“I said, this one is for the cause. We had to be taken out of the place in a bulletproof bus’ – The Irish Times

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After a six-year hiatus, Megadeth are back with a new album, The Sick, The Dying… and the Dead! Dave Mustaine, their guitarist – one of heavy metal’s greatest – talks about overcoming adversity and how The Troubles inspired one of his best songs.

You were diagnosed with throat cancer in 2019. How is your health now?

I think I’m 100%. I got my green light from the doctor in October 2020. I should be arriving on my third birthday. It’s pretty cool. We worked very hard on all the treatments, on the nutrition and on all the personal things that I had to do outside of the hospital. Doctors put together this really brutal program to fight cancer. They wanted to kill him without having to do surgery.

I told the doctors I was a little worried that Eddie Van Halen had part of his tongue cut out. Bruce Dickenson – the lead singer of Iron Maiden – and Michael Douglas had it too, and I was in the club. We had a great program. My doctors are really great. Whenever someone goes to see a doctor and gives you the green light for your health, you’re usually very, very grateful. He no longer has any power over me. I want to make sure people don’t get discouraged when they hear such news. I went to two doctors in Tennessee and they knew how important it was for me to keep singing.

How has the last six years been in terms of illness, Covid-19 and other hardships you’ve had?

It’s just another day at the office, right? Life is hard. You are either going to be a winner or you are not. I don’t think people should be called losers. Trying to get second place is not being a loser. Anyone who finishes the race is a winner as long as people are always striving to improve. It’s really easy. Just make a 1% improvement and in just over three months you’ll be a completely different person, whether it’s your work ethic, your partner, or your children.

Is your new album, The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead! about Covid-19 and your cancer diagnosis?

I’ve had several people tell me it’s about Covid-19, but it’s not. This is the Black Death. The lyrics are so explicit. They tell the story quite clearly. I had watched a movie. It was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, starring Robert de Niro and Kenneth Branagh. There was a part in the movie where they were talking about the plague, and I distinctly remember the parts of the movie that were really gruesome. The nursery rhyme Ring Around the Rosie is in the song: Ring-a-ring-a-roses, A pocket full of posies, Atishoo, atishoo, We all fall down. This is a nursery rhyme for children of the Black Death based on the pocket draw of small bouquets, because the bodies stank so much that small bouquets had to be loaded to cover the stench. People had to cremate the bodies to get rid of the disease.

How did your collaboration with Ice T on the track Night Stalkers come about?

When I first met him, his career was just taking off. It was quite controversial. There was a certain mentality about people in those days hanging out with rappers, especially when Ice T had songs like Cop Killer [in 1992] and stuff like that. He had really polarized the public. I thought it was art he was singing. He was a talented guy. We used one of his songs, Shut Up, Be Happy, which was our intro tape for years. I had to rate some records once and [Ice T’s] OG Original Gangster was one of my favorites. It was fresh in my head at the time. His role in Night Stalker is cool. I wanted someone who had a distinctive, easily identifiable voice and cadence, and that street mentality and delivery. I thought he would be the perfect person to get his ass in the chopper and get ready for this.

How can you interest young rap and hip-hop fans in heavy metal?

There is a way to merge the two art forms. Kids love hip hop because their friends love it. There are many children who are not individual when it comes to listening to music. There are a lot of people who don’t want to listen to what their friends don’t listen to, because they don’t want to be ostracized. When I listened to Iron Maiden and AC/DC in my teens, my friends didn’t know what to think because the music was so hard and heavy.

We’ll be Back, the first single from the new album, is one of the hardest songs you’ve done in many years. Tell us about it.

When I got the diagnosis, they thought that was the end of Megadeth and the end of Dave Mustaine. There were believers who were with me for all or part of the trip who knew this was not going to happen. Many people have told me that when I had cancer they felt sorry for the cancer. They said they knew I was going to make it.

I’ve taken this 1% challenge: I’m going to push myself on this record; I’ll make sure to sing the best I can and play the best I can. The most important time I spent talking to my higher power and listening, it was clear to me that at my age [61] I shouldn’t be able to keep coming up with faster, harder music.

Inspiration and mentality need only be 1% a day and you have a profound change. Everyone is excited about it. We have some of the best people in the business, not because they are the most expensive, but they are the best crew members. Nowadays, we are all professionals. I can’t think of anything more exciting than watching these guys work. They enter a building and erect a temple for people to listen to music.

On May 11, 1988, at the height of The Troubles, you caused an uproar at a concert at the Antrim Arena. It inspired one of Megadeth’s greatest songs, Holy Wars…The Punishment Due, from their classic 1990 album, Rust In Peace.

Holy Wars was about the naivety that came in there. I was so honest and so innocent. We were backstage and things had happened during the day that really set the tone for the evening. It was just a powder keg ready to go.

I went downstairs and someone was caught trying to hack T-shirts inside the venue. Talk about brass! We went to get the shirt and he said, “These are for the cause.” I didn’t know what caused it. ” What is the cause ? ” I asked him. “It’s about prejudice and religion. The Catholics believe themselves better than the Protestants; Protestants think they are better than Catholics.

I understand that. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, and they hate all religions except their own. I was drinking Guinness straight from the source. I had a bunch of Guinness. We’re on stage, and a kid was tossing coins. I don’t know if he was trying to hit Chuck Mehler [the band’s drummer] or Dave Ellefson [its bassist], but I got hit once. I was furious. I saw the guy who threw it, and I said something to him. The show has stopped. I came back on stage, and I had just heard that Paul McCartney said, “Give Ireland back to the Irish”, and I thought Paul is a knight, he’s cool, it must be worth saying — so I said what he said and added, “This one’s for the cause,” and the reaction was very different, because I was an American.

This polarized the public. We had to be taken out of the place in an armored bus. The next day I was in Nottingham and I wrote the lyrics “Brother will kill brother, spilling blood on the land, killing for religion is something I don’t understand / Fools like me who cross the sea and come to foreign lands / Ask the sheep, for their beliefs / Do you kill at God’s command? A country that’s divided surely won’t stand / My past erased, no more disgrace / no foolish, naive position.

This is part of my basic assessment of the situation, which grossly underestimated the pain and suffering people are feeling because of this. I wrote this song. He just went out. I like the Irish and I don’t really see a distinction between north and south, east and west.

The sick, the dying… and the dead! releases Friday, September 2

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