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Music Over 40: Megadeth and Metallica: What about the what if's?

Updated on April 6, 2013

Many forks in the road for these metal heavyweights

Though Metallica reigned supreme in the world of Thrash metal that exploded in the 1980s, Megadeth, due to the obvious common denominator of Dave Mustaine, was always one of the elites of the genre as well.

Their paths both led the fame and fortune and some of the downsides of the excesses of success. But had some different personnel decisions had been made, a much different picture might have been painted.

Everybody loves to play a little what if from time to time. Here are some personnel tidbits from both bands. Some are fact, some legend, some myth and some a combination of all three. Also, some insight into the possible roads these may have led down.

What if Metallica does not kick out Dave Mustaine?

One of the bigger if's out there. Dave was the lead guitar play and a primary songwriter. He was also a lot of the flash and stage presence in the formative years. What unfortunately was also true is that Dave was hard to handle when he partying (which like all of them, he was almost non-stop). Dave was fiery and aggressive and much of the fire that came on the first album should be credited to Mustaine. Remember, Kirk Hammett, pretty much mimicked the riffs and solos for the first record from Mustaine before carving out his own place in the band.

I think had Dave stayed in the band, they would have made 2 or 3 albums that would have been mindblowing but I think they would have fractured eventually. Lars and Dave were both leaders and that could never had lasted for long. If Dave stays and gets kicked out in say 1986 as opposed to 1983, maybe there is no Megadeth to compliment Metallica.

What if John Bush accepted the lead vocal spot in Metallica?

Another interesting proposition. Bush was fronting Armored Saint at the time and had one of the more respected metal voices in the Bay Area. It was no secret, ludicrous at it appears now, that James Hetfield was initially only going to sing until they found someone better so he could concentrate on the guitar. In the end, Bush turned them down as Armored Saint has just signed a major label deal and they were teenage friends. Though he did not get the brass ring with Metallica, Armored Saint carved out a good reputation and he had some success singing with fellow thrash heavyweights, Anthrax.

I don't think the band gets as progressive as they do with the longer songs and different structures and time changes with John Bush as the singer. He is great at what he does, but he is a more straight ahead hard rock singer.

What if Kerry King decided to stay with Megadeth?

In the formative days of Megadeth, Dave Mustaine went through a litany of players trying to assemble to ultimate band to "out-Metallica" Metallica. One of these revolving pieces was Kerry King of Slayer. He played a handful of dates with them in 1984 while Slayer was in state of flux. King, who was influenced by the early Metallica, and Mustaine had a tumultuous relationship for years after this.

In the end, I don't think Kings more straight ahead thrash approach would have been a good fit. Especially with jazz influenced Gar Samuelson already in the fold. Chris Poland, at least musically, was the better choice. And Dave and Kerry might have killed each other (not that Dave and Chris did not try!)

What if Dave Lombardo had replaced Lars Ulrich?

This has been a part of the Metallica myth. According to who you ask, the replacement of Lars was discussed while Mustaine was still in the band and again after the release of Master of Puppets. Some tales have gone as far to say that if Cliff Burton had not died, Lars would have been out at the end of the MOP tour. No one has ever confirmed this, but it has never been flat out denied, either. Dave Lombardo, of Slayer, was considered a likely candidate for the spot.

Dave Lombardo's playing was light years ahead of Lars, who was perhaps the least musically skilled of the four in Metallica. Musically, a lineup of Hetfield, Hammett, Burton and Lombardo would have been a monster.

But make no mistake. If not for the drive and ambition of Lars, Metallica does not get where they are today. For all of the spotlight grabbing and some questionable public stances (Napster - right on principle, wrong on execution), the man had a plan and was not going to stop until Metallica was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, band in the world

What if Cliff Burton had not died?

One of the bigger questions that comes up with Metallica fans? If Cliff is around, do they make the Black Album? Do they undergo the 90's image change? Do they become they biggest band in the world?

The simple answer is yes, no and maybe. Cliff Burton was the most open musically of Metallica. He listened to classical music, southern rock, college rock and hard rock. He was also the integrity touchstone for the band. He was slightly older and more mature and by all accounts, had the confidence to stick with what he believed in, with no compromise.

As long as it was arrived at honestly, I think Cliff would have gotten down with the Black Album. Lets face it, though not straight thrash, the songs are great and it sounds huge. He may have been able to add something to make it even bigger. The image makeover would not have gone over. Cliff was who he was, and he was not going to change for anyone. No short hair, piercings and makeup for him.

Could they have still been the biggest band in the world. Maybe, maybe not. The world was ready willing and able to accept a musical force like Metallica in the mid to late eighties. That it would have continued to grow is not a stretch. It may have taken a little longer, but I think the music created would have made it worth the wait.

What if Joey Vera had replaced Cliff instead of Jason Newstead?

In the rush to replace Cliff Burton, one of the first thoughts was ask an old friend from the SF days to replace him. They had a Japanese tour coming up and needed a competent player quick. Joey Vera, a very good bass player from Armored Saint was asked to fill the void. He declined, much for the same reasons bandmate and singer John Bush had declined the lead vocal spot a couple of years earlier. They both were playing with their friends and really thought Armored Saint had a chance to make an impact.

This is one of the more interesting propositions. Jason Newstead was a very good bass player, but he also idolized the band he was asked to join. Subsequently, he was always the new guy, the fan, a lesser light in a band of equals. Much has been written about the hazing he endured and how he was marginalized for just about his entire 14 year tenure in the band.

Joey was a more established guy and knew the guys in the band already. I think he would have been on more equal footing and been able to add more. I think he would still be with the band today, and they possibly could be better for it.

What if Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul had joined Megadeth?

In 1998, the second Megadeth lineup splintered. The two Daves again were left to find a drummer and guitar player again. They found Nick Menza for the drums, as he was the drum tech for the soon to be dismissed Chuck Behler. But what about the guitar player?

Mustaine approached both Slash of Guns N Roses and Criss Oliva of Savatage, but nothing came of these overtures. He also auditioned Dimebag Darrell of the then unknown Pantera. Dime was offered the job, but would not go without his brother, Vinnie Paul. Dave had already decided on Nick Menza, so the deal fell through.

Had Dime and Vinne been able to bring about their Texas swing/groove metal vibe into the technical aspect of Megadeth, it could have made for a heady brew. One can only imagine classics like Holy Wars or Hangar 18 with Dime in the lead.

I think the band would have gone heavier and maybe not had as much commercial success, but had more critical clout. Then again, Pantera went on to be huge and heavy, so one never knows.

So what to make of it?

In conclusion, I think things happened as they should have, for better or for worse. In my mind a Hetfield-Mustaine-Burton-Lombardo lineup of Metallica would have been something to see, as would a Mustaine-Ellefson-Dimebag-Paul lineup of Megadeth.

So what do you do now? Well, throw in Master of Puppets or Rust In Peace and enjoy the greatness that was. And you can always dream about what could have been.


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    • TurtleDog profile image

      TurtleDog 4 years ago

      Great, great post! I think in the end two very good bands emerged in that of Megadeth and Mettalica. Personally, I'm more a Megadeth fan (their Megadeth-in-Rio album is inspiring) than a Metallica fan. Megadeth's sound is much more brighter, yet still dark, and nuanced with some cool time signatures. I never really but a heck of a lot of emphasis on lyrics either, but Megadeth's lyrics have a wonderful, biting, irony as well.

      PS.... love your thoughts on Joey Vera. Yes, Metallica was way tooo hard on the newbie Jason, causing an implosion of the bad. They haven't written a single great song since

    • aparkhurst7 profile image

      aparkhurst7 4 years ago from Wilkes Barre, PA West Hartford, CT

      I would say Megadeth but it's just because I've seen them twice. I do like the majority of Metallica's material.

    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 4 years ago from The Garden State

      Someone once asked James Hetfield what would've happened if Dave Mustaine had stayed in Metallica. I believe his answer was something along the lines of "There would be no more Metallica, there would be three guys in jail, and one dead guy."

    • profile image

      Neil 3 years ago

      Awesome post....great ideas too....

      In my opinion...If Cliff didn't die I think Metallica....I think they would have been the Guns and Roses of thrash....slowly one goes out because of musical preferences....That's the one thing i respect about Guns they actually left the hard rock world with 3 legendary albums....but Metallica went on...and in my opinion it was all about the money....

      Metallica would have been perfect if it all ended with Cliffs death or by the latest the black album....

      Megadeth is my cup of tea and I believe firing mustaine was the best thing Metallica has ever done.....I think the riffs and energy of mustaine and the awesome note choice and musicality of Friedman let Rust in Piece their best album yet....I just wished Mustaine didn't copy Metallica footsteps

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