Metal music has had many legendary bands who have defined the genre and influenced countless other musicians. However, there are four in particular known as the Big 4 that are well-known both in and out of the metal scene. So, who are the big four of metal?
The Big 4 in metal are Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth. Let’s go over each of these so you know who they are and why they are so crucial to metal music, especially the subgenre of thrash metal.
Metallica was formed in 1981, and their first album, Kill ‘Em All, was released in 1983. Since then, they have released ten studio albums, with an 11th coming in April 2023, 40 years after their debut!
Their music has been praised for its fast, aggressive, crunchy riffs and intricate, sophisticated guitar solos. In other words, not only did they create frenetic headbangers, but they also displayed musical craftsmanship beyond that commonly found in metal at the time.
Their first four albums, Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice For All, could easily be described as thrash metal. In 1991, however, they broke into the mainstream with their self-titled, or Black album. The album is still metal but has a cleaner, more polished sound than their previous releases and a somewhat “lighter” tone.
- Highest Selling Album: Metallica, AKA “The Black Album” (1991).
- Must Listen Album: Master of Puppets (1984).
- Must Listen Tracks: Master of Puppets, One, Enter Sandman
Like Metallica, Slayer was also formed in 1981, and their debut album, Show No Mercy, came out a few months after Metallica’s debut in 1983. They released 12 studio albums and broke up following their final tour in 2019.
Slayer rose to prominence with high-speed riffs and lead guitar frenzies, tackling lyrical themes that many considered politically incorrect or inappropriate. They have been known to induce fear in new listeners with their dark, menacing sound. Additionally, their drummer is known for being a leader in double bass drumming.
Slayer’s logo has become a mainstream pop culture symbol, and the font used for their band name is often reproduced and is meant as a symbol of danger and “badassness.”
- Highest Selling Album: South of Heaven (1988).
- Must Listen Album: Reign in Blood(1986).
- Must Listen Tracks: Angel of Death, Reigning Blood, Seasons in The Abyss
Anthrax, like Slayer and Metallica, was formed in 1981 and released their first album, Fistful of Metal, in 1984. Their sound might be one of the Big Four that has varied the most over the years due to the number of lineup changes they had, including vocalists and lead guitarists. They have released 11 studio albums in total, with their most recent release in 2016.
The band provided true thrash metal, although they deviated from this for a few albums, one of which is 1993’s Sound of White Noise. The album was a response to the grunge movement that was so popular in the 1990s.
They are known for high tempo, heavy riffs, and similarly fast lead guitar sections.
- Highest Selling Album: State of Euphoria (1988).
- Must Listen Album: Among The Living (1987).
- Must Listen Tracks: I Am The Law, Armed and Dangerous, Caught In A Mosh
Megadeth was formed in 1983, and their first album, Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! came out in 1985. Since then, they have released 16 studio albums, with their most recent record released in 2022.
The frontman, Dave Mustaine, was originally the lead guitarist of Metallica but was fired due to drug abuse. After this, he formed his band, and thus Megadeth was born. Not to be outdone by his former bandmates, Megadeth led with heavy thrash and shows of musicianship that even delved into unique territory (like a cover of Nancy Sinatra). Fans could expect to hear furious guitar riffs and lead sections just as they could with the other members of the Big 4.
Like Anthrax, Megadeth has endured many lineup changes. The only original member is the frontman, Mustaine himself. Despite this, Megadeth has produced a lengthy metal discography, with most of their albums being held in high acclaim.
- Highest Selling Album: Countdown to Extinction (1992).
- Must Listen Album: Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? (1986).
- Must Listen Tracks: Holy Wars…The Punishment is Due, Symphony of Destruction, Hangar 18