So we pick up with Megadeth in 1990. Dave Mustaine, sober for the first time in 10 years (he had been arrested in March of ’89 for driving while intoxicated and possessing narcotics after crashing into a parked vehicle occupied by an off-duty police officer and was ordered to rehab), began a lengthy search for a new lead guitarist. Many guitarists, including Dimebag Darrell Abbott of Pantera, Lee Altus of Heathen and Eric Meyer of Dark Angel to name just a few, were auditioned.
In ’87, a 16 year old Jeff Loomis, of Sanctuary, and later, Nevermore, auditioned following the departure of Chris Poland. Mustaine complimented Loomis on his playing but rejected him because of his age. Loomis later saw Cacophony with Marty Friedman and Jason Becker on tour and told Friedman of the experience. Afterward, Friedman also auditioned for the spot but was initially rejected for having multicolored hair, but after going through what Mustaine called “Rock School 101”, Friedman officially joined Megadeth in February 1990.
So in March 1990, a revitalized Megadeth went to Rumbo Studios with co-producer Mike Clink to start work on what would become the band’s most critically acclaimed album to date, Rust In Peace. For the first time, the band remained sober in the studio, alleviating many of the troubles they’d had recording previous albums. Clink was also the first producer to produce a Megadeth album from start to finish without being fired.
In September of ’90, the album was released and was a hit with fans and critics alike. The album featured singles Holy Wars, The Punishment Due and Hangar 18, with other standout tracks like Lucretia, Tornado Of Souls, Take No Prisoners and Rust In Peace…Polaris.
The band began touring the album on the European Clash Of The Titans tour (with Slayer, Testament and Suicidal Tendancies), then opening for Judas Priest on their Painkiller tour, climaxing with a performance to 120,000 people at the Rock In Rio 2 festival in Brazil in January 1991.
In May ’91, a Clash Of The Titans US tour began, featuring Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax and Alice In Chains. In ’91 and ’92 the album received Grammy nominations for best metal performance.
In January 1992, the band entered Enterprise Studios with co-producer Max Norman, who had mixed Rust In Peace and would be integral in the band’s musical makeover, pushing for shorter, less complicated and more radio friendly songs. They spent 4 months in the studio with Norman, writing and recording what would become the bands most commercially successful album, Countdown To Extinction.
The album was released on July 14th, 1992 and was an instant hit. It featured the hits Symphony Of Destruction, Foreclosure Of A Dream and Sweating Bullets as well as other strong songs like Skin O’ My Teeth, High Speed Dirt, and Psychotron.
A world tour in support of the album was launched in December of ’92 with Pantera and Suicidal Tendancies as opening acts. The tour included a North American leg with opening act, Stone Temple Pilots.
One month into the leg, all remaining shows, including dates scheduled at the Budokan in Japan, were cancelled when Mustaine returned to substance abuse, ending up in the hospital emergency room. After a 7-week stint in rehab, Mustaine emerged clean once again and the band recorded Angry Again which was featured on the Last Action Hero soundtrack and later nominated for a Grammy in ’94.
In June 1993, the band returned to the stage appearing as special guests at Metallica’s Milton Keynes Bowl Festival, marking the first time the former bandmates played the same stage in 10 years.
In July, the band was added as the opening act for Aerosmith’s Get A Grip US tour, but due to contractual disputes and on-stage remarks made by Mustaine about Aerosmith’s advancing age, Megadeth was removed from the tour after 7 shows.
Following the cancelled US tour, the band returned to the studio to record 99 Ways To Die for the compilation album The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience, released in November 1993.
At the same sessions, the band recorded a pair of Black Sabbath songs, Never Say Die and Paranoid, the latter appearing on the Sabbath Tribute album Nativity In Black.
Early in 1994, the band began work on the follow up to Countdown To Extinction with co-producer Max Norman.
With 2 members of the band now residing in Arizona, initial work began at Phase Four Studios in Phoenix. A few days into pre-production, problems with Phase Four’s equipment forced the band to seek out another studio but no suitable facility could be found.
Norman then suggested the band construct their own studio inside of a rented warehouse in Phoenix which was dubbed Fat Planet in Hangar 18. While the studio was being constructed, much of the pre-production song writing and arrangements took place at Vintage Recorders in Phoenix.
For the first time in the bands career, the band wrote and arranged the entire album in studio, including the basic tracks recorded live by the whole band.
Following 8 months in the studio, Youthanasia was released on November 1, 1994. The album was certified gold in Canada after 30 minutes and was certified platinum in the US faster than any other Megadeth album. Live support for the album began in South America in November ’94 and would span 11 months, becoming the band’s most extensive tour to date.
They were joined by Corrosion Of Conformity in both Europe and the US, and Flotsam And Jetsam, Korn and Fear Factory in the US. The tour culminated with an appearance at the Monsters Of Rock Festival in Brazil, co-headlining with Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne.
In the middle of 1995 the band underwent changes on the business side. Manager Ron Lafitte was hired by EMI Records and disbanded his management company.
Megadeth later signed with ESP Management and hired Bud Prager, who previously managed Foreigner and Bad Company, to be the band’s new creative manager. As with Max Norman before him, Prager would go on to be highly influential in shaping the direction of the band.
Following a long tour in support of Youthanasia, the band took time off in late 1995. In September 1996, they went to London to work on songs for their next album, tentatively titled Needles And Pins. Bud Prager was supervising the writing process, and also contributed musical ideas and lyrics.
Many lyrics and song titles were changed at the request of Prager. Mustaine later wrote about Prager’s influence on the record, “I figured he may be able to help me get that intangible number one record I so badly wanted.
Due to a problem with the album’s original artwork, the cover was replaced with a voodoo symbol and was renamed Cryptic Writings. On June 17th, 1997, Capitol released Cryptic Writings. It debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard Top 200 and was the band’s sixth consecutive studio album to be certified platinum in the US.
The first single, Trust, became the band’s highest charting single to date, and was also nominated for a Best Metal Performance Grammy in 1998.
Reviews for the album were mixed but managed to include 4 top 20 mainstream rock tracks, which included the aforementioned first single, Almost Honest, Use The Man, and A Secret Place. When asked about the eclectic nature of the album, Mustaine said “it was divided into thirds. One part was really fast and aggressive, one third was really melodic and the final third was really radio-oriented stuff akin to Youthanasia.
Megadeth returned to the stage in June 1997, beginning a world tour with Misfits and later touring the US with Life Of Agony and Coal Chamber. In July, the band joined Ozzfest ’98, but halfway through the tour, drummer Nick Menza discovered a tumor on his knee and was forced to leave to undergo surgery.
He was replaced by Jimmy DeGrasso. Though he was initially only meant to be a temporary replacement, following the tour, DeGrasso replaced Menza permanantly after Mustaine claimed Menza had “lied about having cancer”.
We’ll pick up next month with the band’s efforts in the new millenium.
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