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VERSUS: Mustaine vs Hammett
Welcome to Versus. The series where we look at two albums in metal history, compare them to each other, and see which one was the better record...is what I would normally start these articles with, but today, we are doing something a little different
In this edition of Versus, we are going to do a first of it's kind with this series and doing the musician themselves against each other. Suggested by our site founder Metalhead Marv, we are tackling two guitarists who are considered the top tier of the big four of thrash metal. Two guitarists who were influential in their playing. Their bands creating some of the most legendary and iconic albums in not only thrash metal, but heavy metal history itself. So, get ready comments section cause I know this will be an interesting response from you and I have a feeling I will get it wrong no matter who I pick. Let's get this musician matchup going in this battle I'm calling "The Leader of The Lead Guitar".
In this corner, we have legendary Megadeth front man, and former Metallica member Dave Mustaine. Forming Megadeth in 1983, the same year he was kicked out of Metallica due to his substance abuse and tensions with the band. He formed the project in an almost "I'll get my revenge" villain mentality. Vowing to be heavier and faster then his former band, Mustaine would do that with some of the most fast, punch to the throat thrash and heavy metal records in the band's discographies.
Mustaine wouldn't be the only guitarist in the band's historic career. Throughout the band's career, Mustaine would have amazing musical chemistry with such shredders like Chris Poland, Jeff Young, Glen Drover, Chris Broderick and the iconic Marty Friedman. His ability to shine with other band members and bounce off each other on records is a great skill and a sign of a good musician.
His first strike Mustaine brings to the table is writing and performing the iconic opening riff to "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due". With it's heavy and fast opening riff, to its progressive clean, almost Middle-Eastern clean acoustic passage, back to a chugging thrash riff. The song is complex throughout the entire six and a half minute runtime. Bouncing off musically with Friedman on the track, it was a song that truly showcased the band as one of the best in the thrash metal genre, along with the album Rust in Peace the song appears on. His playing is all over the pace and frantic, but somehow restrained, in a weird chaotically organized way. Rust in Peace would be the band's magnum opus, with legendary thrash guitar by Mustaine and Friedman, created a classic in the thrash genre.
On the band's follow up Countdown To Extinction, Mustaine and company started to move towards a heavy metal sound that was becoming popular at the time of release. Shorter songs, more groove, radio-friendly choruses. The opening single "Symphony of Destruction" was a classic song that almost anybody can learn on guitar. Sometimes the simplicity of the riff can make it a classic (example "Walk" by Pantera). With its catchy, groove-like riff, the song would become a live staple and one of the most recognizable riff in the band's history. Another great solo off the album would be off of "Sweating Bullets". With its cascading notes on the solo, it is short but a classic, almost chromatic playing style into the wailing guitar back into the main riff.
Another personal favorite Megadeth song that has chugging, classic thrash energy and shows Mustaine's playing is "Kick The Chair". The riff is catchy, heavy and channels the nostalgia of early Megadeth albums. The solo section after the halfway mark, with its duel harmonies, intricate note playing and an almost classical sound to it. Then, into tremolo note playing back into another harmonized solo, it shows the talent and energy from Mustaine. Especially after knowing that this was the first release from Mustaine after his arm injury, which caused him to relearn guitar, almost breaking up the band.
His opponent, is the man who would replace him in Metallica, and one of the original members and founder of Exodus, is Kirk Hammett. Taught by legendary solo guitarist Joe Satriani, which you can hear Satriani's influence in some of his later work and his solo work. Making his debut with the band on the band's second album, 1984's Ride The Lightning, Hammett has remained with the band since. Writing some of Metallica's best and legendary riffs including "Enter Sandman" off of their self-titled album (aka The Black Album). How does Hammett stack up against Mustaine?
The opening shot from Hammett in this matchup is with "Fade To Black". With his complex performance of transitioning from acoustic guitar, to wailing electric lead guitar and emotional guitar solos, it was one of the strong performances on the album and a Metallica classic. Adding to the band's progressive metal elements that would be tackled on this record and on the following record Master of Puppets. He would also continue to increase the band's more intricate musicianship in the performance of the more heavier driven track "Creeping Death".
His other big contribution is the legendary guitar solo and riff with "Master of Puppets". The opening start/stop riff and intensity in the song is unmatched and a true classic opening riff. With the same complexity with "Fade To Black", the song has intricate and dynamic passing. With tempo changes, a slowed down and emotional guitar solo at the halfway mark with dual harmonies, it is such classic Metallica. Then the fretboard hopping at the three quarter mark, with tremolo playing, dive bomb-esque guitar wails, and impressive speed and technicality in the playing. It truly is one of the greatest songs in heavy metal, and especially in thrash metal.
The other big shot in this matchup is probably one of the most recognizable songs in heavy metal with "Enter Sandman". The riff was inspired from Hammett listening to Soundgarden's 1989 album Louder Than Love. With a simple opening riff, written by Hammett, the riff is catchy, heavy and simple but leaves such a lasting impression. It's an earworm of a riff, and is sometimes considered the gateway song to heavy metal as a whole to people getting into the genre. The guitar solo that hits at the halfway mark hits like a freight train with its opening wails. Hammett goes crazy on the fretboard hitting higher and higher in between his wah-infused guitar wails. Cascading into the intricate note playing at the end of the solo with whammy bar hits echoing into the bridge of the song. His playing, along with Hetfield's heavy rhythm section, this album would be one of the highest selling records in heavy metal history, making it a landmark release for the genre.
This was a tough Versus to do personally and musically. Both guitarists are talented and are different in their own unique ways. I love Mustaine's intricate guitar playing on the early releases, but I also love Hammett's influence with the early releases and their self-titled album. If I had to choose which one is the winner in my opinion, I would choose Kirk Hammett. With his work in Metallica, Hammett's guitar playing and creating of iconic riffs like "Fade To Black", "One" & "Master of Puppets", Hammett is a talented, proficient and impressive guitar player. His influence can be heard in a lot of the thrash sound and soloing you hear on modern metal acts like Municipal Waste, Trivium and Machine Head. Mustaine is an amazingly talented guitarist and those early releases by Megadeth are quintessential thrash metal records, along with albums that make you wanna air guitar or pick up an actual guitar to try to learn to play it. The only thing is, Hammett has more recognizable and popular riffs throughout his playing, while Mustaine only has older songs that are more influential, while Hammett is more consistent and current with longevity and play style, even if it is very wah-pedal heavy as many guitarists and fans note.
Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won? Do you think Metalhead Marv made a good matchup for Versus? Cast your vote on the poll below, leave your comments on our social media, and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.