1983 – present (39 years)
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, United States
- Al Pitrelli (2000 – 2002)
- Chris Broderick (2008 – 2014)
- Chris Poland (1984 – 2004)
- Chuck Behler (1987 – 1988)
- Dave Mustaine (1983 – present)
- David Ellefson (1983 – 2021)
- Dijon Carruthers (1983 – 1983)
- Dirk Verbeuren (2016 – present)
- Gar Samuelson (1984 – 1987)
- Glen Drover (2004 – 2008)
- Greg Handevidt (1983 – 1984)
- James Lomenzo (2006 – 2010)
- James MacDonough (2004 – 2006)
- Jay Reynolds (1987 – 1987)
- Jeff Young (1987 – 1988)
- Jimmie Lee Sloas (2004 – 2004)
- Jimmy DeGrasso (1998 – 2002)
- Kerry King (1983 – 1983)
- Kiko Loureiro (2015 – present)
- Lee Rausch (1984 – 1984)
- Marty Friedman (1990 – 1999)
- Nick Menza (1989 – 1998)
- Shawn Drover (2004 – 2014)
Megadeth is an American heavy 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 with 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 Mustaine being the only remaining original member of the group. The band temporarily disbanded in 2002 when Mustaine suffered an arm injury and re-established in 2004 without Ellefson, who had taken legal action against him. 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 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, 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 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 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 auditioned about 15 drummers, hoping to find one who understood metre changes in music. After briefly playing with Dijon Carruthers, they selected Lee Rausch. Following six months of trying to find a lead singer, Mustaine decided to perform lead vocals himself.
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. 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, King went back to Slayer and Megadeth replaced Rausch with jazz fusion drummer Gar Samuelson; he officially joined Megadeth on October 24, 1984. Samuelson had previously been in the jazz band the New Yorkers with guitarist Chris Poland. After seeing Samuelson perform with Megadeth as a trio, Poland went backstage and suggested an impromptu audition as lead guitarist for the band; he joined Megadeth in December 1984.
Traditional heavy metal bands such as UFO, Black Sabbath, Budgie, new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) bands such as Judas Priest, Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, and Venom, and punk rock bands such as the Sex Pistols and Ramones had a significant influence on Megadeth's sound. Hard rock bands such as AC/DC, Queen, and Led Zeppelin, as well as German acts like Scorpions and Accept, were also influential on the group's guitar style. Although the music has roots in punk, university professor Jason Bivins wrote that Megadeth followed the basic blueprint of Motörhead and Iron Maiden. He described the style as a mix of "the instrumental virtuosity of the NWOBHM with the speed and aggression of hardcore punk", while also drawing lyrical inspiration from the horror-obsessed punk band Misfits. Mustaine has also listed albums by the Beatles and David Bowie as recordings that influenced him.
Mustaine is the band's primary songwriter. He develops songs starting with a particular riff that, with modifications, becomes the central part of the song. He has said that song fragments are composed separately, and then the band makes a compact structure from them. Drummer Shawn Drover stated that Mustaine had saved many riffs over the years and that some recent material is based on those demo recordings. Ellefson stated that the band constantly creates new material, and that making a recording begins with exchanging ideas after which the band enters the studio and discusses the concept, direction, artwork, and song titles. The lyrics are usually written after the music is arranged. Discussing the band's lyrics, Mustaine said that many of the themes are derived from literature, such as the novels of George Orwell.
The music of Megadeth and its underground metal contemporaries from the 1980s featured harsh vocals, double bass drum patterns, staccato riffing, power chords, tremolo picking, and screeching lead guitar work; albums from this period were produced on low budgets. After forming Megadeth, Mustaine followed the thrash metal style of his previous band, Metallica, with more emphasis on speed and intensity. Megadeth's music is characterized by its neat instrumental performance, featuring fast rhythm sections, complex arrangements, and snarling vocals. When asked to describe Megadeth's guitar style, Mustaine answered: "When you go to a show and see a guitar player who just stands there, that's a guitar player. A thrash guitar player is a guy who plays like he wants to beat the guitar's guts out." Most of the songs are recorded in standard guitar tuning as Mustaine believes it to provide a superior melody to alternative methods of tuning. In 2017, David Ellefson talked in an interview about how the band recently started to use a lower tuning saying: "it's just natural with age, for singers it can be a struggle, so rather than quit, than not play, how do you work it around? Well, let's drop the guitars, let's find a way to work around it."
During the band's early days, Mustaine was the rhythm guitarist, while Chris Poland played lead. Poland performed only on Megadeth's first two albums at the time of the book's release; (he would go on to play on the 2004 album The System Has Failed); music journalists Pete Prown and Harvey P. Newquist credit him with making the music more colorful because of his jazz influences. According to former Metal Maniacs editor Jeff Wagner, the band's songwriting techniques peaked with the fourth album, Rust in Peace, which he described as a "flurry of precision and fluidity, making good on Megadeth's claim to being the world's state-of-the-art speed metal band". Musicologist Glenn Pillsbury stated the guitar work on the album was a mixture of Mustaine's "controlled chaos" and the "technical brilliance" of Marty Friedman. Studio efforts released in the mid- and late 1990s featured songs with compact structures and less complicated riffing.
Megadeth's lyrics often focus on death, war, politics, and religion. The lyricism centers on nihilistic themes, but occasionally deals with topics such as alienation and social problems. The earliest releases featured themes such as occultism, graphic violence, and Satanism. Nuclear warfare and government conspiracy were preoccupations on albums such as Rust in Peace and Countdown to Extinction. During Megadeth's commercial peak, Mustaine elaborated on more personal themes such as addiction and intimate relationships. For the lyrics on Cryptic Writings, Mustaine said that he wanted to write songs that had more appeal to a wider audience. The title of United Abominations is a satiric play on the name of the United Nations; Mustaine criticized the organization's ineffectiveness on a number of songs on that album. Later albums contained lyrics in a similar vein.
Having sold about 38 million units worldwide, Megadeth is one of the few bands from the 1980s American underground metal scene to have achieved mass commercial success. Along with contemporaries Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax, Megadeth is regarded as one of the core founding groups of thrash metal. These bands are often referred to as the "big four" of thrash metal, responsible for the genre's development and popularization. Loudwire ranked Megadeth the third best thrash metal band of all time, praising the group's "provoking lyrics and mind-warping virtuosity". CMJ New Music Report called the band's debut album a seminal release and a representative of "the golden age of speed metal". Billboard called the band's second album Peace Sells… but Who's Buying? a "landmark of the thrash movement" whose lyrics it found still relevant. MTV also recognized the band as an influential metal act, highlighting the technical aspect of the early albums.
Megadeth is considered one of the most musically influential groups that originated in the 1980s. As part of the early American thrash metal movement, the band's music was a direct influence on death metal. Sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris wrote that the mainstream success of Megadeth was one of the reasons for the expansion of extreme metal to countries where it had previously been unknown. The band's sound and album artwork influenced a number of thrash metal bands in the 21st century, including Toxic Holocaust and Warbringer. According to Nielsen SoundScan, Megadeth has sold 9.2 million copies of its albums in the United States between 1991 and 2014.
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