Megadeth – The Facts
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Megadeth is an American speed/heavy/thrash metal band led by Dave Mustaine. The group was formed in 1983, disbanded in 2002, and reformed in 2004. Megadeth is often mentioned as one of the “big four” of thrash metal, along with Metallica, Anthrax, and Slayer.
The Early Years
Shortly after lead guitarist Dave Mustaine was fired from Metallica due to alcohol problems, drug abuse and personality conflicts, Mustaine, guitarist Greg Handevidt and bassist David Ellefson formed Megadeth. As Mustaine himself says, “I could only focus on one thing [after being kicked out of Metallica]: I wanted blood… theirs.” After searching for a vocalist and not finding what he wanted, Mustaine became the band’s singer and primary lyricist, as well as the main songwriter and rhythm guitarist. Handevidt left the band in late 1983 to form Kublai Khan. The band soon added jazz fusion drummer Gar Samuelson and guitarist Kerry King (of Slayer fame). King was only a temporary member, covering a handful of live dates while a replacement for Handevidt was sought. King was replaced later the same year by Chris Poland, a friend of Gar’s.
The Debut Line-up
In late 1984, they were signed to Combat Records, and in May 1985 they released their first album, entitled Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good!. The band had been allotted $8,000 to record and produce the album, however, they spent half of that budget on drugs and alcohol, and the sound quality left much to be desired. The band was forced to fire their original producer and produce the album themselves. Even with its somewhat poor production, Megadeth’s debut was a well-received album that blended elements of thrash, speed metal and punk rock.
In November 1986 they released their second album, Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? Later that same year, Megadeth signed with Capitol Records, who also bought the rights to Peace Sells… from Combat.
Gar Samuelson and Chris Poland were fired from the band after the final show of a Hawaiian tour, amidst rumors of drug abuse. Mustaine claimed that Samuelson had become too much to handle when intoxicated and that Poland had been selling band equipment to fund his drug habit. Because of this, Mustaine wrote the song “Liar” and dedicated it to Poland. Poland and Samuelson were replaced by Chuck Behler on drums and Jeff Young on guitars.
So Far, So Good… So What!
In March 1988, the new line-up released their next album, So Far, So Good… So What!. The album, although earning single platinum status, was widely panned by critics, who complained that the album sounded “stale” and was inconsistent. A cover of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy In The UK” polarized fans, with some enjoying it and others seeing as indicative of the entire album’s failure. The band appeared in Penelope Spheeris’ 1988 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years. The video for In My Darkest Hour (inspired by the death of Metallica bassist Cliff Burton) was filmed by Spheeris and used in the movie. Also the band was interviewed, including Mustaine talking about not wanting to be a celebrity and Jeff discussing that he does not do drugs. An outtake for the movie, in which Mustaine claims “GLAM stands for Gay L.A. (Los Angeles) Music” appears on the Megadeth episode of Behind the Music. On Megadeth’s Rusted Pieces VHS, Mustaine and Ellefson discuss the movie as a disappointment which paired them with “shit bands.” The lineup that had recorded So Far, So Good… So What! was short-lived, as Chuck and Jeff were fired in 1988.
Nick Menza was hired to replace Behler on the drums, and the group recorded a cover of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” the only song ever recorded by Megadeth as a trio. Mustaine held tryouts for many guitarists, one of them being the late Darrell Abbott, (Dimebag Darrell) whom Mustaine liked but did not hire because Abbott would not play without his brother Vinnie Paul on drums, and Mustaine had just hired Menza. Marty Friedman, who had played in Cacophony with Jason Becker, was initially ruled out by Mustaine for having two-tone hair, but was eventually hired to replace Young on lead guitar.
The Rust in Peace Era
The Mustaine/Ellefson/Friedman/Menza line-up became the most stable and successful of Megadeth’s career, recording four well-received albums, and created Megadeth’s reputation as a band that could not only play metal well, but could also create more commercially acceptable offerings.
In 1990, Megadeth showed no sign of weakening. The band’s fourth album, Rust in Peace, is still regarded by some to be one of the most technically sophisticated and exciting speed/thrash metal albums ever released. Singles for “Hangar 18” and “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” were successful. Rust in Peace showcased a level of technical complexity akin to progressive metal.
The band’s first home video Rusted Pieces was released in 1991 and showcased all the music videos up to that point. In between the videos the band was interviewed with reflections on the career and the introduction of Nick and Marty to the band.
In July 1992, Megadeth released the album Countdown to Extinction. It became an instant hit, reached #2 on the Billboard album charts, and went multi-platinum: Mustaine himself said that he measured his future successes against those of Countdown. The album featured noticeably simpler song structures, catchy melodic “hooks” and an increased emphasis on the singer’s voice. Megadeth, however, successfully integrated these changes into their typical cynical, ironic and heavily political lyrical themes. The song “Architecture of Aggression” features the sound of CNN and ABC reporters excitedly watching and commenting on the opening shots of the Gulf War and “Foreclosure of a Dream,” a song discussing the recession and its particular effect on American agriculture, has the infamous “read my lips” promise of George H. W. Bush of not raising taxes (under the pressure from the U.S. Congress, this promise was later to be broken).
The album’s title song, “Countdown to Extinction” also gave Megadeth the distinction of being the only metal band to ever win the Humane Society of the United States Genesis Award, which they won in 1993 because the song “spotlights species destruction and the horrific ‘sport’ of canned hunts.”
The album was Megadeth’s first true attempt at breaking into the mainstream rock market in which they had never gained a major foothold. Mustaine and the rest of the band members were frustrated, however, that Billy Ray Cyrus kept them out of Billboard’s number-one spot with his Some Gave All album. They were nominated for a Grammy however Nine Inch Nails took home the award for Wish.
The band released their second home video “Exposure of a Dream,” in 1993, continuing in a similar to fashion to Rusted Pieces. The tape featured all the music videos from Countdown with the exception of “Sweating Bullets.” The video for “Go to Hell,” a song initially available on the soundtrack to the film Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey.
The following album, Youthanasia, was delivered in 1994, and it also became a success. Continuing the new direction indicated by Countdown To Extinction, Youthanasia featured slower tempo songs and a sound more geared towards commercialism.
The band’s recording experience for Youthanasia was captured for Evolver: The Making of Youthanasia, in which the building of the recording studio, recording, mixing, artwork, and photography was explained. Dave Mustaine starred in this video as a teacher, explaining the recording process to elementary school children. This was the band’s third home video, and included the music video for “Train of Consquences.”
Megadeth have always been known for being on the cutting edge of technology, and a sticker on initial releases of Youthanasia advertised the then-new concept of a band website, affectionately known as “Megadeth, Arizona.” This motif was revisited on a special boxed-set version of Youthanasia that contained the album and a t-shirt with the artwork “Father Vic” on the front, and the expression “Where the hell is Megadeth, Arizona?” in white letters across the shoulders. The preoccupation with Arizona is due to Dave Mustaine’s relocating of his family (and hence, career) to the Phoenix area after the tour for Countdown To Extinction.
Following the release of Youthanasia, Megadeth released the “b-sides only” compilation album Hidden Treasures. Initial releases of Youthanasia were a two cd double album that contained Hidden Treasures as a bonus second disc. However, it wasn’t until July of 1995 that North America saw a domestically produced version of Hidden Treasures. This version, as a legitimate disc in and of itself, had cover artwork of a map of the Phoenix & outlying areas with fictitious “towns” that were named after the Megadeth tracks contained on the album.
Hidden Treasures was a huge bonus to Megadeth’s faithful following, because every one of the tracks on there were either only available on the soundtracks to movies (the aforementioned Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey, “Angry Again” from Last Action Hero, and “Diadems” from Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight, for example), one-offs (“99 Ways To Die” from The Beavis And Butt-Head Experience), or the brand new recording of “Problems,” which is Megadeth’s second cover of a Sex Pistols song. This move was not a huge surprise to longtime followers of Megadeth, as Dave Mustaine had considered recording his version of “Problems” on the album So Far, So Good… So What! before finally deciding on “Anarchy In The U.K.”
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Cryptic Writings and Risk
Their next album, entitled Cryptic Writings was released in 1997. Even though Cryptic Writings did not carry the same thrash-laden sound of Rust in Peace and Peace Sells…, its sound was still unmistakably Megadeth’s. Two songs in particular, The “Disentegrators” and “FFF” harkened back to the song writing of early Megadeth albums. The first single from Cryptic Writings was “Trust,” a rock ballad about unmendable relationships which received lots of airplay and rotation on MTV. It earned a Best Metal Performance Grammy nomination. However, long time drummer Nick Menza was dismissed after a surgery in 1998 and got replaced by Jimmy DeGrasso, a drummer Mustaine had worked with on his MD.45 project. Menza claims that he still is not sure of the proper reason why he was initially fired from Megadeth. Apparently Mustaine telephoned Nick Menza in his hospital bed two days after surgery and informed him that his time with Megadeth was up.
In 1999 computer game development company 3D Realms announced that they would be using various unreleased Megadeth tracks on their promotional album Duke Nukem: Music To Score By. Megadeth also recorded a rendition of the famous Duke Nukem theme song “Grabbag,” originally composed by Lee Jackson.
The pop influences in Megadeth became evident on the following album, 1999’s Risk, which suffered from lackluster sales and poor response from critics and fans alike. The album was a new direction for Megadeth which was produced by country music producer Dann Huff. But shortly after its release, Marty Friedman left the band (claiming that Mustaine had removed a guitar solo of his from a song titled “Breadline” without informing him) and was replaced by Al Pitrelli, formerly of Savatage. Looking for a way to end their contract with Capitol Records, the band released a Greatest Hits collection entitled Capitol Punishment: The Megadeth Years (2000). This compilation included two new tracks “Kill the King” and “Dread and the Fugitive Mind” that the band was contractually obligated to give to Capitol.
From Capitol to Sanctuary
In 2001 Megadeth signed a deal with Sanctuary Records. Shortly thereafter, they put out a new album, entitled The World Needs a Hero, which received a generally positive reception. Some fans heralded it as a return to form, while others felt that it fell short of their expectations for the band. Mustaine himself likened the album to the first major turn of a huge ship at sea, trying to right itself and get back on course. The band toured for the album in 2001, and finished up with a couple of concerts in Arizona which were recorded and released as a double-disc live album and DVD called Rude Awakening. Originally the live album/DVD was to be recorded in Argentina, but those dates were cancelled due to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
On April 3, 2002, Mustaine announced in a press release that he was disbanding Megadeth, officially due to an injury that caused nerve damage to his left arm. He was diagnosed with radial neuropathy that was induced by falling asleep with his arm over the back of a chair, causing compression of the radial ulnar nerve – a devastating injury for any musician. This seemed to mark the end of the band’s nearly twenty-year career.
Gradually physical therapy helped Mustaine’s arm heal, though he says he had to “re-learn” much of his guitar playing skill. After writing his first consciously solo album and masterminding the reissue of Megadeth’s catalogue (remixed and remastered), he enlisted the help of Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Chris Poland (who had played with Megadeth in the 1980s) on lead guitar and session musician Jimmy Sloas on bass to record his new album originally titled Blackmail The Universe, but later renamed The System Has Failed in 2004. Due to pressure from his record label he was forced to change this from a solo album to the final Megadeth album owed to Sanctuary. As Dave Mustaine said, “Megadeth is slowly rising from the ashes.” Mustaine then contacted all the members of the Rust In Peace lineup to offer them a spot on a tour to promote the new album. Nick Menza was rehired as the drummer, but Mustaine could not reach agreement with Ellefson or Friedman.
Early July of 2004 saw the entire The System Has Failed album leaked onto the Internet. Mustaine is said to have been deeply upset by this, but the scheduled release date of September 2004 was maintained. The System Has Failed made its debut at #18 on the Billboard charts, and received overall positive reviews from critics, hailed as a return to Megadeth’s “golden days” of the late 80s and early 90s.
At the same time, Ellefson filed an $18.5-million lawsuit in the New York federal court against Mustaine and the band, claiming he was entitled to a greater share of the band’s profits. In January 2005, the federal court dismissed the case, finding that Ellefson had released his claims in a May 2004 settlement agreement with the band. Mustaine and the band filed a counter suit against Ellefson in the California state court for breach of the settlement agreement. That suit eventually was settled.
Shortly following the release of The System Has Failed, Mustaine appointed Glen Drover, formerly of King Diamond and currently also with Eidolon, as Megadeth’s new guitarist, James MacDonough, formerly of Iced Earth, on bass and Shawn Drover (Glen’s brother) on drums. Shawn Drover was hired to be Megadeth drummer five days before the first show of the Blackmail The Universe Tour, reportedly because Menza was no longer capable of playing Megadeth songs.
The Blackmail The Universe World Tour, running from late 2004 until late 2005 (with a staggered touring schedule), proved to be a true “comeback” and return to form for Megadeth, and their first large scale tour for several years. Previously Mustaine had also announced that it was the final Megadeth tour and that the band would be disbanding immediately afterwards; however, as of March 2005, Dave Mustaine announced Gigantour, Megadeth’s largest tour ever.
In July 2005, the band released a greatest hits record entitled Greatest Hits: Back to the Start.
Megadeth Lives On
In 2004, Dave Mustaine stated that album The System Has Failed would be the last Megadeth record before he would end the band and become a solo artist himself. However, following the launch of Gigantour in 2005 and a clear revitalization in the future prospects of Megadeth from the year previous, Mustaine decided instead to “allow” Megadeth’s continued existence.
This was clearly stated on the Official Megadeth Website “Megadeth will continue as a band. Megadeth will record a new album. Megadeth will continue to play.”
Mustaine, during a concert in Argentina in 2005 (following his first mention of the continuation of the band), stated that he had been working with his current bandmates (the Drovers and MacDonough) on writing the next Megadeth album. This was also confirmed by Mustaine during a Megadeth concert in Puerto Rico on October 15, 2005, six days after the one in Argentina: “The answer is yes.”
In February, 2006 bass player James MacDonough announced on the Megadeth Bulletin Board that he would no longer be playing for Megadeth. Reasons were not given immediately, although there are rumors he was going to rejoin his former band, Iced Earth. It was later revealed that he had been fired. Despite this, MacDonough states “There is no animosity here — just personal differences and this is all I’ll ever say about it”. Mustaine said that he would let former bandmate Dave Ellefson rejoin the band if he wanted to. He said he wanted to put their feuds behind him and “move on.” On February 12th, 2006 Megadeth.com’s webmaster, Dave McRobb, announced MacDonough’s replacement was going to be James Lomenzo, laying rumors of Ellefson’s return to rest. Lomenzo had previously worked with David Lee Roth, White Lion and Black Label Society.
Mustaine has also indicated that he would like to see James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Ellefson, and himself team up on a future music project. Many fans expressed enthusiasm at the idea but to date no plans have been formally announced.
On March 21, 2006, a two disc DVD titled Arsenal of Megadeth was issued by EMI/Capitol Records. Dave Mustaine oversaw all aspects of the project and all content was chosen by him personally. The set contains archive footage of interviews and live shows as well as a majority of Megadeth videos. Due to licensing issues, a few videos were not able to make it onto the DVD. Altogether, it provides an in depth look at the growth of the band over their 20+ year career.
On May 15th, 2006 Megadeth announced on the bands Official Forums that they have started recording their next album and almost finished with the Gigantour 2 lineup and have signed with Roadrunner Records. The album, United Abominations will be out Halloween – October 31st.
Gigantour Tour Dates
* 9/7 – San Diego, CA @ TBA
* 9/8 – Oakland, CA @ Oakland Arena
* 9/9 – San Luis Obispo, CA @ Pozo Saloon
* 9/10 – Devore, CA @ Hyundai Pavilion of Glen Helen
* 9/12 – Las Vegas, NV @ TBA
* 9/13 – Phoenix, AZ @ Dodge Theater
* 9/15 – West Valley City, UT @ USANA Amphitheatre
* 9/16 – Englewood, CO @ Coors Amphitheatre
* 9/17 – Albuquerque, NM @ Journal Pavilion
* 9/19 – TBD
* 9/21 – Milwaukee, WI @ The Rave/ Eagles Club
* 9/22 – Chicago, IL @ Congress Theater
* 9/23 – Columbus, OH @ Nationwide Arena
* 9/24 – Clarkston, MI @ DTE Energy Music Theatre
* 9/25 – Toronto, ON @ Park Place
* 9/27 – Montreal, QC @ Bell Centre
* 9/28 – Uniondale, NY @ Nassau Coliseum
* 9/29 – TBD
* 9/30 – Holmdel, NJ @ PNC Bank Arts Center
* 10/1 – TBD
* 10/3 – TBD
* 10/5 – TBD
* 10/6 – Tampa, FL @ St. Pete Times Forum
* 10/7 – Orlando, FL @ Hard Rock Live
* 10/8 – Sunrise, FL @ Bank Atlantic Center
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