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Megadeth vs. Metallica: Who Won The War?
Two of the most iconic bands in thrash metal history, Metallica and Megadeth have both been going strong for over 40 years. Each releasing iconic releases in the thrash genre and setting the groundwork for not only thrash metal, but heavy metal itself.
Metallica was founded in 1981 by guitarist and vocalist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich. With the addition of guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist Cliff Burton, the band grew in popularity during the 1980’s in the L.A./San Francisco scene. Due to his substance issues as well as aggressive behavior and clashes with founding members Hetfield and Ulrich, Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica in 1983 and was replaced by former Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett.
He would go on form Megadeth in 1983. Mustaine launched the project that he said in a 2021 interview with Metal Injection that he “wanted to make a band that’s more metal than Metallica.” The question now is, did Megadeth live up to his hype and be more metal than Metallica? Did Megadeth win this thrash metal war?
Both bands started out strong with amazing opening debuts. Metallica debuted in 1983 with Kill ‘Em All, a driving thrash metal classic, which did feature four songs written by Mustaine during his time with the band. Two of those four songs are Metallica classics like “The Four Horsemen” and “Jump in The Fire”.
A driving record and putting Metallica’s name on the map, Megadeth responded and launched their debut record in 1985 with Killing is My Business…and Business is Good! The record brought a better production quality than Metallica’s debut as well as more aggression and fury than their counterparts. Megadeth launched the counter-shot and the rivalry between the two bands begun, and everyone was ready to hear what each band brought to the battlefield.
Each band released amazing and legendary albums that would be cemented into metal history and become the blueprint for thrash metal and what the sound would become. Metallica would release Ride The Lightning in 1984 and then the pinnacle thrash metal classic Master of Puppets in 1986, which many fans would say are Metallica’s two best records.
Not to be outdone, Megadeth would release their follow ups with 1986’s Peace Sells…but Who’s Buying? With its iconic title track and bass hook that would sound familiar to anyone watching MTV news in the 90's, Megadeth would follow that up with 1988’s So Far…So Good…So What! Continuing to bring their version of thrash with fast guitar solos, driving bass and Mustaine’s snarling vocal delivery. Then Megadeth would release their iconic-thrash opus, 1990’s Rust in Peace. An instant-classic and featuring one of the best opening riffs in history on “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” and other Megadeth classics and current live-staples “Hangar 18” and “Tornado of Souls”, this record was a landmark in the thrash metal scene and would be the mark Megadeth would leave on metal.
Both bands approached the 90’s with a straight forward, heavy metal sound. Dropping the longer song lengths and condensing their songs, but still keeping the heavy sound both bands were known for, they each adapted to the changing of times and one band skyrocketed into the stratosphere, Metallica. Metallica released their self-titled album in 1991. Nicknamed “The Black Album” the album was a change for Metallica, which some fans cried the infamous two words no band likes hearing, sell-out. Even with its detractors, the album received widespread critical acclaim, and became the band’s highest selling album. Led by album opener and metal radio go-to “Enter Sandman”, the album opener set the tone for the record, bringing Metallica’s heavy thrashy sound but condensed to shortened song lengths, and production by Bob Rock, helped the band refine their sound and launched the band into pop culture with tours with Guns and Roses and their appearance at the 1991 Monsters of Rock festival.
In 1992, Megadeth would release their answer to Metallica’s “Black Album” with Countdown To Extinction. Although not hitting the same cultural impact that Metallica hit with their album, Extinction is still an outstanding record. Featuring classics like “Symphony of Destruction”, the political themed “Foreclosure of A Dream” and comedic battle with myself track “Sweating Bullets,” the album was a strong release and showed Megadeth succeeding in adapting to the same process Metallica did with refining their sound for the 90’s. The album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, the band’s highest position ever and would go double-platinum.
Each band would not always have successful records. Megadeth released in 1999 the divisive album Risk. The band experimented with having Risk being what the band would consider “a breakthrough on alternative rock radio,” the record was not met well with fans as fans considered it an abandonment of what made the band famous and “chasing the trends” of radio rock. Though singles “Crush ‘Em” and “Breadline,” did appear on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart, they didn’t have the same effect and popularity as their previous releases, causing the band to go for a heavier sound on their next record, 2001’s The World Needs A Hero.
Metallica unfortunately hit a huge downward trajectory with the next three releases. The release of 1996’s Load and 1997’s Reload, the band faced ire from their fans at selling out and adapting to the nu-metal sound that was thriving in popularity as well as really toning down the thrashy heaviness, which fans have now dubbed “Dad Rock”. Also, drummer Lars Ulrich also created backlash for himself and Metallica when his lawsuit in 2000 against file-sharing program Napster caused more backlash against the band, with fans feeling that Napster is how a lot of people got introduced to Metallica through peer to peer sharing and it was the band being greedy and selfish and not looking at people checking out their music but only looking at the profits.
Then in 2003, came what Metallica fans call their oddest musical direction at the time, St. Anger. A very divisive record, St. Anger showed the band taking a very drastic change for the record. No guitar solos, an infamous drum snare sound, and drama running rampant through the band, including bassist Jason Newsted leaving the band before the recording of the record and Hetfield entering rehab for alcoholism. The frustrations and issues with making of the record was the subject of the 2004 documentary “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” which the title comes from a track on the album. Mustaine makes a cameo in the documentary addressing with Ulrich about how he felt when being fired from the band and how it has impacted his views of his band and comparisons to Metallica. Although the record would debut on top of the sales charts in 14 countries, along with the Billboard Top 200, as well as going double-platinum, the record still stands as what many might say is the weakest record in Metallica’s discography, maybe second to the band's collaboration with former Velvet Underground singer Lou Reed in 2011’s Lulu.
Both bands would recover from these missteps, with both bands making records that combined both their classic sound mixed with their more modern metal sounds the band grew to cultural popularity with. Megadeth would release their newest record, 2022’s The Sick, The Dying…and The Dead! Returning to their thrashier sound with elements of modern metal with a collaboration with rapper and Body Count front man Ice-T on the track “Night Stalkers” with the album debuting at number three on the US Billboard 200.
Metallica released 72 Seasons this April, their first new record in seven years. Opening single “Lux Aeterna” brings a Kill ‘Em All style production and sound, receiving positive reviews and also debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. The band also gained a surge of new fans with the Metallica classic “Master of Puppets” being used in the fourth season of popular Netflix show Stranger Things.
When the dust has settled, who won this thrash metal war? It depends on what the criteria for victory is. If you want to ask which band is more well known, than Metallica would win. If you want to factor in who has the better discography, then Megadeth would win. Which band had more iconic releases or had better records, that’s the toughest of calls. That’s completely up to interpretation, and your opinion of the band and what style of thrash and metal you prefer. These bands have left an iconic mark in heavy metal, not only just thrash, but metal itself. With their influence on a lot of modern-day thrash bands you hear now like Municipal Waste and even particular records, like Trivium’s 2006 record The Crusade, infusing the energy and sound that both bands made popular in the heyday of 80’s thrash metal. Neither band won the battle, there are too many factors to make an official winner in this battle, but the music itself is the winner of this war.
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