23 Years Ago: Megadeth Release ‘Youthanasia’
Realizing that following the technical direction of 1990’s Rust in Peace and 1992’s Countdown to Extinction was an exercise in redundancy, Megadeth refined their formula on 1994’s less musically complex Youthanasia, which came out Nov. 1, 1994. Whether the album can be categorized as thrash depends on one’s definition of the genre.
The music features plenty of palm-muted guitar chugs, throbbing bass lines, thundering beats and other elements that had defined Megadeth since Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying. However, Youthanasia lacks the speed of most thrash albums and the vocals throughout songs like “Train of Consequences” and “The Killing Road” are sung more than screamed. That said, guitarist Marty Friedman lets fly with some blazing, rapid-fire leads. Whatever it’s called, as some English poet once wrote, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
The band wrote most of Youthanasia in Phoenix, Ariz., where Dave Mustaine moved with his family in 1994 in an effort to stay sober. Bassist David Ellefson and Friedman moved to Phoenix as well to make it easier for the band to work on the album. Not long after they started writing together, the musicians realized the songs that worked best for them were mid-paced and filled with melodic hooks and harmonies between Mustaine and Friedman. Despite the productive writing sessions, the band members were often at odds, so they underwent group therapy sessions to help keep the peace. In all likelihood all they did is drive Mustaine to start drinking again.
“I turned to the warm familiarity of alcohol and drugs,” he wrote in his memoir Mustaine. “There was a drug dealer living in our neighborhood and the two of us got to be friendly, started hanging out, getting high once in a while. Pretty soon it became more than once in a while and before I knew it I was back in rehab.”
Tellingly, the song with the most lasting impact on Youthanasia was the near-ballad “A Tout le Monde,” which Megadeth re-recorded with Lacuna Coil vocalist Cristina Scabbia in 2007 for United Abominations, revising the title slightly to “A Tout le Monde (Set Me Free).” Ironically, the public drastically misperceived the message of the song.
“I screwed up the set list [for a televised show one night] and delivered a brief monologue before what I thought would be ‘Skin of Our Teeth,’” Mustaine wrote. “’This next song is about how many times I’ve tried to kill myself.’ Only it wasn’t. The next song was ‘A Tout le Monde,’ which isn’t about that at all – although it is about death and dying. Predictably, the s--- hit the fan. ‘A Tout le Monde’ was dubbed a suicide song and Megadeth a band that advocated suicide.”
When Mustaine finished rehab he remained in Phoenix and Megadeth started working on Youthanasia with producer Max Norman, who had worked on Countdown to Extinction. The band recorded at Phase Four Studios in Phoenix, but there were problems with some of the equipment. So, at the advice of Norman, Megadeth built their own studio in a rented warehouse in Phoenix.
Through all the turmoil, Megadeth recorded a consistent, enjoyable album that rocked steadily, while inching ever towards a more mainstream sound the band would aspire to on 1997’s Cryptic Writings. “In many ways [it’s] the most polished, accessible Megadeth record to date,” Mustaine wrote.
Some critics cried foul, but fans ate it up. Youthanasia entered the Billboard album chart at No. 4 and was certified platinum on Jan. 5, 1995. In addition, the single “Train of Consequences” hit No. 29 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and, even with the controversy “A Tout le Monde,” reached No. 31.
In 2004, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Youthanasia, Megadeth released a remixed and remastered version of the album which included four bonus tracks: the previously unreleased “Millennium of the Blind,” and “Absolution” (an instrumental) and demos of “New World Order” and “A Tout le Monde.”
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.
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