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How Do Metallica’s Album Sales Compare to the Rest of the Big Four?

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Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax. No four metal bands are as often grouped together as those, often celebrated as The Big Four of Thrash, or simply The Big Four.

Metallica have long been the leaders of the group, far and away the biggest and most commercially successful, not just in thrash but in all of metal. But just how much bigger are they? And what of the other three bands, who have themselves been among the top earners and most beloved in the genre for decades?

To find out, we took a look at data provided to us by Discogs, the biggest and most comprehensive music database, a social network and marketplace all in one. Using publicly available statistics from Discogs as well as behind-the-scenes data provided to MetalSucks, we’ve been able to piece together a picture of how in demand these bands’ releases are relative to one another. And the results may surprise you.

Let’s start with Metallica, the obvious frontrunners. Metallica are easily the most in-demand metal band on the platform, having shifted 49,722 units on the site since 2010 (not including bootlegs). Their best-selling release? No surprise: The Black Album — which continues to sell on all platforms all over the world to this day — although …And Justice for All isn’t far behind.

The most expensive Metallica item to ever sell on the platform was a test pressing of Kill ‘Em All, which netted the seller $1,500. The second biggest get was a “white label” test pressing of Ride the Lightning with “For Whom the Bells Toll” printed on the label and the back of the jacket instead of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Pretty neat item for a collector with $1,025.64 burning a hole in their pocket.

After Metallica, we see a steep dropoff. And while many fans might expect Megadeth to take the #2 slot in Big Four lore due to their legacy, according to our data it’s actually Slayer who nab the honors. Could that be a result of increased interest of late due to their retirement? It’s possible, but I’d counter that assertion by pointing out that Slayer played after Megadeth at the Big Four live shows as far back as 2011, so it’s likely they are indeed the more popular band.

In any case, Slayer’s total number of albums sold since 2010 is less than half that of Metallica’s at 23,247, and the most expensive Slayer item to ever sell on Discogs was a sealed longbox CD of Reign in Blood that went for $764.20, just a smidge over half of Metallica’s biggest get. Reign in Blood has also tallied the biggest volume of sales on Discogs, with Show No Mercy not far behind.

Anecdotally, claiming that Slayer are roughly half as popular as Metallica makes sense. Metallica play stadiums to 40,000 or 50,000 fans, while Slayer play arenas that fit about half that. Discogs data passes the eye test.

When it comes to pricing for individual releases, we see a bit of a reversal of fortunes. Looking at the lowest available prices for the top five “haves” for each band — Discogs users who have marked themselves as owning a particular release — Slayer have the edge. The cheapest you’ll find an original 1986 vinyl pressing of Reign in Blood right now is for $55.00, while a 2013 repress of the same bottoms out at $35.50. By contrast, Metallica’s most expensive seller in their top five “haves” is an original pressing of Justice at $30.50. It may simply be the case that there are more copies of Metallica vinyl out in the world driving prices down, or it could be that a deeper dive beyond the top five “haves” for each band tells a different story.

Moving on to Megadeth and Anthrax, again we see a bit of a surprise. While most fans, I’d guess, would think of Megadeth as definitively “bigger,” data from Discogs paints them essentially as equals, with Megadeth edging out Anthrax in most categories by a smidge. The bands’ total numbers sold since 2010 are comparable, at 17,543 and 14,864, while most categories bear out a similar difference.

This 1984 Banzai Records Advance DJ Sampler features tracks to Anthrax, Metallica and Exciter, an recently sold for $559.69 on Discogs.

Want a real mind-fuck? Megadeth’s highest dollar-earner isn’t Rust in Peace, nor Peace Sells, nor So Far, So Good… but Cryptic Writings, the 1997 album best known for the not-very-well-known single “Trust” and generally not considered to be among the band’s best work. From what I can glean from comments on Discogs, the reason is that the album has never been repressed on vinyl, so Dave Mustaine, if you’re reading this: get on that! There’s hella money to be made. Look at this list of the top ten Megadeth releases by dollar amount on Discogs, all copies of Cryptic Warnings!

As fervent as thrash record collectors are, black metal and punk afficionados have them beat: no bands in the Big Four have yet topped the $1,665 a Bathory EP sold for last year, or the whopping $6,164.88 a Gorilla Biscuits record once hauled in. If you’re sitting on either of those — or a rare Cryptic Warnings pressing, for that matter — you oughta consider selling!

We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with another deep dive into metal record collecting data. Until then, keep it crispy.

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