David Ellefson Admits ‘Metallica Was Always the Leader’ in Heavy Metal

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Gotta give credit where credit is due. In the history of heavy metal, perhaps no rivalry is more notorious than that of Dave Mustaine and Metallica. After all, Dave’s resentment toward his former bandmates was the primary catalyst for Megadeth’s formation in the first place.

A bit of rivalry is healthy from time to time, and Dave’s compatriots in Megadeth haven’t always felt the same way he does toward the metal giants. For instance, former Megadeth bassist David Ellefson acknowledged that by Metallica achieving mass commercial success on their own terms, they “broke the doors down” for all of metal. 

In the 1980s, Metallica and the thrash metal movement that they helped spearhead changed the landscape of music as we know it. The Four Horsemen were selling out arenas well before they even made their first music video, instead cultivating their loyal fanbase through word of mouth and the subcultural phenomenon of tape trading. 

In an interview with “I Ask No One With Kevin Re LoVullo”, Ellefson discussed the titanic cultural changes that stemmed from Metallica’s success: (transcription via Blabbermouth):

“Ah, it frickin’ broke the doors down. Metallica were always the leader. They broke all the doors down to every obstacle in the way of heavy metal.“

He elaborated that even though Metallica deserve the credit that they get, the band couldn’t have done it without the path that heavy metal pioneers Iron Maiden and Def Leppard laid out for them:

“To some degree, Iron Maiden, before them, had superseded and became an arena act and done this stuff too, so certainly you’ve gotta give credit to Maiden. And even Def Leppard, to some degree, because they started out as just kind of a grungy little heavy metal band out of Sheffield, and then they [went] on to become essentially almost like a pop act, on some level; I mean, they became that big. Those guys — certainly Def Leppard and Maiden — deserve credit for sort of carving the initial path to sort of the big-time mainstream path for heavy metal. But then Metallica came in, and they just fucking [said], ‘We’re here. We’re coming in.’ They really broke through every obstacle with MTV and daytime rotation with their videos and just became a household name.”

Dave recalls the significance of the word metal in the band’s name, and how their unwillingness to compromise did the heavy lifting for the rest of the movement:

“And it’s cool, because they have ‘metal’ in their name, so it’s not like there’s any ‘what is this?’ It’s, like, come on. It says ‘metal’ right in it. You know what it is. And they didn’t clean it up and pretty it up; they just kept it raw and frickin’ grungy and in your face, and it was, again, authentic. So, again, the likes of Lemmy [of Motörhead], who influenced Lars [Ulrich, Metallica drummer] and the guys, that inspiration that stayed true, that, ‘We don’t have to…'”

“I remember with Metallica, it was always the thing: ‘We do our own thing. We don’t play by the rules.’ And to a large degree, they didn’t.

“And that’s, I think, what made it appealing to the fans, because, let’s face it, heavy metal is kind of working man’s music, and that’s why we look to our heroes, because they’re, like, ‘God, I wish I could my boss to fuck off and just go do that, ’cause these guys can do whatever they want.’ That’s the message, right?”

A few weeks ago, former Megadeth members David Ellefson and Jeff Young debuted the first song from their new band Kings of Thrash, called “Bridges Burn”.

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