In a brand new interview with Yes! You CAN Play Guitar!, former MEGADETH bassist David Ellefson was asked if the so-called “Big Four” of 1980s thrash metal — METALLICA, MEGADETH, SLAYER and ANTHRAX — were ever expanded to a “Big Five,” who would get the extra slot. He responded (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “Well, I think if you opened that gate at all, it’d have to be ‘Big Six’, because you’d let in EXODUS and then you’d probably let in OVERKILL. ‘Cause you’d have to get a West Coast [band] and an East Coast [act], ’cause I think it starts to go like that.
“If there was a ‘Big Five’, it would be EXODUS, for sure, because, look, from them came [METALLICA guitarist] Kirk Hammett. They were staples of the scene up there. I remember [SLAYER guitarist] Kerry King telling me, ‘[EXODUS drummer] Tom Hunting‘s the shit, man. Tom Hunting‘s the guy.’
“It’s my opinion that after Kerry played with [MEGADETH in 1984], he met the EXODUS guys, he saw EXODUS play, he learned how Tom Hunting played, he went home and made [SLAYER drummer] Dave Lombardo play like Tom Hunting. [Laughs] That’s why SLAYER got so fast. Those five shows Kerry did with us that brought us to the Bay Area opened his eyes to, like, ‘Wow. This is how it’s done.’ And then he went back to L.A. and he carried on away from MEGADETH and he carried on with SLAYER. But he whipped SLAYER into shape, ’cause he had seen… ‘Thine eyes had seen the glory’ of what thrash metal really was from the Bay Area, and that helped SLAYER become SLAYER.”
Although EXODUS rarely gets mentioned alongside the so-called “Big Four” of 1980s thrash metal, the band’s classic 1985 debut, “Bonded By Blood”, inspired the likes of TESTAMENT, DEATH ANGEL, VIO-LENCE and many others to launch their careers and is considered one of the most influential thrash metal albums of all time.
EXODUS vocalist Steve “Zetro” Souza discussed his band’s exclusion from the “Big Four” during a 2014 interview with the Argentinian radio station Rock & Pop 95.9 FM. At the time, he said: “Personally, I don’t pay attention to that necessarily. I was in the Bay Area in the beginning, before I was even a member of EXODUS, so I remember who was the forefathers of thrash. I mean, Tom invented that drum beat. That [guitar] picking style was from Gary [Holt, EXODUS guitarist] — that’s where the genesis of that came from.
“I think what [the media] did [when they came up with the ‘Big Four’] was they took the four bands who were probably the most successful in the initial period of thrash metal — from, say, ’85 or ’84 to ’90,” he continued. “If you were to go off popularity, if you were gonna go off record sales, you would have to say ANTHRAX, MEGADETH, METALLICA and SLAYER.
“Now, when you ask me that question, this is what I say: it’s ‘The Big One And The Other Three.’ Sorry. Neither one of those bands — and I love every single one of them… But METALLICA sits on their own. So, to say the ‘Big Four’? I don’t know if you can say that. You have to say ‘The Big One And The Other Three.'”
“And again, I was the singer for LEGACY, which turned into TESTAMENT, so I hired everybody in that band — even Chuck Billy. So my influence, as a writer and musician starting a band, was tapered after EXODUS and METALLICA. I didn’t even know, really, that SLAYER or MEGADETH or OVERKILL or ANTHRAX existed. I lived in the Bay Area, so then that band which you all known now as TESTAMENT, the genesis of that band was because of EXODUS, so…”
In 2013, MEGADETH‘s Dave Mustaine spoke to Radio.com about which band should have been included if the “Big Four” were expanded and considered the “Big Five”. He said: “You know, people will say there’s a whole another generation, like the ‘Medium Four’ [laughs], and I think there’s a lot of great bands that fit that bill, too. But I think probably EXODUS, because there was nobody else at the time that had that kind of pull or that kind of importance in the metal community. Granted, it was with [late EXODUS singer Paul] Baloff, and Baloff had a voice that you had to have an acquired taste for, but you know, I liked him.”
In a 2010 interview with Metal Asylum, Holt was asked if he feels the “Big Four” should have been expanded and considered the “Big Seven”, including EXODUS, TESTAMENT and OVERKILL. “Well, I think it should be the ‘Big Five’ with EXODUS, because we were there at the start of thrash metal with METALLICA in the real early ’80s,” he said. “Same thing with MEGADETH because Mustaine was a part of METALLICA‘s birth and he also created MEGADETH. And SLAYER are SLAYER. ANTHRAX are also great and old friends, but if you listen to those first few records, they have definitely changed. TESTAMENT has every right to be part of the thrash metal legends, but it just came down to timing because they came later. And OVERKILL have been their since the beginning also. But I don’t get hung up on that shit, because I know how it all started and I know where I was when the shit got created. We [EXODUS] certainly deserve to be part of the founding fathers, but you know who often gets excluded are the Germans — KREATOR, DESTRUCTION and SODOM. Everybody looks to America and forgets those guys. KREATOR, DESTRUCTION and SODOM all released records in the early ’80s.”
He continued: “Really, the “Big Four” is solely based on sales and the ones who sold the most. But if you compare records, I will put EXODUS‘ last few albums up against anybody’s shit. SLAYER is always awesome; the last TESTAMENT album [at the time of the interview], ‘The Formation of Damnation’, was great; the new MEGADETH [2009’s ‘Endgame’] is one of their best; METALLICA are still finding their feet again, and their last album, ‘Death Magnetic’, was a step in the right direction. The new OVERKILL, ‘Ironbound’, is one of their best records ever; it’s so good. And KREATOR, DESTRUCTION, and SODOM still make great new music. What I think it boils down to is the bands who’ve been doing this the longest still can do it the best. METALLICA are still a mighty force live, but they lost their way for quite a while. But then again I’ve never had to deal with the horrible problem of having millions of dollars. [Laughs] Maybe if I had that kind of money, it would distract my hunger for doing this kind of shit, too. But, unfortunately for me, I have to keep kickin’ people in the teeth, I don’t have the funds to go art-shopping. My version of fine art is a new edition of Hustler magazine. [Laughs]”
Also in 2014, Hammett was asked by U.K.’s Metal Hammer magazine if it’s strange to him how much METALLICA has eclipsed the other “Big Four” bands in terms of commercial popularity. “I try not to spend too much time thinking about stuff like that because whatever I think of is still not going to be a satisfying enough explanation,” he replied. “It’s just the way things are and how the chips fell.
“EXODUS in the ’80s had some bona fide problems, but I think their first album [‘Bonded By Blood’] is just as good as [METALLICA‘s debut] ‘Kill ‘Em All’. We were just playing the music we wanted to hear because no one else was playing it and it wasn’t being played on the radio. It was only a small group of people who knew about it and it was almost elitist in that ‘No posers allowed!’ thing.”