Who Belongs On the Heavy Metal Mount Rushmore?

What is THE Heavy Metal Mount Rushmore?

I know it’s fall, which means Mount Rushmore season is ova. We have football to watch, no need to pass the time with intriguing Mount Rushmore topics. But this one in particular was very frustrating to me.

You only get four choices, yet without even thinking, I’m sure we could come up with a list of 15+ bands that you can’t discuss the history of heavy metal without mentioning.

There is no proper answer, this is a subjective topic, and unfortunately, there will be plenty of bands that are considered the titans of metal, omitted. When I first tried to come up with a mount Rushmore, I took about five minutes and tried to set some sort of parameters. I ended up considering a band’s global impact and overall influence.

It led to this:

1) Black Sabbath
2) Cannibal Corpse
3) Slayer
4) Venom

Sabbath is an easy choice, and in my irrelevant opinion, the only must-have on this list. Heavy Metal began with Black Sabbath on Friday the 13th, 1970. One of the few things metalheads have generally agreed upon.

But the remaining three all have the same image: dark, violent, evil, which leads to redundancy. It also ignores an enormous catalog of important music. So while I still think the parameters are okay, I’m going to try to broaden the scope.

For the sake of brevity, we will try to accurately identify the main subgenres of metal.

  • Thrash Metal
  • Death Metal
  • New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM)
  • Nu Metal (Just relax)
  • Traditional Heavy Metal

These five subgenres are typically associated with a distinct period in time, but in this exercise, we will also include genres that they spawned. For example, Black Metal, Doom Metal, Extreme Metal, and the like all hang out at the same bar as Death Metal.

For those that wish to “well actually” about bands that fit a few of the five listed, I don’t care. You ruin every party you attend.

So now the mission becomes finding three other bands in addition to Sabbath with the proper influence and global reach in something besides death and thrash.

Slayer

In my previous article Revisiting A Classic: Show No Mercy, I explained how Slayer’s evil thrash debut became the inspiration for death metal. Terry Butler of Obituary is even on record stating “Show No Mercy was the blueprint for the beginning of death metal”

Adding Slayer to the Mount Rushmore of Heavy Metal covers an influence that reaches both the thrash and death metal communities, more so than the evil influences of Venom or Mercyful Fate. By selecting Slayer, I’m omitting absolute juggernauts like Death, Cannibal Corpse, Megadeth, and Metallica.

Judas Priest

Rob Halford’s iconic falsetto wail and leather regalia spearheaded the NWOBHM movement in the 1970s, carrying their music—and sound—to incredible global success. They get the nod over Iron Maiden, but honestly, it’s a horse apiece. They both featured iconic singers, with similar styles, as well as a defining image.

The NWOBHM was a direct influence on Metallica and Megadeth, Dave Mustaine stated he answered Lars Ulrich’s ad in the paper for a guitar player strictly due to the band’s Lars had listed as influences.

Judas Priest is the poster child to our parent’s favorite bands, as well as being a part of the bedrock of the European metal scene, makes them a worthy selection. The addition of Priest means bands like Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and Diamond Head unfortunately do not make the cut.

And finally…

Slipknot

Everybody, just relax.

It’s now 2021. To continue the story of metal, we must acknowledge bands like Slipknot, Lamb of God, Korn, and Sepultura have reached a level of influence that most of the metal founding fathers have. I’m not here to argue that Slipknot or Korn is on the same level of influence as Sabbath or Slayer.

I AM here to argue that bands like Slaughter To Prevail, Spiritbox, and Tetrarch all exist in large part because of Iowa.

The modern metal scene has evolved into a sound with a vast number of influences and sounds. Much like the nine-piece unit that has incorporated elements of hardcore, hip hop, thrash, and death metal over their illustrious career.

Our resident heavy metal heart surgeon Bill Gioia had recently asked if Slipknot should be considered nu-metal. If not nu-metal, then what?

The resulting discourse concluded that while they may not distinctly and solely fit with a specific genre (still nu-metal), the music is objectively metal.

Slipknot rounding out my Mount Rushmore means no previously stated Pantera, Lamb of God, or Sepultura, our other favorite bands we couldn’t decide exactly what they were, besides awesome.

With my updated and calculated Heavy Metal Mount Rushmore complete, I would like to officially apologize to the absolute legends that have been omitted. This rendition probably sucks too. There is no correct answer.

Revisiting A Classic: Rust In Peace

“Humanity Still Producing New Art As Though Megadeth’s ‘Rust In Peace’ Doesn’t Already Exist”

-The Onion

Pretty Much.

Over 30 years later, the fourth installment in Megadeth’s catalog remains as iconic as ever. Its praise has been sung from every corner of metal as elitists and gatekeepers join hand in hand with casuals and dad rockers in shared admiration.  

This is old news.

Every superlative has already been said, and rightfully so. 

In and of itself, Rust In Peace is a phenomenal album, and in some respects, marked the peak of Megadeth. It’s regarded by many as Dave Mustaine’s finest work as a songwriter and was also our introduction to unknown guitar hero Marty Friedman. 

Once again, old news.

The album’s legacy is already cemented, strictly based on musical standards alone. But the process leading up to September 24th, 1990 was an absolute catastrophe. Drugs, infighting, and a career-threatening injury had all but dismantled the band. The greatest and most polished lineup in the history of Megadeth was decaying before the introduction.

That’s the story.

In 1988, Megadeth had to cancel their remaining shows for the Monsters Of Rock festival (replaced by Testament) due to bassist David Ellefson’s severe heroin withdrawals. However, he wasn’t the only one. Upon their arrival back in the United States, Ellefson and frontman Dave Mustaine both checked into rehab.

Ellefson lasted three days, Mustaine a little longer. But even while in rehab, they smuggled in heroin and continued to get high.

After their lackluster sobriety attempt, they began to rehearse and demo for what became Rust In Peace. During that time, David Ellefson struck up a kinship with Slash of Guns N’ Roses, who was already friendly with Mustaine. The kinship eventually led to the trio of Dave, Dave, n Slash: Heroin and Guitars.

In their friendly sessions of drugs and music, Mustaine asked Slash to join Megadeth. Guns N’ Roses already had two albums to their name, and Appetite for Destruction had captivated the entire country, yet Slash had considered the move, briefly.

Mustaine then shifted his interest in guitar phenom Dimebag Darrell (Then still known as Diamond Darrell) of Pantera. Had Mustaine allowed Dime’s brother Vinnie to join Megadeth on drums, it would have been a done deal. This was also pre-Cowboys From hell and Pantera was still the Van Halen-inspired hair metal unit.

What a butterfly effect that could have been.

By 1989, to say that the wheels of Megadeth were falling off would have been a gross understatement. The band was without a drummer and a second guitarist, Ellefson had just gone back into rehab, and Mustaine continued to spiral out of control.

The two Daves had moved into an apartment together, whereupon Ellefson’s return from rehab, spawned a debaucherous routine of heroin to fall asleep, then coke just to make it out of the door and off to rehearsal the next day (when they managed to wake up in time).

Chuck Behler was in just as bad shape and was essentially faded out of the band.

Enter Nick Menza.

Menza had served as the drum tech and roadie for the band for their last album. The drum tech replacing the current drummer was beginning to be a Megadeth staple, as Chuck was the drum tech for original percussionist Gar Samuelson.

The final piece of the Megadeth puzzle took form in the shape of a borderline homeless, malnourished, and—unknowingly at the time—deteriorating guitar phenom Marty Friedman.

Megadeth had already exhausted themselves auditioning numerous guitarists that ranged from flamboyant shredders playing on their own time, primadonnas that refused to learn the songs prior, and scorned musicians that claimed to have written Megadeth songs in their childhood.

Friedman showed up, no vehicle of his own, a cheap red Carvin guitar, and no amps or cabinets.

Mustaine had then set up Marty with two Marshall amplifiers. One for the rhythm and one for the lead, the most important aspect of the audition. Friedman excelled at the rhythm, though he wasn’t perfect, noted Mustaine, but he immediately won the job when it came time for the solo.

Upon Friedman’s entry to Megadeth, the band rented him an apartment, a Mercedes-Benz, and instructed him to change his orange and black hair. His life had changed in an instant.

Had Friedman not won the job that day, the struggling musician had another audition lined up with Madonna the following week. 

At this point, the members of Megadeth were in the midst of a fierce attempt at sobriety (to the point that they even quit smoking cigarettes). They were lean, mean, and clean. But once Marty joined the band, Dave Mustaine became so intimidated by Marty’s talent that it completely extinguished his confidence in his playing.

He quickly relapsed.

Marty wasn’t the well-rounded player that Dave was, Dave was still one of the greatest players in the world with his abilities at rhythm, lead, acoustic, and his prowess as a songwriter. But Marty’s proficiency at lead was so staggering that his lack of skill in other areas (despite there not being any true skill deficiency) did not matter.

Dave Mustaine began to show up to recording sessions completely loaded. He antagonized members and lusted for confrontation. Second opinions and suggestions aside from his own ignited arguments instantaneously. It became so emotionally taxing for the rest of the band that he went off to treatment again, but for the first time, under his desire.

However, Dave wasn’t the only one struggling with some form of physical detriment. Marty Friedman was suffering from a serious arm injury in silence. The nerves in his right arm were so damaged that a doctor had ordered him to quit playing guitar or risk complete and permanent loss of use in that arm.

Megadeth was recording the album of their career—one that eventually put the exclamation point on an entire genre—while their frontman was deteriorating in rehab, and their lead guitarist was deteriorating in silence.

In hopes to preserve his arm, Marty played as little as necessary. He would bypass warming up and try to nail the complex rhythm sections and solos in one take. When he wasn’t playing, he wore a sling, which he attempted to hide under a sweatshirt.

Eventually, he confessed his injury, but not the severity of it, to the rest of the band. Post-confession, he spent his downtime icing his arm.

Dave emerged from rehab a month later, completely energized. He returned to the studio, away from his guitar for a month, and recorded his solo for Holy Wars…The Punishment Due in one take.  

The vocals, one take.

Holy Wars became a mainstay on the Mount Rushmore of Megadeth. A song that was spawned after Dave unintentionally ignited a religiously fueled crowd in Northern Ireland, Holy Wars has been the closing song for their live shows for the last 20+ years

Hangar 18, on the other hand, has been the leadoff song ever since Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul suggested it be. The song they replaced? Holy Wars! Before Megadeth, and even before Metallica, Dave’s first band Panic was playing this song in their setlist under the title “N2RHQ”. Dave saw the text on the tail fin of a plane and was inspired to write a song about a mysterious space military base.

The Rust In Peace rendition, however, featured a Shaq and Kobe-like performance by Dave and Marty, dueling back and forth with solo after solo. The song has since been featured in video games such as Guitar Hero, and a 16-bit inspired version was on the Doom II: Hell on Earth Soundtrack.

Tremendous.

To support the album, Megadeth would embark on a massive co-headlining tour with fellow Big Four member Slayer. Thrash comrade Testament and hardcore punk outfit Suicidal Tendencies would join in support. This stacked lineup was eventually dubbed the Clash of the Titans Tour.

To build a report with the new band members and organize their setlist, Megadeth had a small five venue circuit around Southern California. It was here where the beast finally began to come to life.

Once again, they were lean, mean, and clean.

Megadeth carried their momentum into the Clash Of Titans tour, which became a massive success. But it did not go off without a few headlines: Mustaine and Suicidal Tendencies frontman Mike Muir developed a feud that brewed until Mustaine approached Muir looking to settle it in a fight when they returned home.  

They immediately became friends.

Then, later on, Dave had walked right into a lighting truss, drawing blood. The press speculated that Chuck Billy of Testament had hit Dave.

The initial success of Rust In Peace rewarded Megadeth with their first gold record as well as their first Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. In the story of Megadeth, this was the peak. The band found a chemistry that Mustaine later stated they would never capture again.

Mustaine is the only remaining member from Rust In Peace, yet its legacy remains untouchable over 30 years later.

Revisiting A Classic: Show No Mercy

Disclaimer: There’s an ironic intellectual consumption with metal.  Disheveled looking characters in faded shirts speak of a band’s catalogue as if they are historians discussing colonization and conflict.  A new band is discovered, and suddenly the community becomes auditory sommeliers.  Abrasive and grotesque imagery is revered. Blunt delivery is preferred.

Five minutes later and we’ve just given intellectual validation for Cannibal Corpse.

The charm in metal lies within the consumption.  By revisiting some of the pillars of the genre, we can look at a snapshot of everything that was culturally significant within the music, the band, or how the story of metal progressed.

In the case of Slayer and other Bay Area thrash bands, very few probably had any idea they were witnessing the birth of some of the most influential bands in not only metal, but in music in general.  

A musical hotspot was brewing in the LA/San Francisco area in the early 1980’s.  Kids in their late teens and early twenties were forming bands that would ignite an entire genre of music, while also featuring some of the most influential musicians of all time.

At this point, Slayer was nothing more than an underground band covering Judas Priest and Iron Maiden songs.  And until the hostile crowd at Ruthie’s Inn (and likely Exodus frontman Paul Baloff) harassed them for even remotely resembling a glam band, they even donned a little spandex and makeup.

As a result of those Maiden covers, Brian Slagel, of the recently formed Metal Blade Records, offered the band a spot on his Metal Massacre compilation album. An album series that featured the early renditions of Metallica, Overkill, Ratt, and Armored Saint. Slayer delivered the song Aggressive Perfector, which generated enough underground buzz through tape trading networks that Slagel offered them a record deal through Metal Blade.

It took all of one week to record Show No Mercy in November of 1983, which was done in the dead of night in order to keep costs low. The band had borrowed money from Kerry King’s father in addition to front man and bass player Tom Araya’s wages as a respiratory therapist in order to fund the sessions. 

The witching hour recordings resulted in an album with low production value, which enhanced the rawness of the sound.

Show No Mercy was the second installment to the Bay Area thrash scene after Metallica released Kill Em All several months prior.  But when Metallica introduced themselves to the world by playing faster and more aggressively than anyone else, Slayer responded by playing just as fast.

And much darker.

Slayer, much like their contemporaries at the time, drew their musical inspiration from the likes of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, but their lyrical content and imagery took heavy inspiration from the british extreme metal band Venom and the newly formed Danish band Mercyful Fate (Distinctly apparent with each Tom Araya wail)

Show No Mercy was just as dark and sinister as it was vicious. And even despite their musical influences, which reveal themselves on the album, it wasn’t a malevolent Iron Maiden, it wasn’t a more aggressive Venom, and it wasn’t a faster Mercyful Fate.

It was Slayer.

The dark lyrical themes and demonic imagery paced the album, as apparent from the pentagram and sword brandished minotaur on the album cover.

Tracks such as The Antichrist and Die By The Sword gave listeners some of the first openly satanic lyrics ever featured on an album. 

Watching disciples of the satanic rule

Pentagram of blood holds the jackal’s truth

Searching for the answer, Christ hasn’t come

Awaiting the final moment, the birth of Satan’s son

Tales of a demonic siege and holy assault barked out in Tom Araya’s distorted vocals, accompanied by Jeff Hanneman’s feverish riffs and Dave Lombardo’s rapid drum tempo. 

But we didn’t get our first flash of a true Slayer hallmark until Fight Till Death. The song that gave us the second half of the Slayer equation.  Aggressive lyrics with an aggressive tempo, driven by an iconic riff. A hallmark which led to other Slayer masterpieces such as Dead Skin Mask, Raining Blood, and South of Heaven.

Due to the content of the album, Slayer received backlash from the Parents Resource Music Center requesting the band cease making music. 

The supporting tour for the album was just as glamorous as the production.  Slayer hit the road with just Araya’s Camaro and a U-Haul. Araya’s teenage brother served as a roadie, while friend of the band Kevin Reed served as a make-shift drum tech.

Slayer didn’t even have a manager for the first leg of the tour until Doug Goodman met them while he was waiting in line for the first show. And despite not being able to sell records while on tour, Show No Mercy became Metal Blade Records highest selling release at the time.

The album became a launching pad for Slayer, as well as countless other bands.  Terry Butler of Obituary and Death labels Show No Mercy as “The blueprint for the beginning of death metal”.  Nergal of the polish black metal legends Behemoth cited he was specifically attracted to Show No Mercy by the dark aesthetics.

38 years later, Show No Mercy remains a foundational pillar in metal. A low-budget, ragtag recording, directly responsible for almost 40 years of the heaviest music.