When Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine named his band's 2004 album The System Has Failed, he seemed to be commenting on the state of U.S. politics. But in retrospect, the title was dead-on for an entirely different reason: The system Mustaine depended on for his livelihood was falling apart.
There were problems with the band's lineup, an ugly lawsuit had developed with ex-bassist David Ellefson, and the label that released the album suffered a staff shakeup that resulted in what Mustaine called "a complete lack of support for the project." In February 2005, Mustaine announced plans to disband Megadeth and go solo. As the year progressed, however, he re-evaluated his decision, and on October 9 at a concert in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he declared that Megadeth would continue.
"My decision was a combination of a few things," Mustaine said as he prepared to enter the studio to record vocals for the band's upcoming album, United Abominations, which is scheduled for a Halloween release. "I was finally associating with guys that really love to play — [ex-Eidolon guitarist Glen Drover and drummer Shawn Drover] — and that make me feel really good to play. They respect me and are fans of the music that we play and of the music in our genre. Also, ticket sales were up and record sales were up — it was happening again."
Inspired by his decision, Mustaine wrote a batch of new songs, signed a new deal with Roadrunner Records and hired bassist James LoMenzo (ex-Black Label Society and, um, White Lion) to replace James Macdonough. Then the band flew to England to record drums for the album.
"We rented [Led Zeppelin drummer] John Bonham's drum kit and recorded at a studio in [Pink Floyd guitarist] David Gilmour's house, which was great." Mustaine said.
"The kit is the only one that's available in the world to rent," Drover added. "Dave surprised me with that, which was pretty incredible because I didn't even know it was possible to get Bonham's kit to rent for anybody. So I incorporated the bass drum and his floor tom and a snare on the kit that I use in the studio, and that was really inspiring. We played in the middle of nowhere and it was just a really cool vibe."
After the drums were finished, Megadeth returned to California to record the guitars and bass. Even before the vocals were added, it was clear that United Abominations was going to please fans of Megadeth's vintage material. "If I was to say what time this record would have came out, I would have said some time before [1990's] Rust in Peace or sometime after [1992's] Countdown to Extinction, Mustaine said. "The critics called The System a return to form (see "Dave Mustaine, Megadeth Return To Life With New System"), but this is even more so. The record company that I'm with now gets it and I'm with management who gets it. So I don't have to write songs because the wives of certain bandmembers are griping or their mortgage is not getting paid or management is telling me that I've got to get a record done to do the tour and I've got to do the tour because if not, I'm not going to be able to pay my bills."
Such skewed reasoning, insisted Mustaine, was largely responsible for Megadeth's transformation from a stellar thrash outfit to a more commercial entity. It all started after the landmark album Rust in Peace, when Megadeth recorded the slightly more commercial Countdown to Extinction, which reached #2 on the Billboard albums chart.
"After that, the pressure came from all sorts of different angles and I was learning as I was going along," Mustaine said. "Also, we had pretty much a revolving lineup within the band and with representation from management and with numerous administrations at the record companies. While we were signed to Capitol, there were six different presidents there. So, we've never really had any long-term equilibrium."
United Abominations will mark the 'Deth recording debut of the Drover brothers. The album will contain 11 songs, including the title track, "Washington's Next" and "Gears of War"; an additional track will be included with the Japanese release. "It's a really diverse record," Shawn said. "There's some faster stuff that should appeal to the band's thrash fans and it's got a little more mainstream stuff as well. It's definitely not one-dimensional."
The record is being co-produced by Mustaine and Jeff Balding, who has worked on three other Megadeth discs. But while Balding has an arsenal of contemporary gizmos at his disposal, the album is being created with the kinds of equipment and techniques the band used in the late '80s — before the advent of ProTools and digital editing.
"I wanted to go back to the way the stuff was done in the beginning," said Mustaine. "I think Megadeth boils down to its bare minimum. When you break it down, Megadeth is guitar, bass, drums and guitar solos. And when it starts going in directions where there's a little bit too much stuff going on that can't be done onstage, it loses heaviness because that stuff probably shouldn't be there anyway."
As he heads into the final weeks of production, Mustaine is happy with his new songs, ecstatic about his current bandmates and looking forward to announcing the lineup for the second Gigantour, the technical-metal festival he launched and headlined last year. Once again, the system is fully operational.