heaven,” “War Ensemble,” and “Mandatory Suicide.” They also played “Angel Of Death.” Of the four bands, Slayer just doesn’t do the crowd interaction act. There’s no “how are you doing tonight?” It’s music. It’s throbbing bass and searing guitar solos. It’s spikes on the arm of Kerry King and Araya shouting his vocals while fingering his bass frantically. Slayer is a powerhouse band. They show no interest in portraying themselves as anything more than heavy metal musicians.

Contrasting that to Metallica is easy. Metallica is the fourth band and by this time in the concert, the crowd is probably fairly inundated by heavy metal. I know I would be. Kicking off with “Creeping Death” and “For Whom the Bells Toll,” Metallica is also firmly giving the crowd what they want. Both of those songs are from 1984’s Ride The Lightening and while drummer Lars Ulrich counts off “Creeping Death” pretty fast, the band sounds tight. They include a couple of tracks from Death Magnetic which I am glad they did instead of doing an entire set of material from their first three releases. “Cyanide” and “All Nightmare Long” mesh with the older material. Vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield is the voice of the band between songs, genuinely happy to be on the stage. This is nothing really different from the concerts I have heard Metallica play, especially beginning with the St. Anger tour cycle and coming out of the Some Kind Of Monster era.

Towards the end of the set, all the band members from Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer’s Dave Lombardo return to the stage for “Am I Evil.” There is a lot of metal musicians on stage. Belladonna, Mustaine, and Hetfield take turns singing and drummers Lombardo, Drover, and Anthrax’s Charlie Benante massacre their snare drums and hit Ulrich’s cymbals. There’s a sincere magic on stage for this song.

When I was done watching these four concerts and the documentary, I felt like I had endured the concert in person. There are a lot of great performances and best of all, I could pause the concert while I got laundry from the dryer or answered the phone. There are always rumors floating around that the Big Four will tour the United States. Realistically, since Metallica is basically at the end of their touring cycle for Death Magnetic and probably a few months off, I don’t see that happening. But if they were able to put together a tour in the United States and it came within 200 miles of me, I would be in the car to see it, mainly based upon watching this DVD.

Rating: A

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