ARTICLE BY JAMIE SKOWRON
PHOTO BY VERONICA MUNOZ
APRIL 24 | INDIO, Calif.—One week after Coachella, just as our freshly beaten brain cells have started to gain some stability, the music and art utopia that Coachella Valley fostered yet again attracts more than 50,000 people. Heschers and meatheads from as far as Mexico and Canada gathered on Saturday, April 24, at the Empire Polo Fields in Indio, Calif., to witness homage to the monsters of thrash, with monumental performances by Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, and Metallica. This particular 14- date world tour (with only one North American appearance in this leg) has a long and streamlined backdrop of a historically uneasy past between Megadeth and Metallica. This cohesion is a somewhat new feeling to historically aware metalheads, as the history between Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) and Metallica must be addressed to gain a complete understanding of the magnanimous stature of this musical union.
Mustaine joined Metallica in 1981 and quickly began to develop and contribute to the Metallica sound as a guitar player and songwriter. He ended up contributing more rock clichés than the band wanted as he was subsequently kicked out in 1983 for excessive drug and alcohol abuse, which frequently led to physical altercations within the band. After the split occurred, Mustaine formed Megadeth with some newfound past-driven ferocity and continues to hold reign as a major component and influence on the thrash metal scene today. Metallica then enlisted Kirk Hammett to pick up where Mustaine was booted. At the time, he was the founder and lead guitarist of Exodus and was taking guitar lessons with now virtuoso Joe Satriani.
As Metallica and Megadeth grew farther apart, they made many mutual friends with fellow bands in the scene through decades of road travel, including Anthrax and Slayer. Kerry King of Slayer even filled in on rhythm/lead guitar duties for Megadeth in the early ’80s, but couldn’t pursue it because of the expanding success of his other band, Slayer. Now it’s 30 years later, old friends are reuniting and past tensions are being alleviated through live THRASH METAL performances, which are the most underrated medium in the cultivation of stress relief and positive psychological awareness.
This evening magnetized the most devoted devotees and began with a long overdue and reminiscent performance from Anthrax. Although they are most widely known for their collaboration with Public Enemy on “Bring the Noise”, Scott Ian (guitar) and crew infested the diminishing day light with some essential titles such as “Caught in a Mosh,” “Madhouse,” and “Got the Time.” As the moon followed the sun, Megadeth took the stage to validate their thrash mastery, as Mustaine’s guitar wailed with a deep psychokinetic bond that developed between audience and band. The guitar work in Megadeth is notably more developed than that of Slayer and Anthrax, as both Mustaine and Chris Broderick (guitar) create musical sentences with structure and phrasing that do not sound like run-on sentences. This performance bloomed, with a nocturnal transformation of the evening like a superhero into a multi-decade thrash-monster that elevated the event into the musically godlike stature that attracted us all.
Next up was Slayer, during which the tempo was significantly hastened and darkened our descent into the seventh layers of metal, where upside-down crosses, demons, and slogans such as “God Hates Us All” blanket the hearts and minds of fans. Slayer’s pure dominance came in spite of the recent debilitating spider bite that “sidelined” Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman. Without hesitation, Slayer tore another hole into the Earth with Gary Holt (Exodus) filling in for Jeff Hanneman. Despite the grey hair, Slayer performed with the same adolescent angst they had in the early ’80s, with some spectacular performances of “Reign in Blood,” “Postmortem,” and “Angel of Death.” Slayer’s in-your-face attitude had an absolute influence on the intensity displayed by Metallica’s performance.
Unlike Slayer, Metallica’s extensive fame has rounded their edges and their roots have become somewhat lost in the annals of mass media. In most eyes throughout the thrash and metal community, Metallica has lost their identity and proved a collective persona to ensure that everyone (or what they believe to be everyone) is accepting of their musical nook. What they don’t realize or possibly choose to ignore is that the die-hard fans have, for the most part of 18 years, been trying to ignore the presence of new albums, movies, Napster controversies, and tours with acoustic barstool spotlights on James Hetfield. Now with Slayer opening for them, the standard of heavy has been raised to a level of intensity that Metallica hasn’t seen in many years, maybe even decades. Metallica delved deep into the vintage chasm to foster an amazing set full of thrash with songs such as “The Four Horsemen” (originally Mustaine’s composition called “The Mechanix” performed by Megadeth), “Orion,” “Creeping Death,” “Ecstasy of Gold,” “Ride the Lightning,” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” The strategic placement of Slayer’s monstrous performance cultured some long-awaited ferocity and connection between Metallica and thrash fans. As all fans alike wish and wonder for a reprise of this spectacle, we must be reminded that events containing spotlights of this musical ilk are diminishing even though the metal scene has been flourishing and seen its highest popularity ever.
The U.S. is full of music and art festivals of this magnitude and size, yet the musical continuum remains in the more sedated categories of alternative, country/blues, modern rock/indie, and electronic. Europe is much more accustomed to seeing a gathering of metalheads in the range of 50,000 people and more with such festivities as Monster of Rock, Wacken Open Air, and Dynamo festivals. License plates from as far continentally east as Maryland and tattoos displaying the fans pure devotion to the “BIG 4” were proudly displayed as staples of their loyalty to the thrash metal community. It is extremely apparent with this event that if the performers bring their hearts to the stage, the fans will follow in stride with a mass of energy that turns a generic event into an unforgettable performance.