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Megadeth

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When METALLICA’s founders James Hetfield and Dave Mustaine came to blows in 1983, there was only one solution: the latter axeman had to bail. Although still coming a close second to his former band, Mustaine’s MEGADETH have since become one of the world’s biggest attractions, with uncompromising speed-metal always at the core of their hardcore agenda. Personnel arrivals and departures were constant in MEGADETH’s nihilistic manifesto, only bassist Dave Ellefson a stalwart until his return-ticket wasn’t stamped when the band came back from a two-year hiatus in ’04.
Shifting bases from San Francisco to Los Angeles, California, Mustaine and Ellefson rehearsed many a singer until it was decided that the mainman and lyricist himself would take on the role. Lead guitarist Greg Hardevidt and drummer Dijon Carruthers were first to their leave, while respective replacements Kerry King and Lee Rausch also saw out only a few gigs before they were, in turn, superseded by Chris Poland and Gar Samuelson.
Mustaine duly secured the “quick-fire” quartet a deal with the small Combat imprint, although a spending spree of the advance money led to them to cancel the proposed LP producer, leaving them to do the job themselves. Clocking in at under half an hour, MEGADETH’s breakneck debut album, KILLING IS MY BUSINESS… AND BUSINESS IS GOOD! (1985) {*6}, kicked off in chaotic aplomb. Taking the aural assault of METALLICA as a template, Mustaine and Co had carved out an even more intense, speed-driven variation on heavy metal, but unlike many of their similarly thrash-obsessed peers, MEGADETH had the instrumental prowess to pull it off. Saving their best for last, the co-Hetfield/Mustaine-scribed `Mechanix’ was the set’s RUSH-riffed highlight, while at the other end of the spectrum, an ill-advised cursing cover of a LEE HAZLEWOOD song, here as `These Boots’, was almost embarrassing.
Signing to Capitol Records, the band followed up the debut with PEACE SELLS… BUT WHO’S BUYING? (1986) {*8}, a paranoid and politically aware record that also drew from elements of the afterlife on planet Earth. `Wake Up Dead’, the ALICE COOPER-esque `Peace Sells’ and `Devil’s Island’, were almost punk in their evil, blistering theatrics; the need then for another token cover through WILLIE DIXON’s `I Ain’t Superstitious’, was unwarranted.
Rumours attaining to Mustaine’s heroin abuse and unpredictable nature were proved to be confounded when he sacked both Poland and Samuelson; the former musician would later deliver his first of a three sporadic solo albums, “Return To Metalopolis” (1990). Replacing them with Jeff Young and Chuck Behler respectively, MEGADETH returned in early ‘88 with a fierce cover of The SEX PISTOLS’ `Anarchy In The UK’, complete with original Brit-punk guitarist, Steve Jones.
Picked out from parent set, SO FAR, SO GOOD… SO WHAT! (1988) {*6}, was the pinnacle of their career thus far, at least in terms of Top 30 sales. Lyrically, Mustaine was as reliably pessimistic as ever; `In My Darkest Hour’, `Set The World Afire’ and `Hook In Mouth’ seeing the frontman wracked with bitterness and frustrated rage. Which possibly accounts for his headlong descent into further substance abuse following the album’s success, while the single `Mary Jane’ cracked the UK charts.
Mustaine again fired two of his musicians; drummer Nick Menza had been lined-up to deputise for the ailing Behler while on tour. MEGADETH did not surface until their late ’89 cover of ALICE COOPER’s `No More Mr. Nice Guy’ appeared as a single, taken from the horror flick, Shocker; their first UK Top 20 hit. Going on Mustaine’s track record, there had never been a “Mr. Nice Guy”, although it must be said that new recruits Menza and lead guitarist Marty Friedman (from CACOPHONY) stuck with the band for an unprecedented eight years.
Mustaine and Co obviously got it together enough to record the critically acclaimed Top 30 (UK Top 10) set, RUST IN PEACE (1990) {*8}. While bitter rivals METALLICA were in throes of delivering their “Black Album” magnum opus (unleashed almost a year later!) and while metal was going through an impending grunge phase, MEGADETH gave thrash-metal an impressive makeover by way of some complex and acerbic cuts. Both tracks, `Holy Wars… The Punishment Due’ (allegedly named after Mustaine’s drunken gaffe during a concert in Antrim, Northern Ireland) and `Hangar 18’ (about UFO conspiracy theories), hit the UK Top 30, while there was evidence that writers Mustaine and Ellefson were firing on all cylinders on `Lucretia’ and the politically-motivated `Rust In Peace… Polaris’. The latter was an uncannily prescient piece of writing in light of the Gulf War, while `Holy Wars…’ was made even more eerie by dint of its wailing Arab-esque embellishments. The whole set was more mature, both musically and lyrically, the virtuosic Friedman ripping out solos at furious speed, note for perfect note as Mustaine tackled subjects that others might’ve baulked upon.
COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION (1992) {*7} featured equally topical lyrical themes, mainly dealing with the danger to the Earth’s environment. Musically, the band had inevitably slowed the pace down somewhat; allowing more consideration for melody and structure. With this, MEGADETH scored their biggest success to date, the album reaching No.2 in America, No.5 in Britain. The attendant, `Skin O’ My Teeth’, recounted Mustaine’s brushes with death; rather than banging on about saving the planet (on `Symphony Of Destruction’, `Sweating Bullets’ and the title track), perhaps Mustaine should have dealt with his own affairs first, as reports began to resurface about his drug problems, which led to cancelled gigs in Japan and a couple of months in rehab.
Whether this marred sessions for the YOUTHANASIA (1994) {*6} album was unclear, but the record did suffer from OTT radio-friendly production. Nevertheless, by the time of the album’s release, Mustaine had apparently finally cleaned up in more ways than one, as the masterful effort extracted a transatlantic Top 10 entry that signalled the group was hot on the heels of Dave’s old muckers METALLICA. Despite heralding only one UK hit, `Train Of Consequences’, it would be a hard task to decipher between the best pieces, `A Tout Le Monde’, `Elysian Fields’ and the group-penned `I Thought I Knew It All’.
After an odds ’n’ sods collection in ‘95, an MD.45 one-off side-project in 1996, the band returned a few years later with CRYPTIC WRITINGS (1997) {*4}, a disappointing affair that should’ve served as MEGADETH’s epitaph. Incorporating synths and almost embracing the MTV crowd, the set contained no songs worthy of a single release; `Almost Human’ and the ambitious `Use The Man’ were obvious contenders. Mustaine’s MD.45 supergroup project (featuring The FEAR’s Lee Ving on vox, bassist Kelly Lemieux and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso) rendered only one set, THE CRAVING (1996) {*6}, a record that did little commercially.
DeGrasso was installed as MEGADETH’s new sticksman in 1998, while the band stood their ground for another cocktail of pit-bull metal in the shape of ninth set, RISK (1999) {*4}; another transatlantic Top 30 entry with little to shout about but for its melodic, streamlined AOR.
Having signed off from Capitol via an obligatory “best of” package, CAPITOL PUNISHMENT: THE MEGADETH YEARS (2000) {*8}, the revolving door group – Friedman had lost his place to ex-SAVATAGE axeman Al Pitrelli – signed a deal with BMG side-line Sanctuary (Metal-Is in the UK), although the disappointing THE WORLD NEEDS A HERO (2001) {*4} was hardly worth the wait. Following an arm injury Mustaine sustained while in Texas, he put the band on ice – apparently permanently. Fans had to be content with the limited thrills of double-live set, RUDE AWAKENING (2002) {*5}, a fairly pedestrian summation of their helter-skelter career if a better primer than their “best of” set. While its title harked back to the 80s glory years, STILL, ALIVE… AND WELL? (2002) {*4} was an unashamed cash-in, released in the absence of new material and featuring both a batch of live cuts trimmed from “Rude…” and another batch of previously released stuff from the disappointing “…Hero”.
Gradually regaining his guitar playing ability through physiotherapy and hard practice, Mustaine began working with founding member Chris Poland, onetime FRANK ZAPPA drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and session bassist Jimmy Sloas; stalwart retainer Ellefson was unceremoniously overlooked. Nevertheless, THE SYSTEM HAS FAILED (2004) {*7} was the band’s first album to go Top 20 in America since 1994. Buoyed by the Mustaine/Poland reunification and hailed by critics as a long overdue return to form, one could at last vouch for improved compositions in `Kick The Chair’, `Die Dead Enough’ and `Back In The Day’.
Against a background of law suit and counter law suit (involving the missing Ellefson), MEGADETH’s mainman took a completely different line-up – ex-KING DIAMOND man Glen Drover, his brother Shawn and former Iced Earth guitarist James MacDonough (duly replaced by James LoMenzo) – out on tour with him, a jaunt which he initially claimed would be the band’s final bow before announcing an even bigger jaunt for 2005. That year also saw the release of a compilation set, GREATEST HITS: BACK TO THE START {*8}, its title confirmation of a new era.
Taking anti-war politics rather than the Lucifer geezer, via his preacher’s pew, grim reaper Mustaine thrashed out the ghost train manifesto on such gems as `Washington Is Next!’, `Amerikhastan’ and `Never Walk Alone… A Call To Arms’ on the Top 10 comeback set. UNITED ABOMINATIONS (2007) {*7}. Also worth a spin was his duet with LACUNA COIL’s Cristina Scabbia on a remake of `A Tout Le Monde (Set Me Free)’. A second album for Roadrunner Records, the Andy Sneap-produced ENDGAME (2009) {*7}, continued MEGADETH’s resurgence toward mega-superstardom; the guitar-shredding this time around (on `This Day We Fight!’, `1,320’’, `Head Crusher’, et al) stemming from former NEVERMORE axeman Chris Broderick.
Marking the number of the beast – or album – with the Johnny K-produced TH1RT3EN (2011) {*6}, Dave Ellefson was again back at the helm; LoMenzo bowing out with cordial dignity so that the two Dave’s could finally patch up their foibles. Mustaine had been a committed born again Christian for some years now, and with his anti-corporation political stance in tact, `Millennium Of The Blind’, `New World Order’, `Guns, Drugs & Money’, were typical fare to rage against the war machine.
Thirty years in the business, and the business was good, umpteenth Top 10 entry SUPER COLLIDER (2013) {*6} was delivered for Universal Records. `Kingmaker’, `Built For War’, the banjo diversion `The Blackest Crow’ (think a solo-type MARK LANEGAN fronting WHITE ZOMBIE), the speed-blues of `Don’t Turn Your Back…’, and the ‘Zeppelin-esque title track, Mustaine and Co look to be burning up the musical tarmac with little care for fashion or trends.
When both Broderick and Drover bailed for their ACT OF DEFIANCE venture, their berths had to be filled in the interim while Mustaine scribed several songs. When Brazilian Kiko Loureiro (from Angra) came forth on grinding guitar, he and Ellefson had found one hell of an axeman to charge up the batteries, while in the meantime, veteran sticksman Chris Adler (ex-LAMB OF GOD, ex-TESTAMENT) was a necessary ingredient to keep time with 15th set, the conceptual DYSTOPIA (2016) {*7}. Fifty minutes of unrelenting, uncompromising thrash-metal, gnarling xenophobic Mustaine railed hard against terrorism, a la `Post American World’, `Foreign Policy’, `Death From Within’, `Poisonous Shadows’ and the Earth-scorching opening salvo, `The Threat Is Real’.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jun2013-Jan2016

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