Megadeth mainman Dave Mustaine recently talked Metal Hammer through the band’s upcoming 16th studio album, The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead!. Dave took us deep inside the making of the new album, including his weird, Nostradamus-like abilities to predict the future. He also talked about his unlikely friendship with rapper Ice-T, the departure of bassist David Ellefson and just why he’s going through his own “musical renaissance.” Here are 10 key takeouts from our chat with Mr Mustaine…
Despite its title, The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead!’s title track was written before the pandemic
That title seem a little on the nose, given everything that’s happened over the last couple of years. But Dave started writing The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead! well before Covid, inspired by a different, even deadlier pandemic hundreds of years ago – the Black Death.
“This one was inspired by another virus, the Plague,” he tells us. “I wrote that about the actual facts of the boats coming from the Baltic Sea to Sicily, and how it was a disease that was communicable via the rats and the fleas, and how that whole thing happened.”
The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead’s lyrics were partly inspired by a kids’ nursery rhyme
Remember Ring-A-Ring-A-Roses? That’s right, the nursery rhyme that’s a favourite of schoolkids everywhere. Dave Mustaine certainly does. “I do remember the explanation for Ring-A-Ring-A-Roses, ‘…a pocketful of posies, ashes, ashes, they all fall down…’ and all that. That’s what I say in the song, because during the Plague, people would stick flowers in their shirts as the stench of the dead was everywhere. After the song was written, I knew people would think it was about Covid.”
Likewise, Dogs Of Chernobyl has nothing to do with the war in Ukraine
Dave describes new track Dogs Of Chernobyl as “a love song”, albeit one inspired by a disaster in Ukraine - namely the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1986.
“I watched a movie about 10, 15 years ago [Chernobyl Diaries],” he says. “These kids made a trip to Ukraine and went on this extreme vacation trip down to the reactor, and their car broke down. One of the things they talked about was that when everybody originally evacuated, they all just left their dogs.
“I just thought that was so fucked up. I used the dogs as a metaphor in a love song, and I talk about somebody who gets left behind. The woman leaves him and he’s just left like a dog in Chernobyl, and he’s like, ‘I don’t understand…’ because there’s no explanation.”
Dogs Of Chernobyl features a contribution from Dave’s radiologist
Dogs Of Chernobyl’s final section features a detailed, disturbing invocation of the effects of radiation poisoning on Chernobyl’s human population, written by the radiologist overseeing Dave’s cancer treatment.
“I said to him that I needed a couple of phrases and some information about the radiation poisoning when everybody got sick at Chernobyl, so he wrote this masterful piece for me and I used it in full.”
Ice-T makes a guest appearance on Night Stalkers
Mustaine reveals that he and the rap icon/Body Count frontman go back three whole decades, and that there’s a mutual admiration thing going on.
“We have a friendship that’s based on us being outspoken in our genres, and I think he’s done it with savoir-faire, and he’s really made a name for himself and opened a lot of doors for young black artists and actors. I love that. I love doing stuff like that myself. When we get the opportunity to help people, we do it. There is nothing I love more than having somebody who’s young and talented, and giving them something that can be applied in their career and their world, and help them to make a better life for themselves. I know that sounds kind of kooky, like a Coke commercial, but it’s true! Hahaha.”
David Ellefson’s departure was a big deal. Then again, it wasn’t…
Longtime bassist David Ellefson was shown the exit door after being caught up in an online sex scandal. Mustaine admits that it was "a hard decision that had to be made”, though it didn’t cause as much disruption to the album as it might have.
“All the parts were written, and when we were demoing up all of the songs, a lot of the stuff that Kiko [Loureiro, guitarist] turned in, he played the guitar, bass and drums on it. Same with Dirk. So a lot of the stuff didn’t need to have anyone else play. The same with the parts I did, when I submitted an idea. I’d put a simple bass line along with the song. So it wasn’t a problem.”
Another former member of Megadeth recently came into Mustaine’s orbit
Megadeth recently headlined The Metal Tour Of The Year, with Lamb Of God and In Flames also on the bill. The latter currently feature ex-Deth man Chris Broderick playing with them as stand-in guitarist.
“Well, yeah, In Flames have someone with them who famously left Megadeth and sent his letter of resignation publicly through the internet,” Dave says, with a mock heavy sigh. “But that’s all water under the bridge now, and I guess people have to do things the way that they best can handle things at the time. But that gives you an idea of how serious I am when it comes to forgiveness. I still think Chris is a terrific guitar player.”
Megadeth once got punked by members of Dio in diapers
Mustaine and co opened for metal icons Dio around the time of Megadeth’s 1988 album So Far, So Good… So What!. As was traditional for support bands, the found themselves subject to an end-of-tour prank from the headliners.
“The guys from Dio came out on our set and goofed around while we were on stage,” says Mustaine. “They were all wearing diapers. I miss the goofy stuff people used to do when bands toured together, rather than it being ships passing in the night and no one gets to know each other.”
Is Dave Mustaine mellowing? Maybe…
“Well, it depends, I guess. I’m still working hard, still doing martial arts,” he says. “That’s not mellow by any means. It takes a lot of commitment. I’ve been doing jiujitsu for five years now. But the best thing I ever learned from martial arts was to walk the other way. If walking the other way doesn’t work? Run. I’ve walked away from more fights than I’ve been in, and I think that’s the best thing about it. You think, ‘Well, I know a bit of stuff, but how do I know what you know?’ Don’t raise your hands unless you need to. It’s simple really.”
We are in the middle of a Davenaissance
“I’m excited now, probably more excited than I’ve been in a long time,” he says. “There is a musical renaissance going on inside me. I feel strong. I don’t feel like I did when I was in my twenties, but for a 60-year old guy with a broken neck and who had cancer not long ago? I feel pretty fucking good.”