L.A. Thrash Legends


Megadeth is an American thrash band formed by guitarist and frontman Dave Mustaine, shortly after he was fired from Metallica. Both bands are part of the so-called "Big Four" of thrash, along with Slayer and Anthrax. The Big 4 were among the first bands to achieve commercial success in the thrash genre, and are credited with the rapid expansion of its popularity in the mid- to late-80s. The "Big Four" distinction was first used in reference to these bands' classic mid-80s albums. In Megadeth's case, it was their sophomore effort, Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?. Released in 1986, Peace Sells... is widely considered a milestone of the thrash metal movement, and has been featured prominently on lists of the greatest thrash and heavy metal albums of all time. In all, Megadeth has released 14 full-length records, selling more than 50 million copies worldwide. Megadeth has been nominated for Grammy Awards eleven times, unheard of for bands in the thrash genre, and six of its releases have been certified platinum for selling more than a million copies in the US. Megadeth's logo is as recognizable as those for just about any other band, as is the band's official mascot, "Vic Rattlehead", featured on most Megadeth album covers and present somewhere in the artwork on nearly all of them. Megadeth is considered one of the most influential bands to emerge from the thrash movement, and its influence can be seen in subsequently developed sub-genres of extreme metal, such as death metal and Nu metal, and even in bands of more commercially acceptable heavy metal formats.

The story of Megadeth begins when a 19 year-old Dave Mustaine, whose band Panic had just broken up when their drummer and sound man were killed in a car crash, answered an ad in a local Los Angeles paper called The Recycler. The ad was for a lead guitarist for new band being formed by drummer Lars Ulrich and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield. Mustaine showed up at the audition and began warming up. Hetfield and Ulrich were so impressed that they invited him to join Metallica without any further audition process. As part of Metallica, Mustaine played a key role in the early development of the thrash sound, and is even credited with co-writing four songs on Metallica's debut album, Kill 'Em All and another pair of tracks from Metallica's second album, Ride the Lightning. After a series of incidents, Metallica's other three members grew tired of Mustaine's excessive drug and alcohol use, and his propensity toward violence when intoxicated. Just days before the band went into the studio to begin recording their debut, Mustaine was fired from the band and replaced with Kirk Hammett from another up-and-coming Bay Area thrash band, Exodus. On the bus ride back home to LA from New York, Mustaine pondered his next move. He even began writing the lyrics to what would eventually become the song "Set the World Afire" from the third Megadeth album, So Far So Good, So What!.

Back home in LA, living with his mother, Mustaine wasted no time in forming his own band, Fallen Angels. After a series of lineup changes, Mustaine recruited bassist Dave Ellefson, who would be a fixture in the band for years to come, and guitarist Greg Handevidt. Not yet confident in his own vocal abilities, Mustaine also brought in a singer named Lawrence Renna, who went by the name Lor Kane. Kane was not in the band for long, but is credited with suggesting the band's name be changed to Megadeth, after a song Mustaine had written. Dijon Carruthers would become Megadeth's first drummer, filling for a short time a role that would become a revolving door situation for the band. In fact, Megadeth would be on their third drummer before their debut album hit stores. Mustaine held a series of auditions to find a frontman, but decided to handle vocal duties as well as lead guitar after not finding what he was looking for. This lineup of Megadeth performed in LA constantly in 1983, building a following of thrash-hungry fans as the genre was exploding in San Francisco. Around this time, Mustaine convinced Slayer guitarist Kerry King to join the band for a handful of live shows, though he never seriously considered leaving Slayer. Mustaine became close friends with the members of Slayer, and could often be spotted at each other's shows, even when they were'nt sharing the bill. Megadeth's third drummer, jazz-trained Gar Samuelson, brought in guitarist Chris Poland to replace Greg Handevidt on a more permanent basis. The band's first big break came in November, 1984, when they signed their first record deal with independent, heavy metal-leaning Combat Records.

Mustaine and Slayer Guitarist Kerry King

Slayer, Megadeth, Tom Araya, Chris Poland, Dave Mustaine, Gar Samuelson, Jeff Hanneman, Dave Ellefson, Kerry King
Megadeth partying with the guys from Slayer.
L to R:Tom Araya, Chris Poland, Mustaine, Gar Samuelson, Jeff Hanneman, Dave Ellefson, Kerry King

Just a month into its deal with Combat, Megadeth entered Indigo Ranch Studios in Malibu, California to begin laying down their first album. With a paltry budget of just $8,000, later expanded to $12,000, the band spent about two months in the studio, finishing production themselves after running out of money and having to fire producer Karat Faye. Titled Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good!, Megadeth's debut effort hit stores in June, 1985. Critical reception was overwhelming from the few publications covering thrash metal at that time, despite some critics let down by the album's production. Killing Is My Business... included a song entitled "Mechanix", written by Mustaine as a Metallica song. His former band, meanwhile, re-arranged the track written by Mustaine and released it as "The Four Horsemen" on Kill 'Em All. Megadeth's debut failed to chart, but a berth on the charts was extremely rare for thrash records in those days. Despite its early lack of commercial success, however, the album would become one of Combat's highest-selling releases ever, and would become a standard in the thrash metal scene, influential to thousands of artists that came later. Megadeth's debut also marked the introduction of the band's mascot, "Vic Rattlehead", a skeletal figure that is the embodiment of the phrase "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil".

With its debut in stores, Megadeth spent the remainder of 1985 on their first tour, opening up for Canadian speed metal pioneers Exciter. During this tour, guitarist Chris Poland was arrested and charged with possession of heroin, forcing Mustaine to recruit Mike Albert to finish the tour, though Poland would rejoin the band after just a few weeks. On New Year's Eve of 1985, Megadeth was one of three opening acts at a San Francisco show alongside Exodus and Metal Church. It would be the last time for nearly six years that Megadeth and Metallica played on the same bill. At the end of their first tour, Megadeth retreated to an old warehouse south of LA and began writing material for a follow-up album. With a $25,000 recording budget and freelance producer Randy Burns at the helm, the band hit the studio on February 15, 1985, taking just under 5 weeks to lay down their sophomore record. Displeased with Combat's paltry $25,000 budget, Mustaine shopped the band to major labels and eventually landed a deal with Capitol Records. Capitol purchased the band's contract, hired producer Paul Lani to remix the record, and released it in September with a full onslaught of marketing and distribution that only the majors can provide.

Released on September 19, 1986, Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? is considered one of the quintessential releases the thrash metal movement has produced. In addition to being one of the Big 4 albums of thrash, Peace Sells... is typically seen in the top five of any list of the greatest thrash albums ever, regardless of who compiles it. The album scored a berth on the Billboard 200 albums chart, peaking at No. 76, making it one of the first thrash albums on the chart, along with Metallica's Master of Puppets and Slayer's Reign In Blood, two of the three remaining Big 4 thrash classics. The Anthrax classic Among the Living, the final piece of the Big 4, also charted on the Billboard 200, but didn't come out until 1987. In addition to its platinum status in the US, Peace Sells... has also been certified platinum in Canada and earned silver certification in the UK. The album is chiefly responsible for building a loyal cult following for Megadeth and helped the band reach a broader heavy metal audience. Videos were released for the title track and "Wake Up Dead", and both were on nearly every week on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball" show. The opening bass line for "Peace Sells..." was even adopted by the show for its opening credits.

With their second album in stores, Megadeth embarked on a tour of the Southwest as the opening act for Motörhead. The two bands' management clashed, however, and Megadeth was pulled from the last few shows of the tour. In early '87, they jumped in as the opening act for Alice Cooper's "Constrictor" tour. It was during this trek that Mustaine and Ellefson decided to fire Chris Poland and Gar Samuelson over their heroin abuse. Samuelson was so bad that his drum tech, Chuck Behler, was asked to sit in on some shows, and Poland was accused of selling the band's gear to buy heroin. The two Samuelson and Poland were dismissed at the end of the tour, replaced by Behler and Malice guitarist Jay Reynolds, respectively. Reynolds was dismissed and returned to Malice, however, and was replaced by Jeff Young during the studio sessions for the next Megadeth record. Reynolds had hired Young, a graduate of the Musicians Institute, to help him learn the material. At some point, Mustaine sat in on one of these teaching sessions. After watching Young break down Poland's solos from the first two Megadeth albums, Mustaine decided to let Reynolds go and hire Young, instead.

The third full-length from Megadeth, So Far, So Good... So What!, dropped on January 19, 1988. Despite garnering little or no airplay on Top 40 and mainstream rock stations, the effort entered the Billboard 200 at No. 28. Among the songs was a cover of the 1972 Sex Pistols classic "Anarchy In the U.K.", one of four singles released for the album. Another single was "In My Darkest Hour" written in tribute to Mustaine's departed former Metallica cohort, bassist Cliff Burton. Mustaine wrote the song the day he learned of Burton's death in a tragic tour bus accident in Sweden. Metallica's tour bus rolled over after skidding on black ice on a European highway outside of Stockholm. Mustaine learned of his friend's passing from a friend, Metallica's remaining members did not tell him, and wrote the song the same day. Another single, "Hook In Mouth", was a politically themed rant aimed at the PMRC, a political organization aimed at censoring music. Like its predecessor, So Far, So Good... would eventually go platinum, despite being ignored by the mainstream rock community.

With their third album in stores, Megadeth hit the road again for their most extensive tour yet. The band opened for Dio in Europe before opening Iron Maiden's tour in the US. In August of '88, the band performed in front of more than 100,000 music fans at the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington in England. The road took its toll on the band, however, as drug problems threatened to destroy the band. Despite battling his own drug issues, Mustaine was concerned about Behler's drug use, and his ability to finish the tour. As he had done with the drummer that Behler replaced, Mustaine groomed Behler's drum tech, Nick Menza to replace Behler. After the Castle Donington appearance, Megadeth was asked to join the Monsters of Rock European tour, but were unable to continue after the first show because of Ellefson's drug issues. The band canceled a handful of Australian tour dates and returned to LA as Ellefson sought treatment for drug addiction. Mustaine later fired Young, suspicious he was having an affair with Mustaine's girlfriend, forcing the band to record as a three-piece for the first time when they went in to lay down a cover of Alice Cooper's "No More Mr. Nice Guy" for the soundtrack to the new Wes Craven horror film, Shocker. A video was released, produced by Penelope Spheeris, who also produced the film The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. Spheeris recalled of the video shoot for "No More Mr..." that Mustaine was so intoxicated that he was unable to play guitar. Mustaine also agreed to put Megadeth in the The Decline of... film, and allow his own image to adorn the movie poster. Mustaine later regretted the decision because it created an association between the band and glam metal, the sub-genre the film was mainly about, aligning Megadeth with what Mustaine himself referred to as "a bunch of s**t bands".

As Megadeth set out to find a new guitarist to replace Young, Mustaine's drug problems arose again, threatening to derail the band's momentum. In March 1989 the frontman rammed into a vehicle occupied at the time by an off-duty police officer. Mustaine was arrested for driving while intoxicated, and eventually placed into a court-ordered rehab program. The rehab stint interrupted the search for a guitarist, but Mustaine emerged from the treatment sober for the first time in over a decade. A clear-headed Mustaine resumed his search for a fourth member, auditioning Lee Altus from Heathen and Eric Meyer of Dark Angel. Meyer was offered the job, but chose to remain with Dark Angel. The job was also offered to Slash, who opted to stay with Guns N' Roses, as well as Dimebag Darrel Abbot of Pantera. Dimebag refused to join without his brother, Vinnie Paul, so Mustaine retracted the offer as he had already hired Menza. The search continued until Mustaine auditioned shredder Marty Friedman from the Shrapnel Records band Cacophany, at the suggestion from a Capitol Records exec. Friedman wowed Megadeth's frontman, and was hired on the spot.

Dave with New Megadeth GUitarist Marty Friedman

With Friedman in the fold, Megadeth entered Rumbo Studios in March 1990 with producer Mike Clink, who had produced Guns N' Roses' stellar debut, Appetite for Destruction. It was the first time the band hit the studio sober, and the finished product would reflect that. Released on September 24, 1990, Rust In Peace debuted at No. 23 on the Billboard 200, making it the band's highest charting release yet. In addition to its commercial success, the album was also lauded by critics, who were impressed with the technical precision on the set as well as Mustaine's apparent maturation in his songwriting. The album would eventually go platinum, and earned the band its first Grammy nomination, in 1991, in the Best Metal Performance category. The and spent the remainder of 1990 on the European leg of Clash of the Titans tour, alongside Slayer, Testament and Suicidal Tendencies, before opening a handful of dates for Judas Priest late in the year. Megadeth then appeared at the second Rock In Rio festival in January 1991, before joining Slayer Anthrax and Alice in Chains for the American leg of Clash of the Titans.

Following their most extensive round of touring yet, Megadeth hit the studio in January 1992 to begin work on album No. 5. Despite the band being completely sober, and everybody contributing, the recording took longer than it should have because of outside issues. The album was recorded at The Enterprise, a studio in Burbank, at the same time the LA Riots were going on. Because of the imposed six o'clock curfew, many sessions had to be cut short. The band fought through these issues and emerged from the studio in late April, dropping the album on July 6, 1992. Titled Countdown to Extinction, Megadeth's fifth full-length was the first on which every band member made significant contributions. The album instantly became the band's highest charter, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, with first week sales of nearly 130,000. Countdown would go on to become Megadeth's highest-selling album, earning double platinum certification two years later, and is viewed by many fans as the band's most complete effort. Singles and videos were released for "Symphony of Destruction" and "Sweating Bullets", both becoming fan favorites and live show staples, as well as "Foreclosure of a Dream" and "Skin o' My Teeth". Subsequent touring included headlining dates with support from Pantera, Suicidal Tendencies and Stone Temple Pilots, as well as an opening stint for a tour headlined by Iron Maiden and Metallica. Touring wrapped in December of '83, and the band turned its attention to a sixth full-length.

"Symphony of Destruction" Live In Italy, June 29, 1993

In early 1994, Megadeth and producer Max Norman entered Phase 4 Studios in Phoenix, Arizona to begin working on the sixth Megadeth record. Mustaine had grown weary of recording in California, and three of the band's members resided in Arizona at the time. The band encountered a handful of problems with Phase 4, however, so the band decided to build a self-dedicated studio at the suggestion of Norman. Youthanasia dropped in November 1994, surpassing its predecessor in first-week sales, with 143,000 copies sold. The album peaked on the Billboard 200 at No. 4, and also released three singles that each appeared on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Songs chart. The album reached platinum status, for a million units sold in the US, just a few months after is release; but never achieved double platinum. The band toured for nearly two years behind Youthanasia, with a break in July 1995 to release an EP entitled Hidden Treasures, a collection of Megadeth tracks that had appeared on motion picture soundtracks.

Following Youthanasia, Megadeth went on a hiatus in late 1995 to work on outside projects. Mustaine spent some time on a side project called MD. 45 with Fear vocalist Lee Ving and drummer Jimmy Degrasso, who would later join Megadeth. Freidman, meanwhile, built a studio in his Arizona home and recorded his fourth solo album. Megadeth reconvened in September of '96 to record a seventh album at a Nashville Studio. Cryptic Writings hit stores on June 17, 1997, peaking at No. 10 on the Billboard 200. The release would go on to become Megadeth's sixth consecutive platinum record, and lead single "Trust" became the band's highest-charting single on Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart, peaking at No. 5. The band returned to touring, with support from punk legends the Misfits, Life and Agony and Coal Chamber, and a stint on the 1998 Ozzfest tour. About halfway through the Ozzfest run, Nick Menza left the tour after discovering a tumo0r on his knee. Mustaine turned to his MD. 45 drummer Jimmy DeGrasso as a temporary replacement, but named him a permanent member after the tour. Cryptic Writings marked a stark change in Megadeth's sound, with influence from producer Dan Huff. As a result, the album spawned four singles that made the Top 20 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart, simultaneously garnering more radio airplay than the band had ever seen.

Music Video for "Trust", 1997

To Be continued...