With a childhood spent moving from place to place dodging his estranged father, living in his own apartment and selling drugs at the age of 15, Dave Mustaine’s formative years saw him walk in some pretty authentic valleys of trauma.
Having been sacked by Metallica in 1983 for chronic alcohol abuse and misbehaviour, guitarist/vocalist Mustaine found himself abruptly outcast from his one possible channel of escape. In this, his darkest hour, Megadeth was born . . .
Megadeth were a metal band apart – shorn of poodle-haired excesses and squealing silliness, with a strong overlap with hardcore and thrash. Their early career was characterised by personnel changes and unpredictability.
Mustaine debuted his new outfit with the patchy album Killing Is My Business . . . and Business is Good! (1985).
Underground classic Peace Sells . . . But Who’s Buying? came next, and although Mustaine could not really sing and his lyrics were still a bit hamfisted at this stage, the songs were unforgettable.
“This is the greatest fuckin’ day of my life!” he crowed at the Monsters of Rock festival in England in 1988, as the crowd broke into the chorus (“If there’s a new way/I’ll be the first in line”) of the title track, whose bass intro is arguably the most recognisable bass part in extreme metal.
Unfortunately, Megadeth followed up with the woeful So Far So Good . . . So What! Meanwhile, Metallica had become the hippest name in metal, even winning a Grammy.
Megadeth’s fourth album, Rust In Peace (1990), featured their third different lineup, with Mustaine and founding bassist Dave Ellefson being joined by guitarist Marty Friedman and drummer Nick Menza.
The rejuvenated quartet played faster and tighter than before, combining a streamlined attack with stunningly precise fretwork.
The biggest change though was their frontman’s improved songwriting.
All nine songs on the album were dynamic originals with sophisticated riffs, irresistible hooks and lyrics that eschewed both the satanism of Death Metal and the mindless sleaze of cock rock.
The title track railed against nuclear weapons, while bipartite epic Holy Wars . . . The Punishment Due offered a sardonic commentary on religious intolerance. The standout single, Hangar 18, was inspired by the US government’s alleged UFO cover-up in Roswell.
Mustaine reformed Megadeth with a brand new line-up for 2004’s The System Has Failed.
Drummer Nick Menza died in 2016.