Death Be Proud
Dave Mustaine claims to be mulling over new career possibilities. "I enjoy teaching," says the singer and guitarist for one of America's most aggressive speed-metal bands, Megadeth.
In fact, Mustaine played a schoolteacher in Evolver, a feature-length video released in 1995. "It was the end of the last shot, and all of a sudden they start firing paper balls at me," Mustaine recalls of the kids on the set. "I said, 'All right! Let's go out for chili and ice cream!' I figured, 'Yeah, I'll get you all sick. You're all gonna be mad, your parents are gonna want to kill me, but you know what? I'll have the last laugh while you're sittin' on the toilet tonight with that volcano, Mount Vesuvius, in your behind.'"
Maybe teaching isn't such a great idea. Fortunately Megadeth has no intention of breaking up soon, despite rumors circulating among worried fans. When the band eventually does call it a day, Mustaine will have had more practice with children: On February 28, his wife gave birth to a daughter, Electra. Mustaine, age 36, helped deliver the child.
Last June he delivered another newborn of sorts: Cryptic Writings, Megadeth's eighth album, which provides the sounds fans have come to expect -- ferocious guitar work, confrontational lyrics, Mustaine's teeth-grinding vocals. But it's also packed with melodies and hooks. This may explain why Megadeth (which includes David Ellefson on bass, Nick Menza on drums, and Marty Friedman on guitar) is finally enjoying mainstream success after a fifteen-year career as one of the bands that pioneered the faster, thrashier brand of heavy metal that came to be known as speed metal. Three of the new album's tracks, "Trust," "Almost Honest," and "Use the Man," have been receiving significant radio airplay on commercial rock stations.
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Always a critical favorite, Megadeth has also managed to sell a great number of records. The band was a major draw on the Clash of the Titans tour that blazed through the United States in 1991, at the height of speed-metal mania. Yet radio remained uncharted territory for Megadeth. While the man on the street may have known the band existed, he'd probably never heard the music. That may change.
"I was watching the Coyotes play the Rangers," says Mustaine of a hockey game he recently attended. "They played one of our songs during the game. And I hear some guy yelling, 'It's about time, Dave!' And I said quietly to myself, 'Fuckin' amen.' 'Cause I didn't want anybody to notice that I'm sitting here holding my breath, holding on to my chair, saying, 'I think it's about time, too.'"
The history of Megadeth is intertwined -- too tightly for comfort, perhaps -- with the history of that other speed-metal band, Metallica. Mustaine was a founding member of Metallica, which formed in Los Angeles in 1981. Primarily a guitarist then, Mustaine helped the band hammer out its hard, relentless, punk-inspired sound. In 1983 Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica for substance abuse, and he formed Megadeth that same year, positioning himself as the band's frontman. Both bands espouse the same apocalyptic view of the world, and Mustaine in particular favors themes of murder, war, alienation, adultery, and imprisonment. Early on, Mustaine led Megadeth away from a punk-inspired, thrash-and-burn sound and concentrated instead on lightning-fast guitar work that bordered on freeform jazz.
In terms of big sales, Metallica has always beaten Megadeth to the punch. Both bands spent the early part of the '80s as cult favorites among suburban teens. In 1988 Metallica's album ...And Justice for All reached No. 6 on the Billboard charts, while Megadeth's release that year (Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?) reached only No. 28. In 1991 Metallica debuted at No. 1. The next year Megadeth's Countdown to Extinction reached No. 2.
As Megadeth grew more successful, Mustaine turned to heroin and gained a reputation in the music industry as an erratic, foul-tempered rock star. He fired two of the band's original members and replaced them just before recording So Far, So Good... So What?, which was released in 1988 and went gold. In 1990 Mustaine was arrested for impaired driving and entered a twelve-step program. He emerged clean and sober but no less cantankerous. The two band members he had just hired were promptly fired and replaced. In 1993 Megadeth toured as the opening act for Aerosmith, but Mustaine's unpleasant behavior got the band kicked off the bill.
What some might call nastiness, Mustaine calls honesty. "I have this really horrible reputation as a really bad dude," he admits. "But some have misconstrued that with when they try and manipulate me and I say 'No.' Or they try and make us do their will, and we don't do it. Very few people have ever really caught shit from me."
In fact, the singer is quite soft-spoken and occasionally reveals a childlike enthusiasm for his band and its recent success. He hopes to make a good impression on people while visiting radio stations to promote the album.
"I don't want to sound biased, but there's a buzz on the band because of the coolness of the band, because of the way we treat people at radio," Mustaine posits. "We don't make ourselves unavailable to anybody. If you've got two ears, we'll talk to you. If you've got electricity, we'll play there."
But even the "new" Dave Mustaine doesn't always play nice. Asked to respond to the perennial rumor that he might reunite with Metallica, Mustaine groans, "Do I have to?" When pressed, he simply says, "I have no idea."
Mustaine would rather discuss more philosophical matters, such as the expected life span of his band. Someday, he says, Megadeth will end.
"I think that's part of the whole integrity thing," he states. "That goes along with being who I am. I wouldn't say 'Oh man, you know, we're gonna go forever!' If it's not fun, we're stopping."
He continues, "Y'know, there's a lot of bands out there. I think that Ozzy is a really unbelievable frontman. I think Iron Maiden is a fantastic live band. I think the Stones have an incredible live show, and I think U2 is probably one of the best rock bands playing in the live arena. But when I get to their age, if I can't compete at that level, I'm outta here. If I have to start wearing Depends, see ya."
Megadeth performs with Coal Chamber and Life of Agony at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 29 at the Theater, 3339 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-565-5522.
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