Megadeth was formed in late 1983 when former Metallica lead guitarist Dave Mustaine was looking to avenge his firing from his former band by forming a new thrash metal act. Mustaine was booted from Metallica in April of 1983 for personal differences, anger issues, alcohol abuse and a general lack of harmony just prior to the recording of Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All. The band did not get along on its road trips and the last straw came when Mustaine and Metallica’s James Hetfield got into yet another fight. He was replaced by Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammet who moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Join Metallica and brought with him several songs and lead guitar compositions.
Living in Los Angeles, Mustaine seething at the noise emanating from below his apartment threw a potted plant down at the window of David Ellefson's apartment. The latter man had moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles. Initially dubbed Fallen Angel (and featuring guitarist Robbie Cromwell, bass player Matt Kisselstein and drummer Mike Leswick) for some six months, Megadeth picked Dijon Carruthers as its drummer and recruited Greg Handevidt on second guitar. Greg was rooming with Ellefson at the time. Carruthers was soon out and replaced by Lee Rausch. The band recorded a demo and began gigging in California. A singer called Lor Kain lasted a matter of weeks. At this time, the band’s set comprised of new tracks and original versions of Metallica songs co-penned by Mustaine. Handevidt, however, soon joined Carruthers. Mustaine recruited Slayer’s Kerry King for live shows hoping to make him a permanent member before being forced to recruit a permanent guitarist. King stayed for five shows and the two men developed a long-tern enmity despite often touring together. Chris Poland was the new guy. Poland was fired and immediately rehired during this period. The Last Rites demo was issued in March of 1984. Poland was briefly replaced by a Mike Albert, reinstated and eventually fired in 1987. In the meantime, the band had obtained a deal with the East Coast label, Combat Records and issued its debut. The band was classifying itself, ‘”State of The Art Speed Metal.” The album established the band’s sardonic and sarcastic brand of thrash metal. It featured Mechanix, which was an early version of Metallica’s The Four Horsemen. It also featured a cover version of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walking, which was also included on the soundtrack to the film Dudes. It also introduced Rattlehead, the band’s eventual mascot. Ed Repka’s artwork gave the band a distinct character. The band toured with Exciter. With Gar Samuelson on drums, the band recorded its second album and further delved into politics. The album was a metal hit thanks to its thrashing anger and video for the title track. With Metallica growing in stature and Mustaine holding his own Capitol Records issued this album, although Combat’s name appeared on the jacket. The band was transitioning to the major label. More shows followed, including a 72-week headlining stint, and the band even opened for Motörhead. The cover version here was I Ain’t Superstitious.
The band underwent many changes in the second guitar and drum department leaving David and David as the core of Mustaine. The band leader’s personality and sheer abuse of drugs are cited as the reasons behind the changes and the upheaval. Megadeth was growing in sales and popularity, but the two main musicians were often too drugged up to really notice. Strangely, Mustaine was hired to produce Sanctuary’s debut album during this period. The two Daves would also appear as guests on Malice’s License To Kill album. The friendship would pay dividends when years later Mustaine would invite Nevermore, the successor to Sanctuary, to participate in his Gigantour festival tour. Like its predecessor So Far, So Good… So What went gold. The song Hook In Mouth was targeted at PMRC and its right-wing ilk. Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones appeared on Megadeth’s cover version of the punk classic, Anarchy In The UK, which now was the USA. The song In My Darkest Hour (sometimes dedicated to Cliff Burton) was included in the film Decline Of The Western Civilization: The Metal Years. The band played at Castle Donington on August 10th of 1988. An Australian tour was cancelled with Mustaine assigning blame to Jeff Young’s heroin use and Young assigning the exact same blame back at the band founder. After touring Japan, the group flew back to the USA instead. Young would later claim he left the band not for this reason but because Mustaine reneged on a promise to make him a partner in the band. There were also hurt feelings because Young had a crush on Doro and the German singer would hook up with Mustaine.
During this period Megadeth was part of The Big Four of thrash metal with Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer. With the recruitment of Nick Menza (Behler’s drum roadie) on drums and famous metal guitarist Marty Friedman on guitar Megadeth obtained a level of stability and issued successful albums like Rust In Peace and Countdown To Extinction. Max Norman produced the latter album, while Mike Clink recorded RIP. Friedman had obtained his position only after Annihilator’s Jeff Waters and Pantera’s Diamond Darryl refused the offers to Join Megadeth. The two core personalities were also cleaning up their act. The band had been kicked off the Aerosmith tour in 1993 and the two Daves lead toxic lives. Capitol Records was paying attention to the band, but the albums proved to be the zenith of the band’s career. The music was becoming more mainstream. As a side-note Mustaine would often alternately denigrate Friedman’s solo records (“water off a duck’s back”) or envy his abilities. Friedman would eventually pack up and leave citing a lack of desire for metal in his diet. Mustaine would later attribute it to Friedman having a nervous breakdown, while rumours would point to drugs. He would land in Japan and celebrate an interesting career there playing pop music. Menza would be fired/sustain a knee injury and receive little support from his former colleagues. After being let go in 1998 he would come back in 2004, but not last. Jimmy DeGrasso with whom Mustaine had had a crossover project called M.D.45 replaced him. 1997’s Cryptic Writings hit the US chart Top-10 despite disappointing many fans. It peaked at number 38 in the UK. Original Megadeth drummer Gar Samuelson, who had gone on to Metalist and Fatal Opera, passed away at home on July 14th, 1999 in Orange City, Florida. Cause of death was announced as liver complications. Ellefson busied himself by producing al album for Canada’s Warmachine. The band left Capitol Records in 2000, but not before issuing a compilation called Capitol Punishment. Anthrax was suing Motley Crue for 'loss of income' as pertaining to the NY thrashers being let go of summer's tour of the bands along with Megadeth. Dave Mustaine, citing an arm injury that left him unable to play sustained after he fell asleep on the arm at a rehabilitation clinic, disbanded Megadeth in April of 2002. Many were suspicious of the facts surrounding the event given how the group’s most recent records were less and less popular. Risk and The World Needs A Hero were often seen as bland and uninspired. Megadeth's Dave Mustaine had announced that should the band's The World Needs A Hero not sell well, the US rockers might break up. The band was on the British imprint Sanctuary by now. With an entirely new line-up in tow Mustaine recorded an album for 2004 and announced his return. A return for Menza and Friedman was attempted, but apparently management and personalities involved could not gel. The System Has Failed was issued to disappointing reviews in 2004. Chris Poland contributed lead guitars. Mustaine had rediscovered Christianity and become born-again in the interim. He was actually born half Jewish and half Christian. Coincidentally, despite suing Mustaine for royalties and rights in this period, Ellefson was also in the grips of rediscovering the shining path. The shared religious awakening would lead to the two Daves eventual reunion in 2010. In the meantime, Mustaine’s music, ramblings and religion were damaging the Megadeth brand, justifiably or not, more and more. Mustaine had threatened Megadeth’s tour cancellation should the Greek band Rotting Christ appear on the bill for a proposed tour in 2005. Ironically, Mustaine would work with Nevermore whose most recent album directly called the existence of God into question. Also in 2005, Megadeth toured with Diamond Head.
Canadian guitarist Glen Drover was soon recruited and eventually brought his brother Shawn. Glen Drover left in 2008 and was himself replaced by Jag Panzerer Chris Broderick. Mustaine had founded Gigantour as an annual tour in 2005 and managed to repeat the event in 2006 and 2007. The bands included were Nevermore, Overkill, Dream Theater, Fear Factory, Life Of Agony and others. Megadeth toured with Judas Priest and Testament in February of 2009 for the Priest Feast UK tour dates.
Megadeth signed with Roadrunner and gained much of his earlier success. James LoMenzo – Megadeth’s bassist at the time – was replaced by a returning David Ellefson who ironically expressed his love for Mustaine and the band. Consequently, Ellefson abandoned his multiple musical projects while clarifying that Christianity and a meeting several years earlier in Phoenix, Arizona had brought he and Mustaine closer again. All lawsuits were resolved earlier. Ellefson had sued Mustaine for over $18 million, while the band leader had countersued his former bassist.
Mustaine would often make derogatory remarks towards other musicians or celebrities and consequently remain in the public eye. A proposed Megadeth radio venture with Clear Channel lasted some 5 months before being cancelled. On its North American tour with Exodus and Megadeth in March of 2010, Testament performed its debut album, The Legacy, in its entirety. Megadeth would commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Rust In Peace by playing that album in its entirety. Coincidentally, former Megadeth guitarist Glen Drover filled in for Testament’s Alex Skolnick. At the same time, former Megadeth guitarist Jeff Young had joined Kentucky hard rock band Hydrogyn. The band’s lyrics had turned from protesting society and being antisocial – as late as Countdown To Extinction Mustaine raged against “Reaganism” - to Christian and right-wing. As of 2010 Mustaine was threatening to leave Roadrunner whose competence it was calling into question in the United States. 2009’s Endgame had performed very well in the sales department, yet the band had the feeling that much more could have been done to promote the album. The album had also received many positive reviews. Dave Mustaine and Lars Ulrich wrote forewords for a new Diamond Head book biography issued independently by the British band. James Lomenzo who was booted out of Megadeth to make way for returning bassist Dave Ellefson joined the touring line-up of Lynch Mob for the remainder of the band's summer 2010 tour. Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax — three quarters of the '90s Clash Of The Titans - would tour together once again on the American Carnage tour. The tour began September 24th, 2010 and followed European shows with the same line-up and Metallica. Mustaine’s autobiography was a bona fide hit at bookstores. Referring to the song Five Magics, Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson recently told a 2010 interview that “I think Beethoven would be proud of Megadeth.” He was apparently especially proud of that particular track. Christian rock duo Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine and Anthrax’s guitarist Dan Spitz had a new project in 2011 called Red Lamb. The band's debut release was to feature music written for the defunct project Deuxmonkey. At the same time, Megadeth was reporting that its next album would be the group’s fastest and heaviest. Megadeth picked Th1rt3en as the title for its next album, due in November 2011 through Roadrunner Records. The album was recorded at Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine's Vic's Garage studio in San Marcos, California with producer Johnny K who had also worked with Disturbed and Staind. Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax closed the show on Friday, July 8th at Sonisphere Festival in the UK. Diamond Head had opened and participated in a jam session with the American four. Megadeth was announced as the headliner for the Hell And Heaven Metal Fest, on Saturday, November 19th in Guadalajara, Mexico. Other bands on the bill included Dark Funeral, Wehrmacht and Vital Remains. Megadeth had refused shows in Europe with Rotting Christ in 2005 due to the latter band’s Satanic name. Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine revealed during an appearance at the Big Four concert at the new Yankee Stadium in New York City that he would undergo surgery on his neck after suffering an injury on the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival tour. Dave Mustaine of Megadeth joined his former band-mates Metallica on stage on Saturday, December 10th, 2011 at the fourth and final show at the Fillmore as part of the weeklong celebration of the 30th anniversary of Metallica as a band for fan club members only. Mercyful Fate members King Diamond (vocals), Hank Shermann and Michael Denner (guitars) and Timi Hansen (bass) also joined Metallica on stage on December 7th. Mustaine would proclaim that he wanted to unite with Metallica members in a super group. He was rebuffed and promised never to speak of it again. Canadian guitarist Glen Drover, who left Megadeth in 2007, now observed that he left the American act to escape, what he calls, destructive behaviour. The interview was given to Metal Attack MTL. Megadeth would perform its 1992 album, Countdown To Extinction, in its entirety at the Pepsi Center in Mexico City, Mexico on Wednesday, September 19th and at the Arena VFG in Guadalajara, Mexico on Friday, September 21th of 2012. Megadeth’s show at Croatia’s Metalfest was cut short in early June, 2012 after projectiles were launched at the band. A roadie for Megadeth would tell the audience the set was cut short as singer and guitarist Dave Mustaine was hit in the head. Apparently, W.A.S.P. and Dark Tranquillity had technical disputes with Megadeth and did not play. Megadeth picked Super Collider as the title for its next album, which was out in July, 2013 through Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine's new label, Tradecraft. The Supercollider single preceded the full-length. After splitting from Roadrunner Mustaine set up his own imprint obtaining distribution through Universal Music. Recorded in November and December of 2012, Megadeth’s Countdown To Extinction 20th Anniversary Tour featured a show at Los Angeles' Fox Theatre last December, which was now Countdown to Extinction: Live a CD and DVD. The band performed a short acoustic set on August 7th, 2013 in front of a number of fans at Vevo studio in New York City. Megadeth’s Supercollider tour of the U.S.A with Fear Factory and Nonpoint would kick off in late November, 2013. Megadeth's Countdown To Extinction: Live album sold 3,600 copies in the United States Of America in its first week of release to debut at position No. 119 on The Billboard chart. Altitudes & Attitude was a new project by Frank Bello of Anthrax and David Ellefson of Megadeth. The band’s demo was out on January 14th, 2014. On Monday, December 16th, 2013 Megadeth performed on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! Megadeth’s founder Dave Mustaine would be a featured soloist with the San Diego Symphony in the spring of 2014. The classical music concert, Symphony Interrupted, would be held at Copley Symphony Hall in San Diego, California on Saturday, April 12th. The man who stabbed and killed five young people at a Calgary, Canada house party in April posted the title of a Megadeth song, Dread And The Fugitive Mind, and the album title The World Needs A Hero on his Facebook page in the hours before committing his crime. Matthew De Grood himself the son of a local policeman was killed. The band cancelled its tour plans as bassist David Ellefson and his family mourned the loss of his brother, who died on May 19th, 2014 in Minneapolis, Minnesota after contracting cancer. From Calgary to Moncton, New Brunswick and this time in June of 2014 cop killer Justin Bourque posted the lyrics to Hook In Mouth before taking over the said city. Former members Nick Menza (drums) and James Lomenzo (bass) banded together and were writing music. In the autumn of 2014, Megadeth cancelled its appearance at Motörhead's Motörboat cruise as Dave Mustaine was ill and suffering from cervical problems in his spine. Metal Allegiance — featuring Megadeth's David Ellefson and Chris Broderick — was added in September. In November of 2014, Drummer Shawn Drover and guitarist Chris Broderick quit in rapid succession due to the usual differences. Former members guitarist Chris Poland, bassist James Lomenzo and drummer Nick Menza, in the meantime, had a new project. That band was projecting the release of an EP in early 2015. Megadeth hired drummer Chris Adler (Lamb Of God) to play for the band on its 2015 album. Megadeth and Lamb Of God would co-headline a UK tour in November, 2015. Children Of Bodom and Sylosis would open. Lamb Of God drummer Chris Adler was to pull double duty on the tour following being recruited by Megadeth. Megadeth announced an October 2015 tour of Australia with guests Children Of Bodom. In September of 2015, Megadeth began a countdown for its next album on its website. Dave Mustaine endorsed Rick Santorum again for the presidency of the United States. Elsewhere, Former drummer Nick Menza now joined OHM, the band of guitarist Chris Poland. OHM’s previous drummer, David Eagle, had suffered a heart attack and had open-heart surgery in May before dying. Nick Menza died on Saturday May 21st while on stage with OHM at The Baked Potato in Studio City, California. He was 51 years old. OHM’s previous drummer had also died of a heart attack. Megadeth’s new single was called Fatal Illusion. The 2016 album was called Dystopia. Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine affirmed that the band had acceded to censorship and had not played the song Holy Wars in China to obey that country’s authorities. The concert was abbreviated and featured several songs being played without vocals. In the meantime, Megadeth bassist David Ellefson founded a label called EMP Records through Megaforce. The label’s first release would be an EP called In Your Face by the Arizona-based all-girl band Doll Skin. Dystopia debuted at number three on the Billboard charts with 49,000 copies sold in its first week and landed at position No. 3 on The Billboard 200. Current bassist David Ellefson and former members Jeff Young (guitar) and Jimmy DeGrasso (drums) were on stage for the Bad Motor Scooter finale at the Ronnie Montrose Remembered event on January 23rd, 2016 in Santa Ana, California. Megadeth was touring the USA with Suicidal Tendencies as support. The right-wing frontman for the group and his band were promoted on a show on American extreme right-wing channel Fox News. However, Mustaine’s favourite candidate extreme evangelical right-winger Santorum polled at less than 1% and dropped out. Megadeth played its first concert with drummer Dirk Verbeuren (Soilwork) on Friday, May 20th at the Rock On The Range festival in Columbus, Ohio, USA. Megadeth recruited Verbeuren to temporarily replace Chris Adler while the man was touring with Lamb Of God. Megadeth would tour the US with Amon Amarth, Metal Church and Havok that autumn. Megadeth and Lamb Of God drummer Chris Adler, who played on the Dystopia album, parted ways. Soilwork’s Dirk Verbeuren was playing with the band now. Drum nomad Tony Laureano, who was a Megadeth roadie, had also been filling in. Megadeth cancelled part of its European tour after bassist Ellefson fractured his foot. Subsequently the bassist’s mother also died. The band was kicked off the Megadeth tour with Suicidal Tendencies, Amon Amarth and others after refusing to sign a management deal with Justis Mustaine, the son of Megadeth founder Dave Mustaine. The band deemed the contract unacceptable. Justis had been working with Havok for a year and claimed he had been compensated poorly and hence wanted to make his income official as an “industry standard” 15%. Megadeth cancelled its San Salvador, El Salvador concert after two songs on Friday August 26th due to a severe tropical rain. Megadeth was given a Grammy in the Best Metal Performance category for its 2016 album, Dystopia. Grammy is a USA industry award. The house band played some Metallica music when the announcement was made. Megadeth, Meshuggah, Tesseract and Lillake would tour the Canada and the USA in June of 2017. Megadeth was opening for Scorpions in the USA in the autumn of 2017. The tour was called Crazy World, which was the name of Scorpions’ 1991 album. The band was also playing two shows in Canada. Jeff Young reported on his radio show that singer and guitarist Dave Mustaine has written to him to apologize for the lies and accusations over the years and invited him to be a part of any Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction in the future. Jumping on the bandwagon in 2018 Megadeth announced plans for its own Megacruise in 2019. Ozzy Osbourne continued touring in 2019 under the monicker No More Tours. Megadeth was supporting. Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax and Pentagram were to play at the Santiago Gets Louder festival in Santiago, Chile on the sixth of October 2019. The band was also to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Youthanasia album of 1994 by playing the album in its entirety at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, Colorado, USA on October 31st. Singer Dave Mustaine was diagnosed with throat cancer, however, and the band’s shows for the year were cancelled. The band was still writing a new album. Guitarist Kiko Loureiro was working on a new solo album in 2019. The album would be the follow-up to Sounds Of Innocence, which was released in 2012. Former Judas Priest members K.K. Downing (guitar), Tim "Ripper" Owens (vocals) and Les Binks (drums) would team up as MegaPriest fest to perform a set of Judas tracks alongside Megadeth bassist David Ellefson in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom on November 3rd 2019.
MEGADETH - RUDE AWAKENING - SANCTUARY
Doesn't Rude Awakening sound just a tad appropriate in light of Megadeth's recent split? With sales regressively dwindling it is a good time to wind things down 'ere 'deth loses all its followers. The double CD, featuring 24 tracks, spanning Megadeth's 20 year-career features as many misses as hits - or vice versa. There are the heavier and thrashier tunes (Holy Wars, Peace Sells, etc.) as well as the deliberate commercial fodder (Almost Honest, 1000 Times Goodbye, Return To Hangar, etc.) but what will surprise many is the lack of a live element on this album. The cover, which is reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Momentary Lapse Of Reason, doesn't betray a live album and the sound itself is exceptionally clean as well. In fact, the crowd's voice is mostly inaudible throughout this with a lame and obvious 'USA' chant excepted. Another point worth mentioning is mercenary Al Pitrelli's successful replacement of Marty Friedman. Barring the perhaps inevitable '2003 comeback album' Megadeth wrote many great riffs prior to the mid-nineties, but a comparison of Hangar 18 and Return To Hangar demonstrates why the band had to go away and fans should buy this double CD now and hope it's the last output from Mustaine and co.
MEGADETH - GREATEST HITS (BACK TO THE START) - CAPITOL
Who would ever guess that the almighty Megadeth would release a Greatest Hits album? Beats me, but as with life things of uncertainty go unexplained leaving others to ponder the question. Go figure! Since being an off and on again fan of this band since 1986 it is hard to fathom as to where this group has travelled and been throughout a 20-year time span. Hard to believe, but through changes of members to musical directions Dave Mustaine the mastermind of this musical vision always shatters what is thrown his way with his persistence, fury and intensely filled guitar workings thus managing to keep his musical investment afloat. One of the touching elements that is mentioned by Penelope Spheeris (Decline of the Western Civilization - The Metal Years II who showcased the band in her documentary film) in the CD liner notes is "I knew it has to be a band that was going to go down in history, a band with substance, a band that would make a difference, a band that would make a difference in the world. It had to be Megadeth".
Making a difference alright, Megadeth picks up where the old Metallica left off, adding a newer direction within the face of metal music with high pitched vocalizing to fanatic smart guitar leads the band at the time was on the cutting edge. Paving the way for the likes of Overkill, Exodus, Testament and countless others the group sparked a new generation of high riffing guitar elements to double bass velocity arrangements, each band that was influenced by Megadeth one can distinctly hear the bands essence. Through this latest complication of 17 songs compiled by fans from polls taken at the band's website has lead to this CD of intense historic musical trip down Megadeth memory lane a reflective one. With ten album releases and two decades the group power drives its sound to generations of new extreme thrashers. Highlight to this already well diversified album of song favourites is the fast riffing chorded Symphony of Destruction to Skin O’ My Teeth, can Mustaine ever go wrong with this guitar? Never! A true album masterpiece for the severe Megadeth fan, the only draw back here is not mentioning a sincere thank you to former members. Talk about any advice to give on how to be insensitive? In Mustaine’s eyes maybe so, as long as the group charters to new heights, maybe there might be a band reunion sometime in the future? An album perhaps. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. - Jussi
MEGADETH - WARCHEST - CAPITOL
Warchest is a great title for a metal compilation of course and given the appropriate design and artwork for the compilation it is left up to the music and included material to prove itself worthy to the fan buyer. The release is a four-CD plus DVD box set full of the old and new the nucleus of which is a 1990 DVD of the band performing on the road during the Thrash Of The Titans tour. My CD, however, only features the band’s audio compilation which showcases (as is famously known) the band’s degeneration from a pioneering thrash metal band to a desultory mainstream sap. The attitude is always there with band leader Dave Mustaine, but any chronological sampling of Megadeth’s songs is bound to demonstrate how superior Peace Sells and In My Darkest Hour are to later day compositions Trust and Insomnia say. Not that Mustaine is oblivious. The name of that last song is Insomnia.
Not being able to judge material that is not included, Warchest sounds like an interesting package for Megafans. The audio CD itself features rare or unreleased live versions of Skin O’ My Teeth, Ashe In Your Mouth and Holy Wars and a demo version of Tornado Of Souls. - Ali “The Metallian”
MEGADETH - ANTHOLOGY: SET THE WORLD AFIRE (2CD) - CAPITOL
A ”˜digital album’ is one term that Dave himself must explain, nevertheless even Dave and his most ardent fans have almost certainly lost count on how many ”˜best of’, live or compilations Megadeth has released in the last little while. The two CDs here feature 35 songs, including an unreleased live version of Symphony Of Destruction and an unreleased demo version of High Speed Dirt. The CDs follow a mostly chronological path so it is not surprising that the first song is Mechanix. Rattlehead follows, then Peace Sells, Wake Up Dead, Devils Island and all the way up to the Crown Of Worms, part of the Train Of Consequences EP. It all ends with the aforementioned High Speed Dirt. The second CD starts off with Countdown To Extinction’s Skin O’ My Teeth and moves forward including such tracks as Youthanasia’s Angry Again and all the way through A Tout Le Monde, and others such as the more recent Kill The King and She-Wolf. The CD closes off with the aforementioned live song and also a live version of Peace Sells recorded at the Cow Palace in 1992. This Megadeth overdose only belongs to the most fanatical fans of the band, and even then most can’t afford to keep up. - Anna Tergel
Here is the scenario: Bassist David Ellefson and guitarist Marty Friedman are in a Montreal hotel room accompanied by a Capitol Records representative, while main man Dave Mustaine and drummer Nick Menza address Toronto. Ali “The Metallian” sits down with the guitar and bass duo to talk new album Countdown To Extinction. Here is the interview presented more than sixteen years later. - 17.06.1992
METALLIAN: Welcome to Canada. How was your flight?
FRIEDMAN: Great. No problems.
METALLIAN: Let’s talk about the new album, Countdown To Extinction. What comes to your mind when talking about this album compared to the previous ones?
FRIEDMAN: It is our latest album! That’s what comes to my mind (laughs). I don’t know, it’s our baby. It’s what we have been working on for the last year. That is what we are here to talk about. It is the whole centre of why we wake up in the morning right now. I am sure last year we felt the same way about Rust In Piece.
METALLIAN: The first thing that hit me about the album is how it is not as fast and heavy as before. Is that intentional and is the band going for a mass audience? While Dave Mustaine has been saying for years that Megadeth is not a thrash metal band, many always thought otherwise.
ELLEFSON: I think that’s a difference of opinion. We never called ourselves ”˜thrash metal.’ We got put into that category.
FRIEDMAN: And that’s cool. I mean, some people think we are 'trash metal!' You know? Who knows what people think of us? That’s for everybody to figure out for themselves. I think that if we are considered thrash metal then there is a whole lot more to us than just thrash metal. I agree that some of these songs are slower, but I don’t agree that they are not as heavy.
ELLEFSON: In fact, in some cases they are even heavier because they are slower. Many of the riffs are the same as we have always been doing, but because we have slowed them down they are perceived by the listener as being really different. There is so much musical ability in this band that it would be a shame to just waste it because we would just consider ourselves a thrash band and that’s all we are going to play. It is our band and we have the right to play whatever we want. At this time in our career this is what we wrote. Like Marty said, it is the centre point of our day every day. We are really proud of this record.
METALLIAN: So you believe that it is just a matter of the listeners adjusting to the new sound perhaps?
ELLEFSON: Yeah, I think so. And it’s not so much that it is a new sound. I just think that it’s a more refined sound and I think it would be really stupid for us to regress backwards and say 'we need to be really heavy like Killing Is My Business.' Why make another one of those records? If someone wants to hear Killing Is My Business then go buy it. We are going to forge ahead and not go backwards and do retreads of our old songs.
FRIEDMAN: We do demo versions of all these songs. We did one for Architecture Of Aggression. The demo version was considerably faster than it wound up being on the actual record. If you were to play them back the one that is slower and on the record is way heavier. I mean it’s tons heavier. Sometimes people mistake speed for heaviness and we definitely were analysing everything as we were recording and we weren’t going for speed, heaviness or anything. We were going for sheer impact. Sometimes you have to bring the speed down; sometimes you have to bring the speed up. It doesn’t take much of a tempo change to get a major change from what it was originally. We are highly aggressive musicians. We write these riffs in 900 speed, but when we break them down and play them slowly we find that it is a totally different world down here in the sludge zone... and it sounds great! So we experimented with tempos that weren’t on any of the previous records.
METALLIAN: Countdown To Extinction is being shipped to AOR radio, which is unusual for Megadeth. Is that a marketing decision or was the band aware beforehand?
ELLEFSON: We basically write our songs, record and produce the album and turn it to the powers-that-be at the record company. They were the ones who were so excited about this record and decided it was time to service Megadeth to AOR radio stations. We have gone to many AOR radio stations these days and in the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of their prime time, in-between their U2 and INXS songs they are playing Megadeth. I never thought I would hear that. I got to tell you it is really exciting. I think we are as much of a viable music force as any of those guys. I think it is a proud moment for all of us to have our music heard with all those people. Our fans have known it for years. They like our music every bit as much as those guys’. Our music getting played on AOR radio stations is only a sign that people like what we do. Those people are now opening up to us. It is not that we are chasing them or knocking on their door trying to get our songs played on the radio station.
That is the important thing. They came around to what we are doing. It wasn’t us chasing them down.
METALLIAN: What is Countdown To Extinction saying lyric-wise?
ELLEFSON: There are many different topics on this record. Most people who are coming and asking about our lyrics are trying to push our buttons, wind us up and read all kinds of different stuff into our lyrics. They aren’t even there. The song Psychotron is a story that Nick and Dave started to write. Countdown To Extinction sounds like a harsh name for a record and a song and people try to read w hole lot into it, but that is the beauty of it. People get to interpret it however they want. It is not really for us to sit here in an interview and say what each song is about. Just because there is an inspiration it doesn’t mean that the listener should perceive it that way. Many of the songs that I write may be inspired by something that I did in my life.
METALLIAN: Marty, how tight a unit is Megadeth?
FRIEDMAN: it is really tight. I definitely plan to be a permanent member. It is tight as a band can be. We take all facets it takes to be in a band and it is more than just playing your instrument. We really refine everything like doing interviews, signing things, et cetra. We are like a military unit that comes in to get the job done. That is a good thing. You see bands that are disorganized and sometimes they don’t know here one guy is and the other guy is in the bar getting drunk. These are the things that we tried to avoid in the last couple of years. It is obvious musically that we are trying to be the tightest unit we can. Right now we are as much about the music as we are about talking about the record, figuring out a tour, promotions’ schedules and all that stuff. We will attack a tour with the same discipline. The tour, which will start mid-September is the same. I plan to be there and so does Nick.
METALLIAN: Dave, many members came and went. What was different about you?
ELLEFSON: I think many people have come and gone through the ranks of Megadeth are seen as having worked for Dave Mustaine. Many people have come into the band thinking that and have been afraid to say their piece and be a part of the band. The way I see it if all of us agreed on the same things then there wouldn’t be a need for three of us because one of us could do all the work. I haven’t always agreed with everything that Dave has done and at the same time we have done many things together. Basically, I don’t work for Dave and I don’t work against Dave. I really work with him and he does the same with me. We have grown a mutual respect and admiration for each other by doing that. Even though Dave wrote all the music in the past he and I saw eye-to-eye regarding the band and we saw it grow to be a successful band. I think we trust each other. Sometimes he does a pretty bizarre thing and he is outspoken, but I have to trust that what he is doing is not only in the best interest of Dave Mustaine but also of Megadeth, which includes me. My name is on the line with Megadeth as well. And I do the same with him. He and Nick are over in Toronto right now doing interviews as Marty and I are sitting here doing this one and we have a respect for each other that we can split two and two because there is so much work to be done. We can split up and we can trust each other that the other is not going to do something stupid. Like Marty said one of us is not going to be in the bar getting drunk, falling off the bar stool and cracking our heads and having a brain hemorrhage while the other one is doing all the work. That is a good thing because bands are sometimes not in it because they are proud of something and want to get it to the masses.
No one is in this band trying to further their solo career. Marty has already had an exceptional solo career. One of the things I really liked about Marty when he got into the band was that he told me ”˜I have been there, done that. I want to be part of a band. All I have ever wanted is to be part of a band. I don’t want the grief and headaches of trying to be a solo artist.’ Same with Nick. He just wants to be a drummer in a band and he is. That sort of a character is what is really cool in this band. That is why this line-up works so well.
METALLIAN: Dave, going back is it true that you met with Dave Mustaine through being neighbours?
ELLEFSON: Yeah, about three months after he left Metallica he was living in Hollywood in a way and I had just moved from Minnesota out to Los Angeles. I moved into an apartment right underneath him. Through a bunch of nonsense we met up and pursued putting this band together. He was actually trying to teach this one guy to play bass. That is when I came in. I started play bass parts to his songs and he was saying that we need to get that other guy out of there. I came in saying to him that he needs to get real. His music was really heavy and I was telling him he couldn’t teach someone to play it. They either feel it, they know it or it is just not going to happen.
METALLIAN: Marty, it is a given that you are really good with your guitar, but on Countdown To Extinction one doesn’t hear the solos for which you are known. Rust In Peace had so many lead tracks. Why are there no good solos?
FRIEDMAN: That is really bumming my world, dude. I listen to the last two records and I think the guitar playing, not just mine, well speaking about mine I am more pleased with my guitar playing on this one than I have ever been in my whole life. There is more content in these guitar solos then anything I have done before. Maybe that is because I am so close to it and I know what I have put into it as far as what turns me on as far as a solo. There is some shit there that is way advanced for me. There are many concepts in the solos that I recognize as really mature. There are things there that I recognize I wasn’t good enough to play two years ago. I wouldn’t have been good enough to come up with them two or three years ago. This record is definitely for me an improvement in the guitar over Rust In Peace - in the performance and the creation. The solos on this record are... I am just blown away by them. The solos on Countdown To Extinction will be a lot harder for me to recreate live than the ones on Rust In Peace, which are not much of a problem. We have been doing a couple of live shows on and off, like in Chicago, and making a bunch of live recordings and the new songs with the solos are hard. I am having seriously a hard time playing them live. I never had any trouble with the Rust In Peace stuff. These ones have really created a challenge. You are the first person that has said that to me. I think what you may be hearing is that the solos are shorter and they are more song-oriented, but for me that is a lot more of a challenge. I am not one of those studio cats who have played on a million hit singles that knows how to get exactly from point A to point B in a pop song. I had to just go from my heart and for the feel and I am very pleased what it is. If I were a guitar player, and not myself, I would be very stoked on the guitar parts in there.
Definitely if you talk about the song Hangar 18 then there are more guitar solos than vocals in that song. That’s all cool, but we did that already. Now we are getting real and putting songs together that the most important thing is the song! Brian May of Queen said this once, I think, the solos are like the windows of the house and the house is the song. You open up a window you go out and you come back to the next room of the house and that is what I tried to concentrate on. I wanted the solos to have some meaning to the entire body of the song. I don’t have any problem with that. I thought I soloed a lot more on this record than on Rust In Peace.
METALLIAN: Dave, the criticism in the past was that the bass guitar is not loud enough.
ELLEFSON: I think a lot of that had to do with the way the parts were written. Rather than to try to emulate the guitar riff an octave lower on the bass, which is a lot of fun because sometimes David comes up with some very intricate, hard to play and interesting riffs, on this record we wrote songs - on the back of a tour bus on the road last year - we started to really analyse that. We had these really simple melodies and they were so simple that that made them so cool. We thought we would ruin the simple melody by having an intricate bass part or by trying to mask it with a very intense drum part. So Nick and I, as a rhythm section, decided to pull back, play less, but pay more select and choice notes. That is what you are hearing on the new album and why the bass stands out. It’s not that volume-wise it’s louder, but it’s more of the way they are played and how they fit into the context of the song. That is kind of what you are saying about Marty’s solos. They are a little bit shorter and a little bit more to the point and little bit less broad.
FRIEDMAN: It’s a subliminal thing. When you hear a song you say 'that was great,' whereas before you would say that song had some cool guitar solos. Now you say the song is great. At the end of the day the song matters.
METALLIAN: Tell me about the album’s cover. It is different because Rattlehead is on the back.
ELLEFSON: It is because we had a Canadian guy do it this time! His name is Hugh Syme. He has done a bunch of covers for Rush. I think he did one for Fates Warning, Kiss, Whitesnake, everybody. We wanted a cover that was like the old Zeppelin covers. The kind of thing that when you look at it you ask yourself 'what are these guys think about?' When he came up with some ideas he hit a winner for us.
I don’t know what the message is. The guy levitating in the jail cell represents the last man. It is leading towards extinction. The blue sky shining through is representative of the ray of hope - if there is any at all. Then you flip it around on the back there is an abacus with our mascot and the skulls of the dead and there is one skull left to slide away.
METALLIAN: Canadian touring plans?
FRIEDMAN: I cannot tell you with whom right now, but it will be sometime in the winter. We are touring Europe first and it will be November or December before we go through the United States and I am sure we will play Canada. We have great fans in Canada and we did an extensive of tour of Canada last couple of years with Clash Of The Titans and the Judas Priest tour where we played just about every place that would have us here in Canada! So I am not sure when it will be but we will definitely be here.
The interview had to end given how the band had several more interviews to grant, but Marty made time after the formal interview to speak to the Ali “The Metallian” about his older work and express understanding for some of the issues raised regarding metal and guitar solos. The rest is history.