The Thursday Death Match: Megadeth vs. Metallica

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Metallica. Megadeth. Megadeth. Metallica. Two giants of the genre, two names forever entwined yet eternally at odds. But which band is better? Revolutionary thrash metal icons Megadeth? Or revolutionary thrash metal icons Metallica? Only you can decide (there’s a vote button at the foot of the page) but our writers will be your guides. We start with Dom Lawson…

I’ll be honest. I don’t even know why we’re still having this debate. It should, I think, be perfectly honest to anyone that gives a flying toss (or even a flying V) about metal that this battle was won a long time ago.

Okay, so no one sensible would dispute that Metallica are (a) the biggest metal band of all time and (b) so enormously popular that they can get away with ropey live performances and releasing any old, half-arsed garbage. Unless it’s Lulu, obviously. It is also unquestionable that (a) Dave Mustaine says an awful lot of things that most sane people regard as either barking mad or highly dubious, and that (b) Megadeth share Metallica’s habit of occasionally releasing albums that are a bit rubbish. Both bands manifestly have their faults, and you will doubtless have already made the subjective call on whether you prefer one or the other.

Back in the 80s, when I was sporting a mullet and squeezing myself into jeans that could easily have made me infertile, thrash was king and Metallica were its kings. That’s too many kings, but you get the point. If you had pointed a gun to my head and demanded that I chose between the two bands back then, I would have probably picked Megadeth because I was a snotty teenager and being deliberately contrary, but the truth is that Metallica’s run of albums in the 80s remains as glorious and unassailable as any in rock history. Megadeth released at least one stone cold classic during the same period (Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying, just so you know), but Metallica were unstoppable at that point, with Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets ensuring that they would be forever regarded as titans of the genre. The often maligned …And Justice For All is a classic, too. So Metallica won the 80s. That’s obvious.

What really matters here is what happened in the 90s. Metallica released the Black Album – which, personally, I think is a little boring, but an iron-plated classic from an objective perspective – and became the biggest band on the planet. Unfortunately, their enormous success also spelled the death of their creativity and the hollow, clanging end of their interest in the metal scene as a self-contained entity. Megadeth made similar musical errors in the 90s – I have a soft spot for Risk, but it’s at least 50% dreadful – but they also released Rust In Peace, Countdown To Extinction and Youthanasia… oh, and Cryptic Writings, which is way better than most people seem to realise. Compared to the plodding, turgid arse-tsunami of Load and Reload, Megadeth were an impossibly vital force for metallic good, during a decade where metal was struggling to retain its momentum. So Megadeth win the 90s. By a mile.

The last 15 years are even more telling. Metallica have released two studio albums, the flawed but actually quite funny St. Anger and the equally flawed, sonically hideous and actually quite funny Death Magnetic; a supposed return to old school metal values that could hardly have sounded more out-of-touch with what’s actually going on in metal if it had been played on kazoos and coconut shells by a team of Tibetan monks. Fans’ relief that Metallica were being “heavy” again was understandable up to a point, but Death Magnetic is not a good record, even ignoring the terrible production and insane mastering. Meanwhile, Megadeth released United Abominations, Endgame and Th1rt3en: three really strong records that sounded vital and relevant, with songs that indicated that Dave Mustaine can still tap into the essence of the genre after all this time… and, perhaps more importantly, that he actually has a clue about how metal should sound (i.e. not like a posh rehearsal tape with all the faders crammed up into the red). Megadeth win the 00s, hands down.

In terms of live performances, both bands remain eminently worth checking out. Unfortunately, Metallica have lost the ability to play their best songs properly. The version of Creeping Death they played at Sonisphere last year was dashed off at such an alarming pace that the audience couldn’t sing along with chorus properly. James Hetfield couldn’t sing it either. Kirk’s solo during One sounded like the dying shriek of a swan that’s been accidentally winged by a poacher.

This, sadly, is the tip of the iceberg. I will always watch Metallica if I get the chance, but it’s the songs that make it worthwhile, even if Lars Ulrich seems hell-bent on ruining those too. As a live band, they are a bit of a shambles, in stark contrast with the destructive, precise machine that I saw at Hammersmith in 1989. And I bet that new album will be rubbish, at least if Lords Of Summer is anything to go by. Jesus wept.

Live, Megadeth can also be hit-or-miss. They can be fairly static and unexciting to watch and Mustaine’s voice isn’t the most incisive in an outdoor situation, but – and here’s the clincher – they can play all their songs really well and with enough vim and venom to reassure fans that they still give a shit. Yes, Super Collider was fairly terrible – note to Dave: don’t repeat Metallica’s mistakes again, thanks – but I’m cautiously optimistic that the new album will be another gleaming face-ripper. And even if it isn’t, Megadeth will almost certainly never (a) make a record as soul-rapingly bad as Lulu, (b) make a terrible film that makes no sense or a documentary that completely undermines everything that was cool about the band in the first place, or © take the best part of a decade to make an album that, with the best will in the world, is practically guaranteed to be a crushing disappointment. You have heard Lords Of Summer, right? Megadeth win. Easy.

**But who’s this coming over the hill, thrashing about and breathing fire like a demented metal Stegosaurus? It’s Paul Brannigan, and he thinks differently. Take it away, Paul… **

Birth. School. Metallica. Death.

Whether you want to admit it or not, Metallica are part of your DNA. Even after Lulu, even after St. Anger, even after Napster and Re-Load and that awful, awful embarrassment of a movie, as much as you might protest and whine and post those ever hilarious ‘Shitallica’ comments on Facebook, they’re part of you. Deal with it.

Hats off to Dave Mustaine. Humiliated and discarded by his best friends in the world in the spring of 1983, in a brutal, cold-hearted manoeuvre that still beggars belief, the man went on to assemble one of the greatest metal bands in history, and fashion a completely unique, dazzlingly inventive Weather Reports-meets-the-Pistols collective who transformed the face of heavy metal.

But they’re not Metallica.

Break it down how you like, reduce them to simplistic Diamond Head-meets-Motörhead equations, but Metallica are untouchable. Kill ‘Em All. Ride The Lightning. Master of Puppets. …And Justice For All. That, ladies and gents, is the foundation of all modern metal. Metallica changed everything with those records, showed the world that metal could be as intelligent as it was uncompromising, as artful as it was ferocious. No videos (until the masterful One), no second-guessing, no tilting at success, no fear.

Pull your copy of Master of Puppets off the shelf and have a look at the photo of James, Lars, Kirk and Cliff staring down Classic Rock snapper Ross Halfin’s camera, all snottiness, and snarls and ‘we own this town’ insouciance, a bunch of feral street rats who’re utterly aware that this is their time, that from now on, no-one else matters. Now, granted, that band are almost unrecognisable from the men in black who roll into European stadiums every summer with their greatest hits cabaret, but have a think for a second: who else has the balls, the sheer nerve to attempt the wildly ambitious (and yes, often misguided) shit they’ve lobbed our way in the past two decades, from the remarkable Some Kind of Monster to the art statement that is Lulu. Megadeth? Please.

This is not about winners and losers. Both bands ‘won’. And one of the very best things about Metallica is the fact that in their arrogance and obnoxiousness they spurred a raging redhead from a broken Californian home to become one of metal’s most iconic and inspirational figures.

But put on those first four records. Or any one side of any of them. And compare it to anything MegaDave has done. Sorry, game over.

LAST WEEK: JOE SATRIANI VS. STEVE VAI

Results: Joe Satriani: 64% Steve Vai: 36%