Megadeth is an American Thash metal band formed in Los Angeles in 1983 by vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson. Known for their technically complex guitar work and musicianship, Megadeth is one of the "big four" of American Thrash metal along with Metallica, Anthrax, and Slayer, responsible for the genre's development and popularization. Their music features complex arrangements and fast rhythm sections, and lyrical themes of death, war, politics, personal relationships, and religion.
In 1985, Megadeth released its debut album, Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good!, on the independent record label Combat Records, to moderate success. It 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 was a major hit in the underground metal scene. Band members' substance abuse issues and personal disputes had brought Megadeth negative publicity during the late 1980s. Nonetheless, the band went on to release a number of platinum-selling albums, including So Far, So Good... So What! (1988), Rust in Peace (1990), and Countdown to Extinction (1992). These albums, along with worldwide tours, brought them public recognition.
Megadeth has had numerous guitarists, drummers and bassists throughout its 38-year career, with Dave Mustaine being the only remaining original member of the group. The band temporarily disbanded in 2002 when Dave Mustaine suffered an arm injury and re-established in 2004 without David Ellefson, who had taken legal action against him. David Ellefson settled out of court and rejoined in 2010, but was fired from the band in 2021 amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Megadeth's current lineup includes Dave Mustaine, guitarist Kiko Loureiro and drummer Dirk Verbeuren; former bassist James LoMenzo currently serves as touring bassist.
Megadeth has sold 38 million records worldwide, earned platinum certification in the United States for six 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 live shows. The group has drawn controversy for its music and lyrics, including album bans and canceled concerts; MTV refused to play two of the band's music videos that the network considered to condone suicide. Megadeth has hosted its own music festival Gigantour, several times since July 2005, and held its first annual MegaCruise in October 2019.
On April 11, 1983, Dave Mustaine was fired 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, Dave Mustaine had composed some of the group's early songs and helped hone the band into a tight live unit. Afterward, Dave Mustaine vowed revenge by forming a band that was faster and heavier than Metallica. On the bus trip back to Los Angeles, Dave 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 Dave Mustaine and he wrote a song with the spelling slightly changed to Megadeth, which, according to Dave Mustaine, represented the annihilation of power.
After arriving back in Los Angeles, Dave Mustaine began the search for new bandmates for his band. He formed the band Fallen Angels, and after numerous band members, the band's name was changed to Megadeth. As the founder of the band, he added to the band his new neighbors David Ellefson and Greg Handevidt, who had moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles and played bass and guitar.
While Greg Handevidt would only last a few months, Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson formed a tight musical bond. Despite his enthusiasm, Dave Mustaine had trouble finding other members to fill out the lineup. He and David Ellefson auditioned about 15 drummers, hoping to find one who understood meter changes in music. After briefly playing with Dijon Carruthers, they selected Lee Rausch. Following six months of trying to find a lead singer, Dave Mustaine decided to perform lead vocals himself.
In 1984, Megadeth recorded a three-song demo tape featuring Dave Mustaine, David Ellefson, and Lee Rausch. The demo tape, "Last Rites", was released on March 9, 1984. It 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. The band was unable to find a compatible second guitarist. Kerry King of Slayer filled in on rhythm guitar for several shows in the San Francisco area in the spring of 1984. Afterwards, Kerry King went back to Slayer and Megadeth replaced Lee Rausch with jazz fusion drummer Gar Samuelson; he officially joined Megadeth on October 24, 1984. Gar Samuelson had previously been in the jazz band The New Yorkers with guitarist Chris Poland. After seeing Gar Samuelson perform with Megadeth as a trio, Chris Poland went backstage and suggested an impromptu audition as lead guitarist for the band; he joined Megadeth in December 1984.
Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good! (1985)
After considering several labels, Dave Mustaine signed the band to Combat Records, a New York-based Independent record label that offered Megadeth the highest budget to record and tour. 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 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 Dave Mustaine wrote during his time with Metallica. Though Dave Mustaine told the band after his dismissal not to use the music he had written, Metallica recorded a different version of the song, "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 Dave 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. Touring guitarist Mike Albert replaced Chris Poland, who was battling drug addiction. Chris Poland rejoined Megadeth in October 1985, shortly before the group began recording its second album for Combat.
Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? (1986-1987)
According to Dave Mustaine, Megadeth 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. Dave Mustaine composed the music, with the other members adding arrangement ideas.
The 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 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. Dave 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 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, Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson considered firing Gar Samuelson for his drug abuse. According to Dave Mustaine, Gar 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 Gar Samuelson would not be able to continue. Chris Poland quarreled with Dave Mustaine, and was accused of selling band equipment to buy heroin. As a result, Gar Samuelson and Chris Poland were asked to leave Megadeth in 1987, with Chuck Behler becoming the band's full-time drummer.
Chris Poland was initially replaced by Jay Reynolds of Malice, but as the band began working on its next record, Jay Reynolds was replaced by his guitar teacher, Jeff Young, when Megadeth was six weeks into the recording of its third album.
So Far, So Good... So What (1988-1989)
With a major-label budget, Paul Lani-produced So Far, So Good... So What! took over five months to record the album. The production was plagued with problems, partially due to Dave Mustaine's struggle with drug addiction. Dave 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 Paul Lani, beginning with Lani's insistence that the drums be recorded separately from the cymbals, an unheard-of process for rock drummers. Dave Mustaine and Paul Lani became estranged during the mixing, and Paul 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."; Dave Mustaine changed the lyrics, later saying that he had simply heard them incorrectly. To support the album, Megadeth embarked on a world tour that lasted for nearly eight months. The band (along with Savatage) opened for Dio on the Dream Evil-tour and supported Iron Maiden on their Seventh Son of a Seventh Son-tour, both in the United States. They also headlined a North American tour with Warlock and Sanctuary (whose debut album Refuge Denied was produced by Dave Mustaine), and a European tour with Testament, Nuclear Assault, Flotsam and Jetsam and Sanctuary.
In June 1988, Megadeth appeared in Penelope Spheeris' documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. The documentary chronicled the Los Angeles Heavy metal scene of the late 1980s, and Penelope Spheeris, who had directed Megadeth in the video for "Wake Up Dead", decided to include them to feature a more serious band in contrast to the Glam metal groups. Dave 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 Dave 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 David Ellefson's drug problems, for which he was treated immediately. Megadeth was replaced by Testament.
Shortly after the Monsters of Rock appearance, Dave Mustaine fired Chuck Behler and Jeff Young and canceled Megadeth's Australian tour. "On the road, things escalated from a small border skirmish into a full-on raging war," Dave Mustaine later recalled. "I think a lot of us were inconsistent because of drugs." During the tour, Dave Mustaine noticed problems developing with Chuck Behler and brought in drummer, Nick Menza as Chuck Behler's drum technician. As with Gar Samuelson, Nick Menza was expected to take over if Chuck Behler could not continue the tour. Nick Menza replaced Chuck Behler in 1989. Jeff Young's dismissal resulted from Dave Mustaine's suspicions that he was having an affair with Dave Mustaine's girlfriend, an allegation Jeff Young denied.
The band was unable to quickly find a suitable replacement for Jeff Young. Although 1989 marked the first time since its inception that Megadeth did not tour nor perform at least one show, they 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 Deve Mustaine was unable to play guitar because of his drug addiction. During the March 1989 auditions for a new lead guitarist, Dave 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. Dave 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)
The Sick, the Dying... and the Dead! (TBA)