This isn’t an easy article to write, but given how big of a Megadeth fan I am, I thought it would be insincere to skip this topic that has dominated almost all heavy metal outlets these past few weeks. David Ellefson is no longer in Megadeth. His second stint, which had begun in 2010, has recently ended due to some private videos leaking to the public. A member change in Megadeth isn’t shocking news anymore, but David is no ordinary member. He’s a co-founder and has been the longest-running member besides Dave Mustaine himself. While those two statuses won’t change, he is indeed no longer in the band.
Before you get deeper into the article, please understand this. This is not an anti-Ellefson or anti-Megadeth piece. Unfortunately, too many people on social media can’t help their tribal instincts and end up being too strongly aligned with one party or another. As in any unfortunate situation, there are many complexities to consider here. I’m going to explore those. I will analyze the situation and argue why Megadeth had no choice but to come to this conclusion. At times, you may disagree with me. That’s fine. But you will hopefully understand – if you read the full article – that I’m trying to take a breath and approach this as objectively as possible, something that is sorely lacking in too many reports these days.
On May 10th, as I was scrolling through Instagram, I saw one post from David Ellefson that I didn’t quite understand at first. I thought maybe I had misread something. I ended up reading the same statement a few times just to make sure. Ellefson acknowledged the leaking of private videos and other adult communications with a 19-year-old girl in the post. He also shared a statement from her. Her message and Ellefson’s comments denied one critical thing: he had “groomed” her. She said she was a consenting adult, all interactions took place online, and there was no grooming. It turned out that her boyfriend had found out about David’s texts and videos on her phone and posted them online from his own account. (Note: Ellefson is looking into filing charges against him.)
Megadeth released a statement on the same day acknowledging that they were aware of the leaks, and they looked “forward to the truth coming to light.” A few days later, Ellefson deleted his social media account, which many considered an early sign that he was out of the band, although there was no indication yet. Keep in mind, at that point, he was getting so many comments that it is understandable he didn’t want to deal with them on top of everything else.
The final announcement came two weeks later, on May 24th. Ellefson was not going to be in Megadeth anymore. There are a couple of things that I picked up on here. One, this announcement, unlike the first one, was signed by Dave Mustaine as well as Megadeth. In other words, they made sure it was understood this was mainly coming from Mustaine. Two, the announcement talked about a “strained relationship,” which implied that there was more to it than the fans were privy to. I will explore both of these areas, along with others, in this article.
This is an article that touches upon some socially sensitive areas too. Therefore, I will try to be as open as possible about where I’m coming from. I’ll say what I overall think here: I think the band made the right call by parting ways with David Ellefson. As a fan and someone who admires Ellefson as a musician, it’s not easy for me to write this. But I will explain why I think this way. Again, please remember that it’s okay if you disagree with me. But I hope you will carefully read what I write here before you come to a conclusion.
The best way to approach a loaded topic like this is to group some of the arguments I’ve seen online and then comment on them. That way, you can catch up on what the online discussion so far has focused on, and you can easily see where I stand on each of them.
“Ellefson didn’t do anything illegal. Therefore, he shouldn’t have been fired.”
A lot of people approached Megadeth’s decision with this comment. This is an odd argument because no one has claimed what Ellefson did was illegal. Not a single person. The argument here is not a legal one. If anything, it’s a moral one and a business one. The band statement talked about a “strained relationship,” not about broken laws. You are free to agree or disagree with Megadeth. But your decision should not be based on “legality” when no one is making claims against it anyway. So, please stop bringing that up as part of this debate.
It is a moral one because we should first address the elephant in the room. An almost 60-year-old man who is a bass player in a world-renowned heavy metal band and a 19-year-old girl described as a “fan” is a clear example of a vast age difference and a significant imbalance in power dynamics. A man who knows that this young person is a fan and incredibly young should not engage in sexual encounters, even if they only take place online. Look, David Ellefson is known in the industry as a nice person. I believe that. One big mistake should not erase all the good deeds, nor should it prevent future ones. But every time I read a Megadeth fan say, “this is no big deal,” I feel so disappointed. It is a big deal, and it’s not okay. If we can’t bring ourselves to say that, we as a society won’t really make any progress on sensitive issues like this. And just like we can’t ignore this aspect of the ordeal, Megadeth couldn’t either!
Along with a moral decision, his dismissal from the band was also a business decision. Of course, since Mustaine isn’t well-liked by most people commenting online, many people associated this with “greed” or made it about “loyalty.” Weirdly, many people choose to ignore the “business” aspect of the music business. If you’ve got a brand that you’ve worked so hard to grow for more than three decades, you will, of course, want to protect it! It’s clear to me so many don’t get that. Mustaine doesn’t want his band to be associated with Ellefson’s recent actions. If he were still in the band, this whole thing would have followed them all the time. With a new album on the horizon and new tours booked, it is natural that Mustaine & co. wanted the focus to be on those things. As long as David was in the band, the focus was never going to be on the music! If you can’t see that, then you probably were never put in a position to manage a business.
And yes, Megadeth is a business, just like all of your other favorite bands. We all love the art – and that’s the most important aspect – but you can’t ignore the business decisions they still have to make. They may not always make the right call, and we are always free to express our opinions, but they have to think about how they can keep their band alive and thriving to keep making an income. That’s business right there! And there’s nothing wrong with it.
And lastly, Megadeth has two other members who are full-time members in the band and Megadeth thriving means they get to keep doing their jobs as well. Those are Kiko Loureiro and Dirk Verbeuren. Let’s not forget that they also deserve to promote the new album, with their playing on it, without having to focus on the recent topics.
“Mustaine made mistakes too. How come he’s not punished?”
“Mustaine has not faced any consequences from his actions. It’s unfair.”
These are more reasonable comments as some of Mustaine’s controversies are rather well-publicized. So, people can’t help but think this way. However, the comparisons they’re drawing are not apples to apples.
Let’s dig deeper here, shall we?
First of all, as much as Mustaine has said and done some embarrassing things, he’s never been caught constantly texting a girl decades younger than him and masturbating on video in real-time. Let’s not conflate the nature of the controversies. So, at the very least, let’s stop with the “whataboutism” because there isn’t any. Mustaine’s controversies are not comparable with what Ellefson did. If you have proof to the contrary, then bring it up. If not, your “comparison” is not a comparison at all.
Second, even though Mustaine’s controversies are not the same as this recent one from Ellefson, it is indisputably wrong to suggest that Dave Mustaine has never faced any consequences from his actions. Some people online actually implied that! Are you kidding me? He was fired from Metallica due to his own actions, a decision that still haunts him to this day! Some of his former band members quit because of his impulsive comments and actions. While I don’t know exactly, based on the comments from his peers (musicians in bands of the same era), he doesn’t seem well-liked. Some of that is due to personal clashes that can happen to any musician, but a big part of the reason is the public comments he’d make time and again about those people and bands. Megadeth could have been a bigger band, but they lost some tours and momentum because of his actions- especially in the early days. It soured the relationship among band members. He can be impulsive and cause the other band members to deal with the negative commentary. These are only some consequences he faced and faces. The idea that he’s just been cruising along in his career without facing anything negative is hyperbole at best, an intentional lie at worst. We all have to live with our choices. The suggestion that Mustaine doesn’t is plain false.
And third, David and Dave’s statuses in the band were not the same. Ellefson was an employee of the band. Mustaine is the leader. Jeff Bezos can cause many controversies, but you can’t quickly fire him from Amazon, even if he’s the instigator. It would take something massive for that to happen. If you’re thinking Amazon is too giant and a bad example, well, pick any company! An employee will be subject to different standards. You can hate the dynamics, but the “founder/boss vs. employee” relationship is everywhere. You have some bands like Rush where everything was equal, but for many others, it’s all about what contract you agreed to when you joined. This dynamic is certainly a part of Megadeth too. When David Ellefson returned to Megadeth, he returned as an employee, not as a “co-founder.” He talks openly about that in his books. I know it’s hard for some fans to accept that, but when a co-founder leaves and comes back years later, they can’t expect the same deal as before. This is not unique to Megadeth. Look around… Testament, Slayer, Anthrax, etc., all deal with similar issues when an old band member comes back years later. Ellefson knew the arrangements of the new contract, and he accepted them when he came on board in 2010.
All in all, neither of these arguments holds water. You don’t have to agree with Megadeth’s decision. You shouldn’t, however, draw “comparisons” that are not there.
“This is cancel culture. They canceled David Ellefson.”
I’m not gonna bother delving too much into this because the “cancel culture” debate is a somewhat political one, and this site is about heavy metal and hard rock. However, this comment keeps coming up, so I can’t ignore it either.
I’m someone who believes there does exist a cancel culture. But Ellefson’s situation doesn’t really apply. Megadeth parted ways with him. That’s a fact. But he hasn’t been shunned from the music industry as a whole. Some people can’t get a gig anywhere because their industry – collectively – shuts them out. Any metal or rock band out there is free to hire David Ellefson. Megadeth doesn’t control that. “Cancel culture” refers to people who can’t get anything anywhere because no one wants to hire them. Ellefson needs to heal and take some time away from music. But once he’s ready, he can take up any of the offers that come his way. And if, in the future, there happen to be no offers, which is unlikely as he’s a tremendous bass player with an extensive network, you couldn’t blame Dave Mustaine for that. Once again, Megadeth doesn’t control other bands. Megadeth doesn’t get to “cancel” Ellefson; they can only maintain what decision Megadeth makes.
“Mustaine is not loyal. This is not how you treat a friend.”
I don’t know if Dave Mustaine is a loyal friend or not. I don’t know him, so I can’t comment on that. But as a fan who’s been paying extremely close attention since I became a fan in 1998, I’ve picked up a thing or two about his relationship with David Ellefson. This is where it gets complicated, but it’s worth digging into.
I think at some point, these two were definitely friends and not just bandmates. But starting from the late ’90s, and certainly, in the 2000s, the relationship changed. The worst point, until now, came in 2004 when Ellefson sued Dave Mustaine for $18 million. He alleged Mustaine had shortchanged him on profits. If we are going to bring up loyalty, how come we never talk about this? Keep in mind, for a couple of years, between 2002 and 2004, Mustaine didn’t even know if he was going to bring Megadeth back. He didn’t know how his arm rehab was going to go. He was just getting back to music with the album The System Has Failed, which was supposed to be a solo album. Still, Sanctuary Records said their deal specifically called for a “Megadeth album,” so the name was changed after the music was already made. But for all intents and purposes, Megadeth was still on hiatus outside of a tour commitment to support the album that became a Megadeth album at the last minute. So, on top of all that, he gets sued for $18M with the claim that he shortchanged Ellefson. How would you have felt if you were in Mustaine’s shoes? It’s not like he disbanded Megadeth for his personal gain; he had radial neuropathy!
By the way, a quick paragraph to also point out that Ellefson was offered a place in the touring line-up to support The System Has Failed (everyone in the RIP era line-up was offered, Menza was the only one who accepted, but that fell through for reasons I won’t go into here), but the parties couldn’t agree on finances. If you’re ready to blame Mustaine on that, remember that there was no Megadeth at the time. He was touring under that name, but he hadn’t yet made up his mind (the decision came during the tour that he announced in Argentina). If you didn’t know what was going to happen to Megadeth, then you couldn’t really expect the same financial deal as before. I’m not judging Ellefson’s negotiation; I’m sure he had his reasons. But Mustaine at least tried to get Ellefson back before the lawsuit.
As for the lawsuit, it was eventually dismissed. Ellefson himself says he regrets it. But after something colossal like that, you’re probably not going to be as close with someone as you were in your younger days.
The one criticism I have for Dave Mustaine in all of this is his decision to get Ellefson back in the band. There were clearly some personal issues there; I don’t think either one was over it in 2010. So, I don’t understand why Mustaine offered him a position again, and I also don’t know why Ellefson accepted. As evidence today shows, they would have been better off just continuing to go their separate ways…
“What is this strained relationship the band’s statement talked about?”
There is a lot to unpack here, and I don’t think I can do it all in this article. I was surprised Dave called it out so openly in his statement. I knew there was a strained relationship; if you were a fan and could read between the lines of Mustaine and Ellefson’s interviews, then you knew! But so many still assumed these two were best friends. Like I said earlier, they haven’t been best of friends since probably the early 90s.
A relationship can get sour for many reasons, but nothing will sour it like feelings of resentment. Of course, I don’t know what really transpired between these two, but I can connect the dots that have been made public.
Ellefson spoke of his side of things in the two books he released after re-joining Megadeth. He touches upon how he was this young boy from Minnesota who joined Mustaine’s band almost as soon as he moved out to LA. And up until 2002, his professional life – and in some ways his identity – was tied to the band. He’d invested so much time, and suddenly the band had disbanded (reminder: it was due to Dave’s injury). It shook him to his core.
From Mustaine’s point of view, he’d been hounded by band members, record executives, and producers in the ’90s to relent some control of the band so Megadeth could take the elusive Number 1 spot in the charts. We can argue all day about what Megadeth should be, but that’s for another day. For this article’s context, it’s important to remember that Megadeth was Mustaine’s baby, and after Risk (1999), the band almost ceased to exist. Yes, Dave was one of the writers, but if you’re not seeing Marty Friedman’s, Bud Prager’s, and Dann Huff’s influence there, then you’re not looking! If you are Mustaine, and your band’s reputation and commercial standing are suffering, are you just going to sit and watch? No, you are not. Starting with The World Needs A Hero (2001), Mustaine once again took over. If any of us were in Dave’s shoes, we’d have done the same. Anyone who’s telling themselves otherwise probably never nurtured their own brand.
I already touched upon what happened during and after the release of The System Has Failed (2004), so I won’t repeat it. But after the lawsuit, no one in their right mind expected Mustaine to have Ellefson back in the band. And from Ellefson’s point of view, he needed to find his own voice as a musician and get out from Mustaine’s shadow. I happen to think the mid to late 2000s were good years for both of these men. Megadeth released some of its best albums during those years. As for Ellefson, he started playing with many different musicians and making a new name for himself in a respectable way outside of Megadeth.
I already mentioned this, but it bears repeating… The biggest mistake Mustaine made was agreeing to have Ellefson back. The same error also belongs to David Ellefson. These two men needed to be away from each other professionally because they were no longer the same people personally.
This brings me back to 2010… David Ellefson comes back… If you’ve read his latest book, More Life with Deth, he talks about friction between him and Mustaine. Why? Because Ellefson still struggled with the fact that Dave made the decisions on songwriting. Dave called the shots, and he didn’t necessarily solicit feedback from David. He didn’t need to. It’s clear to me that this bothered Ellefson since he re-joined. He didn’t want to be just the bass player; he wanted to also be a songwriter in Megadeth. He is pretty open about that in his books. But when he returned, he had to accept the new terms. It’s a lot of resentment to live with when you’re still in the band. You either accept the terms, or you leave. You’re not going to change who Dave Mustaine is, you’re not going to change how he runs the band, and you can’t change the fact that you came back as a hired musician, just like the lead guitarist and drummer positions in the band. If it’s not clear, I am not stating any of these to insult David Ellefson or minimize his contributions. I am merely stating the facts as can be confirmed by any observer. You can read his statements yourself in either book he wrote after re-joining the band.
That resentment was so out in the open that in 2019, heavy metal news sites reported that Ellefson was slated to write and do the lead vocals on a song on the new Megadeth album about “bad blood” between him and Mustaine. I thought it was a stupid idea and commented as such on various Facebook groups. If there’s bad blood between band members, do you really want to air that on an official album? (Side Note: I hope that idea is no longer being considered!). But here’s the funny thing about those reports. Apparently, Mustaine was reading some lyrics Ellefson had been penning around that time. And he picked up on the fact that those lyrics were aimed at him. That’s why he told Ellefson to write a song and sing it and get his angry feelings out. The whole thing is so bizarre to me. Ellefson knew he wasn’t happy. His lyrics reflected that, and he didn’t deny it when Mustaine confronted him about it. It was so obvious – even just with this one report alone! – that the relationship wasn’t working out. If you’re so mad at your band leader that you have to write about the “bad blood” between the two of you, what are you doing there? And why would Mustaine encourage this song anyway? The fact is, David Ellefson needed more creative freedom, and he wasn’t getting it in Megadeth. He was never going to get it in Megadeth. And their personalities – and possibly musical choices – had been clashing for a long time.
I’m not in any way saying that I always agree with Mustaine’s choices. But if I’m a fan of the band, it’s primarily because of his songwriting. I appreciate every single member who’s contributed to the band. In no way would I ever suggest that other musicians have not contributed. Of course, they have! Marty is one of my favorite guitarists in the world, I consider Nick Menza to be the best metal drummer of all time, and Kiko Loureiro today is doing amazing things in the band. I find something I love from every member’s contribution! And yes, that includes David Ellefson! You can’t exclude him from the band’s legacy. But without Dave Mustaine, you don’t have any of the songs from the band’s catalog. You can feel however you like about him; that’s your prerogative. But you can’t deny that fact. So, even if I may not always agree with his choices, I understand why he’s protective of the band’s artistic choices. It’s mostly his choices that kept the band alive all these decades.
And reading the Rust In Peace book… That was just even more proof of how much resentment there always was… even in the early days. I think there would have been a chance to work those out, but the events in the early 2000s just enabled the resentment to build up for both of these men. When resentment builds up, you get strained relationships.
“Where do we go from here? And should we really care?”
Well, Megadeth is getting ready for a tour with Lamb of God and In Flames. So, they’ll have to announce a new bass player soon. Whether the new member will be a fill-in for the tour or a permanent member remains to be seen. There are many rumors out there, but nothing is official yet.
As for Ellefson, he’s been quiet and on damage control mode. I don’t blame him. I hope he is healthy and doing okay. I don’t approve of any of the behavior, but that doesn’t mean he should be excluded from musical life forever. So I’m hoping he’ll make a comeback either as a solo artist or in another band.
At the end of the day, if you don’t feel like you can look someone in the eye anymore, that will not work in a band situation. You travel with your bandmates, you play with them on the same stage, you do press with them… You bring your family to tours and have them meet your bandmates. After all of this, and especially after this most recent scandal, that wasn’t going to happen. As a Megadeth fan, I wish it hadn’t come to this. But I understand and agree with the decision. You can’t force a relationship, personal or professional. If it’s been strained, perhaps the two parties should go their separate ways. I hope, for their sake, they stay on different paths and not attempt another reunion.
Sources & Additional Reading:
- David Ellefson to Sing on Megadeth Ballad About Bad Blood with Dave Mustaine (Loudwire, 2019)
- David Ellefson – More Life with Deth (Jawbone Press, 2019)
- Dave Mustaine – Rust In Peace: the Inside Story of the Megadeth Masterpiece (Hachette Books, 2020)
- David Ellefson: Ex-Megadeth Bassist Details Revenge Porn Case in Police Report (Rolling Stone, 2021)