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30 Years of Megadeth Drummers: a Guide

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The ever-changing lineup of Dave Mustaine’s groundbreaking thrash group, Megadeth, who burst onto the scene in 1983 following Mustaine’s ejection from Metallica, continues to be a topic of discussion to this day, and among those discussions is the group’s frequently-shifting lineup. Chris Adler of Lamb of God will be contributing his drumming expertise to the band’s yet-untitled new album, following the departure of Shawn Drover, and history tells us that could mean a great deal of change in terms of the direction Megadeth take their sound this time around.

The various drummers in Megadeth, past and present, including early drummer’s Dijon Carruthers and Lee Rausch, formally jazz trained Gar Samuelson, fan favorite, Nick Menza and the short lived stint with Chuck Behler, influenced the band’s sound as much as Mustaine’s direction. Take a look back at the last 30 years of a band that is not only trying to find artistic and mainstream success, but is also in search of the one that can fulfill its longtime wish of employing an iconic skinsman.

—Nick Murphy

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Gar Samuelson (1984-1987)

From 1984-1987, Gar Samuelson resided over Megadeth’s percussion duties. Killing is My Business… And Business Is Good! and Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? are genre classics, and contain not only some of the band’s thrashiest tracks, but also some of their most technical compositions ever laid on wax (ie. the fills and off-kilter time signatures on “Last Rites/Loved to Deth”). In regards to the unique and complex drumming that Samuelson added, it is worth noting that he and former Megadeth guitarist, Chris Poland, were part of a jazz fusion band called The New Yorkers in their earlier years. Despite a possible drop in technicality due to the firing of Samuelson, there was no huge departure from the group’s signature sound and the quality of compositions with newly minted drummer, Chuck Behler.

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Chuck Behler (1987-1989)

So Far, So Good featured Chuck Behler behind the kit and marked a continuation of the frequent tempo changes, and politically charged lyrics found on previous offerings. He also happened to be Gar Samuelson’s drum tech so the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Some hardcore fans believe that the drumming and the songwriting is better on the previous albums, however, there is not much evidence of a departure in the general style of music on the Behler LP. There is a longstanding belief among some that the album suffered in comparison to the previous two offerings because of Samuelson’s absence, but Behler’s performance on “In My Darkest Hour” is a good example of the thunderous raw power that he brought to the group in place of the Samuelson’s virtuosity. “Hook In Mouth” is a song of note in regards to the lightning fast speed and precision that he showcases on this disc. So Far, So Good is his only contribution to Megadeth’s studio albums.

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Nick Menza (1989-1998, 2004)

Nick Menza, Behler’s replacement, proved to be not only a fan favorite to Megadeth lifers, but also one of the group’s longest tenured drummers. His contributions were large in the big picture of the metal world. Spearheading the use of the Greg Voelker Rack System in his setup, he would prove to be an important piece in the stylistic progression of Megadeth throughout the most important years during the band’s graduation into heavy metal royalty.

Menza began playing drums at the age of two as his father was jazz musician, Don Menza. He began drumming professionally at the early age of 18. His influences include drummers such as Buddy Rich and Louie Belson, both of which mentored him earlier in life. Some would argue that he was not Megadeth’s best drummer, but there is no denying the top-notch material that he contributed to Megadeth’s legacy in the early 90’s (Rust in Peace, Countdown to Extinction, etc.). A notable and explosive Menza performance to listen to would is “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due,” in my opinion. Later on in his Megadeth career things start to descend into mediocrity, even though he drummed on the band’s most commercially successful album, and wrote the iconic drum intro to “Trust,” which is literally the first thing you hear at many Megadeth shows. He left the band while on tour in 1998 because of knee problems. It is a possibility that his bad knee contributed to the slowed down, more melodic leanings of 1994’s Youthanasia, and 1997’s Cryptic Writings, but we found no comment on record corroborating that. In any event, he will always be a key factor in one of , if not the most, exciting and interesting times in Megadeth’s storied career.

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Jimmy Degrasso (1998-2002)

Jimmy Degrasso took over to hit the skins on Risk, quintessentially a late 90’s hard rock/metal record—which is to say an example of how terrible many heavy metal bands of note were in 1999. The first 50 seconds of “Crush Em” puts people to sleep, and “Seven” is the epitome of Megadeth playing in half-time compared to their early straight up thrash works. There are no unique or interesting elements added to Degrasso’s 4/4 time signatures. The majority of this LP is a tired exercise in a failed search for melody and more mainstream success. He is a proficient and consistent drummer with an above-average track record in regards to the bands he has been part of, however, there is nothing completely unique about his playing, especially during his stint with Megadeth. The World Needs a Hero from 2001 proved that there was still potential for the group to succeed with him. The album leaves the sluggish and phoned-in radio rock of the previous studio effort for an edgier and faster sound that at moments recalls the group’s early era style (The title track).

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Shawn Drover (2004-2014)

In 2004 Shawn Drover was named the 5th drummer of Megadeth. No other drummer has been part of this classic thrash metal outfit longer than him. He does, however, pound his drum kit on some of the blandest, most formulaic, and just downright awful albums that Megadeth has ever put out. Hailing from Canada, he began drumming when he was 13 years of age, and started the power metal band Eidolon in 1993 with his brother Glen, who plays guitar. They both played together in Megadeth until Glen left the band in 2008. Shawn’s style exemplifies the substanceless fast playing that has become all too familiar in metal in the last decade. In 2007 he told moderndrummer.com that he wanted acceptance from fans of the band and by that time he found that reactions were positive. However, “Head Crusher” is a good track to look at in regards to criticism of his playing in general. Only touching on the greatness of yesteryear with each album in this era, many believe that the group is in dire need of some fresh ideas. Drover announced his departure from the band at the end of 2014 after 10 years with Mustaine and company. He and guitarist Chris Broderick left the group in the same week and are currently both working on a new project together called Act Of Defiance. Their new band recently signed on with Metal Blade Records and have acquired Shadows Fall bassist Matt Bachand to beef up their lineup.

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Chris Adler (2015-?)

Chris Adler of the Virginia based metal band Lamb of God, said that he thought he was on a hidden camera show when he got the call to come and play on the forthcoming Megadeth LP. That Mustaine tapped Adler, however comes as no surprise. He has sat behind the kit for a slew of groups since 1989, and in that time has gained notoriety for his unique left handed leads and showcasing conflicting rhythms when pounding the skins. Adler’ fans often cite “In Defense Of Our Good Name” as one of their favorite performances. He adds personality to important parts of the compositions he plays on, instead of merely just playing in time with his band mates. He’s also the most free agent in Lamb of God, having recently lent his skills to Canadian prog-core wunderkinds Protest the Hero for their album Clarity. This studio work came while he was trying to occupy his time off from Lamb of God, who were on hiatus due to lead singer Randy Blyth’s 2012 arrest. If anything, that he’s accepting more high-profile studio work doesn’t bode well for his bread and butter project, who are still in a holding pattern while Blythe promotes his book. The addition of Adler, if nothing else, raises expectations for the aging metal act’s forthcoming LP at a time when many people may have written them off.

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