Dave Mustaine calls for new 'Big Four' of thrash metal as Slayer retires. Who are the worthy contenders?
Slayer's retirement marks the end of an era for thrash metal. As a new era emerges to replace the previous one, here's a look at the potential new "Big Four".
Earlier this January, thrash metal legends Slayer announced they would embark on a final world tour, following which they intend to disband and retire.
They announced a string of dates through North America supported by a host of legendary metal acts like Lamb of God, Anthrax, Behemoth and Testament to celebrate their final journey as a band.
The announcement marks an end of an era because Slayer, along with Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax are together widely regarded as 'The Big Four' of thrash. It's a phrase that's in the dictionary of every metalhead around the world and also one that's a great conversation starter in the same circles because of the controversies and ego-clashes centered around it.
Ever since the 80s, the golden era of thrash metal, there has been a constant tussle between the Big Four bands, mostly because of Metallica's overshadowing nature. As recently as last year, Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine expressed how he would love to play a Big Four show where all the bands "got treated fairly" instead of Metallica performing a longer set and getting more stage space than the others.
In an interview on SiriusXM, Mustaine said, "I would love to see it done in a way where we all got treated fairly and we all played together, same amount of time, same kind of stage situation, but I don't think that's gonna happen. And it's cool, because Slayer's gonna down in history, and they don't need the 'Big Four' to make them any more legendary than they already are. Nor do I."
I hope for at least one more Big 4 Show before the end of Slayer’s final tour. It just wouldn’t be right. Anyone else with me? https://t.co/izdosfPyZe— Dave Mustaine (@DaveMustaine) January 23, 2018
Mustaine was briefly a part of Metallica between 1981 and 1983 before being replaced by current guitarist Kirk Hammet. Mustaine went on to challenge Metallica by forming Megadeth and feuded with them for two decades before finally settling scores in 2010, just before the first ever Big Four show. The four bands played together for the first time on June 16, 2010 in front of 81,000 fans at the Sonisphere festival at Bemowo Airport in Warsaw, Poland.
Several Big Four shows have followed since but have been few and far between in recent years. Mustaine is not the only one who has an issue with that. In 2013, Slayer frontman Tom Araya said that the only thing that was standing in the way of further Big Four shows was "the politics of character in one particular band."
With news of Slayer's retirement, Mustaine talked about how he thought one more Big Four show was in order before Slayer hung up their capes. "I think that before they retire, there should be another 'Big Four' show," Mustaine said. "And since the scene primarily started in the [San Francisco] Bay Area, I think it should be done in the Bay Area or here [in Los Angeles]. To me, it's just not right. I think there should be at least one more."
There's no confirmation as to if and when that'll happen, but Slayer has extended their tour through all of 2019, so there's still at least a year's time for it to pan out.
Meanwhile, more recently, Mustaine took to Twitter to suggest that with Slayer's retirement, the time might be here for a new Big Four to emerge. "It may be time to pass the baton to the next generation of four bands that are worthy," Mustaine wrote. In the hashtags, he suggested three names: Testament, Exodus and Overkill and for the fourth, he simply left it with "#whosnext".
This is true. I am hoping it will happen, but it may be time to pass the baton to the next generation of four bands that are worthy. No? 🙈🙊🙉 #bigfour #Megadeth #Slayer #Anthrax #Metallica #newbigfour #testament #exodus #overkill #whosnext https://t.co/aIPHob69k8— Dave Mustaine (@DaveMustaine) December 16, 2018
While the sentiment is appreciable, here's what's wrong with that statement. All three of the guitar god's suggestions - Testament, Exodus and Overkill - belong to the old school of thrash and have been around since the 80s themselves. They have a cult following of their own and are not "new" by any standards. Meanwhile, across the last four decades, as thrash was overpowered by grunge and then the alternative era, several offshoots and micro-genres spun off from the old school of thrash. In countries like Brazil, Canada and UK, a new wave of thrash emerged in the 2000s. As Slayer announces the end of an era, it might be time to usher in the new wave. So here are our top picks for the "new Big Four"
The seeds for Vektor were sown in Tempe, Arizona in 2002 by frontman/guitarist David DiSanto. Initially operating under the moniker Locrian, the band officially morphed into Vektor in 2004, and quickly forged a formidable name for themselves among the Phoenix metal contingent for their unique mix of technical, speed thrash and progressive influences. The band issued their self-released demo, 'Demolition', in 2006, and began touring both regionally and nationally, eventually inking a deal with Heavy Artillery Records. Their debut album for the label, 'Black Future', dropped in 2009, with their sophomore outing, 'Outer Isolation', releasing in 2011. Their third release, 2016's 'Terminal Redux', is also their first concept album, telling the story of a test subject and his rise to power within the all-controlling "Cygnus Regime." The album sees Vektor embrace some unusual audio elements, including the vocal assistance of a group of Philadelphia soul singers. Vektor is a band that is constantly pushing the boundaries of thrash and richly deserve their place in the new Big Four.
A hard-charging neo-thrash unit born out of the thrash revival scene of California in 2004, Warbringer was formed by a bunch of kids in high school. Inspired by first-wave thrash giants like Death Angel, Metallica, and Anthrax, the group recorded a promising demo that eventually led to an EP, 'One by One, the Wicked Fall,' in 2006. The EP was solid enough to capture the attention of Century Media, which quickly signed Warbringer and released their debut album, 'War Without End' in 2008. They've undergone a string of lineup changes, but have managed to keep their music as charged as ever. Warbringer's third LP,' World Torn Asunder. IV: Empires Collapse' arrived in 2013, followed by the punishing 'Woe to the Vanquished', the band's first for Napalm Records, in 2017.
Another killer act inspired by the burgeoning American thrash metal revival of the mid ‘2000s, Denver, Colorado's Havok assembled in 2004, and proceeded to ply their backward-looking trade via a series of self-financed releases: a 2005 demo, a 2006 single, and a 2007 EP, curiously named 'Pwn 'em All'. These efforts duly got them signed onto Candlelight Records, which released Havok's debut album, 'Burn', in 2009 and then sent them off to tour with bands like Exodus, Anthrax, Destruction, Primal Fear, and Hammerfall. All of this roadwork only tightened up the band's impressive chops, and prepared members David Sanchez (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Reece Scruggs (lead guitar), Jessie de los Santos (bass, backing vocals), and Pete Webber (drums), for the recording of their sophomore album, 'Time Is Up', which was released in early 2011 to rave reviews. Michael Leon replaced de los Santos on bass for 2013's 'Unnatural Selection', which earned positive reviews and performed fairly well on the charts too. Leon left the band in 2016, to be replaced by Nick Schendzielos of Cephalic Carnage. Havok's fourth album, 'Conformicide', was released in March of 2017.
The only contender on our list that's not from North America are British rockers Evile, who are one of the few bands attempting to revitalize the art of thrash metal without straying too far from its original early-'80s template. Formed in 2004, the quartet is comprised of siblings Matt (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Ol Drake (lead guitar), Mike Alexander (bass), and Ben Carter (drums), and recorded a self-produced EP entitled 'All Hallows Eve' that same year. Several demos followed, and after being voted the UK's best unsigned act by Terrorizer magazine, Evile were quickly snapped up by Earache Records, releasing their debut LP, 'Enter the Grave', in the fall of 2007. They followed this by supporting Megadeth on the European leg of their tour in 2008. The band went from strength to strength during this year, with their track 'Thrasher' being included on the video game 'Rock Band'. They were also about to support Satyricon on their European tour until guitarist Ol Drake collapsed and fractured his jaw.
Evile released their second album 'Infected Nations' in September 2009 but tragedy struck when bassist Mike Alexander passed away. After two memorial nights for Alexander in Leeds and London, they auditioned for replacements towards the end of the year and it was announced that former Rise to Addiction member Joel Graham was the band's new bassist. In 2011, their third album 'Five Serpent's Teeth' was released and was the first without Alexander. Receiving critical acclaim, the band announced a European tour. Evile's most recent release, 2013's 'Skull' saw the band depart furthest from their original sound as they incorporated darker elements of death metal.