photo & text by nacrowe
internal band dynamics are always a tricky thing. there are tons of examples of bands that from the outside looking in seem like a consolidated front made of co-equal partners yet such is far from the case. probably no modern METAL musician is more defined by this in the popular consciousness than former METALLICA guitarist and MEGADETH frontman DAVE MUSTAINE.
his memoir MUSTAINE (IT BOOKS, 2010) written with veteran scribe JOE LAYDEN is very much defined the the shifting internal dynamics of not one, but two iconic THRASH METAL bands and provides a much-needed counterpoint to the popular narrative of this influential yet highly CONTROVERSIAL musician. i'll admit right at the beginning that i am not the biggest fan of MUSTAINE. in interviews he always comes across as a condescending BRAGGART and an unrepentant EGOIST, and that was before his conversion to CHRISTIANITY and conservative politics. his voice and his attitude towards his peers has always been GRATING, but i will say that the dude is supremely gifted as a guitarist and a songwriter. it was no doubt his sense of abandon on his instrument and his reckless behavior that initially lifted METALLICA from obscurity and helped establish the nascent THRASH METAL scene in the 1980s. MUSTAINE as a historical figure is absolutely instrumental in the evolution of METAL music. period.
its interesting how much ink in this memoir is dedicated to the internal strifes of both bands. METALLICA was a band of alcoholics that discarded one of their members, MUSTAINE, in essence for being a mean drunk. that is popular story, but its interesting that MUSTAINE points to his substantial songwriting credits during his period with the band to suggest that it may have been more about artistic control. in essence METALLICA had three main songwriters in JAMES HETFIELD, LARS ULRICH and MUSTAINE. one theme that is carried throughout this memoir is MUSTAINE's sense of being an underdog, which is rooted in his growing up very POOR, without a father figure and with a mother whose identity got taken over by the JEHOVAH's WITNESS community. HETFIELD had similar circumstances with his deadbeat father and a mother that passed on after being taken advantage of by the beliefs of her CHRISTIAN SCIENTIST community. he is portrayed as being psychologically WEAK, UNASSERTIVE and essentially a patsy to ULRICH, who in turn is portrayed as privileged, wealthy son of a bohemian DANISH TENNIS professional. ULRICH is effectively presented as being a duplicitous MACHIAVELLIAN figure (which is probably pretty accurate). METALLICA was very much a surrogate family for MUSTAINE and his dismissal echoed the rejection of his father towards his family. no doubt it was a traumatic effect and was a primal event in his career and personal relationship trajectory thereafter.
but what i found more interesting was his reaction to this dismissal, fair or not. he created a new family in MEGADETH of which he was the sole leader, whose only other longtime member (absent two breaks of which we are now living in the second) is DAVID ELLEFSON whom he deems as dismissively as "junior." the rest of the band throughout is made of a revolving cast of opportunists, scabs, legends and METAL lifers. what struck me in particular is how MUSTAINE never questions his own motives, paving over bad decisions during his many drug-addled years as MISGUIDED or MISINFORMED but not ill-intentioned. he comes across as incredibly naive and largely absent-minded or uninterested in the financial and emotional needs of his bandmates. throughout the memoir he is his absentee father. he wants the leadership and the acclaim but none of the responsibility that comes with it. its interesting that he, more than any other METAL figure, should have been aware of the trauma that comes with bad leadership in a band setting. yet he just kept the cycle going.
the biggest bummer is the whole born again CHRISTIAN nonsense at the conclusion of the book in which he considers whether it is ethical or not to play with "satanic" bands. that is just so beyond LAME. he is an artistic leader who can tour with whomever he wants, but it just feels antithetical to ROCK N ROLL in some basic core manner. it also presumes his own purity as a CHRISTIAN which is beyond DISAPPOINTING and, again, just LAME.
thats my reaction to this memoir basically. MUSTAINE is a supremely gifted musician who deserves credit for his achievements and contributions to THRASH METAL, but as a person he just comes across as an ass. even in his own memoir in which he is trying to counteract the popular opinion of him being an ass. its beyond CONFOUNDING. go figure.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
i thought that i understood what it meant to be a passionate fan of something. like MUSIC, FILM, SPORTS or ART. and then i moved to SOUTH AMERICA and realized i didnt know even the half of it.
when i relocated to VENEZUELA in the summer of 2013 i was confronted with new peers and friends that shared my love of THRASH METAL and CLASSIC ROCK, except that for them the music was their gateway to learning ENGLISH and thus a valuable skill that led them to working at a school alongside me. their passion for music quite literally altered their lives. it was powerful then and still is in retrospect, given that they all now live and work outside of VENEZUELA (which is in a dire state at the moment) in other LATIN countries such as ARGENTINA and CHILE.
which brings me to the YOUTUBE channel of current MEGADETH lead guitarist KIKO LOUREIRO. his channel, which began long before his current tenure with the THRASH METAL veterans, is part guitar tutorial and part behind the scenes look at the daily life of a WORKING MUSICIAN. what shines through is his PASSION for the instrument and sharing said passion with fans as well as the cast of characters that revolve around it (road crew, guitar techs, security, catering, other musicians). for some reason this instinct to lift that fourth wall and give his fans a look behind the curtain is pretty remarkable, even more so because it includes at times the reclusive and very private DAVE MUSTAINE. you get the sense that their is a high level of trust and mutual respect between the two. that instinct to share and connect also feels very much steeped in LATIN culture. it is almost as if he is telling his community in his native BRAZIL that this level of success is attainable through hard work, perseverance and a bit of luck. i always love the fact that BRAZILIAN musicians (MAX CAVALERA, JORGE BEN, CAETANO VELOSO, etc.) that make a mark stateside are outspoken and passionate about their native homeland, which has a distinct, multi-faceted musical tradition that rivals such of any other.
its funny because when i think of MEGADETH, i think of unparalleled musicianship (notably past guitarists MARTY FRIEDMAN and CHRIS POLAND) as well as the regressive and recalcitrant politics of MUSTAINE. with LOUREIRO in the mix a new word comes to mind: JOY.
check out his YOUTUBE channel. it provides an interesting perspective on the journey through the recording, rehearsing and touring life of a talented, modern WORKING MUSICIAN.
photo & text by nacrowe
about that voice.
historically critics have been quick to judge GEDDY LEE (RUSH) and BILLY CORGAN (SMASHING PUMPKINS) of having an irritating or unique, depending on your perspective, singing voices. either way they own them and made such an integral part of their band's sound, of which id argue made them stand out. in a good way.
unfortunately i dont share that opinion of DAVE MUSTAINE of MEGADETH. while LEE and CORGAN both have naturally nasally vocal ranges which isnt their fault, MUSTAINE has this batshit off-putting shtick he appropriated from somewhere of doing these awkward voices that make him sound constipated. it comes off forced and just weird. and it doesnt sound cool at all, not even in an acquired taste sort-of-way like with LEE and CORGAN.
while i do hate his singing and politics, which are generally regressive and staunchly conservative, what i do respect about MUSTAINE is his guitar playing and RUST IN PEACE (CAPITOL, 1990) is arguably one of the most cohesive and technically adept THRASH METAL records ever made. id put riffs off this record against anything off of REIGN IN BLOOD or MASTER OF PUPPETS. standout tracks include multi-part epics like "TORNADO OF SOULS," "HANGER 18" and "HOLY WARS...THE PUNISHMENT DUE." at its best, these particular songs showcase a musician with a preternatural dexterity and truly mesmerizing dynamic range on his instrument. not to mention that this is record has the classic lineup of MARTY FRIEDMAN, NICK MENZA and DAVID ELLEFSON. MUSTAINE himself makes great use of his "spider chord" technique that acts as a shortcut to multiple power-chord variations by utilizing all four non-thumb fingers in quick precision, almost mechanical-like succession.
i remember first hearing this record on a compound in NIGERIA i spent my middle school years living in. this was the mid 1990s and in those pre-internet days. the music you discovered is largely whatever CDs were brought back from stateside return visits or trips other families took to EUROPE. i remember other students brought back early CYPRESS HILL, SEPULTURA, PEARL JAM, METALLICA, THE OFFSPRING, PORNO FOR PYROS and GREEN DAY records. amongst that mix someone brought back MEGADETH as well, which was how i came across RUST IN PEACE. in my naive opinion at the time, i thought "HOLY WARS...THE PUNISHMENT DUE" was insane and matched or outdid anything i heard off RIDE THE LIGHTNING and MASTER OF PUPPETS in terms of guitar playing. i didnt know anything about MUSTAINE's history with METALLICA at that point which is interesting. when i left NIGERIA and moved back stateside to attend high school in MASSACHUSETTS, i soon discovered SLAYER and that was kind of it for MEGADETH or METALLICA.
ultimately that singing voice was too annoying. years later when i saw SLAYER play with MEGADETH and ANTHRAX in LONG ISLAND i remember thinking that MUSTAINE's voice sounded even worse live, cementing my opinion of the band. but those riffs man. can't knock his guitar-playing. its impenetrable and beyond reproach.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
based on the excellent book of the same name, MURDER IN THE FRONT ROW (BONDED BY BLOOD, 2019) is a documentary that tackles what made the BAY AREA THRASH METAL scene of the early 1980s such a potent breeding ground for some of the most enduring bands in METAL including EXODUS, DEATH ANGEL, TESTAMENT, POSSESSED, VIOLENCE and FORBIDDEN and a scene of influence and import for those not from the region like ANTHRAX, SLAYER, MEGADETH and METALLICA.
its an interesting conceit to base a film on since most of the conversation historically regarding THRASH METAL is centered THE BIG FOUR, i.e. the aforementioned ANTHRAX, SLAYER, MEGADETH and METALLICA. by providing a community of promoters (WES ROBINSON), venues (RUTHIE'S INN and THE STONE), meeting places/record stores (THE RECORD VAULT) managers (DEBBIE ABONO) and rabid fans (SLAY TEAM), SAN FRANCISCO basically provided the supportive environment that allowed the scene to thrive and punch much beyond its weight culturally over time and serve as the focus of this documentary.
the TAPE TRADING scene also served as a vehicle for the underground decimation of music both nationally and globally, which served the scene well as a cheap and efficient means of promotion to the most hardcore of audiences. gaining notoriety with this audience allowed foreign promoters the opportunity to gain familiarity with their sound far in advance of their arrival. this of course was in the days of snail mail and letter writing, decades before e-mail or internet searches were a thing. luckily these bands had a work ethic to engage with this community.
i found the most interesting part of this documentary was the idea of the SLAY TEAM, who were scene enforcers at shows who confronted charlatans and "posers" that would show up at shows wearing shirts of HAIR METAL bands or wearing the wrong attire. on one hand they served as gatekeepers and a check on the intentions of the audience. on the other hand the idea of being accosted at a show by a team of vigilante fanatics sounds terrifying and an extreme form of bullying and thuggish behavior. its indicative of the extreme insularity of a scene that at once nurtured the artists but eventually stifled them creatively, as THRASH METAL became rather confined to a sound that few attempted to move beyond. and when one did (i.e. METALLICA), they paid for it dearly with their core audience. but that downside is never explored. this documentary mearly provides information and withholds judgement.
one downside to this documentary is that it minimizes the influence of bands outside he scene like SLAYER (LOS ANGELES) and ANTHRAX (NEW YORK CITY). METALLICA and its cousin MEGADETH are both presented as hybrid LOS ANGELES / SAN FRANCISCO bands since they either moved to the bay area and/or poached musicians from the scene. i think minimizing SLAYER's influence on THRASH METAL is almost discrediting in hindsight, since the film only presents one side of this cultural dialogue by exploring the scene's influence on the band's look. i imagine the mark of SLAYER on the scene far surpasses the scene in SAN FRANCISCO's imprint on the band. but that is just my opinion.
this is an interesting documentary about a place and time and the birth of modern stateside METAL. definitely required viewing for the uninitiated. worth checking out.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
for the past couple months the legendary, and recently troubled, guitar manufacturer GIBSON has been publishing a series of long-form interviews on its YOUTUBE page. in keeping with recent efforts by other leading manufacturers of musical products like ERNIE BALL and FENDER, GIBSON has used legacy artists to reconnect with their core, and often overlooked, HARD ROCK / METAL audience.
it is probably a smart move of having JERRY CANTRELL, KIRK HAMMETT and TONY IOMMI out front speaking about their careers then having GIBSON themselves selling themselves, especially given the company's recent heavy-handed and notoriously misguided PLAY AUTHENTIC debacle. i also find it interesting that they chose these four players as three of them are well-known endorsees of other manufacturers, CANTRELL with G&L and HAMMETT with ESP, and DAVE MUSTAINE with just about everyone (JACKSON, ESP, DEAN and now GIBSON). IOMMI of course is synonymous with the GIBSON SG model. apparently last year CANTRELL became a brand ambassador, whatever that is, but then again live and in the studio he has been known to use LES PAULS. HAMMETT likewise is famous for his use of LES PAULS as well as FLYING V's, especially in METALLICA's early years.
whomever jumped on this trend at GIBSON of created thoughtful interviews and mini-documentaries on legendary players deserves kudos because these are great. they have only released a handful but they are well worth investigating.
photo by nacrowe
with the impending second bankruptcy of GUITAR CENTER likely to be finalized at the close of this month, it seemed as good a time as ever to look back at the live performance series GUITAR CENTER SESSIONS that they co-produced with DIRECT TV that took advantage of their iconic flagship HOLLYWOOD location.
it feels like the end of an era with their impending doom, but sadly they never took advantage of the internet and basically ceded that ground to competitors like SWEETWATER. it is mind-bogging that COVID knocked them out give that this lockdown period we've been living through has sold more guitars and instruments then any other period in history. just think about that.
oh well, at least we have these performances until they inevitably get taken down.
cover by nacrowe
today's episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 4PM on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC is all about THRASH METAL, arguably the most influential permutation of the genre that bridges NWOBHM influences to modern day DEATH, GRIND and BLACK METAL among a myriad other sub-genres. gonna be awesome!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
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