One purpose of most band biographies is to convince the reader that the musicians in question are the swellest bunch of people to walk the earth since God distinguished human beings from apes by giving us a large forebrain, erect posture, a sense of shame, and a fetish for wearing and collecting shoes. Although Dave Mustaine, Dave Ellefson, Marty Friedman, and Nick Menza seem like good people, I'm not going to pretend that, by comparison, they make Mother Theresa look like Jeffery Dahmer, and I'm not going to argue that the Lincoln Memorial should be torn down to make way for a giant bronze sculpture of Megadeth. (Anyway, we all know that spot is already set aside for the Elvis monument.)
Band biographies are also supposed to tell you what terrific, stupendous, fabulous, thunderously good, keen, and special musicians these guys are. I'm also going to break that tradition and assume that you are a member of the shoe-wearing species that rules our planet and are, therefore, perfectly capable of listening to Megadeth and already know they are flat-out the best at what they do.
When writing the biography of a metal band, the author is pretty much required--I'm almost sure there's a federal law--to use words and phrases like "thrashmasters" and "ripping" and "grizzly-throated" and "speed-core riffs" and "slamming chords" and "raging maniac" and "shitfaced." Okay, there, I've used them.
Because music critics are believed to rely on band biographies for background, the author is expected to cram the damn thing with more boring facts than you'd find in a ten-million-dollar, Department of Agriculture study of flatulence in dairy cows. It's supposed to include everything from an exhaustive survey of their musical triumphs to Dave Mustaine's favorite color, Ellefson's taste in hats, a list of three things that Friedman likes to do with Spam, and Menza's views on the possibility of intelligent life on other planets and in Libya.
Personally, I think any music critic worth his salt already knows everything important about Megadeth. Every DJ and programmer in rock radio knows Megadeth. Everyone who's managed to remain conscious at least some of the time since 1985 knows about Megadeth. Maybe George Bush has never heard about Megadeth, but he's not likely to be reading this, so why should the whole band biography be shaped just to educate him, even if he is a former President? Nevertheless, I wouldn't want it to be said that I am a radical, so I'll bow to this one tradition and give you a big wad of facts, presented in speedmetal fashion.
1982: Metallica. Mustaine. Metallica, no Mustaine.
1983: Mustaine, Ellefson--Megadeth is born. Spelling error in the tradition of Dan Quayle. Too late to worry about that.
1985: Killing Is My Business...and Business Is Good. Powerful debut.
1986: Peace Sells...But Who's Buying. First album at Capitol. Goes gold.
1987: The drummer Gar Samuelson is out. Chris Poland guitarist is out. Life is tough. Mustaine and Ellefson stay. Jeff Young, Chuck Behler join up. Life is good.
1988: So Far So Good...So What! Refining the sound. Reverend Jerry Falwell doesn't like them much.
1989: Jeff Young and Chuck Behler are out. Life is tough. Menza and Friedman come aboard. Life is good.
1990: Rust In Peace. Metal classic. Tipper Gore doesn't like it any more than Jerry Falwell does.
1991: The Gulf War. Ted Kennedy and the Palm Beach scandal. Julia Roberts leaves Kiefer Sutherland at the altar. Megadeth just keeps on keeping on.
1992: Nobody leaves the band. Nobody joins the band. Countdown to Extinction. Megadeth is the top metal band in the world. MTV, "Rock the Vote," Mustaine reporting the Democratic Convention. Politics. At play in the Land of Lies.
1993: Turmoil in the band. Life is tough, life is good, but life is never easy.
1994: Youthanasia. Mustaine writing at his peak. Ellefson, Menza, Friedman playing gangbusters. Powerhouse band. Another spelling error, this time in the title of the album. Too late to worry about that.
With those tiresome facts out of the way, let's consider what's most important about Megadeth. For one thing, they don't embrace the pretentious gloom-and- doom that, in its most extreme and relentless form, turns some metal bands into parodies of themselves. Those groups come from the humanity-is-a-wad-of- phlegm school of music: baby-think dressed up to seem profound. Don't get me wrong. Megadeth isn't a safe band by any definition, but their music is self- confident enough to be shot through with moments of hope, which makes it unique.
Dave Mustaine has said, "My life is average, my life is normal, and anybody can have this kind of existence if they're prepared to work for it. My life is a mirror of what anyone's life can be." He is sincere. He believes in hope. His lyrics deal with the dark and the light of life, which is one reason they have more depth than those of the competition. Look, I'm no music critic; my mom never would have wanted that; but I think Youthanasia contains at least three standouts--"Train of Consequences," "Addicted to Chaos," plus the piece the two Daves wrote together, "I Thought I Knew It All" --and the music supports the words with singular, driving energy.
Another important thing about Megadeth: It's hard to picture the band pulling a Sammy-Davis-Dick-Nixon Kodak Moment and hugging the President, regardless of which extreme of the political spectrum occupied the White House. Art is greater than politics. That's a truth that seems to elude most actors, writers, and musicians these days. Art used in the service of either left or right-wing politics is no longer art; it's either propaganda or sentimental bullshit--two forms of "entertainment" in which Megadeth has not yet indulged.
I also doubt you'll ever see Mustaine on Oprah!, trying to make capital out of his recovery from drug addiction. You won't see him whining about being a victim of society or his upbringing. He knows that the fault lies in himself. It lies right there among all the virtues. We have the potential to be devils or gods, and life is about the struggle with ourselves. That's what makes life so interesting.
Finally, what's important about Megadeth is that their music is fun. It's rock-n-roll, kids. It was always meant to be about fun. About freedom. About life and getting on with it. Megadeth hasn't forgotten that. They're fit, they're hot, and they're ready to play.
These guys pass the imaginary Godzilla test. Imagine if Godzilla came stomping through a city where the band was performing in concert. The old thunderlizard would topple skyscrapers into rubble, smash cars underfoot, melt tanks with his breath, attempt to impregnate every automatic car wash he came across, and in general behave appallingly. Some bands, if he stepped on them, would disintegrate like puffballs, and there would be no proof they ever existed. Other bands would squish like butter, and old Godzilla might slip, but he'd get his balance right away and go stomping on toward the doughnut shop or whatever the hell he came to town for in the first place. If he stepped on Megadeth, believe me, he'd know he stepped on something. Oh, yeah, of course, he'd smash them dead. This band is only human, after all. But 'zilla would get a foot full of hideously spiky, barbed, deeply penetrating bone fragments, and the last chords of their singular music would burst from their instruments, into his wounds, and through his bloodstream with devastating effect. He'd limp out of town, back to whatever suboceanic hole he crawled out of, and if somehow he survived the wound, one day he'd start a band and play the most bitchin' guitar you ever heard.