By Patrick Prince
Capitol/EMI and Megadeth seem to do it right with collector editions celebrating the anniversaries of classic albums. One such album is “Countdown To Extinction,” which comes upon its 20th anniversary this year. Guitarist and band leader, Dave Mustaine, fully embraced taking on the project of managing the CTE anniversary box set, which contains all the essentials for the fans: a 2-CD lift-top box set of a remastered original album; a remixed 1992 concert, recorded live at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, which has never been released in its entirety; a 24” x 36” poster; four collectible postcards of the band members; and a commemorative booklet.
To highlight the release of this new commemorative edition, Megadeth have launched a tour which performs “Countdown To Extinction” in its entirety. The live disc of the 1992 concert at the Cow Palace is a nice extra to the box set. However, the experience of the current Countdown To Extinction tour is the icing on the cake. The socially-conscious songs on “Countdown” remain as relevant as ever (from the animal rights activism of the title track to the political criticism of “Foreclosure of a Dream”), and in concert, “Countdown” is expanded further into an emphatic, lightning bolt to the senses. The songs come off as electric as ever.
Dave Mustaine discusses “Countdown” in the following Q&A with Goldmine.
“Countdown to Extinction” was probably, at the time, your most commercially accessible album. Even Entertainment Weekly recognized it and gave it an A-. And metal wasn’t exactly in anyone’s favor then.
Dave Mustaine: It was the red-headed stepchild of the music industry.
And didn’t “Countdown to Extinction” feature songwriting from each band member?
Mustaine: It did. A lot of the band contributed to that. It’s really odd, when you are making a record because what it looks like on paper certainly doesn’t weigh out to what the real merit of everything is. Some people did more than others and when it says it’s a four-way split you think, ‘Wow … four ways like The Beatles.’ Well, it couldn’t be further from the case. There was a lot of contributions from the producer at the time, too, that kind of gets overlooked. You kind of think the producer just makes the record — well, there were a lot of suggestions and a lot of great artistic ideas that came from Max [Norman], too.
I’ve read that [producer] Max Norman had a huge input.
Mustaine: He did. I mean, granted, the guitar playing came down to me but when it came down to some of the song structures and tempos and some of the vocal melodies I really admired and respected Max because he’d done the first two Ozzy Osbourne records and I thought ‘God, you’re kidding?! You did those?!’ And we actually had him mix “Rust in Peace” when Rust was done . You know, we started that with somebody else, with Mike Clink and Clink told me in the middle of the record ‘Uh, hey, I’m working on Axl Rose’s record and if he calls me I have to leave.’ And I said, ‘guess what, Axl’s calling. Get out.’ (laughs) And we fired him and we finished it with engineering and then had Max mix it. I mean, it didn’t really happen quite like that but, you know, that’s just a weird thing to say to somebody. It’s kind of like ‘Hey, listen, let’s make love and if the phone rings I’m out of here.’
“If Axl calls I’m out of here.” (laughs).
Mustaine: Yeah, that’s what he said. On top of the fact that his dog ate a hole through the wall and knocked my guitar over. So it was kind of like … I like Clink. I think he’s cool and I hired him because one of my guitar heroes at the time was Michael Schenker and he did a couple records with Schenker. You know, it didn’t really materialize that mojo that Schenker had and that showed up on the records. The time Clink was with us I didn’t really see any of that materialize. But this isn’t about “Rust.” This is about “Countdown.” So sorry, I digress.
Fans might not know that you won a Doris Day Humane Society award for the title song, “Countdown to Extinction.”
Mustaine: Que Sera, Sera, right? (laughs). Yeah, it’s really cool. Most people think we sacrifice animals and here we are singing songs about saving them. And the song “Countdown To Extinction” itself, the subject matter’s pretty chickenshit — when you think about these guys that go out to some of these southern states like Texas, for example. No reflection on Texans, or the state of Texas, it’s just the location of these places where they have these Wilderness Camps and they have these exotic cats and they let them go, and these cowards let the cats run a couple feet and they’ll shoot ‘em. And then they cut their heads off or skin them and put the pelts on their floors or whatever they do.
But, again, further from the truth: Nick Manza had been reading Time Magazine and the story was “The Countdown to Extinction,” and going back to what I was saying about songwriting credits and stuff like that, Nick had given me all the lyrics and I had the daunting task of turning his jumbled mess into a lyric. And Dave Ellefson was looking over Nick’s shoulder and saw the stuff and said ‘Hey, let’s call it Countdown To Extinction.’ I thought, ‘You think?!’ (laughs) You know, that was the title of the story in Time, it was in the chorus and stuff — like, that happens all the time, where Dave would pick song titles and stuff because he would look at the lyrics. And there were a lot of contributions that he made that were really helpful and stuff like that. He’s a good songwriter but I don’t think people realize how much Nick actually contributed to stuff. Nick was quite a player. I’m really worried about him right now. He’s not doing very well health-wise. All we can do right now is help and encourage him from the sidelines.
Do you like these Anniversary editions? They seem to be successful for Megadeth, and it’s fun for the collectors.
Mustaine: I think the good thing about anniversaries is that it shows you’ve been around long enough to celebrate them. We have this madness now, it’s like kind of with compounding interest. Every year there’s starting to be an anniversary of sorts. “Youthanasia” is coming up in two years, you also got the 25th for “Killing …” and the 25th for “Peace Sells…”, and 10th anniversaries and 15th anniversaries of several different records. For some reason, when you say it’s the 10th anniversary of something it’s not quite an impact as when you say it’s the 20th. Yet, when you get into like a 30th anniversary of something you start to think ‘Wow, that’s like my father’s Oldsmobile,’ you know what I mean? (laughs)
Well, you hope that when it has its 50th, it’s still going to be relevant.
Mustaine: One of the cool thing for us is is that we got off our path only one time, really, with “Risk.” And even that we didn’t get that far off track. If that record had been called the “Dave Mustaine solo project,” people probably would have liked it a bit more, than calling it Megadeth, because it was a little bit too experimental. We always try to write music for ourselves and I think that’s one of the cool things because if you write music for your fan base … your fan base changes. People change, they get fickle, they get objective to other types of music based on what’s popular nowadays. I remember Anthrax had done something at the time when Rap was really really becoming popular. Aerosmith had just done that stuff with Run DMC. Yet, we’ve never done that. The thing I wanted to do was stay true to my roots.