DAVID ELLEFSON On METALLICA-MEGADETH 'Feud': 'It Was Not My Feud, Because I Was A Huge METALLICA Fan'
July 7, 2023
On the latest episode of Riff Crew's The Realm, David Ellefson was asked about the supposed early "feud" between MEGADETH and METALLICA, stemming primarily from the fact that MEGADETH leader Dave Mustaine was a member of METALLICA for less than two years, from 1981 to 1983, before being dismissed and replaced by Kirk Hammett.
"The MEGADETH-METALLICA feud… Look, it was not my feud, because I was a huge METALLICA fan," Ellefson explained (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET). "Look, I'm in the band with Dave, so I've gotta toe the company line. It's one of these, 'Hey, man, if you're my friend, you have to love my friends and you've gotta hate my enemies with me.' You know how that is. 'We like that guy. That chick, fuck her. That sucks.' We know how this goes.
"So, here I am. And, look, I love METALLICA. I hear the 'No Life 'Til Leather' demo and it's frickin' awesome," Ellefson continued. "And I still love their demo. And then [METALLICA's debut album] 'Kill 'Em All' comes out. I remember the day we sat there in stone cold silence for, like, an hour while we listened to the 'Kill 'Em All' album. And God bless Dave for just sort of biting the bullet and just going, 'Okay, I need to listen to this. What did they do to my songs?' Obviously the first thing he sees is the writing credits. Stuff that he had written by himself, like 'Mechanix', now had the writing credits of James [Hetfield, METALLICA frontman] and Lars [Ulrich, METALLICA drummer]. And to their credit, they did rewrite the lyrics; 'The Four Horsemen' is an entirely different lyrical thing. I wasn't in the room as this stuff was going down.
"I always looked at it like, 'Hey, Dave. They gave you the greatest gift ever. Not only did they use your songs and pay you for them, they, just as importantly, put your name on it.' That gave MEGADETH such an incredible advantage to starting out. It's like, I guess. We were just talking about [my current projects] DIETH and KINGS OF THRASH. It's, like, here's the MEGADETH records. Yeah, that's definitely me — my name, my credits. These things always help.
"There's a saying in jazz, 'You're only as good as your last gig, 'cause every gig you do leads you to the next opportunity.' So for Dave, having that METALLICA history gave MEGADETH a huge advantage to starting. I often wish that he would have been a little more appreciative of how well we did and the gift we had, how many fans came to his side despite the departure. And I've learned from that myself now that I'm not in MEGADETH, going, 'Be appreciative.' A lot of people came to my side. You don't have to hate MEGADETH to like David Ellefson."
David added: "I've listened to METALLICA on the radio. Living in L.A., they had KNAC and things, and they would always do 'Mandatory Metallica' and all this stuff. That band broke down so many doors for all of us. And then, when I met the guys — I met James and Lars [early on] — they were totally cool. I don't know — it seemed like it would be pretty fun to be in a band with those guys. So I always liked them. I watched them grow and develop and basically take over the world. I got a front-row seat for that, and I thought that was really, really awesome."
This past February, Ellefson told Meltdown of Detroit's WRIF radio station, that he had heard METALLICA's two new songs, "Lux Æterna" and "Screaming Suicide", that were released as singles prior to the arrival of the band's latest album, "72 Seasons". He said: "I liked it. I think it's very cool. You know, just as much as everything with those guys, they're like Apple — when they do a product launch, it usually comes off pretty frickin' cool. A new METALLICA album is like a new iPhone launch — it's pretty much awesome. [Laughs]"
Ellefson went on to say that "Lux Æterna" and the announcement of METALLICA's "72 Seasons" album and accompanying stadium tour came "out of nowhere" last November while he was in Poland working on his DIETH project. "And you're, like, 'Jeez.' I mean, this literally just dropped out of the sky; I don't think any of us saw it coming, which I thought was so cool," David said.
Elaborating on what he thought of "Lux Æterna" and "Screaming Suicide", Ellefson said: "That first single ['Lux Æterna'] especially I thought was very cool...
"Look, at this point, there's only 12 notes in the chromatic scale," he explained. "We've played them all in almost every possible combination of how to play 'em. So, it's like, how do you now, at album — whatever it is for them. And even with MEGADETH, it was like, 'Jeez, we're on how many albums now? And how do we not repeat ourselves yet still keep street cred and play to those fans that wanna hear us do that?'
"You're not the same guy you were when you recorded 'One', right? You're not the 1987 METALLICA; you're now this," Ellefson added. "So I think as we age into our career and we age into our artistry, if you will, you're always looking for how do you scratch the itch and satisfy all parts of your creative thing there."
Back in September 2020, Ellefson told WRIF that he and Mustaine paid close attention to what METALLICA was doing in the early years of MEGADETH's existence. "I mean, look, we are all just a branch off the METALLICA family tree," he explained at the time. "I mean, let's face it. Especially MEGADETH, with Dave being there, and then me being a branch off of Dave with MEGADETH. So, I mean, look, we owe everything to METALLICA. Those guys broke down the doors for every one of us — ANTHRAX, SLAYER. Bands today — LAMB OF GOD, PANTERA — none of this would have happened without METALLICA being up there as the 800-pound gorilla just carving the path through the jungle that would have never let heavy metal in. The stuff that they able to do and the size and the scope of which they were able to break those doors down, it changed all of our lives — as musicians, as fans, as everything. That's why I think when they did the 'Big Four' [shows] with us in 2010 and '11, that was just such a great olive branch."
The former MEGADETH bassist continued: "As Scott Ian [ANTHRAX] said, it's like we're all brothers of the same family, it's just that one of our brothers went off and became Microsoft [laughs], and that was METALLICA. It's, like, how the hell did you do that? That's amazing. You changed the world. But the fact that they came back and, again, offered that olive branch to us and just said, 'Hey, we were all in this together. Let's celebrate what we did together so many years ago.' And I think that speaks volumes to just how cool METALLICA is."
In 2019, Ellefson said that he got Mustaine's "blessing" to audition for the bassist position in METALLICA after Jason Newsted left the band more than two decades ago. David went on to say that he learned how to play some of METALLICA's songs in preparation for what he thought would be an audition with the group but that the opportunity never materialized.
Back in 2011, Mustaine said that he was relieved that Ellefson wasn't invited to join METALLICA after the tragic death of Cliff Burton.
Burton died on tour in 1986 in a tour bus crash, three years after Mustaine was kicked out of METALLICA and went on to form MEGADETH.
The so-called "Big Four" of 1980s thrash metal — METALLICA, MEGADETH, SLAYER and ANTHRAX — played together for the first time in history on June 16, 2010 in front of 81,000 fans at the Sonisphere festival at Bemowo Airport in Warsaw, Poland and shared a bill again for six more shows as part of the Sonisphere series that same year. They reunited again for several dates in 2011, including the last "Big Four" concert, which was held on September 14, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in New York City. Since then, METALLICA, SLAYER and ANTHRAX have played a number of shows together, including the 2013 Soundwave festival in Australia. They also performed at the 2014 Heavy MTL festival in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
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