#1025: According to Megadeth’s ‘Sweating Bullets…’

Q #2,021: According to Megadeth’s ‘Sweating Bullets,’ mankind has got to know his what?

A.

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.’

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#909: Which Big Four band went on hiatus in 2002 due to injury?

Q #1,905: Which Big Four band went on hiatus in 2002 due to injury?

A.

It was April 3rd, 2002, when business was no longer good for Megadeth. Dave Mustaine announced that he had suffered an injury rendering him unable to play guitar, resulting in his officially dissolving the band. Earlier in the year, Mustaine was hospitalized for the treatment and removal of a kidney stone, which lead to a relapse of this drug addiction due to his receiving pain medication. Because of this, he checked himself into a rehab center. While at rehab, Mustaine fell asleep with his arm over the back of a chair. The result? Radial neuropathy. While that sounds like a b-side to a Carcass album, its colloquial terminology is far less endearing; “Saturday night palsy,” brought Megadeth to its knees, and nearly brought an end to a thrash metal icon.

The particular “Saturday night” brand of Mustaine’s radial neuropathy involves compressing the radial nerve at the spiral groove. The radial nerve extends the length of the arm, and damage can include but is not limited to numbness, and the inability to voluntarily straighten or extend the fingers or thumb. Again, this all sounds like a list of great song titles, but it’s fairly easy to develop this particular brand of guitarists’ nightmare fuel. While it is stated that heavy medication or intoxication can lend itself to the trauma, simply sleeping with your head on your arm can also inflict radial nerve palsy. This is why you don’t go on WebMD while expecting to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Feeling that his career might be over, Mustaine decided that it was better to not leave fans hoping for the best by leaving them with the worst. The most recent album at the time was ‘The World Needs a Hero’ which many outlets described as a Megadeth return to form, and it was also what I consider to be the best Mega line-up next to the classic ‘Rust in Peace’ line-up (with drummer Jimmy DeGrasso and Al Pitrelli, above).

Prior to Mustaine’s injury, Megadeth had seen the departure of drummer Nick Menza, followed shortly by the legendary lead guitarist Marty Friedman. This alone could’ve been seen as a justifiable end to Megadeth by a great many die hard fans. In fact, this lineup is always the go-to suggestion every time Megadeth cycles a member or two. If this had been the end of Megadeth, they would’ve still been going out on a relatively high note. Watch the live DVD ‘Rude Awakening‘ and hopefully you’ll understand.

After a year of physical therapy, electroshock treatment, and a bit of luck, Dave Mustaine strapped on his guitar playing boots and got back in the game. He even took guitar lessons, something that he had never done prior, to speed along recovery. Mustaine began working on a solo record with a phenomenal group of session musicians including former Zappa drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and country music session extraordinaire Jimmie Lee Sloas. Word would eventually make its way back to Megadeth’s European record label EMI, and the solo album became a Megadeth album via contractual fulfillment. Imagine if Megadeth went out without owing anyone any albums, would ‘The System Has Failed’ have been a Dave Mustaine release? Would people have treated it more or less harshly as a result? At the very least, this contractual obligation helped to launch the beginning of a revolving door of Mega members, and another pile of albums.

Would this later set of chapters in the Megadeth story have been better omitted? Could the “Big Four” shows have still happened if Mustaine had never rebooted Megadeth? What if Dave never regained the use of his arm, but continued to sing while bringing in a second guitarist? At least Dave isn’t fronting AC/DC’s remaining rescheduled tour dates, right?

For me, ‘Rude Awakening’ is the last time Megadeth had, “the vibe.” Tweet-fight me (@JohanssonShreds) about it!

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