Originally published in Guitar World, February 2010
Slayer, Megadeth and Testament will share stages again for the first time in 18 years when the American Carnage tour kicks off this January. In this oral history, the thrash metal masters recall the original event that brought them together on one groundbreaking bill: the historic 1990-91 Clash of the Titans tour.
The Clash of the Titans tour was the last major hurrah for hardcore headbangers before alt-rock, grunge, rap-metal and nu-metal took over the charts in the Nineties. Presented between September 1990 and July 1991, it was a legendary package bill that featured such thrash metal giants as Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Testament and Suicidal Tendencies devastating audiences across Europe and the U.S.
The month-long European leg of Clash of the Titans began on September 22 in Genk, Belgium, and featured Slayer, Megadeth, Testament and Suicidal Tendencies. After a seven-month break, the tour hit the States with Anthrax replacing Testament and future grunge stars Alice in Chains filling in for Suicidal Tendencies. Not only was it the first time a metal package tour played huge places like New York’s Madison Square Garden and the San Diego Sports Arena but it also marked the consolidation of three of the “Big Four” thrash bands for the first time.
Recalls Slayer guitarist Kerry King, “There might have even been talk of a ‘Big Four’ tour back then, but we probably couldn’t get Metallica onboard. But we had three pieces of it, and that was all the management and promoters needed. It was a big to-do, man, and people came out for it.”
Named after a 1981 fantasy movie about the Greek legend of Perseus, Clash of the Titans was more than just the collision of metal giants. At times it was like a real war, thanks to Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine, who was dealing badly with his newfound sobriety. By the time the bands got to Europe, Mustaine was at odds with Suicidal Tendencies and Slayer and hadn’t exactly ingratiated himself with Testament. Barbs were exchanged onstage, and the tension was palpable. The only thing more surprising than the tour continuing in North America with Anthrax and Alice in Chains was the fact that nobody dropped off the bill and no punches were thrown between band members.
Now, for the first time since the original Clash of the Titans tour made history across multiple continents, Megadeth, Slayer and Testament are set to share stages once again, this time on the American Carnage tour (beginning January 18 in Seattle, Washington). “In this economy, packaging is the way to go, because nobody’s got any money,” King says. “I never would have thought in a million years that Slayer and Megadeth would do a tour together, because we’re both headliners, but in this day and age it just makes sense. It’s like getting to see two shows for the price of one. When we agreed to do these shows, I thought of the fans first. I thought, I’m not gonna shoot this in the foot just because I’ve had issues with Mustaine in the past.”
Mustaine, too, is ready to bury the hatchet with his former adversaries. Commenting on Slayer frontman Tom Araya’s recent back injury that led to the cancellation of shows, Mustaine said, “When I heard about Tom’s back problems, I was really worried. It wasn’t about business at that point; it was about us reestablishing a kinship, because we are founding members of something that changed the world and will continue to change the world. So to all the naysayers that said it couldn’t be done, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but kiss my ass.”
As they prepare to embark on American Carnage, Mustaine, King and Testament’s Eric Peterson—as well as others who took part in the original Clash of the Titans tour—look back at the explosive concerts, bloody calamities and drunken antics of one of thrash metal’s most memorable tours.
DAVE MUSTAINE The idea for the original Clash of the Titans was presented to us by a guy from overseas. European promoters have a lot more vision than a lot of American promoters. In America, people see the opportunity to be a talent buyer and just buy a bunch of bands and slap them together on a bill, and everyone sounds the same. But there’s a real art to being a promoter, and for the festivals overseas they really take time and put together great packages. Clash of the Titans was definitely one of them. Now, this was way before stuff like Ozzfest, so having Slayer, Megadeth and Testament touring on one bill was really special. And then when you add Anthrax in the States, nothing like that had ever happened before.
ERIC PETERSON It was the first tour of its kind. There’d been festivals in Europe, of course, but you didn’t have the touring packages.
KERRY KING At the time, that was the biggest tour we had been on. It was a great idea, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, because we had all pretty much started at the same time and gotten to a high point in our careers at the same time. Plus, we were all touring on big albums: we had just put out Seasons in the Abyss, Megadeth had Rust in Peace and Suicidal were touring with Lights… Camera… Revolution!
PETERSON We kind of rushed out Souls of Black just to get on the bill, because we didn’t want to miss the tour and our label said we had to have an album out. We had done some touring with Slayer that year, and we did shows with Megadeth two or three years prior to that.
MUSTAINE Before we started, we had to do a photo shoot for Rolling Stone, and [Slayer frontman] Tom [Araya], myself, [Testament vocalist] Chuck [Billy] and [Suicidal Tendencies vocalist] Mike Muir were supposed to all be there, and Mike couldn’t make it. I said something [about it], and it got back to Mike, and he didn’t like it.
PETERSON The band we were tightest with was Slayer. We were kind of hot-and-cold with Megadeth. At the moment, I consider Dave one of my good acquaintances. But Dave is a true artist. That was back when we used to smoke hash out of beer cans, and at that time he was on this “no bad stuff” kick. And he was just totally against anything around him that had to do with marijuana or beer.
MUSTAINE We got overseas and we were in an airport and there were some guys that were drinking a lot and just having a good time. And I wasn’t drinking—I was newly sober and in that “AA police” thing, so I was miserable. And I saw those guys having fun, and I just wanted to be with them and hang out, but I knew if I did that I would probably drink. I hadn’t come to terms with a lot of stuff in my life, and as I was suffering silently, my lips gave way and I spoke out. I said something about Kerry that I shouldn’t have said and that I regretted. And I think it’s probably better left unsaid, because it’s water under the bridge now.
KING That was the beginning of me and Dave Mustaine being at odds, because he was just a pompous ass back then. We had never had any problems before, but we had never toured together. And over the course of a tour you find out stuff about people that you didn’t know when you were just hanging out at a show or a party. I remember reading an interview where he said that he was angry about us drinking in the hallways, farting and burping and having a good time. And I’m like, “You’re just making us sound fun, dude.”
MUSTAINE As soon as we got to Europe, the whole thing blew up and it was so inflammatory the whole tour. We had just done an interview and some little bastard over there goes, “Yeah, so Mike Muir just said blah blah blah.” And I thought to myself, Son of a bitch. I gotta do something about this. So I went over to see Mike, and I thought for sure we were gonna fight. Mike’s a big man. I’m not as big as he is, and whether I’m a trained fighter or not, he’s a street brawler, and that’s exactly what he said when we talked. He goes, “Man, I know you’re a kickboxer, but you know what? I’m a street fighter. And I think people would pay to see us fight more than they’d pay to see us play.” And I went, “Yeah, I think so.”
But I said word for fuckin’ word, “Listen Mike, this isn’t good for business, and when we get home we can settle it like gentlemen at the Jet Center [the world-famous boxing gym in Van Nuys, California] if you want, but for now can we just put this behind us?” And he said, “You know what? I respect you for what you’re going through, because my brother’s going through this stuff.” And we became friends. And I was glad, because I’ve always dug Mike Muir. I’ve always thought that “Institutionalized” [from the band’s 1983 self-titled debut album] was one of the greatest Southern California surf punk songs ever.
KING I watched Suicidal a lot, because they were coming off Lights… Camera… Revolution! which is my favorite Suicidal album. And it was awesome watching them at their prime. We liked hanging with those guys, but being an opening band they had a harder time getting to gigs. At the earlier parts in your career, you’re not in the best bus and it doesn’t always go your way. But [guitarist] Mike Clark hung out with us, and that’s when I got to know [current Metallica bassist] Robert Trujillo.
PETERSON All the bands had their thing going on. Suicidal had their little gang thing, and we were the hell-raisers and beer drinkers. Megadeth was like the all-in-white shining armor angels, and Slayer were the titanic evil guys. That was the image of the tour. And everybody kind of kept their distance from one another, except us. I think we were the only band that went from room to room, trying to party with everybody.
MUSTAINE Everyone on the tour played great, but that was the Rust in Peace period, so we were just on fire. The tenure of [guitarist] Marty Friedman really dictated a lot about where the band was. If you look over the period from when he started to when he left, we started a little feebly, like a newborn horse, and once we got our legs under us, we found out we really had a warhorse here, although it was more like Seabiscuit in the end. But if you look at the period of Clash of the Titans, that was when the lineup was really, really strong. The band was really getting along, and I think that probably was the best period for Megadeth.
PETERSON Chuck Billy was crazy back then. One night in Spain, we were on the side of the stage watching Slayer. There were about 10,000 people there. And in the middle of the set there was all this commotion in the crowd. We looked closer, and it was fucking Chuck just plowing people over, and he runs right up to the middle of the stage, horns up and sticking his tongue out like Gene Simmons. Tom stopped the song and was laughing, pointing at Chuck saying, “Look at this crazy motherfucker.”
KING We didn’t hang out with Megadeth for obvious reasons, but Testament were cool. Chuck Billy hung out with me and Jeff [Hanneman] all the time. [Testament bassist] Greg Christian hung out more with Tom. I don’t remember seeing [Testament lead guitarist] Alex Skolnick a whole lot. But when we wanted to have fun back then, we’d just find the best place to go drinking, and that’s where we’d go.
PETERSON We were in Scotland on a day off at this brilliant hotel across the street from a graveyard. We met Tom [Araya] in the graveyard and we were gonna go smoke some hash. Chuck had been drinking at the bar, and he gets pretty crazy when he drinks. So he and Tom took the elevator upstairs to do something. There was a mirror in the elevator, and Chuck was trying to be crazy in front of Tom. So on the way back down to the bar, he punched and smashed the elevator mirror and slashed his wrist, but he didn’t even know it. No one realized what had happened until he gave Jeff Hanneman a hug. Hanneman has really blond hair, and all of a sudden there’s all this blood in his hair. And Tom’s all, “What the fuck?” He grabs Chuck’s wrist and goes, “You stupid idiot. Look what you did to yourself!” He’s slapping Chuck in the face—and Tom’s the only guy that could get away with that. Chuck’s got a lot of respect for Tom.
So Tom grabbed Chuck and went, “C’mon, we gotta get you to the hospital.” So we got a cab to the hospital, and while Chuck’s getting stitches in the emergency room, these old Scottish people are looking at us all funny, and someone says something to Tom about our long hair. So he gets up on the top of the table in the waiting room and yells, “Satan rules your soul!” He totally freaked those people out.
MUSTAINE Around the time that Chuck cut his hand, I was backstage at one of the shows and walked underneath the stage curtain, and some idiot hadn’t raised the lighting truss, so I ran right into it and split my nose open. There was a huge chunk of skin hanging off my nose. The rumor mill went crazy. Chuck’s hand was bloody, my nose was split open, and everyone thought he punched me in the face. I didn’t get punched in the face—except by the lighting truss.
PETERSON By the end of the tour, we were exhausted. We had been doing so much touring and we needed to write a new record. So we went back home and started working on The Ritual, and Anthrax and Alice in Chains came on for the U.S. Clash of the Titans shows.
SCOTT IAN We all knew there was going to be a fourth band for the tour, and I remember thinking we wanted Pantera. We all thought they would be the perfect opening band. They were up-and-comers, and everyone on the tour was already friends with Dimebag Darrell and all the guys. But of course the fourth band ended up being Alice in Chains.
RICK ERNST A lot of people don’t know that Alice in Chains weren’t originally going to be on the U.S. Clash of the Titans tour. The last spot was given to Death Angel, but they got into a horrible bus accident and couldn’t do the shows.
ROB CAVESTANY We were touring for [Death Angel’s third album] Act III when our management told us we were gonna be on Clash of the Titans. I just remember freaking out and jumping around like when we first got the invitation to open for Metallica on a couple of their Ride the Lightning tour shows in the Bay Area. Then, on November 28, 1990, we got in an accident that ended everything for a while.
We had just done a show in Mesa, Arizona, and we were en route to a show in Vegas. It was 6:30 in the morning, and instead of traveling in a normal tour bus, our management chose to save money and go with a mobile home. We had a skeleton crew, and everyone was doing double duty. The lighting guy and the soundman were taking turns driving, and we were sleeping in the back. But when the soundman was driving, he fell asleep at the wheel doing about 90 down the highway, and we went into a ravine, tipped over and slid for 300 feet.
It was an insane, bloody scene. It totally looked like a bomb blew up. Our drummer Andy [Galleon] was injured really badly. We didn’t even know where he was at first. He had been thrown against the side window, and then when the bus flipped over on its side, he was against the pavement of the street with a mattress and big mounted TV on top of him, and it literally pressed his head to the pavement while we slid. It took a year for him to recover [from severe head trauma]. Our management wanted us to get another drummer and keep touring, but we weren’t about to leave him in the hospital, get a new drummer and keep on like nothing had happened.
And that’s when everything started disappearing—the Clash of the Titans tour and whatever else we would have done. And now we can only ever wonder how our career would have went if that hadn’t happened and we were able to promote Act III instead of Alice in Chains promoting Facelift.
MUSTAINE I really don’t know how Alice in Chains got on the bill. I didn’t have anything to do with the booking of the tour. In the beginning I didn’t really care about that stuff, but I liked Alice in Chains. I had heard them when I had done one of those silly rate-a-record things for a magazine in Europe. I listened to their album, and I knew they’d be huge.
KING The only Alice in Chains I knew was “Man in the Box,” and I hated it because it’s just a radio song. You got these three thrash giants going out on tour with what essentially could have been a hippy pop band. And they were hippy, and I guess they were a pop band, but they were on the heavier side. And when I heard them on the tour, I realized that they also had some dark shit that Jeff and I both really got into. They were funny dudes, too, even [vocalist] Layne [Staley, who died of a drug overdose in 2002]. A lot of people don’t realize that. He was totally coherent back then, and I remember I used to bust his balls. They were sitting on the loading dock at one of the shows, and I joked with him about getting some sun, and he joked back that he bronzed like a god. And we all laughed. It was funny seeing Layne Staley, Mr. Dopehead, who was pasty as could be, talking about being tan.
IAN Slayer and Megadeth’s relationship was not good in 1991. That’s for sure. But our relationships with both Slayer and Megadeth were great. As a matter of fact, Slayer and Anthrax pretty much stayed in the same hotels every day, just because we’d get to hang out and act like idiots.
KING With the exception of Alice in Chains, we were all at about the same level of success back then, and we all had big albums we were touring for. We’d switch off who was headlining every night, and we each played for about an hour. I remember the crowd really ate it up.
We made sure that we took our security guy out there to run the whole show. We had been working with him for a few years, and his rule was that people who came over the barricade don’t get thrown out if they’re not swinging; you just send them back. That was pretty different, because in the early days, you come over the barricade, you’re thrown out—period. We put it in perspective. Some of those kids didn’t try to come over; they got lifted up on somebody’s shoulders and got moved forward, so we were very hands on in getting that dealt with.
IAN Alice in Chains had a fucking hard time on that tour. But you know what? In a lot of ways, it’s what made that band. We’d stand onstage every night and just watch them get pelted with anything and everything those crowds could throw at them. And Layne would be jumping into the audience and punching people. But they never once walked off the stage. Every night they finished their fucking set. They stood there and they took it. But yeah, it was absolutely trial by fire for them.
KING I remember at Red Rocks, which is that giant amphitheater built in a canyon [in the Rocky Mountains near Denver]: we were watching Alice in Chains and somebody had a big gallon jug that they had emptied out and pissed in. They dumped it on Alice in Chains more than once. I was just like, “Goddamn, that sucks.”
MUSTAINE At the end of the day, when all was said and done and we were all back home, it hurt me for a long time to see what was being said about me. And I kept saying, “Man, can we put this behind us?” I know that Kerry doesn’t like a lot of people, and the reason that we had our differences was because I said something, and I apologized for it, but they had a right to be shy about it—that whole once-bitten, twice-shy thing. But I think they know that I’ve changed. When I got saved [by discovering Christianity] I really had a change in my life and my heart and the kind of person I am. I still love to play guitar and I still think I’m pretty good at it, but as far as the things that set me off anymore, I’m a little older now and a lot more mature, and I’ve learned a lot more about humility.
PETERSON It was a really good tour for all the bands. We had a fuckin’ great time. It was cool, because it involved a lot of the American bands that had something to do with the blueprint of thrash. So we knew from the start it was one of those tours that was going to be talked about forever.
MUSTAINE I really love what we did for the world with this tour. We changed it—we gave heavy metal a face and some respect and dignity. We’ve launched generation after generation of guitar players and we are founding members of something that was, and still is, really special.
IAN Clash of the Titans was a once-in-alifetime event that helped spread thrash metal across the globe like never before. Having three of the bands that pioneered the music on the same bill, all at their peaks, was momentous, and the shows were incredible. We played huge places and the crowds were insane. Before Clash of the Titans, no three bands as influential as the three of us had ever played together. It’s like if Priest, Maiden and Motörhead had done a tour in 1981. It was definitely a high point in our career, and for metal.