Sunday Old School: Megadeth
Band Photo: Megadeth (?)
With their new album, "Super Collider" having hit the shelves this past week, today seemed like the best possible time to take a look at one of the biggest and most controversial names in the history of thrash metal, Megadeth. Everyone and their dog knows that the seeds of Megadeth were sewn in 1983 when Metallica sacked their aggressive guitarist, Dave Mustaine, right before they were scheduled to record their first album, "Kill 'em All." They sent Mustaine back to California from New York on a bus, where he sat and furiously plotted to form a new band which would be faster and nastier than Metallica. While he was on the bus, he found a pamphlet which contained the phrase, "The arsenal of megadeath can’t be rid no matter what the peace treaties come to." Liking the sound of the word, "megadeath," he chose it as one of the first song titles for his new group, which was formed a few weeks later under the name, Fallen Angels, though this was changed soon after to Megadeth at the suggestion of the band’s original singer, Lor Kane. Mustaine and bass player, David Ellefson auditioned a number of drummers, singers and guitarsts throughout the forging of Megadeth, most notably Slayer guitarist, Kerry King, who performed a handful of shows with the group before deciding to concentrate on his own band, much to the disappointment of Mustaine.
Eventually, Mustaine decided to handle the vocal duties himself and they hired fusion drummer, Gar Samuelson before landing a record deal with Combat Records, after which they finally found a second guitarist in Chris Poland, who knew Samuelson from their time together in the jazz fusion outfit, The New Yorkers. The group received eight thousand dollars advance from Combat to record their debut album and were forced to produce the record themselves after spending a large chunk of it on drugs and alcohol. The result, "Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good," was a success, selling well for an independent release, being hailed as a thrash metal classic and gaining the attention of major label, Capitol, who would sign the band after they were unhappy with the initial recording of their second album, which Capitol also bought the rights to. This sophomore effort, "Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?" was finally released in 1986 and would prove to be their breakthrough and is now considered to be amongst the top thrash albums ever, along with "Master of Puppets" by Metallica and "Reign in Blood," by Slayer, both of which were also released in 1986. The title track from the album was made into a music video, a first for Megadeth and was a popular choice on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball show. The success of the album allowed them to tour with other established acts such as King Diamond and Alice Cooper, the latter of which once summoned the group to his bus one night to warn them of their drug habits.
Tensions soon came to a head in the band however, most notably when Mustaine believed Chris Poland had stolen and sold his guitar and other equipment to finance his addictions, which cost him his place in the band and constant drug abuse also led to Samuelson being fired from the group, with the duo being replaced by Poland’s guitar teacher, Jeff Young and Samuelson’ drum tech, Chuck Behler. This lineup would only last for one album, 1988’s, "So Far, So Good… So What!" which was initially received relatively poorly by critics but sold well, reaching the top twenty in the United Kingdom. The tour was also plagued with controversy. Behler’s relationship with the band deteriorated quickly and his drum tech, Nick Menza, was told to be ready to replace him at any moment. An infamous moment came at a show in Belfast, Northern Ireland when Dave Mustaine, in his infinite wisdom, dedicated the Sex Pistols cover, "Anarchy in the U.K." to "the cause," which caused a massive brawl between the Catholics and Protestants in the crowd. Nevertheless, Megadeth were able to perform a number of high profile shows, touring in support of Dio before opening for Iron Maiden and performing at the 1988 edition of the Monsters of Rock festival, where two people were killed during Guns n Roses' set. The lineup was then shaken when Mustaine fired both Behler and Young, suspecting the latter of having an affair with his girlfriend.
After an incident where Mustaine, heavily under the influence of drugs, crashed into an off duty police officer and was made to attend rehab, the band went through the process of finding a new guitar player, auditioning other guitarists from the thrash scene such as Lee Altus from Heathen (now of Exodus,) young Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell (who was offered the job but declined when Mustaine told him his brother Vinnie wouldn't be allowed to join on drums) and there was even a rumour at the time that Slash would fill the spot, after he was found to have been jamming with the group. Ultimately however, the role of Megadeth’s new guitarist went to Marty Friedman of Cacophony. This incarnation of the band would perhaps become the most well known Megadeth lineup and certainly the most stable. The two new members made their recording debut with the band on 1990’s classic, "Rust in Peace," which brought back the adoring critics and delighted fans, with many still citing it as the best Megadeth record to date. It also sold well, reaching number eight in the British album charts and cementing their place as one of the biggest names in thrash. They would join another of thrash’s largest groups, Slayer in Europe shortly before the album’s release for the Clash of the Titans tour along with Testament and Suicidal Tendencies. Mustaine didn’t make many friends on the tour, trading verbal barbs with Slayer and causing Suicidal Tendencies singer, Mike Muir to challenge him to a fight on stage. Nevertheless, Megadeth and Slayer would join forces once again for the tour’s American leg, which this time featured Anthrax and Alice In Chains instead of Testament and Suicidal Tendencies, as well as opening for Judas Priest and performing at the Rock In Rio festival in Brazil.
Following "Rust in Peace" was always going to be a difficult task and the band spent four months in the studio in an attempt to do so. What came out of these lengthy sessions was their fifth album, "Countdown to Extinction," which upset some fans with its more commercial approach, featuring shorter songs and catchier chouruses. Despite some detractions, it became their most commercially successful album and peaked at number two on the Billboard charts, as well as including some of their most well known songs such as, "Sweating Bullets," "Symphony of Destruction" and "Skin O' My Teeth." It also earned them more attention in mainstream media, including winning the Doris Day Music Award (the only metal band to do so) and receiving their third successive Grammy nomination (losing to Nine Inch Nails.) Touring for the album soon commenced and their headline saw them touring with Suicidal Tendencies once again, as well as being reunited with the Abbott brothers who had now found major success with Pantera. Another tour which featured Stone Temple Pilots was cancelled shortly after it began when Mustaine’s relapse into drug addiction took hold once more. Upon completion of the programme, the band was invited to join Diamond Head and support Metallica at their headlining show at the Milton Keynes Bowl, seemingly putting an end to the feud.
Their next album, "Youthanasia," followed in the same vein as "Countdown…" comprising of mainstream sounding hard rock songs including probably their softest single up to that point, "A Tout le Monde." Further attempts were made to reach broader appeal when they hired a fashion photographer to take promo pictures. The album sold very well, but wasn't quite as successful as its predecessor and peaked at number four in the United States. They toured heavily for the release and brought some younger guns on the road with them such as Fear Factory and Korn, as well as appearing on the David Letterman Show twice and contributing to several compilation albums, before taking a big step with regards to their future sound and hiring Bud Prager as their new creative manager, the man who had helped make superstars out of bands such as Foreigner. Prager influenced the group immensely, convincing them to change song titles (and eventually the album title from "Needles and Pins" to "Cryptic Writings") as well as moulding their sound into a commercial tone. "Cryptic Writings" peaked at number ten in the United States, much to the disappointment of Mustaine, who had been hoping to achieve the top spot like his old outfit, Metallica had done twice before. The band soon returned to the stage, touring with such acts as Life Of Agony before joining the 1998 Ozzfest tour, during which, Nick Menza discovered a tumour in his leg and was replaced by former Suicidal Tendencies drummer, Jimmy DeGrasso, who soon took Menza’s job on a permanent basis after Mustaine believed Menza had lied about his condition.
With a new member in tow, Megadeth got to work on their most commercially ambitious record yet, the aptly named, "Risk." The album featured a variation of sounds and genre, almost none of them metal. One of the most notable songs was "Crush 'Em," which appeared on the soundtrack of the Jean Claude Van Damme movie, "Universal Soldier: The Return," as well as the entrance theme of WCW wrestler, Bill Goldberg for a short while. The song had a notable disco sound, echoing the attempt KISS made with "I Was Made For Loving You," except that it wasn’t a hit single. Other singles also faired poorly and to put a tragic spin on matters, original drummer Gar Samuelson passed away the same year at the age of 41. The decision was soon made that Megadeth would return to playing metal music, which caused Marty Friedman to leave the group, as he had no interest in being part of a band that strictly played metal. His spot was taken by former Savatage guitarist, Al Pitrelli, with whom they recorded the album, "The World Needs a Hero," in 2001, an attempt at reclaiming their metal credibility that was largely dismissed as bland by critics and fans.
At the start of the next year, Mustaine entered the hospital to have a kidney stone removed but relapsed into addiction as a result of the painkillers he was given and once again entered therapy, where he suffered severe nerve damage after falling asleep with his left arm hanging over the back of a chair. This was the final straw for him and he soon announced that he was disbanding Megadeth, citing his injury as the main reason. He endured very difficult physical therapy and had to teach himself to play the guitar again, after which he began recording what was essentially a solo project, but due to contractual issues with EMI, he had to release the recordings in 2004 under the Megadeth banner, naming the album, "The System Has Failed." It marked the first Megadeth album not to feature Dave Ellefson, though Chris Poland returned to play guitar on the record. The album was received considerably better than the majority of their previous releases and some hailed it as a return to form. It was unclear for a while whether or not Mustaine would continue the Megadeth name, even after he launched the Gigantour, a touring festival which also featured performances from Dream Theater and Fear Factory on it’s inaugural run, but it was eventually settled that Megadeth was back for good with the announcement of their eleventh studio album, "United Abominations," a decidedly political affair as evidenced by songs such as, "Washington Is Next!" and "Amerikhastan." For the most part, it received good reviews and was generally considered superior to, "The System Has Failed." It was notable for it’s remake of the "Youthanasia" track, "A Tout le Monde," featuring Lacuna Coil singer, Cristina Scabbia, which was met with puzzlement by many fans.
In 2009, Megadeth released another album, "Endgame," (named after a documentary by Alex Jones,) which was generally considered even better than "United Abominations" and soon afterwards, the band announced that David Ellefson was returning to the fold, a move which was seen by some as a real return of Megadeth. They took part in the European, "Big Four" shows along with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax before performing two more shows with their thrash peers in Indio, California and at the Yankees Stadium in New York. Despite these promising events, some fans were disappointed with their next album, "Thirteen," released in 2011, owing to its recycled ideas, return to a somewhat mainstream sound and somewhat bland final product in comparison to "United Abominations" and "Endgame," though several publications gave the record a positive review. After re-launching the Gigantour, which saw them bring Motorhead, Volbeat and Lacuna Coil on the road, the band got to work on their fourteenth album, "Super Collider," which was released this past week and has so far been greeted with a mixed response, with a lot of negativity being aimed at the title track in particular and many thrash fans taking exception to the inclusion of Disturbed singer, David Draiman appearing on the record, along with criticism of Mustaine’s lyrics. Where Megadeth goes from here remains to be seen, even if they do have another, "Risk" on their hands, they’ve proved before that they can bounce back, and regardless of how one feels about Mustaine or his views, no-one can deny that the old dog still has plenty of fight left in him.
Megadeth - "Rattlehead"
Megadeth - "Wake Up Dead"
Megadeth - "Hangar 18"
Megadeth - "Sweating Bullets"
Megadeth - "Train Of Consequences"
Megadeth - "Trust"
Megadeth - "Crush 'em"
Megadeth - "Die Dead Enough"
Megadeth - "Head Crusher"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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