What started with an audition that consisted of Dave Mustaine merely warming up, ended two years later with an unceremonious split from Metallica on the brink of their debut album. It is a tale that illuminates a paradigm of rock ‘n’ roll: often the masters of the big business craft are some of the least reliable engines of income in human history. Nevertheless, it is also a world where some of the most debauched behaviour going can still give you grounds for unfair dismissal; this is something Mustaine has been clinging to since 1983.
In 1981, Mustaine was in a little-known band called Panic. However, this outfit struggled to match his skills and expectations so he disbanded the band and responded to an ad in a local Los Angeles newspaper, The Recycler, looking for a guitarist to join the new heavy metal band Metallica. Mustaine was quick to respond, and he was invited into the fold even quicker.
“I was in the room warming up,” Mustaine recalls, ” and I walked out and asked, ‘Well, am I gonna audition or what?’, and they said, ‘No, you’ve got the job.’ I couldn’t believe how easy it had been and suggested that we get some beer to celebrate.” This token of triumph would later be his downfall in the band.
Over the next two years, Mustaine helped to develop the crunching sound of the band and propel them through the metal circuit. However, it wasn’t just his music contributions at the time that helped to put them on the map, he also brought a level of attitude that was vital amid the scene at the time. With this combination of artistry, originality, and swagger all established within a few months of playing live, the band quickly found themselves signed up and heading to New York to record their debut album.
Sadly, the sense of impending success only furthered the dark side of Mustaine’s lifestyle. As Brian Slagel, the owner of their first label, Metal Blade Records, explains: “Dave was an incredibly talented guy but he also had an incredibly large problem with alcohol and drugs. He’d get wasted and become a real crazy person, a raging megalomaniac, and the other guys just couldn’t deal with that after a while. I mean, they all drank of course, but Dave drank more… much more. I could see they were beginning to get fed up of seeing Dave drunk out of his mind all the time.”
While his habits at the time remain undisputed, Mustaine has often bemoaned the way that the band seemingly turned on him. They state that his position was untenable owing to his problems with drink, drugs, and aggression towards fellow bandmembers, but he says he could’ve changed with a bit of communication. He has since referred to the incident as “no warning, no second chance”. And he has referred to it a lot.
This recently led to his former Megadeth bandmate, David Ellefson, telling Heavy Talk: “I’ve watched how he’s treated his dismissal from Metallica, still bitching about it 40 years later, and I think it looks fucking pathetic. And it’s, like, ‘You know what? Fix your shit and move on.’ And that’s how I’ve chosen to deal with it: fix your shit and move on.”
What songs did Dave Mustaine write for Metallica?
But does Mustaine still have cause to be grouchy over the matter? Well, while he has since built-up an esteemed career of his own, he has still failed to reach anywhere near the 125+ million records that Metallica have sold since he left. As a vital cog in their early machinery, it is clear to see why his dismissal still sticks in his craw given that he was able to clean up quickly after he was fired.
Proof of his contribution to the sound of Metallica comes from the songs that he is credited with writing contributions. These are ‘The Four Horsemen’, ‘Jump in the Fire’, ‘Phantom Lord’ and ‘Metal Mania’ all from their debut Kill ’em All, and subsequent carry-overs ‘Ride the Lightning’ and ‘The Call of Ktulu’ from Ride the Lightning. Moreover, there are notable similarities between his work with Megadeth – such as the opening riffs for ‘In My Darkest Hour’ and ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ – that have gone undisputed.
This has resulted in a continued dispute between Mustaine and his replacement Kirk Hammett who he claims not only “stole his job” but has also “ripped off every break I’d played” ever since. All the same, you still sense that there is a begrudging respect between Mustaine and the band at large, the comparable styles alone should tell you that.