Behind the Band Name: Megadeth

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Formed in Los Angeles in 1983, Megadeth is the brainchild of lead vocalist and guitarist Dave Mustaine. But the origins of the band actually stem from another iconic rock band: Metallica.

Mustaine was Metallica’s lead guitarist for two years before he was fired in 1983 due to substance abuse and conflicts with other members, James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, prior to the band releasing their debut album, Kill ‘Em All. Turning his dismissal into a revenge story, Mustaine was determined to form his own band.

“Given what I knew about the music business and what I would later learn, I don’t think it’s possible to avoid conflicts and clashes within the structure of a band. Over the long haul, there are bound to be problems, as there are in any family,” Mustaine describes in his 2010 book, Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir. “At the very least, though, I wanted to find a group of musicians who were talented and ambitious. I was out for blood. I wanted to kick Metallica’s ass, and I couldn’t do that with amateurs. The mission was too important for dilettantes.”

But it could be argued that how the band name Megadeth came to be was an act of fate.

Meaning Behind the Name

The inspiration for the name came to Mustaine in one of his lowest moments. In A Heavy Metal Memoir, the Megadeth frontman details the pain and humiliation he felt the day he was released from Metallica, with nothing more than a bus ticket from New York back to his native California, a bag of dirty laundry, and a guitar to his name. But one day, he happened to notice a pamphlet lying on the floor of the bus that was actually a handbill by then-California Senator Alan Cranston urging people about the dire consequences of nuclear weapons.

“For some reason, one line, in particular, stood out: ‘The arsenal of megadeath can’t be rid no matter what the peace treaties come to,'” Mustaine writes. “I let that swim around in my aching head for a few minutes—’the arsenal of megadeath.’ The way Cranston used the word megadeath was to mean the death of one million people in the aftermath of nuclear war. It hadn’t occurred to me then that Megadeth…might be a perfectly awesome name for a thrash metal band,” Mustaine continues. “But then again, I hadn’t looked that far ahead.”

From there, he felt inspired to write the first few lyrics of a new song named after his future band, Megadeth, using a pencil and cupcake wrapper he found on the bus, setting a new phase of his career in motion. “The song was called ‘Megadeth’ (I dropped the second ‘a’), and though it would never find its way onto an album, it did serve as the basis for the song ‘Set the World Afire,'” he explains of the song that addresses the topic of nuclear holocaust that appeared on their platinum-selling 1988 album, So Far, So Good… So What!

Megadeth Meaning

The song’s meaning ties directly to the definition of the band name. “Megadeth represents the annihilation of power,” Mustaine explains in an archived interview with the now-defunct Hit Parader in 1987. “We spell the name phonetically because the meaning to us is the same that you get out of the dictionary—it’s a hypothetical body count after a nuclear fallout. It’s a million deaths, and we want to leave our audience shell-shocked wherever we go.”

The Aftermath

Megadeth has fulfilled that mission for nearly 40 years as a multi-platinum-selling thrash metal band with highly successful albums, including So Far, So Good… So What!, Rust in Peace, and Countdown to Extinction, along with multiple top 10 singles on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, “Trust,” “Almost Honest,” “Crush ‘Em” and “Breadline” being some of them. They’re the recipient of one Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance for “Dystopia” in 2017. Megadeth’s most recent album, The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead! in 2022, hit No. 1 on multiple charts, including the Billboard Top Rock Albums and Top Alternative Albums while reaching No. 3 on the all-genre Billboard 200.

Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage

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