Yesterday, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax announced plans to invade the massive Empire Polo Field in Indio, California, for a one-day festival by the "Big 4" originators of thrash metal on April 23rd. The concert, which follows a historic seven-date tour of Europe last year, will be the first joint U.S. appearance by these four horsemen of thrash.
It seems the feuds of the past are a distant memory. "Most of the egos and sandbox issues from the Eighties and Nineties have dissipated," Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich tells Rolling Stone. "We actually enjoy each others' company and are comfortable celebrating the past while continuing our path into the future. It's cool. Who would have known that anybody actually still gives a shit? We're very fortunate."
When Ulrich saw Rage Against the Machine erupt at the desert venue during the Coachella Festival in 2007, it left a powerful impression. "It was a fantastic vibe out there," he recalls. "Coachella seemed like the right place to do it. If this thing works, hopefully we can do an additional show somewhere else." (This summer, the Big 4 also return to Europe for two festivals: Knebworth in England, and Sonisphere in Amneville, France.)
"I'm chomping at the bit to do a full-blown tour at stadiums across the country," said Slayer guitarist Kerry King. Indeed, during last year's stadium tour through Europe, demand from around the world was so great that the penultimate concert in Bulgaria was broadcast into hundreds of movie theaters via satellite, and then issued on DVD. The fall release of The Big 4 Live from Sofia, Bulgaria, is already certified double platinum. At that concert, members of all four acts jammed onstage together through a thundering, euphoric cover of Diamond Head's "Am I Evil."
"A lot of this music has aged really well," Ulrich says. "There are a lot of 12-year-olds that show up at these rock shows. It's scary to see a whole slew of 12-year-olds up against the barricade down in the front. It's a great thing to be part of their rite of passage."
Even though each of the Big 4 toured across the U.S. last year, demand for tickets is expected to be high. "All of them together, that puts a whole different slant on it," says Paul Tollett, the co-founder of Coachella, whose Goldenvoice Productions is hosting the thrash fest. "Those records just hold up so well. They may be playing better live nowadays than they ever have."
Tickets are priced at $99. No camping will be allowed in the venue's heavy-metal parking lot, but parking is free and shuttle buses will ferry headbangers in from across SoCal.
Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief at the concert trade magazine Pollstar, called the show "a heavy-metal Coachella" likely to attract multiple generations of fans. "They don't have to do Coachella-size numbers to make this work," says Bongiovanni. Metallica was the fifth-highest grossing touring band worldwide in 2010, earning $110.1 million in just 60 dates. "Metallica is the clear headliner in this package. And pricing it at $99 makes it attractive if you're a metal fan."
But Metallica are not committing to any future festivals — yet.
"I'm not saying this is the last one," says Ulrich. "But I don't want this to turn into something that overtakes everybody's schedules for the next couple years. If we keep it special, it's better than to overstay your welcome and people run screaming away. Let's see what happens."