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Shortly after lead guitarist Dave Mustaine was fired from Metallica due to alcohol problems and personality conflicts, Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson formed Megadeth. Mustaine became the band's singer and primary lyricist as well as playing guitar. The band soon added drummer Lee Rash and temporary guitarist Kerry King (of Slayer fame). Later the same year, Rash was replaced by Gar Samuelson, and Chris Poland took over from King on guitar.
In late 1984, they were signed to Combat Records, and in May 1985 they released their first album, entitled Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good!. The band had been alloted $8,000 to record and produce the album, but spending half of that budget on drugs left much to be desired in terms of sound quality. Even with its relatively poor production, Megadeth's debut was a well-received album that blended elements of thrash/speed metal and jazz.
In November 1986 they released their second album, Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?, which is regarded by many critics as Megadeth's finest hour and a ground-breaking thrash metal album. Better production and more sophisticated songwriting earned Megadeth immense respect and a place alongside Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax in the "Big Four" of thrash. Later the same year Megadeth signed with Capitol Records, who also bought the rights to Peace Sells... from Combat.
Gar Samuelson and Chris Poland were fired from the band after a tour in Hawaii, amidst rumors of drug abuse by the entire band. Replacements were Chuck Behler on drums and Jeff Young on guitars.
In March 1988, the new line-up released their next album, So Far, So Good... So What!. The album was widely panned and failed to capitalize on the success of Peace Sells..., with fans responding to only a few songs such as "In My Darkest Hour" and "Mary Jane". A cover of the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy In The UK" on the album was particularly derided and was seen as a symbol of the whole album's failure.
The lineup that had recorded So Far, So Good... So What! was short-lived, as Young and Behler were fired in 1989, replaced respectively by Nick Menza and Marty Friedman. This line-up became the most stable and successful of Megadeth's career, recording four well-received albums, and created Megadeth's reputation as a band that could not only play metal well, but also create more commercially acceptable offerings. The entire band's direction would change multiple times over the coming decade, as Megadeth attempted to beat their rivals Metallica by "softening" in order to gain mainstream acceptance as a melodic metal band, something that would embitter many long-time fans who had previously viewed Megadeth as one of the leading proponents of thrash metal.
In 1990, however, Megadeth showed no sign of weakening. The band's fourth album, Rust in Peace, is still regarded by many as one of the most technically sophisticated and exciting speed/thrash metal albums of all time. Megadeth's characteristically caustic and catchy lyrics and raw, fast thrash-metal riffs were finally captured with a clear, precise production, which allowed all the nuances of Mustaine's guitar compositions to be heard. Much like Metallica's ...And Justice for All two years earlier, Rust in Peace showcased a level of technical complexity reminiscent of progressive metal.
In July 1992, Megadeth released the album Countdown to Extinction. It became an instant hit, reached #2 on the Billboard album charts, and went multi-platinum: Mustaine himself said that he measured his future successes against those of Countdown. The album featured noticeably simpler song structures, catchy melodic "hooks," and an increased emphasis on the singer's voice: the same steps Metallica had taken on their "Black" album (released eleven months earlier) to great financial success. Megadeth, however, successfully integrated these changes into their typical cynical, ironic and heavily political lyrical themes. The song Architecture of Aggression features the sound of CNN and ABC reporters excitedly watching and commenting on the opening shots of the Iraq war and Foreclosure of a Dream, a song discussing the recession and its particular effect on American agriculture, has the infamous "Read my lips" promise of George Bush Senior(later to be broken) of not raising taxes.
Arguably the album was Megadeth's first true attempt at breaking into the mainstream rock market that, like Metallica (until the Black Album), Megadeth had never gained a major foothold in. A huge frustration of Mustaine and the rest of the band was the overshadowing affect Metallica had on their own success, having released one of the most commercially successful heavy metal records of all time a year earlier. Mustaine and the rest of the band members were frustrated, however, that Billy Ray Cyrus kept them out of Billboard's number-one spot with Achy Breaky Heart and also that they lost their Grammy nomination to Nine Inch Nail's Wish.
The following album, Youthanasia, was delivered in 1994, and it also became a great success. Continuing the new direction indicated by Countdown To Extinction, Youthanasia featured a still-more-relaxed sound and generally slower songs — slower than some older fans could tolerate. The unusual Beats Per Minute (BPM) parity on the album is attributed to producer Max Norman, who apparently made Megadeth use around 120 BPM on every song in order to try and make Megadeth's music more acceptable to rock radio (something that Metallica and their producer Bob Rock had done for the Black Album).
Their next album, entitled Cryptic Writings was released in 1997. This album had more pop influences than the previous ones, but its sound was still unmistakably Megadeth's. Nick Menza left the band in 1998, replaced by Jimmy DeGrasso.
The pop influences were even more evident on the following album, 1999's Risk, which met lackluster sales. Shortly after its release, Marty Friedman left the band, and was replaced by Al Pitrelli. Looking for a way to end their contract with Capitol Records, the band released a greatest-hits collection entitled Capitol Punishment: The Megadeth Years (2000). This compilation included two new tracks that they were contractually obliged to give to Capitol.
In 2001 Megadeth signed a deal with Sanctuary Records. Shortly thereafter, they put out a new album, entitled The World Needs a Hero, which was hailed by many fans as a fairly-successful return to form.
On April 3, 2002, Mustaine announced in a press release that he was leaving the band, officially due to an injury that caused nerve damage to his left arm. The remaining members decided to dissolve Megadeth as a result. This seemed to mark the end of the band's nearly twenty-year career.
Gradually, physical therapy helped Mustaine's arm heal. After writing his first solo career album and masterminding the reissue of Megadeth's catalog (remixed and remastered), he contacted the members of early Megadeth to help record his new album originally titled Blackmail The Universe, but later renamed The System Has Failed (2004). Due to pressure from his record label he was forced to change this from a solo album to the final Megadeth album. This album features Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Chris Poland (who had played with Megadeth in the 1980s) on lead guitar and session musician Jimmy Lee Sloas on bass. As Dave Mustaine said, "Megadeth is slowly rising from the ashes."
Early July of 2004 saw the entire The System Has Failed album leaked onto the Internet. Mustaine is said to have been deeply upset by this, but the scheduled release date of September 2004 was maintained. The System Has Failed made its debut at #18 on the Billboard charts, and received overall positive reviews from critics, hailed as a return to Megadeth's 'golden days' of the late 80s and early 90s.
Shortly following the release of The System Has Failed, Mustaine appointed Glen Drover, formerly of the King Diamond and Eidolon, as Megadeth's new guitarist. Additional line-up changes were James MacDonough, on bass, and Shawn Drover (the brother of Glen Drover) on drums.
In July 2004, Ellefson filed an $18.5-million lawsuit in the New York federal court against Mustaine and the band, claiming he was entitled to a greater share of the band's profits. In January 2005, the federal court dismissed the case, finding that Ellefson had released his claims in a May 2004 settlement agreement with the band. Mustaine and the band filed a counter suit against Ellefson in the California state court for breach of the settlement agreement. That suit eventually settled.
The Blackmail The Universe World Tour, running from late 2004 until late 2005 (with a staggered touring schedule), proved to be a true 'come back' and return to form for Megadeth, and their first large scale tour for several years. Previously Mustaine had also announced that it was final Megadeth tour and that the band would be disbanding immediately afterwards; however, as of March 2005, Dave Mustaine is apparently reconsidering whether Megadeth may still actually continue. Plans for a solo 'Dave Mustaine tour', performing songs from his upcoming most likely solo album, the Megadeth catalogue, his MD45 work and also those that he co-wrote whilst in Metallica (Officially, the 'Kill Em All' and 'Ride The Lightning' albums).
Aside from Megadeth's unmistakable guitar style, there are several recurring lyrical themes across their albums. War and military themes — particularly nuclear war — is a common theme for many of the bands songs. In fact, the band's name is a play on the word megadeath, a term coined by the US military to mean one million deaths. However, beyond nuclear war, topics for Megadeth songs include prisoners of war (Take no prisoners), military strategy (Architecture of Aggression), the aftermath of war (Ashes in your mouth), and the Israel Palestine war (Holy Wars... The Punishment Due).
Politics is also a common theme to many Megadeth songs. Mustaine is scathing in his assessment of Tipper Gore, the PMRC, and music censorship in the song "Hook In Mouth", attacks gambling in "Train of Consequences", takes an environmentalist stance in "Countdown to Extinction", and shuns dictators in songs like "Warhorse" and "Symphony of Destruction". Mustaine's general cynicism about politics shines through on tracks like "Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?" and "The World Needs A Hero".
While Megadeth has recorded songs about relationships, they tend to be songs either about breaking up, or have a dark twist. "Trust", "Almost Honest", "Addicted To Chaos", and "1000 Times Goodbye" are examples of the former. Examples of the latter include "Promises", an eerie ballad from beyond the grave, and "Last Rites / Loved to Deth", a song about a man who is angry that he can't have the woman he loves, and seeks to kill her. The one exception to this was the Risk track "I'll be there", and is often held up as an example of what was "wrong" with that particular album's pop-rock influences.
- Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good! (1985)
- Peace Sells... But Who's Buying? (1986)
- So Far, So Good... So What! (1988)
- Rust in Peace (1990)
- Countdown to Extinction (1992)
- Youthanasia (1994)
- Hidden Treasures (Songs collected from soundtracks and tribute albums) (1995)
- Cryptic Writings (1997)
- Cryptic Sounds – No Voices In Your Head EP (1997)
- Live Trax (1997, Live album, Released in Japan)
- Risk (1999)
- Capitol Punishment: The Megadeth Years (Greatest Hits) (2000)
- The World Needs a Hero (2001)
- Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good! (Remixed/Expanded) (2002)
- Rude Awakening (Live) (2002)
- Still alive....and well? (2002)
- The System Has Failed (2004)
- Dave Mustaine – Lead Vocals, Lead, Rhythm, and Acoustic Guitars
- Glen Drover -Lead and Rhythm Guitars
- James MacDonough -Bass Guitar (Iced Earth)
- Shawn Drover -Drums
- David Ellefson -Bass
- Marty Friedman -Guitar
- Nick Menza -Drums
- Jimmy DeGrasso -Drums
- Al Pitrelli -Guitar
- Chris Poland -Guitar
- Gar Samuelson -Drums
- Jeff Young -Guitar
- Chuck Behler -Drums
- Jeff Hannaman – Guitar
- Vinnie Colaiuta – Drums
- Jimmie Lee Sloas – Bass
- Lee Rash -Drums