Megadethâ€™s new album, Super Collider, is an event in and of itself. Not only because itâ€™s the latest offering from one of the most influential American thrash bands â€“ and a member of the Big 4, no less â€“, but also because the band are taking their audience to unexpected places. Even though Megadethâ€™s sound and typical riffs are well and truly present, some of the songs go farther than thrash, using elements from various worlds and even going as far as experimenting. On the limited edition of the album, one track, â€śA House Dividedâ€ť, even includes a trumpet!
As was expected, criticisms were not long in coming. In a way, in terms of risk-taking if not of style, this is exactly what happened with another one of the bandâ€™s album: the much maligned but aptly named Risk. On 9th June, during Sonisphere France festival, we were lucky to interview bass player Dave Ellefson, who has revived his old friendship with Dave Mustaine and confirmed his return in Megadeth with the album Th1rt3en. It was a good opportunity to decipher the new album, compare it to Risk and put it in perspective with the rest of the bandâ€™s discography.
“I think the difference is that Risk was a premeditated, attempted, something… And it was put to us by managements. [...] There are some things [on Super Collider] that are more broad beyond thrash metal of course, but it wasn’t a forced attempt to try to create a mainstream album.”
Radio Metal: Endgame and Th1rt3en were very classic thrash oriented Megadeth. Super Collider shows the band experimenting again and adding new colors to its music. Did you feel the need at this point to try new things creatively?
Dave Ellefson (bass): Yeah, these albums, they just naturally unfold. I think there’s kind of a positive uplifting feeling about Super Collider, which is probably why your hear some major chords (laughs). And I think that’s inspired by past and recent activities. There’s been a lot of success around the band, a lot of big shows and a lot of good will. That’s the emotion that you hear on Super Collider.
Weren’t you actually afraid to fall back in a kind of Risk scenario where people don’t accept, or at least understand, the experimentations, the new elements in your music?
Yeah I was, for sure. I’m not gonna lie to you, I was because anytime that you try to go in a different direction… I think the difference is that Risk was a premeditated, attempted, something… And it was put to us by managements. It was kind of the climate of heavy metal in the United States at the time, which was really going through a big change at that time and that’s why Risk came out. I think the thing we learned from that is: “Don’t try to make a record, just go, make an album”. And I think that’s the difference with Super Collider. Yeah, there are some things that are more broad beyond thrash metal of course, but it wasn’t a forced attempt to try to create a mainstream album. It’s just the album that came out at this particular time.
Is it important for a band like Megadeth to keep itself challenged musically?
For sure it is! After a while, to go and just do “digidigidigidigi” (note: he’s imitating a basic thrash metal bass line) becomes easy, that’s second nature and you feel like you’re not pushing yourself. You almost feel that you’re being lazy. Like: “Come on! I can do better than that, I can come up with something more than that.” Especially when you’re committing to an album. It isn’t just pushing yourself, it’s pushing everybody else in the band. I think that’s what you hear on Megadeth records. It isn’t like we just made one record with one style in music for an entire career. I know a lot of people who came to know Megadeth during the Risk period. So when some people are bashing Risk, saying it was this lightway pop album, another fan will stand and say: “Hey! That was the album I got know Megadeth on. What are you saying? That it is a crappy album? You’re basically insulting my taste in music.” So I’ve learned over the years that when a band is thirty years of history like Megadeth does – thirty years this month actually – people came in to the Megadeth realm at different stages along the way and we learned – at least I have and think the band has as a whole – to be proud of everything we’ve done. Even if not everybody liked it. It’s a question of being proud of what you did because it was that moment in time that you captured in recording.
“I don’t like just to listen to a song, I want to hear an entire album. [...] And when you listen to Super Collider as an entire album, it has a much different impact.
What reactions did you get for this album so far?
Well, it was mixed, I have to be honest with you. Especially, I think, when people first heard the first single “Super Collider”. “What?! Oh my God, what did they do?! Where did our Megadeth go?” But then the record came out this last week. We were up in the United Kingdom, we were doing a lot of in-store signing, which we hadn’t done for many, many years, to meet the fans, have them buy the record and the response was overwhelmingly very positive about the record. And even as I listened to it from top to bottom in the store, hearing it played all the way through. Which is how me as a metal fan, as a music listener, that’s how I like to listen. I don’t like just to listen to a song, I want to hear an entire album. And I think that’s how Megadeth fans are. And when you listen to Super Collider as an entire album, it has a much different impact and I think that it has the Megadeth sound.
It takes time for the fans to accept transition albums like Risk, like the Metallica’s Load, for example. How do you think the Risk album is perceived now? Do you think it will be the same for Super Collider?
Well, look, if you wanna hear Rust In Peace, then you probably aren’t going to be fullfilled by listening to Risk. Even though I think “Prince Of Darkness” is a great song and “Time: The Beginning” and “Time: The End” have great moments. Those were the heavy songs in that record. I made a comment when we were recording some bass track [for Super Collider], that some of the stuff reminded me of early Megadeth. When I say early Megadeth I meant before Killing Is My Business. There was a sound Megadeth had before we record “Killing”. It was when Dave [Mustaine] and I first met and songs like “Skull Beneath The Skin” and even “Devil’s Island”. These songs were really slow and heavy and meanly sounding. And when I was recording bass tracks to “Burn!”, “Kingmaker”, that’s what that reminded me of. So I made a comment online and people were like: “What does Ellefson’s talking about? It doesn’t sound like Killing Is My Business!” Well, I never said it sounded like Killing Is My Business! There’s a vintage Megadeth sound that I hear on Super Collider that goes that pre-days before Killing Is My Business (laughs). If you go pre-Killing, Killing, Peace, through Rust In Peace, through Risk, through Endgame and now up to Super Collider, there’s a really wide window of what Megadeth really is all about.
We can hear a very Californian rock vibe in the title track, there are tracks that reminds us of The Cult, the end of “Dance In The Rain” has a very industrial metal vibe. How was this album written? Did you have some specific influences, some records you did listen to get inspired?
No, we didn’t, actually, surprisingly. Because you’re right. I hear everything from Thin Lizzy, “Cold Sweat” of course, to UFO, to early Def Leppard, maybe even a little bit of AC/DC. I didn’t think of The Cult but now that you mention it, I can hear a little bit of that in there, a kind of real aethereal british rock thing. And then again, just vintage Megadeth like “Kingmaker”. To me, that is a Dave Mustaine riff if there ever was one, like “Ta, dada, dadadada dada”. That’s Dave’s signature stamp of thrash metal. You can hear that on “No Life ‘Til Leather”, it sounds almost like “Mechanix” or something, like from his Metallica Days. Then to go all the way all over to something which is again this major key, open guitar chords like “Super Collider”. We didn’t listen anything. After comming off of Countdown To Extinction’s twentieth anniversary tour, we just started picking these things out, like “this is cool”, “let’s do this”, “let’s try that”. In January, we wrote another batch of about six songs, including “Kingmaker”, “Burn!” and “Built For War”. The heavier songs of the album were written on the second phase of the songwriting.
“I think that Roadrunner very much had an idea in mind about how they wanted Megadeth to sound like. And I don’t fault them for that. [...] I think those years really did a lot of good for helping Megadeth carve out [...] songs that brought the real, true essence of Megadeth back out in our recordings again.”
Last time we spoke with him, Dave Mustaine said to us that the shows you did to celebrate the anniversary of Rust In Peace inspired Megadeth for the album Th1rt3en. Last year you did a tour where you played the album Countdown To Extinction in its entirety. Some songs on this album do remind us of that era of the band, especially “Kingmaker”. Did those shows inspire you somehow?
For sure! I remember Dave and I talking about that. Rust In Peace inspired Countdown, Countdown inspired Youthanasia. In the same way, twenty years later Rust In Peace inspired Th1rt3en and the twentieth anniversary of Countdown To Extinction inspired Super Collider. So you’re right. I think, rather than us listening to records like you just asked previously, we probably listened to ourselves more than anything (laughs). Because we were on tour and we were playing our own songs every night. That becomes the benchmark of what your next musical output is going to be like.
Actually, this album is the first that’s released via your own label, Tradecraft. Do you think you couldn’t have released such an adventurous album via Roadrunner Records?
No, I doubt it. I think that Roadrunner very much had an idea in mind about how they wanted Megadeth to sound like. And I don’t fault them for that, I think it was probably a good thing because as we look back over the history, all of us kind of pinpoint Risk, that was a pivotal turn for Megadeth. And, you know, it took a few records to get that mighty Megadeth sound back intact again. I think that a lot of that happened during the Roadrunner phase. Those people at Roadrunner are very much metalheads, big time thrash metal fans, big time old school Megadeth fans. So I think those years really did a lot of good for helping Megadeth carve out United Abominations, Endgame, Thirteen, songs that brought the real, true essence of Megadeth back out in our recordings again. But again, coming off of Countdown To Extinction anniversary tour, that was probably the biggest inspiration heading in to Super Collider and this is just the record that we have at this time. Next year is 2014, there’ll be another record that’ll come after Super Collider, so who knows how it’s going to sound like? And that to me is part of the journey of being in Megadeth.
Interview conducted face-to-face on June 9th, 2013 at Sonisphere France festival by Metal’O Phil.
Questions sheet: Metal’O Phil et Spaceman.
Transcription: Metal’O Phil et Spaceman
Megadeth’s official website: megadeth.com
Album Super Collider, out since June 4th, 2013, via Tradecraft/Universal Music
This post is also available in: French