Nick Menza and the Golden Era of Megadeth
I’ve been listening to Megadeth for over 20 years. Arguably my favorite metal band of all time. Their complex brand of thrashing speed metal combined with politically charged lyrics capped off with lead man Dave Mustaine’s snarly vocals made the soundtrack to my adolescence. Saving my lunch money I made my first CD purchase. That CD would be Megadeth’s debut album,“Killing is My Business and Business is Good”. At 12 years old the album title and the cover was frightening.
The sound was equally as frightening, yet also appealing. From the first track on “Killing is my Business..”, “Loved to Deth” it sounded like I was going down a dark path into the depths of hell. Mustaine’s voice mixed with the raw recording and manic playing of “Killing” I was hooked.
Where the follow up record, “Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying” marked a significant upgrade in recording quality, it never lost the ferociousness I had come to expect from Megadeth. Released in 1986, it maybe the pantheon of other legendary records that came out around that same time. 1986 was maybe a watershed year for heavy metal music. It may also have been the year where the Big 4 became just that. They cemented that moniker with largely influential releases. Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth all released albums that many in the heavy music community believe were their best efforts. “Master of Puppets” by Metallica, “Reign in Blood” by Slayer
All records that marked the beginning of the golden era of metal. “Peace Sells..” though was the one for me. The one if I could not live without. On a constant repeat in the tape deck I can tell you every song in the order that it was on the cassette. The title track from “Peace Sells..” (for those of you that grew up in the 80’s) was the intro music to the MTV hourly news updates. Megadeth, and metal music for that matter was starting to rise from the underground and infiltrate the mainstream. That record and metal music was infiltrating not only my mind, but the consistent of these albums embedded them on my DNA.
The follow up record for Megadeth, “So Far, So Good, So What”. A highly anticipated record following a groundbreaking release that just fell a bit flat. The band, who was going through not only member changes, but was also going through some well documented drug induced turmoil as well. “So Far” had some good songs, but didn’t have the overall cohesive greatness that “Peace Sells” possessed. Maybe it was the combination of members? For many Megadeth fans the “So Far, So Good” line up was the worst. I don’t know about that, but there were numerous well documented factors that lead to “So Far, So Good, So What” being so mediocre.
So in typical Megadeth fashion, a line up change was made once again. This time recruiting lead guitarist shredder Marty Friedman and drumming prodigy Nick Menza.
Menza had been a drum tech for Megadeth, and even had to fill in when previous drummer Chuck Behler was unable too. This line up marked the golden era for Megadeth. For a band that had previously set the bar for complexity in thrash/speed metal, they leaped over it with this new line up and subsequent album, “Rust in Peace”. I can remember Headbangers Ball debuting the video for “Holy Wars/Punishment Due”. The riffs, the subject matter, the overall sound, my jaw dropped. Again saving lunch money to make the purchase of this record I watched MTV relentlessly hoping to see the Holy Wars video. It was the hit that brought the band even more into the mainstream. 1988-90 marked the era of extreme musical growth for the Big 4. Without slowing down, the Big 4 put out relentlessly heavy records for the time that were also extremely commercially viable. “Seasons in the Abyss” from Slayer, “..And Justice for All” by Metallica, and “Persistence of Time” by Anthrax. The Big 4 were now all filling arenas world wide and were all experiencing regular rotation on MTV and radio.
“Rust in Peace” and the follow up record “Countdown to Extinction” were not only a critical success for Megadeth, but also chart topping records as well. Never quite able to dethrone Metallica as the kings of the Big 4, they still remained the band I looked out for the most. With Menza, Friedman, and original member Dave Ellefson, Mustaine had finally found the formula for substantial record selling success while managing to NOT sell out. Each release with this line up a marked another step in maturation process of a great band. I, as a fan felt comfortable with this line up as well. This for me WAS Megadeth. For a band that I loved, that had experienced so much internal turmoil, it looked like Megadeth was finally done playing musical chairs with guitar players and drummers. Nope. Leaving for a knee surgery, Nick Menza was replaced by Jimmy Degrasso of Suicidal Tendencies fame. Soon Marty Friedman exited the band as well. Dave Ellefson followed suit a few years later but then after a lengthy court battle with Mustaine rejoined. Us die hard Megadeth fans continually hoped for a reunion of the “Rust In Peace” era line of Megadeth but it never materialized. And now, it never will. In an era where the “reunion tour” has gotten long time feuding bands to reconcile, we won’t be able to get one with Megadeth.
For not only did Nick Menza loose his life on stage late Saturday night, but original Megadeth drummer, Gar Samuelson died years prior from liver faliure, some believe due to a life of drug and alcohol addiction.
Menza went out much like Mrs. Jane Little. Playing on stage. Doing what he did best. Doing something that inspired a countless number of people to pick up sticks and start banging on drums with hopes to be the next god of thunder. Yesterday my Facebook feed was filled with RIP Memes for Menza. After leaving Megadeth in the late 90’s he was pretty quiet in the mainstream metal community. He never stopped playing though. At the time of his death, he was playing with former Megadeth guitar player Chris Poland in his band OHM. I was shocked and of course saddened by the news of Menza’s passing. Partly for selfish reasons. With every passing year, and after seeing the reunion of Guns N’ Roses, I kept some hope alive that Mustaine, Friedman and Menza could find a way to bring back the golden era line up and tour. But, much like seeing Led Zepplin, MY MEGADETH is officially no more. Now just two original members and an endless sea of very talented hired hands. The band has never managed to gel like the golden era line up. Thank you for the tunes Nick. You’re missed but never forgotten.