Remember the 1980’s? I don’t, but that’s because I didn’t even exist then and not because I was there on cocaine the entire time. Nobody actually remembers the 1980’s and anyone who said they did is a liar. Back then, there was this genre of music called thrash metal, and it was producing some of the all time great records in heavy metal history. That was a real long time ago.
In June 2010, a historic moment happened when the “Big Four” thrash metal bands finally performed live together at the Sonisphere festival in Europe. Now for the uneducated out there, and we know there’s so many of you out there lacking in the knowledge department for a fact right about now, the “Big Four” refers to a certain group of thrash metal bands to gain widespread prominence in the 1980’s. It consists of the most majorly successful groups in the genre and inspires a lot of debate among the thrash metal-ly inclined. Metallica might as well be the “Big One” in terms of commercial success, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax, and for those of you out there who insist on keeping the debate alive, can’t forget to mention Overkill, Testament and Exodus whom I all believe to be better than Anthrax. But that’s not what the article’s about, it’s about the actual Big Four: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax.
Yes, the 2010’s seemingly kicked off as being the high water mark for all these bands in years. Joey Belladonna was back in Anthrax, Slayer was retaining Dave Lombardo, Dave Ellefson had just returned to Megadeth after 5 years away and it had been a long time since we heard something stupid and self important from Lars Ulrich’s direction. The “Big Four” stadium tour raked in endless millions and recent albums like Death Magnetic, Endgame and World Painted Blood had been praised by (some…) fans and sold well. But these bands suddenly faced an uncertain future at the end of the “Big Four” tour and went back into their usual slumps of over 5 year gaps between albums and sporadic touring. All of these bands were about to face some real career threatening moves aside from Anthrax, who would go on to re-establish the brand and went on to have their most successfully received album since the early 90’s in Worship Music. All they did was lose a guitarist to that dumb band Volbeat and gained a guitarist from the better band Shadows Fall.
In an unprecedented move, Metallica threw out the first signs of trouble by collaborating with the dying old curmudgeon Lou Reed. LULU was a monumental joke, going down as an album impossibly received worse than St. Anger. Megadeth managed the impossible when their thoroughly mediocre thirteenth album TH1RT3EN sold over 4 times the amount that LULU did in its first week of availability, but followed that boring disc up with the outright offensively awful Risk Part 2 album Supercollider. This album was by far the absolute worst Megadeth album in their career and looked to cement the right wing lunatic fringe of Dave Mustaine as a laughing stock once and for all. On a far more tragic note was Slayer’s loss of Jeff Hanneman when he died on May 2, 2013. You see, Jeff Hanneman actually wrote or helped to write most, if not all of Slayer’s best songs. Kerry King’s gradual overtaking of the songwriting happened after Jeff wrote most of Diabolous En Musica, Slayer’s worst album from 1998. Then Dave Lombardo made a departure, further threatening Slayer’s viability out there. Things were at a dismal low for fans like us, this could have really been the end for some of metal’s most legendary and long running Rushmore figureheads.
Things were in a dire, dire state for three of the big four, while fucking Anthrax of them all was keeping hope alive. Now’s when I can pipe in real quick and say Testament, Exodus and Overkill are still no slouches in the 2010’s either and have also kept things looking very strong for themselves. Exodus would also end up combining themselves with the remaining Kerry King and Tom Araya to form Slexodus, or Slexoder, or Slayer 2.0, or as they consider themselves, Slayer: Gary Holt and returning former drummer Paul Bostaph helped keep this band alive and credible. In 2014, Slayer would release the first song of the heralding of these four horsemen of bands to stage their big comeback period. Now late into old age, all of them cresting into their 30th years as active and recording bands, the stage was set for their final establishments as pinnacles of the genre of heavy metal.
The main point of this article is to cover a sort of floating timeline which begins in May of 2014 when Slayer released “Implode”, the first single from the long-coming-after Repentless album. This timeline extends on through the releases of Repentless, Dystopia, For All Kings, and finally ending with Hardwired to Self-Destruct. In a very short span of time, especially considering all of these band’s penchants for waiting half decades between albums (except for Dave Mustiane, your mileage definitely varies), the Big Four have all released albums within nearly a year. And so now we go back. And we rate. Rate, rate, rate, we rate like Bill Cosby in an all female catatonic patient ward… wait I think we got the word wrong there for a second. It’s rate. And we will rate on a scale of zero to the favorite number of these sorts of bands, 666. “Implode” is honestly not good in my opinion. This song did not fill me with any sort of hope for the new Slayer, as it would end up being one of the most forgettable on the album when it came out, and the cheesy self-referentialness of the lyric “I’m pretty sure that God still Hates Us All” could only be topped by the date of release of Slayer’s Repentless when it was announced in Feburary of 2015. See, Slayer released God Hates Us All on September 11, 2001, and the jokes write themselves from there. Repentless was going to make sure you kept it unrepentant on September 11, 2015, and made sure to deliver on their original 9/11 joke with a second lap of delicious troll bait.
Repentless is the first Slayer album to feature Gary Holt and the seventh to feature Paul Bostaph, which in writing this I couldn’t believe Bostaph was on that many already. Repentless is easily summed up in one statement: If you like Slayer you’ll like Repentless. Repentless doesn’t bring anything new to the table other than slight Gary Holt contributions via guitar solos and the song “You Against You”. Kerry King still sounds more like he’s strangling his guitar than playing it, Tom Araya looks like an evil Santa now and sounds quite hoarse, Paul Bostaph is serviceable and holds it down. Jeff Hanneman’s final writing contributions appear on the song “Piano Wire” and it’s quite good. “Repentless” the song is a nice thrasher and the video for it is great. I need to mention that the whole overarching storyline music video trilogy of “Repentless”, “You Against You” and “Pride in Prejudice” is actually pretty cool and I can get down with the stupidly violent, over the top insanity going on in them. It tells a coherent story while maintaining the needlessly gory and death filled atmosphere Slayer requires, so it’s ahead of The Walking Dead still in that sense. Those songs are pretty good, “Cast the First Stone” is another song I also enjoyed. It’s just that this album feels like Slayer going 100% through the motions and releasing something out there to keep the name alive and justify another 3-4 years of sporadic touring. and slots in very comfortably toward the bottom end of the Slayer discography.
So while Repentless was a triumph in the sense that it ended up being Slayer’s most commercially successful effort upon release (it went #1 in some countries and even sold 50,000 in America first week to get a #4 chart hit), and it enabled Slayer to get back out there and give the fans what they wanted live, it was just an okay album at best. I can’t really make fun of it or say it sucks, but I can’t praise it endlessly as a crucial installment in the catalog either.
Repentless gets a 400/666
Shortly following the release of Repentless, both Megadeth and Anthrax would begin promoting the releases of their upcoming new albums Dystopia (Jan. 22, 2016) and For All Kings (Feb. 23, 2016). We got two more advance singles in the span of a month in October 2015: Megadeth’s “Fatal Illusion” on October 1st and “Evil Twin” from Anthrax followed after.
Megadeth and Anthrax also made some wise investments when replacing departing guitarists in Kiko Louriero and Jonathan Donais, and Megadeth hiring the talents of Lamb of God’s Chris Adler on drums for Dystopia was also a very sound strategy. While “Evil Twin” was a continuation of the sort of thing they were doing with the Worship Music album, “Fatal Illusion” and subsequent single “Dystopia” were exactly the sort of reassurance Megadeth fans like myself needed after such a fucking awful joke album like Supercollider. Megadeth was making actual thrash metal that sounded like it gave a fucking shit again, and I guess it’s very much unsurprising that Dave Mustaine co-opted Trump with Megadeth’s “Making Metal Great Again” slogan for merch for the tour. Dystopia really is yet another chapter in a long line of thrash metal throwback albums Dave Mustaine releases after fucking up with a flop and a half the time before, a damage controller like The System Has Failed and Endgame before it, but it’s still very solid stuff and a bit more favorable against many, many Megadeth albums than Repentless against the Slayer back catalogue. This is probably their best since The System Has Failed or Endgame, and these three stand up much better than shit like TH1RT3EN and United Abominations does against the thrash classic Megadeth albums, let alone albums totally unworthy of discussion like Cryptic Writings or Supercollider. But that’s what happens when you’ve released the most albums out of any of the Big Four bands. On a just not crazy enough to be written off as impossible as of late note, why could’t Mustaine have been Trump’s Vice Presidential selection? They’re both orange haired egotistical douchebags that love blowing shit out of their mouths and asses at the same time, and have the same amount of actual political experience no matter how much they talk.
You know, even though this album’s lyrical content could amount to a bunch of tin foil conspiracies and right wing nutjob rants typical of Mustaine, it still sounds better with this sort of context than the refrigerator magnet lyrics and radio rock sounds of albums like Supercollider. Fans agreed, and Dystopia became the most successful album of Megadeth’s upon release since Countdown to Extinction in the charts in the US, getting to #3 and also hitting #1 in other countries . Man, there’s some weird research coming up in the popularity of this stuff while writing this.
Dystopia gets a 475/666
As I’ve said before, I haven’t exactly been a fan of Anthrax aside from their very old material from the 1980’s. I never listened to much of anything with John Bush other than Sound of White Noise and I don’t even like most of that, but the Joey Belladona era is the Anthrax that I do enjoy. “Madhouse” and “Caught in a Mosh” are probably my favorite Anthrax songs, and I fucking love the “Bring the Noize” with Public Enemy collaboration song too, but I don’t listen to them at all compared to the other bands in the Big Four of thrash. I have heard Worship Music though, and there’s reason it was the only Anthrax album after Persistence of Time that I liked listening to. They’ve been on a rebound in status since going back to Joey on vocals and reminding people like me why they were considered a Big Four band.
Well, Anthrax were certainly using the Slayer approach with that video. So a month after Dystopia, Anthrax put out For All Kings marking the third time in a six month period that a Big Four thrash metal band released a new album. And once again, the fans ate it up and sent Anthrax into the top 10 of the charts for the first time since Sound of White Noise and also hit #1 in other countries, the research in popularity I did seems to say these bands remain popular. It’s a triumph for these old geezers, that’s for sure. I remember particularly enjoying “Blood Eagle Wings” and “Breathing Lightning” from For All Kings, and some of the songs like “You Gotta Believe” and “All Of Them Thieves” really got it going in the classic Anthrax, more upbeat and distinctly east coast thrash metal vibe. I’m still just not as dedicated a fan of Anthrax as I am of the other three of the Big Four, but hey that’s my problem.
For All Kings gets a 425/666
So while the rest of the world waited, and waited, and waited for years for a new Metallica album that was actually a metal album, they released a whole lot of crap even in the years since that world record setting piece of monumental feces LULU. Most of it was given a loud, resounding “meh…” and lost Lars a bunch of money. There was “Through the Never”, a concert movie with a horrible overarching plot that makes the Slayer music video trilogy look like award winning cinematography. There was the mediocre, overly long and repetitive song “Lords of Summer”, there were plenty of tours and even an all-request setlist tour on which someone trolled Metallica back into playing “St. Anger” and goaded them into finally playing “The Frayed Ends of Sanity” from …And Justice For All too. They also had a music festival with a bunch of horrible non-metal false bands that sucked the fattest part of my taint. When Metallica was denied the halftime show of Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco to British pussies Coldplay, they played a live streamed concert that I caught online at the stadium the night before, but that was all I thought would happen out of them this year, especially with Kirk’s phone getting lost. I may have even figured LULU permanently silenced Metallica from new album releases. But then in August of 2016, one day we woke up to the most surprising news of this Big Four resurgence saga yet: Metallica was back, with a 3 minute long single that was actual thrash metal, and that there would be a new album finally released in November.
Well it’s nice to hear that Metallica sounds like, uh, Metallica again I guess? At least he isn’t a table anymore.
In the next edition of this series, the race for rock bottom is decided between two dubious contenders. Confused as to what I’m talking about? Look no further than the Metallica discography and nominate your choices for two worst Metallica albums of all time, it won’t be a hard pick, I promise.