Dave Mustaine: Conductor Of the Symphony of Destruction

Ben Martin
Joined: 04/26/10
Posts: 365
Ben Martin
Joined: 04/26/10
Posts: 365
07/07/2011 7:19 pm

By Hunter60

Dave Mustaine is considered by many to be one of the best, if not the best, thrash metal guitarists working in the genre and his trip to the top of the heap was anything but easy. Fronting the thrash metal, shred-centric soldiers Megadeth, Mustaine forges a willing alliance between melody and thunder, light speed shredding and a monstrous undertone that can rattle the fillings out of your teeth all wrapped up with a sly sense of humor. It’s that same sense of humor that is missing from so much of the doomsday and apocalyptical metal out there.

Mustaine was born in 1961 in La Mesa, California. Early in his life, his parents divorced and David spent his youth moving between his mother and her sisters in an attempt to avoid his alcoholic and abusive father. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Mustaine said that in an argument over a Judas Priest record with a brother in law, Mustaine made the decision that would lead to his career. “I decided then that I was going to play this music. That would be my revenge”. By the age of 15, Mustaine was supporting himself in his own apartment by selling drugs. His musical education came from one of his ‘clients’ who was often short on cash. She worked in a record store and would trade metal albums for drugs with him. In the late 70’s, Mustaine began to play the electric guitar and joined the band Panic for a short time.

While living in Norwalk, California, Mustaine met up with Lars Ulrich and James Hettfield through an ad in a local paper and the three formed the nucleus of the band Metallica. Mustaine wrote or co-wrote a number of songs for Metallica’s first two albums (although Mustaine never actually appeared on a Metallica album). But his tenure with the band was short lived and he was kicked out of the bad within 2 years. There are varying stories as to what actually happened that caused his being dismissed. Mustaine has said that he brought his dog to rehearsal one particular day and the dog jumped up onto bassist Ron McGovneys car and scratched the paint. Hettfield responded by kicking the dog that resulted in Mustaine physically attacking Hettfield. He was fired the next day. However he was allowed back in the band but the previous incident coupled with his heavy drinking, substance abuse and wildly erratic behavior proved too much for the band and he was kicked out again, this time for good in 1983.

The story goes that Metallica was on the road to New York to record their debut album. His behavior was so bad that the band drove him to the Greyhound station, bought him ticket home and sent he and his equipment packing. On the long cross country bus ride, Mustaine scribbled out the lyrics for the song Set The World Afire on the back of a muffin wrapper. The song later appeared on the Megadeth album So Good, So Far … So What?

By 1984 he met bassist Dave Ellefson, guitarist Chris Poland and drummer Gar Samuleson. Again Mustaine said that ‘revenge’ was his primary motive and revenge proved to be contractions that helped give birth to Megadeth. Mustaines idea for Megadeth was to form a band that ran counter to the Southern California glam metal scene (the same scene that spawned Poison and Motley Crue and inspired the counter brashness of Guns and Roses). Megadeth was to become a band that focused on the music and not the image.
In 1985 Megadeth released their debut album on Combat Records, Killing Is My Business … And Business Is Good. Brutal and raunchy, their loose cover of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walking appeared on the soundtrack on the movie Dudes.

Their initial offering received high marks and not just from the metal buying fans but from the mainstream music press. Within the year, the band had signed with Capitol Records. By 1986, the band released Peace Sells .. But Who’s Buying? an album that began to showcase the speed and wink and nod of Mustaine’s guitar playing on scorching numbers like the title track, Wake Up Dead and the cranked up blues standard I Ain’t Superstitious (which received the ‘thumbs up’ from the songs original author, blues legend Willie Dixon). Again the album received positive reviews and eventually went platinum. More than one rock writer and most metal critics cite Peace Sells … as the high point for Megadeth.

1988’s So Far, So Good … So What propelled the band into the metal lime light garnering rave reviews for the band in general and Mustaine in particular. If it hadn’t been evident before, Mustaine’s searing lyrical choke holds on all things he considered offensive, it became crystal clear on So Far, So Good … The singles, a cover of Anarchy In The U.K. and Hook in Mouth (his shot at Tipper Gore and the PMRC) set the band near the top of the metal heap. Rock writer Mikal Gilmore wrote in Rolling Stone that “Megadeth are one of the finest bands we’ve ever heard.” No small praise to be certain.

And yet despite the soaring successes that the band was having, Mustaine’s own situation was deteriorating at a rapid rate. In an interview with Gilmore, Mustaine summed up his situation by saying “I became like a dope-seeking missile and after a while I was losing my mind. I got to the point where I 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.” But knowledge and action are two very different things and Mustaine continued down the path of destruction until he was stopped one night by the police and charged with Driving Under The Influence. By that time, the choice to get sober was made for him. Entering a sobriety program, Mustaine kicked alcohol and drugs. Dave awoke from the black cloud of abuse with a new sense of purpose and a sense of disappointment about his past. In a 1990 interview with Melody Maker, “I’ve got the potential to be one of the biggest rock legends in the world and I have wasted so much of my time”.

Another line up change in the band brought in guitarist Marty Friedman and drummer Nick Menza. The newly reformed Megadeth hit the studio and recorded Rust In Peace. Peace became a crossroad for the band, at lease in the minds of most critics with criticisms swinging wildly from Rust In Peace “(carried) Megadeth’s individuality into a broader, more open musical arena where nobody can touch them” (Rolling Stone) to others that claimed that Rust marked the end of the stunning, hard rocking early days of the band and a clear shift to the more main stream area of heavy rock. Andrew Mueller of Melody Maker apparently wrote with a yawn that Rust “is the sound of auto pilot running on empty”. But old school and new fans alike embraced Rust with tracks like Holy Wars, Tornado Of Souls and Hangar 18.

The band followed up Rust with 1992’s Countdown To Extinction. This disc did bring some division amongst their fans. Although the band seemed to have toned down their depths of hell fire and focused more on their craft in general and songwriting in particular, Countdown became their most accessible record. Symphony For Destruction leapt from the disc and has become Megadeths most popular recording to date and is almost always listed near the top of metal anthems. Adding Skin O’ My Teeth and Sweating Bullets as major hits from the album, Countdown and the 1994 follow-up Youthinasia, Megadeth were striking hot metal in the mid-90’s.

The band was never shy about controversy. The video for Countdown had to be edited for airing on MTV as it contained an assassination scene that the network refused to air. A tout le monde, a single from Youthinasia had to be aired with a disclaimer from Mustaine saying that he was not promoting suicide as an option. According to Mustaine, “We don’t write music that makes suggestions of taking one’s own life. It’s more saying – we have a problem here, let’s be part of the solution.” Even the cover art for Youth, showing babies hanging from a clothesline, brought them unwelcome criticism. “We never do anything for shock value or to get controversial press because that is basically a pain in a**.” Youthinasia has gone platinum as well.

The band soldiered on throughout the 90’s and into the new century releasing Cryptic Writings, Risk and The World Needs A Hero. But in January 2002, Mustaine was involved in a serious auto accident resulting in his developing Saturday Night palsy (radial neuropathy) in his left hand. To most guitar players, this would have been the end of the line as the palsy left him with the inability to close his left hand while it is facing up. The injury resulted in Mustaine disbanding Megadeth, at least temporarily. However through exhaustive physical therapy and sheer will, Mustaine has recovered full use of his hand and has returned to playing thrash as fast as he ever has.

During this time, Mustaine’s personal viewpoint changed when he became a Christian. In an interview with The Daily Times, Mustaine explained that his life was already shattered and becoming a Christian was the one way he found to put the pieces back together. “Looking up at the cross, I said six simple words, “What have I got to lose?” Afterwards my whole life changed. It’s been hard, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Rather go my whole life thinking there is a God and find out there isn’t than live my whole life thinking there is no God and the find out when I die that there is … To be the number 1 guitar player in the world is a gift from God and I’m stoked about it, but I think Christ is better than I am anyway. Either way, I don’t put much earthly merit in it.”

During the time off, Mustaine mounted a massive reissue campaign by re-mastering and re-issuing every Megadeth album along with bonus material. Once Mustaine was able to return to playing, the band reformed and recorded and released The System Has Failed in 2004, 2007’s United Abominations and Endgame in 2009. Currently they are on tour with Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer under the name as The Big Four.
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