Life and ‘Deth
After 10 Years of Shit, Megadeth Calls it Quits

It’s cop-out time again.

I know, I know, I promised the LivePhish reviews this week, and I only have one more week of lag time before the next six volumes come out, and blah blah blah. Here’s the thing: the Phish reviews are turning into a massive project, and it’s one I don’t quite feel like finishing today. Why? Well, if you live in Northwest Indiana, you only need to look outside to answer that question. It’s a beautiful day, which falls smack in the middle of a beautiful week, and I spent a large portion of it inside a stuffy office, and right now I want nothing more than to go out on my back porch with a tall glass of iced tea and a stack of comic books. And so I will.

So here’s my thought. Since the Phish reviews deal with an ongoing series, I had the idea of making the review page a separate entity that I update once a month or so, when I get and absorb a new volume. What does everyone think? I would let everyone know when the page is updated, of course.

Being a responsible chap, I couldn’t just leave my loyal readership without something to peruse this week, and thankfully, the topic for this column sort of fell into my lap. I get to revisit my headbanging childhood, and celebrate the rebirth that is spring by talking about death.

Or, more precisely, ‘Deth.

* * * * *

Just because I needed more reasons to feel old, one of my earliest musical obsessions called it quits just recently. Citing an injury to his left hand that prevents him from playing guitar, Megadeth’s leader and musical mastermind Dave Mustaine announced that his band has decided to break up. I’m of two minds about this.

For one, my checkbook is happy, because this announcement follows 10 years of absolute shit from the Megadeth camp. We’re talking five albums since 1992, each crappier than the last, culminating in last month’s two-disc live album Rude Awakening, which cast classic ‘Deth next to the recent godawful dreck they’ve been releasing. Songs like “She-Wolf” and “Almost Honest” don’t improve in a live setting, in case long-time fans were wondering.

But another part of me is actually going to miss Mustaine and his less-than-merry men. I got a lot of responses to two columns I wrote for Face that doubled as open letters to Dave, taking him to task for his recent output. Seriously, you have never heard a bigger piece of feces than 1999’s Risk album. Schmaltzy strings, lazy songwriting, an anthem written for the WWF called (snicker) “Crush ‘Em,” and on and on. It was so shitty that I’d bet you could walk into a record store stocking it and find it using only your sense of smell. Shit, I tell you.

But really, I only called him out so much because, believe it or not, I expected better. Megadeth used to make serious, musically muscular metal, stuff that took chops and practice and a real compositional sense to create. There was an admittedly brief period of my life when I really considered 1990’s Rust In Peace the best album ever made, and while that time has thankfully passed, I have to say that the album holds up remarkably well in this era of one-note nu-metal and rap-core. Just the opening track, “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due,” was enough to rock this 16-year-old’s world, and even now, the opening faster-than-lightning guitar riff stirs something within me.

Mustaine’s story is the stuff of legend for metal fans. Depending on who you believe, he was kicked out of Metallica before their first album because of his drug problem, or he left because the rest of the band couldn’t keep up with him musically. Lending credence to the second theory, Megadeth’s 1984 debut, the semi-classic Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good, contained a track called “Mechanix” that was nothing more than the Metallica tune “The Four Horsemen” played at six times the speed.

They kept getting better and more intricate. Follow-up Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying contained enough riffs and separate sections for four or five albums, especially on opening track “Wake Up Dead.” Six minutes, one verse of vocals, almost nothing repeated – “Wake Up Dead” was as close to a symphony as metal gets. Third album So Far, So Good, So What contained the technically demanding “In My Darkest Hour,” often considered the best Megadeth song, and the blazing anti-anthem “Hook In Mouth,” which railed against the PMRC. This was back when censorship was a big deal, big enough to hold a congressional hearing at which Mustaine spoke.

In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find an ’80s metaller more politically aware than Dave Mustaine. When MTV began its “Rock the Vote” campaign, there was Mustaine in front of the White House, interviewing candidates and pushing for kids to register to vote when they turned 18. When most metal videos were made up of performance shots with flying ’80s hair as the main focus, Megadeth filled theirs with social and political commentary, most notably on “Holy Wars,” which (in its uncensored version) contained scenes of raw brutality from the Middle East.

And then, with 1992’s Countdown to Extinction, it all started falling apart. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though they were long-haired metalheads who deserve at least a portion of the laughter they often engendered, Megadeth kind of meant something to me, and I’m sure to a lot of people. Somewhere in my psyche is a 16-year-old with too much hair and a budding passion for music that still holds their early stuff dear. Without Megadeth, he wouldn’t have been him, and without him, I wouldn’t be me, so I guess I owe Dave Mustaine and company a bit of thanks for making music that once inspired me.

It’s a crummy epitaph, but it’ll have to do: Rust in peace, guys.

See you in line Tuesday morning.