MEGADETH mainman Dave Mustaine was METALLICA‘s guitarist in 1982 and 1983 before getting fired and launching MEGADETH.
“One thing we noticed with [METALLICA‘s 1983 debut] Kill ‘Em All is that the tempos have been slowed down, and one of the things I noticed is that the way James [Hetfield] played ‘The Four Horsemen’ [which Mustaine co-wrote] was more straight,” Ellefson said. “And the way Dave plays it [in MEGADETH as ‘Mechanix’], he rolls it like a triplet, there’s this rolling, Dave would add all these extra notes that would really…
“Even the  ‘Devils Island’ riff was played differently, there’s this pull-off from the E to the B, off the third and the fifth string, and then when we sped it up, we straightened it out, more sort of this gallop thing. There’s all these details in the riffs, and as time went on, even when I would listen to the songs Dave wrote with METALLICA on Kill ‘Em All, I was like, ‘God, his songs were always more kind of progressive,’ except maybe ‘Jump in the Fire,’ which is pretty simple. The rest of the stuff was more progressive stuff, so the next year I think Dave really stepped up his guitar playing, he stepped up his writing.
“And we were trying to audition singers all through 1983, and finally literally on New Year’s Eve we were rehearsing downtown at a place called Curly Joe’s, it was a big kind of a brewery that he turned into rehearsal halls,” he continued. “And a singer didn’t show up, and again, we’re trying to get singers basically out of Sunset Strip bands…
“METALLICA wasn’t a huge success where people were going, ‘Oh yeah, I want to be like METALLICA‘ — that would’ve been easy. We could’ve grabbed 20 guys who could do that. So there was nobody there, we were basically inventing a new sound, and so one day Dave just freaking takes the lyrics and pins them up to the wall and steps up to the mic and just starts singing.
“I don’t know what it was, maybe ‘Chosen Ones’ or something, and he almost passed out after he sang it because he didn’t really know how to breathe and sing and play — his face turns red. And I just looked at him and said, ‘Dude, that was f*cking awesome!’ He’s like, ‘Really?’ ‘Sure. It was awesome, it was great.’ And that’s how he became our singer.
“I told him, ‘You’re already writing the stuff, why don’t you sing? No one is gonna interpret this stuff better than you.’ And you could just tell — he was already the frontman of METALLICA, so now him becoming the singer and the frontman of MEGADETH, it was a natural fit. He was architecting the whole thing, so it’s like, ‘You do it, dude; no one better than you.’
“Singers were coming, I remember these guys were coming in with scarves, kind of like Steven Tyler, and we’re playing what was the beginning of ‘Devils Island’ and ‘Looking Down the Cross,’ these songs.
“And they’re just standing there looking like, ‘What is this?’ And you realize, in that moment, it’s a blank canvas and we’re creating a new thing. And most people came in and they were kind of copycat musicians, they wanted to sing like [MÖTLEY CRÜE‘s] Vince Neil or they wanted to sing like David Lee Roth.
“I count my blessings every day meeting Dave because I showed up in town, I was a skilled bass player, I knew music, I played in jazz bands, I played in gazillion rock bands, my own bands — I had only joined one other band, all the rest of them I had formed myself,” David added. “So I knew how to do it, but I was going, ‘Hey, use me however you want, let’s create something new together.’
“And learning to play bass to Dave‘s music, it’s funny because I didn’t grow up to Cliff Burton‘s bass playing — I grew up on Ron McGovney‘s. I can’t say I grew up on it, but if there was the first bass player I heard, it was Ron McGovney. I’m the Ron McGovney era of METALLICA. And I told Ron all the time, ‘Dude, you’re my METALLICA bass player’ because that was just the first sound that I heard.
“And his parts were kind of simple, kind of like what [AC/DC‘s] Cliff Williams or [JUDAS PRIEST‘s] Ian Hill would do. They’re a little more simple, but then the guitars really sounded big. Whereas Cliff tended to play more with the guitars, and of course they slowed some of those songs down a little bit too. Once Kill ‘Em All was recorded, they pulled the tempos back a little bit, so METALLICA had this sort of illusion of speed, but they weren’t the fastest.
“EXODUS, MEGADETH, SLAYER, and ANTHRAX were far faster than METALLICA. METALLICA being produced at that point with Kill ‘Em All, they pulled the tempo back, and quite honestly, it gave them quite an advantage in the mainstream.
“It allowed them to play bigger halls, bigger tours; it wasn’t as offensive, probably, as some of the stuff we were doing. They were somewhat faster than IRON MAIDEN, but not as abrasive as SLAYER, so they kind of found a happy medium there.”
Watch full interview below.