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MEGADETH BASSIST Dave Ellefson is relaxed as he discusses the band's current life on the road. "We still party and live it up, we just don't do it the way we used to." This is good news for metal fans craving future output from the thrash pioneers, as party time used to entail harrowing, buffet-style narcotics binges that lasted for weeks on end. Now 37 and married, Ellefson is clearly relieved to have those days behind him. "It's better now, because everybody's got their wits about them, and we're much more together. Eventually, you have to realize you're the entertainer, that you can't always be taking part in all the goodies the way the audience does. Otherwise it just kills you."
After high school, Ellefson left his native Minnesota for Los Angeles and almost immediately met Megadeth founder Dave Mustaine, whose steadily increasing drug habit had gotten him booted from the recently signed Metallica. Though the pair would eventually form one of the world's most successful metal bands, their famous first meeting was less than cordial, and Ellefson laughs when asked about it. "I lived in an apartment underneath Dave in Hollywood—the VH1 Behind the Music on Megadeth tells that whole story." As BTM—and numerous fan sites—recount, Ellefson was practicing his bass when a pissed-off and severely hung-over Mustaine tossed a flowerpot at his window. "So I went up and knocked on his door, and he was sitting on the couch, playing some of his powerful riffs. They were rock-solid, and I quickly realized Dave wasn't one of those long-haired 'masters of guitar' the world is full of." In discussing Behind the Music, Ellefson is obviously stoked. "I personally love the show, and I've actually become a fan of groups from watching it. Some of the old Motown ones in particular, with artists like Barry White, educated me on types of music I knew nothing about, and as far as Megadeth goes, I think the producers did a really great job putting our story together. It's actually going to be released in a long-form DVD in October, so everybody can see all the sordid details they couldn't get into the TV version."
Though thrash metal acts aren't exactly known for longevity, after 18 years, nine albums—all featuring mascot Vic Rattlehead on the cover—and five lineups, Megadeth shows no sign of letting up. Set lists posted on the band's Web site indicate that although shows will feature plenty of classics like the frantic "Sweating Bullets," "Peace Sells," and "Wake Up Dead," the band isn't coasting on its early material; and despite a title that seems more Celine Dion than Megadeth, its latest release, The World Needs a Hero, marks a return to its blistering metal roots. As Ellefson explains, "When we were writing the material, we figured if it sounded like older Megadeth it's a keeper, and if it sounds like anything recent, we should change it or throw it out." While Hero isn't quite as raw as early albums like Peace Sells . . . but Who's Buying or Killing Is My Business . . . and Business Is Good, tracks like the pounding, anti-establishment rant "Moto Psycho" and the warp-speed guitar licks of "Dread and the Fugitive Mind" should reassure fans alienated by 1999's aptly titled Risk, which found Mustaine experimenting with samples and electronic elements.
While the current tour has been going well stateside, a promotional stop overseas had to be cancelled after Malaysian authorities declared the band "unsuitable" for the country's audiences. Though their Web site expressed regret to Malaysian fans, after almost two decades it's hard to believe Megadeth is anything but pleased to be pissing off the establishment.