“Who’s the lady? Excuse me, woman?”
“How do I take a picture with Twitter?”
“Can you believe these seats? I’m spoiled from now on!”
“Shit, we gotta be tweeting, otherwise we’re not really here!”
I’m sitting front row in the press box at Yankee Stadium, watching a sea of black t-shirts fill the outfield. At 2:20pm, the gates have only just opened, and already a thin line of fans forms against the fences, eager to claim their posts for the next eight hours.
“Five bucks for a meal and unlimited drinks? This is a real job!”
I introduce myself to the other more seasoned journalists of heavy rock who have identified me as the only new face. A loudmouthed, wily man called Kenny gives me a hard handshake and a wide smile, “You’re in the big leagues now, kid!”
What I’m offering you is the visceral experience of my first metal show… which just happens to be the biggest metal show to ever happen to eastern coast of the United States: The Big Four at Yankee Stadium.
Truthfully, I know fuck all about metal. When I was a punk ass teenage girl, I listened to heavy music to fuel the hate and aggression I had for authority. I listened to Disturbed, Sevendust, Slipknot, Black Sabbath, Drowning Pool, Metallica, Rancid, Nirvana, NOFX, Green Day, etc. to allow me to wear the pain I had on my sleeve. Heavy music fit me then. But when I mellowed out (i.e. started smoking weed), I turned on to the Doors, Hendrix, Clapton and the Beatles. Magazines led me on to the good-looking young guns The Strokes, Kings of Leon, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s… and I quit the harder stuff.
What in the hell made me think, in 2011, ten years after my affair with heavy metal, I could write about the Big Four – Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica? I decided to sport my vintage Monster Metal Monday tee from 1984 (I wasn’t even born yet), and somewhere along the L train I realized what a huge poser I was. I arrived at Yankee Stadium by 1:30pm, and already tens of thousands of fans waited by the front gates. The allegiance of metal-heads had descended upon the Bronx.
With only one uniform requirement – the black band tee – I blended into the crowd a mignon of their same god. I sauntered up to the press entrance, and had anybody noticed, would have stood impressively as the youngest and single female journalist of the group. No one gave a shit. Still painfully self-aware, I hadn’t yet learned that a gathering of metal-heads functions as a single body, one that is fueled by fire and pumps pure adrenaline instead of blood. By merely standing next to them, I had become one of them.
At 3:55pm sharp, the massive stadium monitors played a welcome message from Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., who officially designated September 14, 2011 as Anthrax Day in honor of the native-born band. The group reciprocated the love they were shown by donning Yankee’s jersey during the opening of their set, and lead vocalist Joey Belladonna sported a NYPD baseball cap. They played the pre-Big Four party at the Best Buy Theater two days earlier, and held a press conference in between sets during the stadium show.
I didn’t make the press conference. I was still picking up the pieces of my brain from the floor and had long forgotten that I was there as a journalist.
Talk amongst the press box is mixed about Anthrax. Maybe I’m not supposed to say this, but some people don’t think they belong in the Big Four. Fuck those people. Seeing Scott Ian for the first time in person was an absolute honor. Having known him first for his band S.O.D. (Stormtroopers of Death), it was seeing him stomp like an uncaged animal in the presence of his fellow masters of thrash that nailed into me the weight of what I had signed up for. The affect they had on the crowd absolutely terrified me. Even at the beginning of a long, hot day, fans on the stadium grounds broke into fist flying mosh pits at the release of Anthrax’s opener “Fight ‘Em”.
Belladonna’s extreme falsetto transported me like a time machine back into the early ‘80s. A voice like that is more likely to be characterized as a relic of the genre than found again in metal, but damn, can that man blow apart a note. As a showman, Belladonna has a ton of heart, and amped the eager crowd, declaring, “It’s a beautiful fucking day for metal!” Only ten minutes into their set, I thought the whole place would turn into a riot when they ripped into “Caught in a Mosh”.
I dedicate my first upturned snarl of the day to Anthrax’s nasty guitarist Rob Carrigio, a younger member of band and one sick soloist. And as the inducting band of my Big Four experience, I dedicate my metal virginity to Anthrax: an epic, bloody lover.
A low-lying beast began to rear its ugly head when the banner for Megadeth was revealed. Fans of Megadeth are a strong regiment in the heavy metal army. They hold the band close to their hearts as the greatest metal group of all time, fiercely in competition with headliners Metallica. Music enthusiasts of all genres know that band founder, vocalist and lead guitarist Dave Mustaine was briefly a member of Metallica, only to form Megadeth after being kicked out of the band. Technically, some argue, Megadeth are the stronger musicians. Without argument from a fucking soul, to see Dave Mustaine live is to be christened by one of the gods of metal.
A day after having surgery on his neck, Mustaine was front and center, facing a mounting crowd of over 40,000 metal-heads. One hundred percent of the band’s focus was on their playing, with little stage theatrics, due to the surgery, or maybe not. The band and the fans buckled in for some serious head banging, fist pumping and body beating. The set list was an apparent success as each song launched the crowd into a new found frenzy. Fat men ripped off their shirts. Brotherhoods formed between stadium rows. One fan shot out running from the stadium seats through the Yankee’s baseball diamond igniting cheers from the crowd as the stadium guards and policemen ran amusingly after him (he was, unfortunately, apprehended).
Under the spell of Megadeth, the gathered masses became a single, surging entity chanting harder, moving faster and grumbling deeper than before. As the set went on, I felt Megadeth reaching further into me, trying to find my beast within.
Holy fucking shit.
With dusk falling upon us, Slayer heralded in the night with an assaulting performance that left the crowd almost frozen from shock. The most theatrical band in the Big Four, Tom Araya was like Pan with his flute, leading us all to a fiery end, punching every lyric with a maniacal face and corroding our ears with his thunderous bass line.
Guitarist Kerry King is a monster on the stage with his big, tattooed bald head and colossal arms, ferociously sweating as he shredded so hard on that flame decal guitar, it’s a wonder the thing didn’t dissolve into dust. But I blame the godfather of the double bass drum, Dave Lombardo, for almost giving me a heart attack with his stomach churning, rib-breaking speed. Listening to Slayer is no easy thing. It sure as hell isn’t a ‘pleasant’ experience – it’s physical, mental and emotional chaos. Girls bent over the railings, beer in hand, threatening to puke their guts onto the heads below. Cigarettes and beer bottles were thrown from balcony to balcony. Whirling heads up in the nosebleeds looked like they were about to twist off their own necks.
As the evening faded into night, all eyes zeroed in on the red lights like moths to a flame. By the time they were through with us, I was gasping for air, wondering what black abyss I’d just been shown. Slayer was the ultimate test of my survival as I dove further and deeper down into this heavy metal underworld.
“God delivered me to a metal show, and then He delivered me to Metallica…”
Have you ever watched a crowd of 41,451 people pump their fists in unison while yelling, “Die, die, die!?!” I have on the grounds of Yankee Stadium beneath a gold moon and black clouds, the four train inaudibly speeding by while James Hettfield’s pot-marked, angered face fills the towering TV screens urging his soldiers to chant on louder and louder.
The cushy press box started to feel like steel confines, and it must have been dumbstruck paralysis that kept me from running across the baseball diamond like that drunk guy during Megadeth. I unofficially retired my post as the ‘working media’ and gave in to the willful force of heavy metal, allowing whatever invisible hand had been shoving me around all day to finally crush me.
I’d like to think that hand belonged to Kirk Hammet, since he’s the only musician of the day to handle his instrument like she were some beautiful siren. Relishing every second of every sound, Hammett plays with not only heart but also an incredible amount of soul. Certainly not short on guitar solos, Hammett’s kingly mounting of the stage speakers as he drew up his instrument to reach every minor chord was the sight over 40,000 people had been waiting for.
No one argued that an overwhelming majority of the crowd was there for Metallica. The band’s showmanship is simply unparalleled. Hettfield thanked the crowd for their dedication to the heavy music movement for the past thirty years, and then wryly corrected himself, “for the first thirty years.” At this point, calling the band egocentric or smug (a favorite complaint of music journalists and fans alike) won’t hold persuasion over any audience. These musicians are not at a pivotal point in their career. Metallica is so ginormous they don’t even need to be a band anymore. The beast of their own creation will outlive them all.
Heat from the twenty-foot flames that erupted across the stage reached all the way across the field to the press box. Part way through their set, the band was lost behind the extreme laser show that blanketed the stadium in red, green and white light. Gargantuan stadium monitors zeroed in on the smallest details of the main players like Hettfield’s pick which read Big Four, and on Lars Ulrich’s sneakers as he stomped on his bass drum pedal, and Hammett’s customized guitars. Bassist Robert Trujillo didn’t get the screen time like the others, but the musician who has played with everyone from Ozzy to Suicidal Tendencies was like an anchor stage right, raging like a beast and showing off one very impressive spin move.
Before the finale, the gods of metal all mounted the stage to revel together in a massive metal orgy, performing Motörhead’s “Overkill”. Each player had a hand at the lead and the outcome was like a meteor crashing into our collective skulls. It can be said that there were two events that day during the Big Four: an awesome metal show followed by and awesome Metallica show. No band lacked in power, but what determines their greatness, and their line-up, is determined by their fans: the metalheads – the most powerful band of miscreants that emerged at the stadium that day. These full-blown beasts of burden are driven to break down the order of society and unleash their repressed, grotesque animal nature in an act of brotherhood. Their kind thrives on numbers, and at over 40,000 strong, they are still inducting members.
No pen in hand, no laptop on, I head banged my way through Metallica’s entire set.
The journalist sat next to me turned during Metallica’s closer “Seek and Destroy”. Only six inches from my face, he had to yell for me to hear him.
“I saw you change! From the beginning to now! You’re officially a metalhead!”