Two bass players and a drummer are stuck in a boat…This is surely the intro to a wince-inducing musician’s joke, right? Not quite. In fact, this colourful lede introduces the genesis of the most ambitious heavy metal collaboration of all time: the Metal Allegiance. What you need to know about Metal Allegiance is that it’s the real deal – a star-spangled band of visionaries who have written some of the most influential albums of our time. While the most successful rock and metal supergroups – such as Down, Velvet Revolver and even Killer Be Killed – formed around four or five big names caught between projects, the Metal Allegiance has convened a jaw-dropping roster of 25 of metal’s most prolific artists and together composed a double-fisted beatdown of original material that’s as ambitious as it is heavy. The lineup offers an unprecedented convergence of the vanguards of old-school thrash and their successors – members of Slayer, Anthrax, Mastodon, Lamb Of God, Testament, Hatebreed, Arch Enemy, Death Angel, Machine Head and more. And the instigator of Metal Allegiance is the least recognisable name in the lot – Mark Menghi. Sitting down with Metal Hammer, he chuckles, “Nobody knows who the hell I am. Everybody’s like, ‘Who is this asshole?’”
Several years ago, Mark – then working for a music gear company – convened a couple friends from Megadeth and Anthrax to host a bass clinic that ended with an impromptu jam. It proved massively fun for both the fans and the musicians, so Mark organised more clinics, attracting the likes of Geezer Butler, Kerry King, Dave Lombardo and Steve Vai. Eventually, the gigs morphed into all-star jams called Metal Masters, held at sold-out venues in New York and LA. When Mark changed jobs last year, the series reached a logical end… until he received a call from David Ellefson.
“David said that we had an opportunity to play Motörhead’s Motörboat,” Mark says. “I explained that Metal Masters was defunct. He said, ‘Well, it’s time to think of a new name then and get this off the ground. This is a brand new opportunity.’”
Seconds after hanging up, Mark made two decisions: he’d resurrect the project for a last hurrah, and it would be called ‘Metal Allegiance’. Mark’s plan was to just play a couple of farewell sets on the cruise. After all, hadn’t the supergroup thing played out? He’d organised five elaborately orchestrated jams over the past few years – where else could they take it? The answer came, literally, from the heavens. The guys awoke to a hurricane battering both the hull and the marina where the ship was due to dock. Unable to pull into port, they circled Cuba until conditions abated. Mark – himself a skilled bassist – found himself sitting with David and Mike Portnoy, staring out at the island.
“We were bored out of our minds,” he says. “We started talking about where this could go. One of the guys said, ‘Let’s write a record.’ I said, ‘What, a record of cover songs?’ They were like, ‘No, let’s form a band, the three of us, get a guitar player, and do it.’”
Snagging a legendary shredder proved embarrassingly easy. “I suggested Alex Skolnick,” Mark says, “because the dude can play anything. I knew Testament weren’t doing a lot – it was before their next tour cycle.” Alex signed on immediately and the four retreated to Mike Portnoy’s home studio. As the material flowed, they began reaching out to friends to join the effort. The project spiralled and the full list of artists is astonishing (deep breath): David Ellefson, Alex Skolnick, Mike Portnoy, Mark Menghi, Alissa White-Gluz, Philip H. Anselmo, Andreas Kisser, Ben Weinman, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, Charlie Benante, Chuck Billy, Cristina Scabbia, Phil Demmel, Gary Holt, Chris Jericho, Jamey Jasta, Mark Osegueda, Matt Heafy, Misha Mansoor, Rex Brown, dUg Pinnick, Troy Sanders, Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza, Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens and one Randy Blythe all got involved.
“I’m pretty tight nerd buddies with Alex Skolnick,” Randy explains to us, “because we’re both nerdy, bookish dudes. He said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this thing I’m doing. You’d be perfect for it!’ I said, ‘Of course!’ I love making music with my friends. I hate to sound like a Willie Nelson song… [does a terrible impression of Willie singing On The Road Again] ‘Making music with my friends!’ But it’s true. Alex sent a track that he thought would be good for me and I was like, ‘Sure, I’m on it, dude!’ It was that easy.”
The team span a prismatic array of sub-genres. For Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz, who appears on the album’s only cover – Dio’s We Rock – her invitation offered the opportunity to showcase another side of her range. “When Alex asked me to participate, he didn’t know that I did clean singing at all. He said, ‘Just do whatever you want on this song, and we’ll keep what we like.’ So I took the song they sent me into a studio and added what I thought would sound good, and I guess it sounded good enough to keep! Ha ha!”
Technology might enable musicians to create a record from different time zones, but without that mystical element known as ‘chemistry’, such endeavours will never rise above metal-by-numbers. Periphery guitarist Misha Mansoor found a unique way to conjure that mysterious synergy from the remote confines of his studio: “For my solo, I tried to look at musical motifs that were happening and touch on them,” he says. “There’s one part where my solo’s mimicking a riff that’s about to happen, just to make it feel attached to the song. Now it’s got a purpose: it references another part of the song.”
Jamey Jasta sees this as far more than simply an all-star collaboration. “We need to embrace collaborations and side-projects more. If you look at hip hop, pop or country, there isn’t this elitist attitude like, ‘I’m not going to jam with this guy’ or ‘I’m not going to speak with that media outlet.’ We’ve seen that in the past with metal, hardcore and punk, and I’m hoping that in a way, metal, rock, hardcore and punk – music that’s really played by talented people – can start collaborating more and get more eyes on all of the genres and sub-genres and get more ears on the records, because we need this support to keep the creative output flowing.”
From the explosive intro of Randy’s Gift Of Pain, straight through to the seismic echo of the final power chord of Pledge Of Allegiance, the 60-minute self-titled album unfurls like a full-throttle joyride through the streets of modern metal, packed with thrashy power-grooves, paint-peeling riffage and the concussive, polyrhythmic virtuosity of Mike Portnoy. This is only the beginning. Metal Allegiance is a real band with plans, not just a novelty project. On September 17, the Allegiance – including most of the musicians – will play the entire album live at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square.
Mark tells us, “It’s going to be a three-hour event. We’ll play the record, and we have some other surprises that we’re not going to announce. We’ll hit some festivals at the end of the year, we’re planning on doing our annual House Of Blues show in Anaheim, and we have a bunch of stuff planned for 2016.”
Surely after a year of writing and recording a new album, coordinating schedules with 25 musicians and organising a run of bi-coastal gigs, a bit of a rest is in the cards, yeah? Mark smiles conspiratorially and shares, “Nah – the second album’s already half-written.”
METAL ALLEGIANCE IS OUT SEPTEMBER 18 VIA NUCLEAR BLAST