[Book review] Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir

Title: Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir

Authors: Dave Mustaine and Joe Layden

Published: 2010

After almost 30 years of bickering, therapy, and lyrical jabs, the feud between Megadeth founder Dave Mustaine and his former band mates in Metallica had reached that point where it almost become theater.

In reality the barbs and general ire usually came from the direction of Mustaine, still bitter at the way he was booted from the band just before their first record “Kill ‘Em All” was released in 1983.  On the back of the sacking he formed his own heavy metal monster, Megadeth, who in spite of selling tens of millions of albums worldwide, were still dwarfed by the unique arena metal appeal of his former band.

To Mustaine’s credit he goes in to fairly forthright detail about this anger and animosity in his auto-biography, “Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir”, even though the vulnerability he projects is in stark contrast to the confidence and cool emanating throughout the rest of his story.  It’s a subject that in itself he could have written an entire book about but thankfully he finds time to cover his childhood, family life, recording career and many (many) other feuds in the 368 pages.

Despite that, there’s still a merry-go-round feeling about the narrative.  Mustaine’s revolving-door relationship with rehab (“seventeen times, give or take”) is surpassed only by the number of musicians that have been members of his Grammy-nominated four-piece (until a few months ago he was the only founding member left in the band – bassist Dave “Junior” Ellefson recently rejoined despite having attempted to sue Mustaine).

Mustaine pulls no punches with the fact that he was not (is not?) a very nice person, was an alcoholic and drug-abuser, and tended to need very little encouragement to get in to a fight.  Because of his (admitted) arrogance, sociopathic behaviour and monster ego, Mustaine often attributes blame for his behaviour on others.  And when he does accept the blame for events that went down it’s usually with a caveat.  That’s the nature of the man.

Putting aside the feuds and fallouts, I was probably more interested in reading about the music.  Mustaine is the musical brains behind some of the great heavy metal songs of the 80s and 90s such as “Peace Sells”, “In My Darkest Hour”, “Holy Wars” and “Symphony of Destruction”.  Even in recent years Megadeth records have been above average long after Mustaine’s career was supposed to be over after suffering a compressed nerve in his bicep while in rehab.

But if you are looking for an in-depth look at how he conceived some of his great songs then you’re going to be disappointed.  He does talk amusingly about how he was denied a #1 record in 1992 when “Countdown to Extinction” was kept off the top of the Billboard charts by Billy Ray Cyrus and laments his weakness when he allowed his management to talk him in to developing a radio friendly sound on their final two records of the nineties (one miscalculation he does more or less take the blame for).

But we don’t hear about his songwriting technique, we don’t hear much about how he chose which songs to include on his records or much detail about shooting videos and choosing directors (with the exception of early work with Penelope Spheeris).

He also delves in to his conversion to Christianity, reaffirming his belief in God (contrary to the misconception that he leaned more towards Satanism than God-fearing) and detailing how he accepted Jesus as his saviour when at his lowest ebb.   Whatever works for you, buddy.

Overall “Mustaine” is an entertaining read for anyone remotely interested in heavy metal.  No doubt Metallica fans will pour scorn on the elements of the book that belittle the band (“Without my songs and my solos — without my energy — I don’t know that Metallica ever would have become the band that it was.”) or demonise Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.  But in light of the news that the Megadeth/Metallica feud seems to be over for now, maybe everyone will down their weapons and listen to what Mustaine has to say.  Given the number of people he’s upset over the years I’m sure there will be some interesting counter-strikes.

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