Q #2,021: According to Megadeth’s ‘Sweating Bullets,’ mankind has got to know his what?
Mankind has got to know his limitations!
Coming off of the legendary powerhouse album ‘Rust in Peace,’ Dave Mustaine and company set to embark on something completely different. Megadeth entered the studio in 1992, with the intention of refining their sound to a new level of precision. The result was ‘Countdown to Extinction,’ which transformed Megadeth from a thrashterpiece outfit, into what was arguably the most technically proficient record of all the Big Four records. While Metallica’s ‘Black Album’ is an unprecedented commercial success, ‘Countdown’ showcased a more mid-tempo, shred-driven polished sound that leaned more towards acceptance of perfection, as opposed to fan perceived ‘sell out.’ This record was far from built in a day, and it is said to have be written, torn apart, and re-written multiple times prior to even entering a studio.
Megadeth, along with producer Max Norman, developed a sound almost exclusively to cater to the stylings of guitarist Marty Friedman. Friedman’s virtuosity really shines through, and juxtaposes Mustaine’s more frantic and aggressive lead guitar approach. Make no mistake, the art of the riff is ultimately what drives the album, and Mustaine brought one of his best vocal performances along to really tie the room together. Recorded in Burbank, California during the Rodney King riots, the band was bound to less than favorable studio hours. The city wide 6pm curfew was considered a hindrance to the recording process, but the final product speaks volumes to the effort put in by all parties involved.
The song ‘Sweating Bullets’ is a journey into the mind of mainman Dave Mustaine, and the lyrics most certainly help carry the song, if they aren’t specifically the reason for the song’s immense popularity. A staple of the live set, the minimalist approach of the main verse riff allows for Mustaine to greatly embellish and act out the lyrics of the song, certainly aware of his own limitations whilst having to play some of the most technical rhythm guitar parts coupled with performing vocally. Dave can really get into character with this one, and this is perhaps due to his particularly introspective lyrical subject matter.
Penned while reading a book written by comedian George Carlin, ‘Bullets’ takes you inside the mind of Mustaine, as he says “There’s someone we all confer with; it’s called our conscience. Some people cannot control their other side; it takes them over. Everybody has that psychotic side. Everyone has a thing that will make them snap.” Bassist David Elleffson remarked that the lyrics are “psychotically perfect. Because, as I heard him reading them, it sounded like the inside of a crazed lunatic’s mind, which is exactly what it’s supposed to be.”
Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell would end each tour with a unique tattoo to commemorate the run, and at the end of a jaunt with Megadeth, he approached Mustaine in Amsterdam saying “Dave! Dave! Look, man! Look at my new tattoo — it’s a blacktooth grin! There’s a line I have in a song called ‘Sweating Bullets,’ which goes, “Someday you too will know my pain / And smile its blacktooth grin.” This is also apparently the origin of Pantera’s inventive drink of choice, the “Blacktooth Grin,” a glass full of Jack Daniels with a splash of Coke.
The video for ‘Sweating Bullets’ was directed by Wayne Isham, who has done dozens of videos for some of the biggest hits of the previous 30 years. From Motley Crue, to Skid Row, to Def Leppard, to the Rolling Stones, to Judas Priest, Isham was no stranger to the iconic. And while ‘Symphony of Destruction’ was the first video he directed for the band, ‘Sweating Bullets’ really captured the schizophrenic, dissociative identity disorder of Mustaine battling with himself. Isham interestingly was also directing the Metallica videos off the ‘Black Album’ release during the same period, and would continue to make Megadeth videos through 1994’s ‘Youthanasia.’