When Megadeth appeared on the scene in the mid-1980s, their combination of furious, highspeed sonic barrage and apocalyptic lyrics signaled the advent of a new and more serious brand of metal. Variously described as speedmetal, thrash-metal, or death-metal, Megadeth and a wave of other bands offered an alternative to the glam-pop stylings of the decade’s successful “lite metal” acts. When the group arrived, wrote Melody Maker’s Caren Myers, “They were so lean, so mean, so rock that they made [arena-rockers] Guns N’ Roses sound like a quaker picnic in Harmony, Arkansas.” After battling with drugs and alcohol for years, the band’s leader, Dave Mustaine—a former member of the metal supergroup Metallica—got sober. His recovery motivated a flurry of artistic production; in 1992 the band produced its most commercially accessible record, Countdown to Extinction. While some admirers of Megadeth’s earliest, most uncompromising work found Countdown less intoxicating, the record advanced the group’s popularity and visibility. As Mustaine told Rolling Stone, his goal was to create
Members include Dave Ellefson , bass; Marty Friedman (joined group, 1990), guitar; Nick Menza (joined group, 1990), drums; and Dave Mustaine (born c. 1962, married a woman named Pamela, 1992; children: Justis), guitar, vocals.
Former members include Chuck Behler (bandmember 1984-87), drums; Chris Poland (left group, 1987), guitar; Gar Samuelson (left group, 1987), drums; and Jeff Young (bandmember 1988-90), guitar.
Group formed in California, 1984; released debut album, Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good, Relativity, 1985; signed with Capitol Records and released Peace Sells …But Who’s Buying?, 1986.
Awards: Gold records for Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying, 1986, So Far, So Good … So What!, 1988, and Rust in Peace, 1990.
Addresses: Record company —Capitol Records, 1750 North Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90028.
“a jazz-oriented progressive music that’s going to alter heavy metal as we understand it.”
Mustaine experienced rootlessness and abuse during his childhood in southern California; after his parents divorced, he lived with his sisters and their husbands. A conflict with his brother-in-law over a record by metal pioneers Judas Priest helped steer Mustaine toward his career path. He explained in Rolling Stone, “I decided then that I was going to play this music. That would be my revenge.” Indeed he played in various rock bands before meeting James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich while living in Nowalk, California; the three formed the core of Metallica’s original lineup. Mustaine cowrote much of the material on the group’s first three records, but he was fired in 1983. He claimed in a Melody Maker interview that he was ejected after a fight with Hetfield—“He kicked my puppy so I bashed his teeth in”—but in a 1991 issue of Rolling Stone he said that after various disagreements “One day, they woke me up and said, ’You’re out of the band.’”
His bandmates in Metallica had been irked in part by Mustaine’s drug use, and the disgruntled musician sank further into the dregs after being ejected from the group. In 1984, however, he met bassist Dave Ellefson. Again, as he told Rolling Stone, “revenge” provided the impetus to form a new, groundbreaking metal group. With Ellefson and the additions of guitarist Chris Poland and drummer Gar Samuelson, Megadeth was born. The group released its first album, Killing Is My Business … And Business is Good, on the independent label Combat Records. The record’s cover version of the 1960s song “These Boots Are Made for Walking” was selected for the film Dudes soundtrack.
In 1986 Megadeth was signed to Capitol Records; their major-label debut, Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying, went gold, and the group’s cover of “I Ain’t Superstitious” earned the approval of the song’s author, blues great Willie Dixon. In the interim before the group’s gold 1988 follow-up, So Far, So Good… So What!, Poland and Samuelson departed and were replaced by guitarist Jeff Young and drummer Chuck Behler. That album featured “Hook In Mouth,” a searing response to anti-metal censorship groups like activist Tipper Gore’s Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC), and a cover of “Anarchy in the U.K.” by punk heavyweights the Sex Pistols. Jim Earber, reviewing So Far… for Rolling Stone, opined that “Megadeth belongs at the top of the thrash-rock heap.” Melody Maker’s inimitable critics The Stud Brothers concluded their review by declaring, “Megadeth are one of the finest bands we’ve ever heard.” According to Mikal Gilmore in Rolling Stone, the group’s best songs from this period “demonstrate a melodic and textural versatility that no other band in metal has matched.”
Despite Megadeth’s phenomenal success—they culminated their 1988 world tour with an appearance at metal’s mecca, “Monsters of Rock” site Castle Donington in the United Kingdom—Mustaine’s personal situation was deteriorating. “I became like a dope-seeking missile,” he confessed to Gilmore, “and after a while I was losing my mind. I got to the point where I just could not play anymore. I knew that I was going to die if I didn’t get sober, and even that didn’t make me stop. I would have done anything for coke or heroin.” It was only after Mustaine was stopped by police while driving under the influence that the decision to change was made for him. Forced to choose between permanent sobriety and a jail sentence, he opted for a recovery program and kicked drugs. As he reflected on his wasted years of substance abuse, Mustaine wavered between anger and thoughtfulness. “I’ve got the potential to be one of the biggest rock legends in the world and I wasted so much of my time,” he fumed in a 1990 Melody Maker interview. “I’m an asshole for wasting so much time. I’m 28 years old right now. I’ll be retired by the time I’m 35.”
Behler and Young left the band, and in 1990 a newly purposeful Mustaine announced that he, Ellefson, guitarist Marty Friedman, and drummer Nick Menza would be recording a new album in Los Angeles under the guidance of veteran rock producer Mike Clink. The result was Rust in Peace, an album that marked the end of Megadeth’s great work for some hardcore early fans and critics. Even so, Robert Palmer of Rolling Stone felt the release “[carried] Megadeth’s individuality into a broader, more open musical arena where nobody can touch them.” For Palmer, Rust’s instrumental landscape showed a real advance: “The arrangements, using multiple meters, multipart song structures, lightning-quick shifts in density, tempo and accenting, a variety of guitar overtones and sonics and occasional respites from the slamming, full-speed-ahead fervor, are consistently riveting.” He praised all the players, and was particularly impressed with Menza’s ability to make “the entire band swing like mad.” Andrew Mueller of Melody Maker was less impressed, stating, “Rust in Peace is the sound of auto pilot running on empty.” The album includes the corrosive rockers “Holy Wars,” “Tornado of Souls,” and “Hangar 18.” With Rust, the band embarked on a new tour and released a home videocassette, Rusted Pieces, in 1991.
1992 brought forth Countdown to Extinction, a work that sharply divided critics and listeners. Though Jim Greer of Spin magazine argued that “it may be the finest thrash-metal album ever made,” he worried that “the band members don’t seem excited about anything they’ve accomplished musically; they’re stoked because they’ve got a great product that will likely move a lot of units” Many critics seemed to agree on the release’s likely commercial appeal. Pulse! described the record’s sound as “crunch with catchiness.” Entertainment Weekly ventured, “The music has lost its former hurricane verve but keeps its crunch, and (a big mainstream plus) feels more rooted, even more melodic.” Spin noted that “Megadeth tones down the pyrotechnics and pumps up the songcrait, resulting in perhaps its most accessible work yet.”
For Musician, however, the band’s “slicker” sound could not compensate for Mustaine’s “conservative” arrangements and lyrical “poses.” The singer’s voice, the review mentioned, “seems to have two settings—cartoony-scary and cartoony-cartoony.” Karen Csengeri of Rolling Stone was more blunt:”It’s stylistically disappointing: the music, which is considerably more subdued than anything Megadeth has ever done, sounds formulaic; the musicianship is pedestrian; and the album as a whole seems to have been written for marketability rather than merit.”
For good or ill, compared to Megadeth’s earlier work—even Rust in Peace—the album is very accessible, even radio-friendly. Ellefson told Spin’s Greer that “If anything was too high on the self-indulgent meter we’d just shorten it or pull it out completely.” The video for the single “Symphony of Destruction” began appearing regularly on MTV, though Mustaine admitted to Greer that the music television network cut a potentially controversial “assassination scene” before agreeing to air “Symphony.”
In its journey from the thrash underground to mainstream success, Megadeth has survived numerous personnel changes, Dave Mustaine’s drug abuse and struggle for sobriety, attacks from censorship groups, and finally the charge that the band has sold out, an assessment that was furthered by some when Mustaine covered the Democratic National Convention for MTV News in 1992. Yet Megadeth’s dark, skeptical political message has reached a larger audience than ever, and the influence of their pummelling, complicated musical arrangements continues to be seen across the hard rock spectrum. “In this year of rage,” speculated Entertainment Weekly, “Megadeth might just follow Metallica to the top of the charts.” As Mustaine boasted to Rolling Stone, “Bands like us are writing a new book in rock & roll history.”
Killing Is My Business...And Business Is Good (includes “These Boots Are Made for Walking” ), Relativity, 1985.
Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying (includes “I Ain’t Superstitious” ), Capitol Records, 1986.
(Contributors) Dudes (soundtrack; “These Boots Are Made for Walking” ) MCA, 1987.
(Contributors) The Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years (soundtrack; “In My Darkest Hour” ), Slash/Warner Bros., 1988.
So Far, So Good … So What! (includes “Hook in Mouth” and “Anarchy in the U.K.” ), Capitol, 1988.
Rust in Peace (includes “Holy Wars,” “Tornado of Souls,” and “Hangar 18” ), Capitol, 1990.
Countdown to Extinction (includes “Symphony of Destruction” ), Capitol, 1992.
Circus, October 30, 1992.
Detroit Free Press, November 20, 1992.
Entertainment Weekly, July 24, 1992.
Guitar Player, November 1992.
Melody Maker, March 21, 1987; February 20, 1988; March 5, 1988; May 7, 1988; March 4, 1989; February 10, 1990; September 29, 1990.
Musician, September 1992; November 1992.
Pulse!, September 1992.
Reflex, Issue 29.
Rolling Stone, July 24, 1988; November 15, 1990; July 11, 1991; October 1, 1992.
Spin, September 1992; October 1992.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Capitol Records media information, 1992.
"Megadeth." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 22, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/megadeth
"Megadeth." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved March 22, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/megadeth
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