Nick Menza was the drummer in pivotal heavy metal band Megadeth during their years of peak creativity. He recorded drums on four of Megadeth’s albums: Rust in Peace (1990), Countdown to Extinction (1992), Youthanasia (1994), and Cryptic Writings (1997). Menza passed away on stage on May 21st, 2016. This sudden and tragic death has spurred an outpouring of love and respect for the drummer.
Remembering Nick Menza
Any and every headbanger who came up in the 80s and 90s had an opinion on the “big rivalry.” Which thrash band was better, Megedeth or Metallica? This controversial topic was debated endlessly in Guitar mags. Long before the internet up and coming guitarist had to buy these rags for their tablature (AKA “Tab” – how-to-play methods for guitar which use numbers to teach songs).
I was drawn to the early albums of Metallica because their riffs were easier to play. Albums like Ride The Lighting and Master of Puppets could be learned with some hard work, but they were playable. Megadeth’s songs were harder, faster, and more complex. Then one day I walked into the local guitar store (circa 1991) and I heard a riff that I could never forget.
That riff was opening to “Holy Wars” from Rust In Peace. Rust In Peace is considered one of the greatest thrash albums ever made and is also one of my personal favorites. This was Nick Menza’s first album with the band and he totally blew me away. He was so much more aggressive on the kit than Lars Ulrich. The open high hats ringing, blazing double bass drum work and fantastic fills. He was the epitome of thrash metal drumming, and worthy of standing on stage next to Dave Lombardo, Mike Portnoy, Charlie Benate or anyone else.
Over the next decade or so the albums that Menza played on became part of the soundtrack of my life. Rust In Peace, Countdown To Extinction, and Youthanasia were some of my most prized CDs. (Compact Disc was a popular format then.) Although I did get an advanced copy of Cryptic Writings, by then the band had lost it’s direction and it was very VERY uncool to be metal. Those of you who lived through the backlash against metal in the 90s know exactly what I’m talking about.
To be honest, I think Youthanasia was a very under appreciated album. Attempting to follow the commercial success of Countdown, living in the shadows of Metallica’s “Black Album,” and competing with the new bands coming out of Seattle (Pearl Jam, Sound Garden, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots), Youthanasia got swept under the rug.
Take a moment and go back to revisit Tornado Of Souls.
Jesus Christ! Nick Menza is absolutely killing it on this track! Precision! Power! Passion! Fuck, this guy was good.
I am personally saddened by the loss of Nick and will always remember growing up listening the music that he helped to create. Though my collection of CDs has been throughout thinned down over the years, the albums that he played on still remain with me. I could never bring myself to get rid of the original copy of Rust In Peace. Every time I tried, it would somehow find itself back in the box.
Nick may be gone now, but I imagine him at the epic jam session in the sky. Can you imagine Nick hanging out with Dimebag Darrell and Cliff Burton?! What a band that would be!