Nick Menza: Obituary

Nick Menza
Nick Menza: 1964-2016 (Image credit: Getty)

Nick Menza, drummer with thrash titans Megadeth during their most commercially successful period, has passed away at the age of 51. The legendary musician collapsed on stage during a show with his band OHM at The Baked Potato in Studio City, California. Despite the efforts of paramedics, he could not be revived and was pronounced dead at the venue.

The son of a jazz musician, Nick Menza was born on July 23, 1964, in Munich, Germany. He began playing the drums at the age of two. Reared on a diet of classic jazz and R&B, he turned professional at the age of 18 and swiftly earned himself an impressive CV of session work, performing alongside musicians from all manner of diverse genres. He eventually caught the attention of then Megadeth drummer Chuck Behler, eventually becoming his drum tech and occasionally filling in for his boss. As a result of his close relationship with the Megadeth camp, he was picked by Dave Mustaine as the perfect replacement for Behler when the latter quit the band.

Drummers are traditionally the backroom boys and, in most cases, the unsung heroes of heavy metal. But Nick Menza’s contribution to the sound and style of heavy music over the last 30 years was immense and hugely significant, particularly with regard to the precision and power that have become standard fixtures in modern metal. Menza joined Megadeth in 1989, replacing former incumbent Chuck Behler, and settling in alongside founder members Dave Mustaine and Dave Ellefson, and fellow new recruit and six-string wizard Marty Friedman. The first album the retooled lineup made together was 1990’s Rust In Peace, a record that single-handedly redefined what metal should sound like as the century neared its end. As Mustaine’s confidence as a songwriter and guitarist reached peak levels, so his new comrades provided stellar support and Menza, in particular, was fundamental to the evolution of Megadeth’s ante-raising sound. Pitiless in his meticulous attention to detail and neck-snapping precision, he was also an immensely versatile and intelligent drummer, bringing vast amounts of dynamism and syncopated punch to the turbocharged, state-of-the-art thrash that made Rust In Peace both an instant classic and a benchmark against which any self-respecting mainstream metal band would measure themselves. Songs as iconic and anthemic as Holy War…The Punishment Due and Hangar 18 were always destined to make a huge impact, but it was arguably Menza’s percussive attack that made them stand out so powerfully at a time when heavy metal was beginning to flounder creatively.

Megadeth followed Rust In Peace with their greatest commercial triumph, Countdown To Extinction; another album that showcased the drummer’s colossal abilities and unique sound.

Menza performed on a further two Megadeth albums – 1994’s Youthanasia and 1997’s Cryptic Writings – both of which were huge successes in the US and Europe. He also played drums on three Marty Friedman solo albums during the same period.

Due to a knee injury, Menza was briefly unable to perform live and was subsequently replaced in Megadeth by Jimmy DeGrasso. One aborted attempt to reunite the Rust In Peace lineup in 2004 aside, Menza would never perform with Megadeth again, but his signature style had already become such an essential part of the band’s sound that every one of his successors owes him a huge debt.

Although he never achieved any major success after leaving Megadeth in 1998, Menza’s passion for drumming continued unabated. He performed with numerous bands, including his own band Menza and LA metal crew Orphaned To Hatred, before joining instrumental jazz/fusion virtuosos OHM in 2015, performing alongside another former Megadeth alumnus, guitarist Chris Poland. Admired and respected by all, Menza’s untimely death comes as a terrible shock to the metal world. One of our most influential and distinctive protagonists, his impact on the metal world is undeniable and he will be sorely missed.

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Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.