Metallica vs. Megadeth: The Great Debate Continues
By Sam Frank
When Metallica was inducted into the Rock'N'Roll Hall of Fame last year I was not surprised. Their newest album, Death Magnetic, is a blitzkrieg of sonic mayhem that includes heart pounding bass lines from newbie Robert Trujillo on top of Rick Ruben's dynamic productions. Besides the band's countless world tours Metallica have gone on to sell 52,271,000 albums in the United States alone, so when my metal music connoisseur, Alex, told me that Metallica sucks ass I began to wonder why he thinks this way. After pushing the issue further I got a one word answer: Megadeth.
Alright, we all know the story about Dave Mustaine being kicked out of Metallica before the band recorded its first album, 1983's Kill'Em All, and the how Mustaine was so pissed after his departure that he created the band Megadeth, which he deemed harder and faster than Metallica. "We didn't care about the future," Mustaine revealed during VH-1's Behind The Music. "[Megadeth] just wanted to be the most dangerous band on the planet," which became evident on songs like "Set The World Afire" and "502," off 1987's So Far, So Good, So What. But this didn't settle anything. Why in the world a metal head say Metallica sucks in favor of Megadeth? For the same reason people weren't thrilled about The Beatles changing their sound in the late 60's. A band's sound is their audio-identity, and when that changes so does the audience, which is exactly what happened to Metallica in the 90's.
When the album Load dropped in 1996 the world met a Metallica with short hair, make-up, and expensive clothing - a far cry from the long haired metal heads that conquered San Francisco in the early 80's. Despite Load's four consecutive weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts and over 5 million units sold in America most fans viewed the image change as a pussy move because Metallica's new sound was slower and more melodic than the older stuff; whereas, Megadeth kept popping out hardcore metal albums one after the other. Between Metallica's self-titled "Black Album" and Load Megadeth shot to stardom with two epic releases, Countdown to Extinction and Youthanasia. The fiery edge from those albums ignited Megadeth's 1996 follow-up, Cryptic Writing, a tour-de-force album that most metal fans agree puts Metallica's Load to shame even after it sleeps. A year and a half later Metallica released the second half of their Load sessions Reload which went on to sell 4 million units in America while Megadeth's 1999 album, Risk failed to crush anybody.
"This album [referring to Load] and what we're doing with it - that, to me, is what Metallica are all about: exploring different things," Lars Ulrich admitted in 1996. "The minute you stop exploring, then just sit down and fucking die." It was this mantra that became the band's double-edged sword. As Metallica's new fan base grew hardcore rockers became disinterested and bitter towards the band, but this never happened to Megadeth. Although Risk wasn't the full on assault of prior albums, it wasn't a complete image overhaul; therefore, no Megadeth fans were disillusioned during the process. Metallica, on the other hand, pissed off people with its new sound, image, and anti-napster campaign, but still managed to have every album with original music released in the 90's go platinum [*albums go platinum after 1,000,000 copies are sold], a mind-boggling statistic which speaks for itself.
You ask any true metal head to name three songs from either of the Load/Reload albums and you'll get a blank stare similar to the one NYPD Officers give you after asking for directions. Those albums may have sold big, but no fans of their 80's music paid attention. What those fans did pay for were concert tickets, and to this day Metallica concerts are some of the hottest tickets in town. Besides the explosions, moving props, and lasers Metallica's live show often consists of songs that made them popular in the 80's like "For Whom The Bell Tolls," "Master of Puppets," and of course, "One." Megadeth, on the other hand, skips the effects and goes straight for the jugular with metal anthems like "Peace Sells," "Hangar 18," and "Set The World Afire" as well as songs from their recent albums.
Death Magnetic came out in 2008, and is Metallica's ninth album, fifth consecutive studio album to debut at number one on the Billboard charts. Almost a year later Megadeth released their 12th studio album, Endgame, which debuted at number 9 on the Billboard charts. While both albums are extremely fast and powerful the production on Death Magnetic is more sophisticated than that on Endgame thanks to Rick Ruben. Music journalists, including myself, have called Death Magnetic a return to form for Metallica, but Megadeth's comeback album was really 2004's The System Has Failed, an album way more frantic than Metallica's inconsistent St. Anger. This brings us back to my original inquiry: why would a metal head say Metallica sucks? Because Metallica lost the fast-paced complex sound that made them famous in the 80's; whereas, Megadeth stayed true to their thrash metal roots and never got soft. But the irony of this equation is that Metallica's popularity grew during their experimental phase despite the fact that Megadeth never lost their edge. At the end of the day, Metallica's 27 year audio evolution is what got them recognized by the mainstream media and into the Rock'N'Roll Hall of Fame, but Megadeth's unwillingness to compromise or "sell out" is what makes them legendary to metal heads like Alex. Megadeth have sold close to 25 million albums worldwide with five consecutive albums being certified platinum in the USA.