Mar. 03, 2010 - Issue #750: Megadeth
Shake off the Rust
Megadeth welcomes bassist back, celebrates seminal album
'It was basically a challenge," Dave Mustaine laughs over the phone as he explains the genesis of Megadeth's tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of the band's seminal album Rust in Peace. "My manager said, 'Do you think you could still do it?' and I said, 'Of course I could still do it,' and I guess kind of the gauntlet was thrown down."
It's apt that the idea of playing the full album on stage originated as a gauntlet of sorts: that's not entirely unlike the atmosphere upon the album's original release. After splitting from Metallica prior to the recording of that band's full-length debut, Mustaine had formed Megadeth, recording three albums of his own. Despite solid songwriting from Mustaine and aggressive recordings, between the band's 1985 debut and the end of the tour supporting its 1988 release, So Far, So Good ... So What!, the band's lineup never solidified, with Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson the only constants, the group seeming from the outside to be in a nearly constant state of flux and always struggling to find its footing.
Though Megadeth was included in the so-called Big Four of thrash bands—rounded out by Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer—and Mustaine's intricate songs and punk-influenced assault gave the band a unique edge amongst its contemporaries, there was a perception that Megadeth was always running just behind Mustaine's old band in some sort of imaginary race. But then the lineup shifted once again, with Shrapnel Records shredder Marty Friedman joining on guitar and Nick Menza taking over the drum stool, and Mustaine (with some help from Ellefson) conjured up nine new songs loaded with thrashing riffs and apocalyptic vocals. The resulting album cracked hard and found Megadeth staking its own claim on metal, with guitars, bass, drums and vocals all melding into one pummeling whole: when Rust in Peace landed, there was no doubt that Megadeth was playing for keeps.
The tumultuous times didn't end there, though, with more membership changes and an arm injury leading to Mustaine breaking the band up for several years. During his time off the frontman found Christianity, remastered Megadeth's catalogue and then finally resurrected the group, playing and recording without Ellefson for the first time, leading to Mustaine lobbing acrimonious words at his old band mate in the press and Ellefson filing an unsuccessful lawsuit against Mustaine.
While his troubled days of alcohol, drugs and discontent have been well-documented over the years, today Mustaine comes across as a happy man, comfortable at last in his own skin and with the lineup he shares the stage with: drummer Shawn Drover, guitarist Chris Broderick and his old friend Ellefson, once again on bass.
"I think this is a really great story with a happy ending, where we're at right now, what's happened in my personal life. You know, people make fun of me because of my becoming a Christian, and I'm thinking, 'God, man, if anybody needed to have their life changed it was me.' But I didn't get soft; I certainly didn't stop shredding on guitar," he says, pausing before reflecting on his past turmoil. "When Countdown to Extinction came out [in 1992] and we had the number two record in the United States, that was pretty inebriating, but I was still in that place where I didn't want to be number two. I wanted to be number one, and 'Achy Breaky Heart' was the number one record and I was pissed.
"Since then I've learned that you've got to pick your battles—you've got to decide what you're going to get emotional over, and I get more pleasure out of helping people," he adds. "I just got a letter back from the children's hospital here in San Diego about all the toys we donated over Christmas and it showed this little girl that was two that has cancer and, man, I tell you, talk about making you want to cry when you see that stuff and making you grateful."
In the here and now, Mustaine has come a long way from his younger self, time bringing him around to a place where he directs his anger into the music while doing his best to live a good life off the stage. Part of that change has him accepting that he may have left a trail of hurt in his wake while he was steering the good ship Megadeth, and that applies to his recent reunion with Ellefson.
"We've got a lot of stuff that we need to talk about, and obviously the time will present itself. I made a promise to myself to try to be the absolute best band leader that I can possibly be and that's going to entail me several times having to have the past recalled, and it's not always pleasant to have someone hold up a mirror in front of you," he admits. "I guess the most important thing is willingness: am I willing to look at my part in any of the things that might have led to us not being best friends again? Because I don't always know how the things that I say and do affect people. Sometimes I'm doing or saying stuff to be funny and everybody laughs in the room, but you never really hear under all the laughter the guy muttering under his breath, 'I'm gonna kill you, Dave.'" V
SIX STRINGS OF 'DETH
Guitarist Chris Broderick joined Megadeth in early 2008, and in that time he's recorded 2009's Endgame and toured with the band. Broderick spoke to Vue Weekly recently about playing the entire Rust in Peace album on tour and David Ellefson's return to the band after nearly a decade away. Here are some of the highlights of the conversation.
VUE WEEKLY: How familiar were you with Rust in Peace before joining Megadeth?
CHRIS BRODERICK: Rust in Peace was really the CD that kind of brought me into Megadeth, because I was always into the Shrapnel [Records] guys, the shredders, and I'd known about Marty Friedman from him playing with Jason Becker [co-guitarist in Cacophony], and so Rust in Peace was definitely the CD that brought me into the Megadeth fold. That's the CD that I absolutely love the most.
VW: How do you approach the songs that were recorded before you were in the band?
CB: Definitely note-for-note. First, it helps me personally because I get the benefit of all of the phrasing and the concepts that the original artist intended when they were writing it, so in this case a lot of what Marty Friedman did, I get to internalize it and grow from his phrasing. And secondly, I think the fans really deserve that because they grew up with [the album]. A lot of them, it speaks their language.
VW: A typical setlist is constructed with a different flow than an album, with more of a focus on a wide selection of songs that fans know from throughout the catalogue. How does it feel to just start up at one end of Rust in Peace and blast straight through to the other?
CB: I've never been one to really get into the process of selecting a set for the night, but I do know that you want to try to build up. One of the big considerations in the first part of the show is making sure the soundman gets the sound right, so it's choosing the right songs for that—too fast and too chaotic and it would be hard for the soundman to get the sound dialed in quickly, so you want to kind of ease into it and then pick the show up from there, so there are intentional climaxes in a good setlist. Now with this, it's just running the CD from beginning to end, and I love that because that's the way I listen to the CD. I know a lot of people will just download a specific song these days, but for me a CD is kind of like a slice in time that kind of tells you what those people were thinking overall, so I always listen to the whole CD, and performing it is kind of the same thing.
VW: David Ellefson returned to the band a few weeks ago. As a guitar player, does it make a big difference to you who's playing bass?
CB: Yes, absolutely, but at the same time, I'm always so focused on what I'm trying to accomplish, especially this early on during the rehearsals, I'm more focused on what I'm trying to accomplish than being able to really listen to what Ellefson's doing and Shawn and Dave, for that matter. I'm trying to make sure that I have my stuff down. V
Sun, Mar 7 (6 pm)
With Testament, Exodus
Shaw conference Centre
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