Megadeth entered the 1990s with a bang. Fortunately, for co-founder Dave Mustaine and David “Junior” Ellefson, that status was figurative rather than literal.
The debilitating impact of the serious drug habits the pair had cultivated since investing half the recording budget allocated to Megadeth’s 1985 debut album (Killing is my business… and business is good) in heroin and cocaine, had been demonstrated during the summer of 1988.
Booked to play the biggest show of their lives, in front of 107,000 metalheads in support of Iron Maiden’s first headlining appearance at Donington’s Monsters Of Rock festival on August 20, the quartet went through an embarrassing set and moribund, with Ellefson horribly ill. . Management immediately canceled a week of prestigious concerts in European stadiums with Maiden and brought the group home to put Mustaine and Ellefson in rehab.
“I’m lucky, with my drug and drinking habits, that I didn’t end up like a ball of shit,” Mustaine admitted. Q magazine in 1992. “For five years I spent $500 a day on cocaine and heroin. Each day. [My] relatives watched a man become an empty shell.
In 1990 however, clean, focused and rejuvenated with the recruitment of guitarist Marty Friedman and drummer Nick Menza before the recording of rust in peaceMegadeth was on fire and on the rise.
Two days before the release of their fourth album, the band embarked on an ambitious European tour, co-starring with old friends Slayer. With Testament and Suicidal Tendencies on the undercard, the three-week tour, billed as the Clash Of The Titans, was a triumph, giving all four bands a teasing taste of what true success might look like. Mustaine and Ellefson were both totally hooked.
“Clash Of The Titans was very strategic for Megadeth,” Ellefson tells us. “It was the stepping stone that took us from a disheveled, broken down, drugged shell of a Megadeth in 1988/1989 to being the band that could fill arenas on our own.
“Rust… was our first record with clear minds and clear ambitions. It was interesting to juxtapose where we were in 90, kinda fresh and coming out with Slayer as a new unit, to the end of the following summer where we were ready to go it alone and do things for ourselves . We were looking at the stars.
And the momentum was building. Megadeth played a string of dates in late 1990 and early 1991 that included shows with Judas Priest and an appearance at the second Rock In Rio festival, where they performed to over 100,000 people on a topped bill from Guns N’ Roses.
That summer, a second Clash Of The Titans tour was announced, with fellow thrash pioneers Anthrax added to the lineup as third headliners, and young Seattle band Alice In Chains booked. in the first part, to promote their first album, face liftwith an emerging radio hit man in the box. Sensing a new window of opportunity in broadcast media for music with attitude, Megadeth bowed.
“Each day we would arrive in a town and in our lodge, we would write songs for what would become Countdown to power off“recalls Ellefson. “Ron Laffitte was an excellent manager for us; his icon was Pat Riley [head coach] of [Los Angeles] Lakers, so he was all about the team and focused on how you could channel all that talent. He made sure we would have everything we needed to harness the greatness that was growing in the band at the time. We knew the record after Rust In Peace was going to be the biggest, you could feel it.
Megadeth has ended the Clash Of The Titans series with an arsenal of new songs in the bank, like Foreclosure of a dream and Ashes in your mouth move away from the more technical orientation of rust in peace, to emphasize hooks and strong melodic arrangements. Keen to amp up their newly honed accessibility, they hired Ozzy Osbourne producer Max Norman to co-produce.
Sessions began at Enterprise Studios in Burbank in January 1992 and continued through April, a period encompassing the infamous LA Riots, which erupted in furious response to the exoneration of police officers who had been filmed savagely beat up motorist Rodney King in March 1991.
“I only live two blocks from the studio so I could walk there, but the other guys in the band had to drive,” Mustaine said. Hammer in 2018. “Nick Menza and David Ellefson both had handguns in the car. I said, ‘You’re making a huge mistake there – you get pulled over for whatever reason, by cops or civilians, and they find those guns in there… well, there’s no nothing worse than being shot with your own weapon.’ We worked feverishly on the record until 6 p.m., then it was like a school bell ringing and we had to go home.
Perhaps subconsciously, tension bled into the studio. Megadeth has always been one of the most politically astute forces in thrash metal, and Countdown to power off seemed to illustrate it more than ever.
The title track had been inspired by environmental concerns (it eventually won a Humane Society Genesis Award, making Megadeth the only metal band to ever do so), while the irresistible Symphony of Destructionreferred to as the set’s lead single, had been inspired by a combination of a World War II documentary commercial in Weather magazine, tense thriller The Manchu Candidateand an incident that occurred while the band was on the road with rising grunge rock newcomers Stone Temple Pilots.
“Towards the end of this tour, things got really dark,” Mustaine said. rolling stone in 2017. “We ended up having to stop the tour because there was a riot at the Oregon site. They broke the barricade, they rushed on stage, trying to overturn the bus and shit. When you’re a kid, you’re like, ‘Woohoo! It’s good!’ but you’re getting a little older, it’s not just a few crazy people, but it’s, like, a lot of really crazy people. It was something scary.
The months leading up to the planned summer 1992 release of the quartet’s fifth album had seen something of a cultural coup, as a string of landmark alternative rock releases from Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and more, effectively transformed the musical landscape. .
But where more traditional metal acts were left dry by this drastic change, Megadeth seemed to thrive. Whether it’s their cutting-edge political ideas, streamlined song structures, or simply because their art has been given a platform to connect with more music fans than ever before, Countdown to power off was a commercial success, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album chart and eventually reaching double platinum status in the United States alone. Not that the newly hired and increasingly ambitious leader of the group is satisfied.
“When we were preparing for the release date, we were looking at some of the records that were coming out around that time and we thought we had a legitimate shot at being in the Top 10,” Mustaine said. Hammeris Dave Everley.
“Well this artist Billy Ray Cyrus had this stupid song, Heart of breaky Achyand When the countdown to extinction came out, it was at No. 2. Who’s at No. 1? Billy Ray Cyrus! I was really obsessed with it, I thought, ‘I have to be No. 1 at least once in my life.’ “
A disappointed Mustaine could at least take solace in the fact that Countdown… would expose Megadeth to new fans around the world, inspiring others to pick up the slack.
“For everyone he influenced and the way he inspired things in metal, Dave Mustaine deserves this number 1,” Urne bassist/vocalist Joe Nally insists.
“Symphony of Destruction is an absolutely massive song; it may be simple, but every group would love to have one. When I was writing [our debut album] Snake & SpiritI immersed myself in albums like Countdown to power off and The black album to get a feel for those classic stadium riffs.
“Among the Big 4, Megadeth has always seemed to be the most sophisticated,” adds James Monteith of Tesseract/Cage Fight. “At that time, Megadeth represented metal in the alternative mainstream, as Metallica had become a stadium rock band. Grunge had eliminated the Dungeons & Dragons type bands, so the clichés took a nosedive, but Megadeth was still ahead.
So, in fact, Mustaine was asked to cover the 1992 Democratic convention for MTV and publicize the company’s “Rock The Vote” campaign, an initiative designed to inspire young Americans to register to vote.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” he said. “It was shameful how the public treated heavy metal people. I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to go represent.’ I was the unofficial, unelected representative of America’s disenfranchised youth.
Ironically, given its title, Countdown to power off enabled Megadeth to survive the changing tides of the music industry that wiped out many of their 80s peers and connect with a whole new audience. In 2012, in recognition of its legacy, the band revisited the album in its entirety for a 20th anniversary tour, giving Dave Mustaine an opportunity to reflect on its impact.
“I sometimes have days where I woke up and just thought, ‘Do I matter? Am I still relevant? he says. “You know, listening to some of these bands that have come and gone over the years, they were really famous and then all of a sudden they left. It could have happened to us, you know?
But then you come down and you see the success of the Countdown…touring, Argentina and Brazil, India and Dubai, playing the record and people singing every song. Everyone has almost the same story – ‘The first record I had was Countdown to power off.’ This is a decisive record in our career. »