Dave Mustaine yesterday turned 52 years of age. If you’re not sure who this is, Mustaine is the singer, guitarist and founder of one of the Big 4 thrash metal bands of the 80’s, in Megadeth (the other three being Anthrax, Slayer and Metallica). Mustaine was also the lead guitarist in Metallica before being replaced by Kirk Hammett for the first album “Kill ‘Em All”. This act is arguably one of the most influential in his whole life.
I was first introduced to Megadeth in 1994. I’d started really getting into metal (I don’t count Metallica in this list by this point, given how everyone from the grunge kids onwards owned their seminal 1991 self-titled release) and the album Youthanasia was released this year. I think the combination of rage, sneering sarcasm and socio-political commentary hooked me the most about Megadeth and I saw Mustaine as not so much a role model but as someone who I understood. Metal’s like that – it’s a genre for outsiders, maligned as just noise but full of so much layered, textured depth that we metalheads get it, and don’t care if you do or don’t.
Famously, Mustaine battled drug addiction and alcoholism most of his life, but his first attempt at getting truly clean and sober produced what has been my favourite album of all time, since I first heard it in 1994 – Rust in Peace. See, a big element of what fuelled Mustaine’s creativity was an obsession to show he was a better musician than his former bandmates in Metallica – I get the sense that he wants them to acknowledge this too (they won’t). Rust in Peace achieves this in droves, and there’s guitar playing on this album that defies belief.
Mustaine invented a technique called “spider chords”. The idea is simple; move your hands as little as possible. So your first and third fingers could make one power chord and instead of moving your hands you drop your 2nd and 4th fingers down. Sounds simple but it’s actually not. It allowed Mustaine an economy of movement which generated more technical compositions and the impression he wasn’t trying. Now, if you add vocals (I know Dave’s voice isn’t great) over the top and watch him play these riffs, you get a sense for the talent. Skip to 5mins here and watch how easily Mustaine plays the refrain from Train of Consequences and how Marty Friedman, who is phenomenally talented, makes it look difficult by all the work he has to do:
Little wonder Joel McIver rated him as the best metal guitarist of all time in his book on the subject.
Part of Mustaine’s recovery from his addictions involved a rebirth in his Christianity. At first, this didn’t really change him too much – he was still fairly progressive in his views, and he wrote some great songs like “Diadems” around his faith. Recently he’s gone full retard, advocating young Earth creationism, 9/11 conspiracy theories and birther nonsense. This generates a bunch of facepalms on my end but regardless, the guy’s created the best metal music in the past 25 years, Metallica be damned. Even crazy as fuck, Mustaine’s brought so much to the table over the years that I’m grateful he’s still producing music.
Happy birthday, Dave Mustaine.