Megadeth is an American heavy metal band from Los Angeles, California. Guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson formed the band in 1983 shortly after Mustaine's dismissal from Metallica. A pioneer of the American thrash metal scene, Megadeth is credited as one of the genre's "big four," along with Metallica, Anthrax, and Slayer, responsible for thrash metal's development and popularisation. Megadeth plays in a technical style, featuring complex arrangements and fast rhythm sections. Themes of death, war, politics, and religion are prominent in the song lyrics.
In 1985, the band released its debut album, Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good!, on the independent label Combat Records. The album's moderate commercial success caught the attention of bigger labels, which led to Megadeth signing with Capitol Records. Their first major-label album, Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?, was released in 1986 and influenced the underground metal scene. Despite its prominence in thrash metal, frequent disputes between its members and substance abuse issues brought Megadeth negative publicity during this period.
After the lineup stabilized, the band released a number of platinum-selling albums, including Rust in Peace (1990) and Countdown to Extinction (1992). These albums, along with touring worldwide, helped bring public recognition to Megadeth. The band temporarily disbanded in 2002 when Mustaine suffered an arm injury and re-established in 2004 without bassist Ellefson, who had taken legal action against Mustaine. Ellefson settled with Mustaine out of court and rejoined the group in 2010. Megadeth has hosted its own music festival, Gigantour, several times since July 2005.
To date, Megadeth has sold about 25 million records worldwide, earned platinum certification in the United States for five of its fifteen studio albums, and received twelve Grammy nominations. Megadeth won its first Grammy Award in 2017 for the song "Dystopia" in the Best Metal Performance category. The band's mascot, Vic Rattlehead, regularly appears on album artwork and, since 2010, in live shows. The group has experienced controversy over its musical approach and lyrics, including album bans and canceled concerts. MTV has refused to play two of the band's videos that the network considered to condone suicide.
On April 11, 1983, Dave Mustaine was expelled from Metallica just prior to the band recording their debut album Kill 'Em All due to substance abuse and personal conflicts with James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich. As Metallica's lead guitarist since 1981, Mustaine had composed some of the group's early songs and helped hone the band into a tight live unit. Afterward, Mustaine vowed revenge by forming a band that was faster and heavier than Metallica. On the bus trip back to Los Angeles, Mustaine found a pamphlet by California senator Alan Cranston that read: "The arsenal of megadeath can't be rid no matter what the peace treaties come to." The term "Megadeath" stuck with Mustaine and he wrote a song with the spelling slightly changed to Megadeth, which, according to Mustaine, represented the annihilation of power.
After arriving back in Los Angeles, Mustaine began the search for new band mates. Opportunity came knocking when he befriended his new neighbors David Ellefson and Greg Handevidt, two newly transplanted Minnesotans who fortuitously played bass and guitar respectively. The trio formed the basis of the band Mustaine was eager to start, and while Handevidt would only last a few months, Mustaine and Ellefson formed a tight musical bond. Despite his enthusiasm, Mustaine had trouble finding other members to fill out the lineup. He and Ellefson examined about fifteen drummers, hoping to find one who understood meter changes in music. After briefly playing with Dijon Carruthers, they eventually selected Lee Rausch as their drummer. They also decided on Mustaine as lead vocalist after six months of searching.
In 1984, Megadeth recorded a three-song demo tape featuring Mustaine, Ellefson, and Rausch. The demo tape, Last Rites, was released on March 9, 1984. The demo featured early versions of "Last Rites/Loved to Death", "The Skull Beneath the Skin", and "Mechanix", all of which appeared on the band's debut album. A second guitarist proved elusive after several months of trying to find the perfect candidate. In the meantime, Kerry King from Slayer filled in on rhythm guitar for several shows in the San Francisco area in the spring of 1984. After the San Francisco shows, King went back to Slayer and Megadeth replaced Rausch with jazz fusion drummer Gar Samuelson. Samuelson had previously been in a jazz band called The New Yorkers, which also had guitarist Chris Poland in their ranks. After seeing Samuelson perform live with Megadeth as a trio, Poland went backstage and suggested an impromptu audition as lead guitarist for the band and joined Megadeth in December 1984. After considering several labels, Mustaine signed the band to Combat Records, a New York-based Independent record label that offered Megadeth the highest budget to record and tour.
1985: Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good!
In 1985, Combat Records gave the band $8,000 to record and produce its debut album. After spending $4,000 of the budget on drugs, alcohol, and food, the band fired the original producer and finished the recording themselves. Despite its low fidelity sound, Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good! was relatively successful in underground metal circles on its release that summer and attracted major-label interest. Music writer Joel McIver praised its "blistering technicality" and stated that the album "raised the bar for the whole thrash metal scene, with guitarists forced to perform even more accurately and powerfully". The front cover marked the debut of band mascot Vic Rattlehead, who regularly appeared on subsequent album artwork.
Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good! features "Mechanix," a song Mustaine wrote during his time with Metallica. Though Mustaine told the band after his dismissal not to use the music he had written, Metallica recorded a different version of the song entitled "The Four Horsemen", with a slower tempo and a melodic middle section. The album also included a cover of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," at a faster tempo and with altered lyrics. Megadeth's version generated controversy during the 1990s, when its writer, Lee Hazlewood, called Mustaine's changes "vile and offensive". Under threat of legal action, the song was removed from pressings released from 1995 to 2001.
In mid-1985, on a bill with Canadian speed metal band Exciter, Megadeth played its first North American tour: the Killing for a Living Tour. Poland was in the band as the tour began, but abruptly left and was replaced by touring guitarist Mike Albert. Poland rejoined Megadeth in October 1985, shortly before the group began recording its second album for Combat.
1986–1987: Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?
According to Mustaine, the band was under pressure to deliver another successful album: "That sophomore offering is the 'be-all or end-all' of any band. You either go to the next level, or it's the beginning of the nadir." The songs were developed relatively quickly in an old warehouse south of Los Angeles before recording began. Mustaine composed the music, with the other members adding arrangement ideas. Megadeth's second album was produced on a $25,000 budget from Combat Records. Dissatisfied with its financial limitations, the band left Combat and signed with Capitol Records. Capitol bought the rights to the upcoming album, and hired producer Paul Lani to remix the earlier recordings. Released in late 1986, Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? has clearer production and more sophisticated songwriting. Mustaine wanted to write socially conscious lyrics, unlike mainstream heavy metal bands who sang about "hedonistic pleasures". The album was noted for its political commentary and helped Megadeth expand its fanbase. The title track was the album's lead single and was accompanied by a music video that received regular airplay on MTV.
In February 1987, Megadeth was the opening act on Alice Cooper's Constrictor tour, and the following month the band began its first headlining world tour in the United Kingdom. The 72-week tour was supported by Overkill and Necros, and continued in the United States. During the tour, Mustaine and Ellefson considered firing Samuelson for his drug abuse. According to Mustaine, Samuelson had become too much to handle when intoxicated. Drummer Chuck Behler traveled with Megadeth for the last dates of the tour as the other band members feared Samuelson would not be able to continue touring. Poland occasionally quarreled with Mustaine, and was accused of selling band equipment to buy heroin. As a result, Samuelson and Poland were asked to leave Megadeth in 1987, with Behler becoming the band's full-time drummer. Later that year, 16-year-old guitarist Jeff Loomis of Sanctuary auditioned for the band. Mustaine complimented Loomis' playing but considered him too young to join. Poland was initially replaced by Jay Reynolds of Malice, but as the band began working on its next record, Reynolds was replaced by his guitar teacher, Jeff Young, when Megadeth was six weeks into the recording of its third album.
1988–1989: So Far, So Good... So What!
With a major-label budget, the Paul Lani-produced So Far, So Good... So What! took over five months to record. The album was plagued with problems during production, partially due to Mustaine's struggle with drug addiction. Mustaine later said: "The production of So Far, So Good... So What! was horrible, mostly due to substances and the priorities we had or didn't have at the time." Mustaine clashed with Lani on several occasions, beginning with Lani's insistence that the drums be recorded separately from the cymbals, an unheard-of process for rock drummers. Mustaine and Lani became estranged during the album's mixing, and Lani was replaced by Michael Wagener, who remixed the album.
So Far, So Good... So What! was released in January 1988 and was well received by fans and critics. The album featured a cover version of the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K."; Mustaine changed the song's lyrics, later saying that he had simply heard them incorrectly. To support the album, Megadeth embarked on a world tour, opening for Dio in Europe and then joining Iron Maiden's Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour in the United States.
In June 1988, Megadeth appeared in Penelope Spheeriss' documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. The documentary chronicled the Los Angeles heavy metal scene of the late 1980s with a focus on glam metal. Mustaine remembered the film as a disappointment, as it aligned Megadeth with "a bunch of shit bands".
In August, the band appeared at the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington in the United Kingdom, performing to an audience of more than 100,000. One show featured a guest appearance by Metallica drummer (and Mustaine's former bandmate) Lars Ulrich. The band was added to the Monsters of Rock European tour, but left after the first show due to Ellefson's drug problems, for which he was treated immediately.
Shortly after the Monsters of Rock appearance, Mustaine fired Behler and Young and canceled Megadeth's scheduled Australian tour. "On the road, things escalated from a small border skirmish into a full-on raging war", Mustaine later recalled. "I think a lot of us were inconsistent [on the 1988 tour] because of the guy we were waiting for after the show." During the tour, Mustaine noticed problems developing with Behler and brought in drummer Nick Menza as Behler's drum technician. As with Samuelson, Menza was expected to take over if Behler could not continue the tour. Menza replaced Behler in 1989. Young's dismissal resulted from Mustaine's suspicions that he was having an affair with Mustaine's girlfriend, an allegation Young denied.
The band was unable to quickly find a suitable replacement for Young. At this time, Megadeth recorded a cover version of Alice Cooper's "No More Mr. Nice Guy" which appeared on the soundtrack to the Wes Craven horror movie Shocker. The video was directed by Penelope Spheeris, who recalled the filming as a "Herculean task" as Mustaine was unable to play guitar because of his drug addiction. During the March 1989 auditions for a new lead guitarist, Mustaine was arrested for driving under the influence and possession of narcotics after crashing into a parked vehicle occupied by an off-duty police officer. Mustaine entered court-ordered drug rehabilitation shortly afterwards, and became drug-free for the first time in ten years.
So Far, So Good... So What! (1988)
Rust in Peace (1990)
Countdown to Extinction (1992)
Cryptic Writings (1997)
The World Needs a Hero (2001)
The System Has Failed (2004)
United Abominations (2007)
Super Collider (2013)