Ex-Megadeth’s David Ellefson Recalls How Thrash Metal Survived the ’90s, Names Band That Saved the Genre

With so many old-school thrash metal bands still around, it was expected that former Megadeth bassist David Ellefson would be asked about it during the recent interview with Metal Command. Reminded that these classic thrash bands are still around, especially those from the San Francisco Bay Area, and are still making great albums, Ellefson replied (transcript via Blabbermouth):

“That is a really good point, and I’ve thought the same thing. Okay, so, like Exodus ‘Bonded By Blood’, certainly that was their ‘Kill ‘Em All’, it was their ‘Killing Is My Business’, it was them sort of grabbing the reins of that mountain.”

“Because the truth of it is, look, Metallica moving up to San Francisco to get Cliff Burton in the band. Obviously, once they put roots down there, that’s when that thing really grew. But there first, before anybody, was Exodus.”

Metallica Metal Hammer Fest 14 09 1985

“They were really the kings of that. And as much as they were kind of in the background to the quick advancement of Metallica, Exodus is — I mean, that’s the seed from which it all germinated in a lot of ways.”

Discussing the issue further, Ellefson also reflected on Testament, praising some of the band’s more recent material. He explained:

“I think Exodus, Testament… Testament’s made some of their better records in the last decade, I think. And I love ‘Souls of Black’. I love the early stuff; they’re cool. I love listening to ’em. They’re very ambient. Cool sounds.”


“But, yeah, I think some of the more vicious and ferocious music from all those bands, I think they’ve all come recently… I saw, even in the 2000s… Look, Lamb of God, for sure, was one of the big leaders.”

“And look, part of it was because we no more had a Pantera, and Lamb of God kind of came in and took the throne. But they always pointed toward Megadeth in particular, and, of course, Metallica and the ‘Big Four.'”

However, there were the 1990s. As you may know, the decade wasn’t so kind to the big metal bands that made a breakthrough in the 1980s. As more alternative subgenres were taking over, Ellefson adds that only the likes of Megadeth and Metallica could keep themselves in the more or less mainstream waters. Meanwhile, the others resorted to a more underground approach. He adds:

“The ’90s were not easy on thrash metal. Testament [and some of the other bands], they didn’t fall off the grid, but they went very underground as a way to survive. Megadeth and Metallica, because of our size, we were able to maintain a little bit better.”

Crush 'Em (Remastered)

However, the younger generation saved the day in the 2000s and Dave singled out one band that “reset” the genre:

“But by the 2000s, man, it was the younger bands, like Lamb of God in particular, those guys really helped reset thrash metal.”

Dave continued to further explain the importance of the younger generation and how the youth is crucial in driving the music forward:

“Music is always driven by the younger generation; they are the ones who are always creating the new stuff. And in metal, what we always find is… Even the shredder generation, of which Mark Tremonti [Alter Bridge guitarist] would be a good example.”

Lamb of God - Redneck (Official HD Video)

“As famous as he is, and he was in a big kind of modern rock band, in his heart he’s a frickin’ shredder. ‘So Far, So Good… So What!’ is his favorite album.”

“But these guys took what we were doing and then advanced it. So by the time their bands became popular, suddenly shredding was cool, because this new generation of guitar players loves these techniques that… They took the stuff from what we were doing and then they just advanced it and made it even more complex and jaw-dropping.”

“And we need that, man — we need the next generation behind us to keep reinventing this stuff. ‘Cause otherwise — we’re not gonna go on forever; the train runs out of track and then it’s over.”


At the moment, David Ellefson is focused on his Kings of Thrash project which also features another ex-Megadeth member, guitarist Jeff Young. And he seems to be honest with what he said in the interview about the importance of younger musicians since they’re taking a young band with them on the road. Ellefson continued:

“I personally love when new people are coming up the ranks. We’ve got a great band out with us on this Kings of Thrash tour, Hatriot, and they’re the sons of Steve Souza, the singer of Exodus. And they’re a great band.”

“And the first night I heard ’em, I went, ‘Oh, shit, man. These kids are fucking bringing it, man.’ ‘Kids’ — they’re young men — but they’re bringing the fury, man. And I love it, because it gets the fans excited for us, which forces us to keep our game up here, not get lazy and go, ‘Well, we can just phone it in.’ ‘Cause you don’t wanna do that.”

HATRIOT - Horns And Halos (Official Video)

“And the road takes its toll on you; the road is a challenge in itself. So I love that we’ve got a kick-ass package and a great band. That’s one of the things we always did with Megadeth — we always took out cool new opening bands.”

“And sometimes they weren’t metal — Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Korn. Korn was so bizarre that it’s just, like, ‘This is either gonna fall apart tomorrow or it’s gonna change the world.’ And it did the latter.”

“And that’s why great new music is usually very polarizing — people either love it or they hate it — and sometimes the stuff that’s hated the most becomes some of the greatest stuff because the early adapters who go, ‘Oh my God. I totally get this’…”


“And it’s usually a younger generation who understand it versus sometimes the old guard — yeah, we don’t get it; we don’t understand it. It’s not the song of our generation, but we need people to continue to write the song for the next generation to keep it all going.”

Photo: Carter Sterling (David Ellefson)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.