One of the most groundbreaking, electrifying, and provocative bodies of work in the history of heavy rock is about to be re-unleashed upon the public in all its blazing glory. Seven albums by pioneering metal band MEGADETH, along with a new, never-before-heard version of a Megadeth-related side project, arrive on July 27th. Founder, singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter Dave Mustaine spent months remixing, remastering, restoring--and in some cases reconstructing--the band's catalog to bring it as close to his original vision as possible. With each album packed with unreleased tracks, demos and alternate mixes, along with painfully honest liner notes from the iconoclastic Mustaine, these are the definitive editions of Megadeth's musical legacy.
"I have finally gotten to go back and make everything that I was hearing in my head available to the fans, so that they can experience the songs the way that I feel they truly are in my soul," says Mustaine about his massive project on Capitol Records. "Some of the songs just didn't turn out the way that I wanted them to when they were first made, due to money restrictions, technology limitations and so on. I believe now that there is nothing standing in the way of what I felt when I wrote these songs and how you will be able to hear them."
Megadeth was formed in 1983, shortly after California native Mustaine parted ways with Metallica. "When I first started the group, I wanted to form a band because I was very bitter about being fired (from Metallica) and my fuel was revenge," says the bracingly candid musician. "I went from playing music for fun as a kid to playing music for payback. I didn't really care who was in the group; I just had something I wanted to accomplish. I was not going to be looked upon as someone who wasn't good enough." With something to prove, Mustaine initially set out to create the heaviest metal band ever. Beginning with the band's 1985 debut album, "Killing Is My Business. And Business Is Good!", and evolving through a shifting series of lineups, Megadeth crafted a dynamic, intelligent style that combined the aggressiveness of thrash metal, the improvisational nature of jazz, and cynical, articulate, politically-charged lyrics into an innovative mix that built a rabid worldwide following.
Several early albums--including 1986's classic "Peace Sells. But Who's Buying?" and the masterful 1990 release, "Rust In Peace" -- solidified the band's underground metal fanbase. In 1992, Megadeth busted out into the mainstream with their fifth album, "Countdown To Extinction", which debuted on the Billboard Top 200 album chart at Number Two and went on to sell over two million copies in the U.S. alone. 1994's "Youthanasia" followed with a Number Four debut, while '97's "Cryptic Writings" yielded four Top 20 hits at rock radio, including "Trust" and "Almost Honest" (all of the Megadeth albums were certified gold, while "So Far...", "Rust In Peace" and "Youthanasia" were also platinum-selling)
By the time of 1999's "Risk", however, which featured a pop slant unheard on previous Megadeth recordings, Mustaine himself began to grow disillusioned with the band's direction and the music industry. 2001 saw a return to the band's heavier roots on "The World Needs A Hero", but a year later, a freak injury- Mustaine fell asleep on his arm, causing nerve damage--forced the singer and guitarist to put his career and Megadeth on hiatus, while reassessing both.
Part of that reassessment involved the band's Capitol Records back catalog, which began with their second album, "Peace Sells. But Who's Buying? " "A while ago, I had heard that the Beatles, when they renewed their deal with Capitol, they had an opportunity to fix all the mistakes that they had ever had, even down to little typos in the liner notes," explains Mustaine. "I don't know how much of that is true, but I always had the desire to make "So Far, So Good. So What!" (1988) sound good ever since it came out, because I wasn't really happy with it. I just wanted all of them to sound good."
Mustaine's first foray into the restoration business was that debut Megadeth effort, "Killing Is My Business", a job he now says "wasn't as hard as these other ones were." For the rest, what Mustaine thought would be a fairly straightforward task of some remixing and sonic polishing turned into a major salvage operation. "We had to get all the tapes from Capitol. They basically took the master tapes and put them on a hard drive, from which I did everything with Pro Tools in a recording studio in the Tempe area called Phase Four. When I opened up "Peace Sells. But Who's Buying?", the amount of work that needed to be done to get everything up to speed was reasonable. Certain dynamics on tracks needed to be fixed and so forth, but it was in pretty good shape.
"Then we got to "So Far, So Good. So What!", which was recorded on AGFA tape," Mustaine continues. "AGFA had a bad run of tape at one point, and naturally, I got a bad run of tape from those guys. So when they tried to transfer the music from the tapes in storage in New Jersey onto the drive for us, nothing showed up. The guy who was in charge of the transfer called me up and said the top of the tape had this white powder all over it, and I asked, 'Well, was it coke?' And he said no, the tape had disintegrated. So we went into the studio, and I had to literally take every single note from every single instrument throughout the record and fix everything with ProTools."
"So Far..". might have required the biggest overhaul, but every album needed a fair amount of work and, in some cases, even some re-recording. "You know, it wasn't really hard when I first opened up the very first drive to roll up my sleeves and think, 'This is gonna be great,'" Mustaine says now. "But as the project rolled on and the difficulties started to accumulate, I began to get a little nervous. When I got to stuff like 'Take No Prisoners' (from "Rust In Peace"), and it was two o'clock in the morning and we find out that the vocal track is gone, I was pretty freaked out."
The most extensive revision didn't involve a Megadeth album at all. However, in its new form, "The Craving" comes closer to a true Megadeth effort than it did before. If that title doesn't quite ring a bell, it's because it was recorded in 1996 under the name MD.45, a side project formed by Mustaine and ex-Fear vocalist Lee Ving. But when Mustaine inspected the original multi-track recordings, he discovered that Ving's vocal tracks and harmonica parts were missing. So he took the unprecedented step of re-singing all the vocals himself, as well as simulating the harmonica on a guitar. The result is a new album in many ways. "I'm the most excited about MD.45," enthuses Mustaine. "When it first came out, a lot of people were really disappointed in it because they loved the playing, but they didn't like Lee. I still think Lee's amazing, but I've done something that I believe has made "The Craving" really credible. I'm really, really looking forward to seeing how the public responds to that."
The results across the board, on all eight albums, are impressive. Later efforts like "Risk" benefit from Mustaine's ruthless stripping of the pop elements, giving the album a harder, truer sound, but it's the earlier efforts like "Peace Sells..." and "So Far..." that benefit the most. There's no question, with the sounds refurbished and maximized, that this was an undeniably powerful and lethal band, fully deserving their status as one of the most influential metal acts of the last twenty years.
And Megadeth's work is not finished. His arm healed, Mustaine began itching to play again. With drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and bassist Jimmy Sloas, he recently completed work on the first all-new Megadeth album in three years. A bruising sample track, "Kick The Chair," leaked online by Mustaine, portends great things. "I think that it has come full circle back to the aggressive, political cynical lyrics and aggressive guitar riffing that I am famous--or infamous--for," says Mustaine. "I feel something very similar to when I first started out when I hear this new record. It's exciting for me and I can't wait for the public to be able to have this record in their hands."
With a new album due in the fall (Sanctuary Records) and the catalog back on July 27th in its ultimate form, Megadeth, in 2004, has come gloriously back to life.
--Don Kaye, May 2004