Live From Sofia, Bulgaria
(Universal Music)

On June 22, 2010 "the big 4" (ANTHRAX, MEGADETH, SLAYER and METALLICA) finally managed to get together on the same bill, for the very first time in their career, at the Sonisphere Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria. Even though I’m not really the biggest fan of all of them anymore these days, I still gotta confess that I really enjoyed watching this DVD release quite a lot, nevertheless. What you get here is the entire sets of all four bands split on two DVDs. DVD 1 features about one hour each of ANTHRAX, MEGADETH and SLAYER, while DVD 2 has the complete 2 hour set of METALLICA plus a documentary of the festival event on offer. But let’s get a little bit more into detail… It must have been ages already since I listened to ANTHRAX for the last time and the "newest" record that I own by them is "Among The Living", which already dates back to 1987, so I wasn’t really sure whether I would still enjoy them these days or not. What really surprised me though was that their setlist (with the exception of ‘Only’) exclusively consisted of material of the Joey Belladonna era (plus ‘Metal Thrashing Mad’ from the "Fistful Of Metal" debut full length)… but the fact that Joey was fronting the band again at this event probably explains this pretty easily. So, my worries that I wouldn’t know any of the songs luckily were totally gratuitous. And the crowd obviously appreciated this particular old school setlist as well as ANTHRAX, who had to went on stage as the first band, already managed to get some incredibly good responses from the masses. And hearing songs like ‘Madhouse’, ‘Indians’, ‘Medusa’ or ‘I Am The Law’ again brought back a lot of good memories to me. The band as a whole seemed extremely motivated and Joey Belladonna did an ok job vocalwise, even though you could notice that he had little difficulties here and there to hit the higher notes properly. But his enthusiastic performance easily made up for it, so thumbs up for ANTHRAX. Next was MEGADETH who unfortunately had to play the first part of their set in pouring rain (some amusing details about this you’ll find out in the documentary part), but the crowd didn’t really seem to care too much as the response was pretty good as well right from the start. If you’re not only into the very old MEGADETH records, you could easily say that the setlist they had chosen for this event was pretty amazing: ‘Holy Wars’, ‘Head Crusher’, ‘Wake Up Dead’, ‘Hook In Mouth’, ‘Symphony Of Destruction’ or ‘Peace Sells’ should already speak for themselves here… So, musically there was nothing to complain about, since the entire material was also executed in a very solid way. My problem with MEGADETH still is the fact that even after so many years and live shows Dave Mustaine lacks in the ability to communicate with the audience, so that the whole show once more came across like a band that played their songs perfectly for themselves instead of trying to let the audience participate in it. SLAYER’s Tom Araya isn’t really talking much anymore these days either, but his very sympathic presence and the overall energy that a SLAYER show always sets free easily makes up for that. Needless to say that this was also the case at this particular event again. What I pretty much disliked about SLAYER was their setlist, which for my taste included way too many newer songs (‘World Painted Blood’, ‘Jihad’, ‘Hate Worldwide’, ‘Beauty Through Order’ and ‘Disciple’). For a festival a simple "best of" set would have been the way better solution in my opinion. Well, at least they went for something like that in the last third of their show when they played four of their alltime classics: ‘Mandatory Suicide’, ‘Chemical Warfare’, ‘South Of Heaven’ and ‘Raining Blood’! You can accuse METALLICA of a lot of things, but never that they play a bad show. And this particular event here was another proof why METALLICA is so much bigger than all the other three bands on the bill. They’ve got a shitload of classics in their set (‘Creeping Death’, ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’, ‘Master Of Puppets’, ‘Blackened’, ‘Hit The Lights'(!!), ‘Seek And Destroy’), easily mix them with some of their more mainstream oriented tunes (‘Nothing Else Matters’, ‘Enter Sandman’) and even incorporate some brandnew material (‘That Was Just Your Life’, ‘Cyanide’, ‘All Nightmare Long’). The "Death Magnetic" songs may be more Metal again, but to me they still sound totally uninspired, too long and go nowhere. As a logical result they fail to get over the crowd in the same way as their older stuff. But on the other hand, the biggest advantage of METALLICA is without a doubt James Hetfield! It’s amazing how much this man’s self-confidence has grown over the years and how he’s turned into a real frontman ever since, who easily knows how to let the audience participate in METALLICA’s set whenever it’s necessary and the show benefits from it! Almost unbelievable that in the early days he didn’t wanna be the singer of METALLICA anymore and that they were seriously looking for a different frontman for a short period of time. Luckily that never turned into reality! Needless to say that the crowd’s loud backup singing on many of the band’s classics easily managed to sent shivers down my spine. For the DIAMOND HEAD classic ‘Am I Evil’ several members of ANTHRAX, MEGADETH and SLAYER got on stage with METALLICA as well to perform that song together. Awesome! I haven’t been to a METALLICA show for many many years now, but this one definitely made me consider going again sometime in the near future! As already mentioned in the beginning of my review, this 2 DVD set gets completed by a highly interesting, approximately 55 minutes long documentary of the festival. You get to see how the bands arrive, how they check out the festival area, you can witness them backstage, talking to each other, rehearsing and stuff like that. You almost get the feel that you’ve been part of the whole event yourself, so it was obviously very well done! To sum it up: if you still listen to any (or all) of the four bands these days, you should make sure to get yourself a copy of this release as it’s not only a historical piece of music, but also a very entertaining one. There’s also a deluxe boxset of it available, so keep your eyes open for that as well before you order yourself a copy.

Frank Stöver

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