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Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman return to worship at metal's altar with Cryptic Writings
01 January 1987
By Jeff Kitts - Taken from Guitar World Magazine (1987 edition)

"I don't ever remember taking an oath to be the music master for the disenfranchised youth of America, but I was kind of put in that position," says Dave Mustaine. "We're not going to change just because the music scene changes. It's like if Mercedes all of a sudden put out a car like a Volkswagen, people would be pissed. Our fans consider us the Mercedes of metal." If that is true, then Cryptic Writings (Capitol), Megadeth's latest, clearly shows them to have all their pistons pumping. A true headbanger's delight, the album gives no indication that Mustaine, guitarist Marty Friedman, bassist David Ellefson and drummer Nick Menza are ready to abandon their patented speed-riffing attack in favor of a more alternative, grunge, punk, pop or, heaven forbid, electronica approach. If the times are indeed a-changin', Megadeth doesn't give a shit.

"This album has all the aggression you'd expect from Megadeth," says Friedman, "but with a timeless quality that makes it the kind of record you'd want to listen to 20 years from now."

GUITAR WORLD: Cryptic Writings is the band's seventh album. How does it fit into the grand scheme of all things Megadeth?

DAVE MUSTAINE: I see it being exactly where it's supposed to be right now. We've been around for a long time and we've paid our dues. A couple of the other records we've made probably could have been flip-flopped and come out at different times and been more successful than they were. I think that if Countdown to Extinction [1992] had come out when Youthanasia [1994] came out, it would have been massive; bigger than it was. But I'll tell you, when you're really satisfied with your life, you can look back with pleasure on all the things you've accomplished-which is what I can do now. You know, Ozzy Osbourne is the only other person beside me who's been in two of the biggest heavy metal bands ever. Ozzy and I are totally different, but in many ways we're very much alike-we're survivors.

GW: In that sense, it certainly hasn't come easy for either of you.

MUSTAINE: No, it hasn't. If Ozzy has had to put up with the stuff regarding his previous band that I've experienced with mine, that would probably explain a lot about his attitude and behavior. Now, my attitude in the past has not been exemplary and I probably could have handled things much better, but the pressures of being a recording artist who's always in the public eye and on the road can be real heavy. I've had relatives ask me to have sex with their wives-and that kind of stuff is mind-boggling. I mean, when was the last time one of your relatives asked you to have sex with their wives?

GW: [pauses to consider] Umm...never.

MUSTAINE: Exactly. I never understood that kind of thing. Maybe it was a way of making their relationship a little more special because now she's a star fucker or something. But it's a very difficult thing to deal with.

GW: Marty, what are some of your thoughts on Cryptic Writings?

MARTY FRIEDMAN: What's important is not so much how this album fits into the grand scheme of Megadeth, but how it fits into the grand scheme of rock music and music for young people in general. I'd be really bummed to be a 15-year-old growing up right now, and the only thing that's getting rammed down my throat is a bunch of female folk singers. When I was growing up, there were a lot more exciting things going on in guitar-oriented rock music-it was a real fascinating, exciting and dangerous time to be listening to music. There was something real snotty and nasty about the heavy rock music of years past, and I think that's generally lacking these days-and something we put a decent amount of in our new album

GW: The quality of the songwriting on Cryptic Writings is similar to that of the material on Countdown to Extinction, as opposed to Youthanasia, which many thought was a little below Megadeth's standards.

MUSTAINE: I agree 100 percent. But I think that if you'd been there during the making of Youthanasia, you would have seen why that happened-and why Max Norman didn't produce this album. Max came up with this bullshit formula that every song had to be 120 beats per minute to get on the radio. But someone obviously forgot to tell radio, because as far as I'm concerned, that formula didn't work. Slowing down the super-fast songs ruined them, and speeding up the slower songs ruined them. I still think there are a lot of really good songs on that album and I don't regret it at all. When people make drastic decisions to do things like that and it backfires, it usually ends up, in one way or another, costing them their jobs.

GW: Which no doubt explains why you hired someone new to produce Cryptic Writings. A country session guitarist like Dann Huff is a strange choice to produce a metal band, however.

FRIEDMAN: That was the idea. I think Max, being a real heavy metal-oriented guy, was a bit too close to home when he was working with us. We can do heavy metal in our sleep, and we didn't necessarily need a fifth member who is so much like us. I think he's a genius and a really talented person, but his expertise lies in something that we already do pretty well. Compared to Max, Dann has absolutely no roots in metal, but he has the kind of roots that we all respect. I've always had great respect for him as a guitarist; anytime I hear Shania Twain or some country song with a great solo, I know it's probably Dann.

GW: Why did you feel you needed to take lessons from anyone?

MUSTAINE: Because I had heard a guy that jammed, had a great connection between his right and left hand and had a brilliant sound-and I wanted that sound. I'm still trying to find the definitive guitar tone for myself, and I don't think I'll ever find it-which is great because it means that I continue to push the parameters of my playing. I learned a long time ago that people who think they know, generally don't know, and that people who don't know, generally do know. I'm not saying that I need lessons because I don't, but I know that I can always get better.

GW: Marty, did Dann show you anything as a guitarist?

FRIEDMAN: One of the best pieces of advice I got from him involved ending solos in odd places. Most people end solos right where the vocals come back in, but Dann taught me that starting and ending solos in interesting places can really make a song better.

GW: In the late Eighties and early Nineties, Megadeth belonged to a large community of fans and bands that is now greatly diminished. Do you miss the metal years?

MUSTAINE: I know what you mean. It was very much like a little heavy metal society, and that is coming back. There's always going to be a newer, faster, better band and there will always be a hungry young club owner willing to cater to that. Bands like Exodus and Venom recently reformed, and Metallica's supposed to have a real hard, heavy album out by the end of the year. People bagged on that last Metallica album, Load, and I think that's a shame. James [Hetfield] is still one of my favorite rhythm guitar players in the world. James, Malcolm [Young] and myself changed music in a way that no one else has. And I remember when me and James first got together and started playing-I knew no one could touch us. You know, I can play guitar as fast as anyone out there. I'm very comfortable with it-if I wanted to play all the time the way I did when I joined Metallica, I could. If the music scene returns to those times of speed, thrash, death or whatever kind of metal you want to call it, then we'll make another Rust in Peace.

GW: Can you pinpoint the moment in your career when you no longer felt the need to crush, kill and destroy with every riff and every song?

MUSTAINE: When the audiences stopped being 100 percent pure male. [laughs] In the very beginning, if you were to take a walk through the audience at one of our shows, it was like going through the day yard at Alcatraz. But as we became more popular and started appealing to a wider audience, we realized that there's a lot of music in us that doesn't really have to be 120 beats per minute [smiles]-or 300 b.p.m., for that matter.

GW: Does having Megadeth's music remain relevant ever concern you?

MUSTAINE: If Megadeth had come out in the Sixties, we would have been called the Who. If Killing is My Business (1985) came out today, it would be considered the new Fear Factory or something.

GW: Let's talk about some of the band's previous work. Your third album, 1987's so far, so what!, is regarded by many to be Megadeth's one recording failure. What happened?

MUSTAINE: For all intents and purposes, that album was a fucking disaster. I wanted to kick [drugs], I didn't want to kick, I wanted to kick, I didn't want to kick, I was up at Woodstock and I was sick and everything was really crazy. And this guy, [co-producer] Paul Lani, would be out in the woods, peeling apples and coring them and feeding them to the fucking deer while we were trying to make a record. And I'm thinking, "You know, deer eat fucking apple skin. They don't care that it's peeled and cored!" We had to remix that album twice and still never ended up with a good mix; it's just totally buried under reverb. That's a record I would love to go back and remix, but you know, when is enough enough? When Jimmy Page went back and redid those songs for the Zeppelin remasters, that, to me, was sacrilege-I mean, I'm used to hearing all those little noises.

GW: Rust in Peace?

MUSTAINE: Rust in Peace was the product of four loose cannons. I mean, we were wild, playing shit that was just unbelievable simply because we could, and still can, which I think is apparent on new songs like "Vortex." I'd like to see some of the younger kids today who are guitar students try to play that riff at the end without me walking them through it-it's a difficult, advanced riff that is very synonymous with the guitar parts on Rust in Peace.

GW: Countdown to Extinction?

MUSTAINE: With Countdown, the band had started to taste success and was getting into a real groove. I was totally in the driver's seat when we made that record, and I made sure that everything was done right. To give you an idea of how anal we were in the studio, we had a guitar strobe tuner plugged in so that when we did guitar bends, it would stop right on pitch. And that is just completely ridiculous. So when we went in to do Youthanasia, Countdown had just been so massive for us that we were pretty much resting on our laurels.

GW: How did the two of you divide the guitar duties on Cryptic Writings?

MUSTAINE: I played all the rhythm tracks and about half the solos. The great thing about Marty is that I can say, "I don't like that solo," and he'll come up with a better one. Marty's an amazing player, but I can't tell you how many of the solo ideas he came up with ended up on the floor. But I know that I can't always make him come up with better solos-I know that the time to stop looking for a better solo is when I start pissing off my guitar player.

GW: The solos on Cryptic Writings really showcase your speed as lead players.

FRIEDMAN: We definitely didn't want to hold back. If something needed a burst of energy and a flurry of guitar, goddamn it, we put it in.

GW: Marty, what was your primary setup in the studio?

FRIEDMAN: My main reason for even having a primary setup was because I knew we were going to have to play this stuff live, and I'm definitely not into dealing with two refrigerators worth of gear every night on tour. I wanted a basic, identifiable sound in the studio. I used my Jackson signature guitar and my Crate Blue Voodoo amp as the basic starting point for everything on the record. Of course, we veered off that for the textured sounds, the acoustic parts and the backing parts to make it sound good, but live you're really going to play only the showcase parts. So I pretty much didn't stray from my basic rig for that in the studio, though I did use a lot of foot pedals. Dann came in with this anvil case full of pedals, and I was like a kid in a candy store, trying all the pedals and finding places for them on the record. My favorite pedal of all time is an Electro-Harmonix Zipper. I also used an Expandora, an MXR Phase 90 for the solo in "Almost Honest" and a bunch of things that looked like they were made in somebody's basement.

This story ? 1997 by Harris Publications, Inc. All rights reserved under International and Pan American Copyright Conventions. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission of the publisher is strictly forbidden.