Megadeth’s Dave Ellefson believes metal is a powerful force in the ’90s

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 26, 1992

By Steve Newton

More than any other metal tune in 1992, Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction” was the one that made this jaded, riff-ravaged semi-headbanger sit up and take notice. Driven by a brutally direct, ’70s-style guitar riff, the sharp-edged cut was a welcome respite from the plethora of grungy tracks clogging the airwaves. But according to Megadeth bassist/founding member Dave Ellefson, the foundation of that monument to ’70s metal didn’t require heavy construction.

“When we were writing songs for this record, in the fall of ’91, we had a studio where we’d kinda horse around—play basketball, watch a little TV, order a lot of food, and just hang out. We’d do those things in between our riffing sessions, and the main riff of that song was the product of one of those sessions.”

Once “Symphony” was finished, the next chore was to build a video around the song that would be as tough and compelling as the tune itself. The group handed that job over to Los Angeles music director Wayne Isham.

“He’s really hip to our kind of music,” says Ellefson. “We gave him copies of the lyrics and hung out with him a bit so he could get a feel for our general attitude, then he basically just took the title and ran with it.”

The resulting video depicts American politicians as gloating, baby-kissing, mindless connoisseurs of power whose leadership leads only to misery and destruction. But Ellefson says that the distinguished-looking actor who portrays the campaigning politician isn’t representative of anyone in particular.

“It’s basically just politicians in general,” he notes. “It’s kinda the attitude that politics are too important for a bunch of politicians to even deal with.”

While wary of anyone who runs for office, Ellefson claims he’s happy with the results of the recent U.S. presidential election, if only in that it makes for a change. But even if the Clinton administration were somehow able to cure all the social, economic, and environmental ills that the Megadeth tunesmiths tend to focus on, he still doesn’t see the band running out of bad stuff to write about.

“I find it very hard to believe that in the next few years Clinton’s gonna solve all of those problems, so we’re still gonna have a lot of inspiration for material yet. And if for some reason things get solved in the United States, we travel the world 300 out of 365 days of the year anyway, so there’s still lots of time to go around the world and find somethin’ else. As long as the world and the people in it keep destroyin’ themselves and the planet we’ll have somethin’ to write about.”

Megadeth’s non-rosy outlook on life isn’t far removed from that held by metal’s main men, Metallica, of which Megadeth singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine was once a member. While both groups are consistently popular, there’s no denying Metallica’s current status as the kings of American metal. But does that lead to competition between the two acts?

“Any band wants to be the outstanding band in their field of music,” says Ellefson, “and I think that between Megadeth and Metallica we’re keepin’ good company as forerunners of the kind of music that we play.

“But we are a band that has our own spotlight and has earned our own merits, so it’s not like we have to always be double-checking to see what they’re doing. We just do our thing, and that way we can rest assured that we’re not stealing anything from them. And hopefully they’re doin’ the same.”

When the Megadeth metal machine rolls into town to play the PNE Forum on Tuesday (December 1), it’ll have thrashy California skate-metallists Suicidal Tendencies under its wheels. “It’s probably the tour with the scariest band names,” chuckles Ellefson, who adds that the two groups don’t necessarily attract the same type of audience.

“Suicidal Tendencies can entertain our crowd, but I think they also draw a different crowd as well, which is part of the reason why we wanted them on the bill. You know, there’s no reason for us to take out a baby Megadeth; we’d rather take out somebody so there’s a little variety there.”

While heavy metal/hard-rock bands have been among the biggest money-making acts in the history of the recording biz, a quick glance at a recent Billboard chart shows that the Top 20 is currently being staked out by country artists like Garth Brooks, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Vince Gill, while dance/rap artists like Bobby Brown, En Vogue, and those nauseating little Kriss Kross twerps are pushing their weight around as well. But 27-year-old Ellefson—whose own tastes run from Pantera to Peter Gabriel—stands firm in the belief that metal is a powerful force in the ’90s.

“I’m not gonna predict anything about it, but I think that where it’s at right now, metal is fashionable, and with any kinda music that’s fashionable—whether it’s punk or disco or even rap—the record industry wants to go sign every band that even has an inkling of that particular sound. Right now every label’s looking to Seattle for the new bands, but the thing is, that scene’s done and over with by now. It’s moved on to something else, you know.

“Our biggest contribution to metal is that we never succumbed to the latest trend or fashion. It’s taken us almost nine years to bring this band to the point of where it is, and to get the worldwide status that we have. But at least we’re doing something that, when people hear a Megadeth song, they know right away that it’s Megadeth, and not some new Seattle band.”

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