Megadeth’s harsh lesson from debut album sleeve

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Megadeth duo Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson have recalled how the sleeve of debut album Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! taught them a harsh lesson about the music business.

Mainman Mustaine had invented the Vic Rattlehead character before the band started recording their first work in 1984, and he’d given the Combat record label clear instructions about what he wanted from the artwork.

Mustaine tells Metal Hammer’s Paul Brannigan: “The inspiration for Vic came from a little model of the ‘Speak No Evil, See No Evil, Hear No Evil’ monkeys that my mom had. I thought it would be cool to translate that to metal.

“I drew it and got my friend Peyton Tuttle to paint it for our first t-shirt. The cover was supposed to be based on his painting, with a shield, knives and chains, a skull and crossbones.”

Ellefson says: “So this box shows up, and we open it, and there’s the record. Dave was immediately on the phone to Combat, asking, ‘What the fuck is this?’”

Above: The original cover and the 2002 re-release version, based on Mustaine’s original concept

Mustaine states: “It was a plastic skull with tinfoil and ketchup. It was shit.” His comment reflects one of his golden rules about working in the music industry: “I told David, ‘In this business, you have to eat shit, smile and ask for more.’”

Ellefson took the point: “We were mortified,” he says. “That artwork was supposed to be the DNA of everything Megadeth was about. But it did do one thing – it made us realise that it was truly us against the world.”

Killing Is My Business… drew a range of responses on release, although it’s now regarded as a formative moment in thrash metal. Mustaine recalls: “There were comments good and bad, but I didn’t care. All I knew was that I’d stuck my flag in the ground, and from then on we were going out with all guns blazing.”

The full interview appears in the latest edition of Metal Hammer, on sale now in print, digital and via TeamRock+. Megadeth are currently working on their 15th album, expected later this year, featuring new guitarist Kiko Loureiro and guest drummer Chris Adler of Lamb Of God.

Megadeth - How We Made Killing Is My Business...