How Megadeth's Peace Sells... turned four thrash metal kids into superstars
Megadeth made 1986’s Peace Sells… in a haze of drink, drugs and fist-fights. That it was a classic album was a surprise. That they're still here to tell the tale is an even bigger one
The night Megadeth launched their second album started out as a celebration and ended up in a fight. It was late summer in 1986, and the band put together three years earlier by firebrand ex-Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine were about to announce their arrival into thrash metal’s big league.
Their new label, Capitol, had rented out the Fire Fly bar in Hollywood to unveil the album, a slice of venomous yet socially aware metal titled Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?. A pair of limos had been hired out to get the band there – one for Mustaine and bassist/wingman Dave Ellefson and their girlfriends, the other for guitarist Chris Poland and drummer Gar Samuelson and their other halves.
The party itself went off without a hitch. The band drank and snorted their way through the evening as the album blasted out of the club’s speakers. The problems started when it was all over. The foursome’s girlfriends had already left, leaving the band members to share the remaining car.
“So the four of us pile into one of these limos,” Mustaine says today, “and almost right away we get into an argument. I end up kicking Chris Poland in the face. That kind of gives you an idea of what you would have seen back then.”
This was a typical night for Megadeth. With the mercurial Mustaine steering them, the LA band brought an element of explosive volatility to thrash. If Metallica were the scene’s party-loving kingpins, Slayer its cartoon Satanists and Anthrax its court jesters, then Megadeth were its feral delinquents. That they managed to make one of the defining albums of the thrash era in Peace Sells – and one of its most immortal songs in the classic title track – is some achievement. That they managed to do it without killing each other or themselves is nothing short of miraculous.
“Dave and I were in a position where there was no Plan B,” says Dave Ellefson. “There was no escape hatch. There was no: ‘If this doesn’t work we’ll go do that.’ That backs-against-the-wall commitment is what drove us to make Peace Sells.”
Mustaine puts it more bluntly: “There’s a lot of crazy shit that was going on back then. I’m grateful we’re still here.”
Dave Mustaine is one of rock’s great survivors. Rather than slink away from the spotlight after being booted out of an on-the-verge-of-fame Metallica because of one too many drunken arguments, he channelled his anger into a new band, Megadeth. He’s been the mouthpiece, driving force and backbone of the group ever since, through bitter rivalries, drug addiction and a seemingly endless churn of guitarists and drummers.
Today Mustaine is older but no less unpredictable. Alternately honest and cagey, passionate and dismissive, he’s like a wary cat: one stupid misstep and you know the claws will come out. It’s all part of the reputation: Dave Mustaine against the world. Or maybe it’s the world against Dave Mustaine.
“I never really felt like it was like that,” he says. “Although I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and say: ‘Why do people always pick on you all the time?’ And I just laugh. Because if you’ve got something that people want, they’re gonna try and take it from you. It’s the same in sports – if you’re successful, people go after you. Trash talking doesn’t affect me at all.”