In a recent discussion on the X5 Podcast, former Megadeth bassist David Ellefson shared his insights on the seismic shift in the music industry during the early 1990s, when grunge music emerged and dramatically changed the landscape for hard rock and metal bands. Reflecting on his experiences, Ellefson vividly recounted the impact of this era on Megadeth and their contemporaries.

Ellefson recalled the pivotal moment in 1991 when, amidst working on Megadeth‘s one material, he heard Nirvana on the radio for the first time.

“I lived in L.A. So, coming off Rust In Peace — this is in 1991; we’re starting to write Countdown To Extinction, and I remember driving down the freeway, and KNAC was the big rock station. And I remember hearing — is it a song called ‘Breed’? And I was, like, ‘That is fucking badass. What a great song.’ And then it turns out it was Nirvana. And I liked Nirvana. I thought they were cool. I loved their sound. I totally got it. And it was basically illegal for a metal guy to say you liked Nirvana. I mean, you could be basically crucified and shot execution-style if you said that. So it was not allowed for any of us to say that,” he remembered (as transcribed by Blabbermouth)

The rise of grunge, spearheaded by bands from Seattle, led to a rapid decline in the popularity of hair bands and traditional metal on media platforms like MTV. Ellefson noted: “I guess we got caught a little bit in it. When we put out the Youthanasia record, our first single ‘Train Of Consequences’ was well received. À Tout Le Monde’ was not. And then they just basically turned the channel. Of course, Metallica cut their hair. They started altering their sound a little bit — mostly their image. They remained a metal band for the most part. Metallica and Megadeth, for sure, survived it. We adapted and survived it. Some of our contemporaries just stayed the course and, as a result, their business got smaller for another 10 years, until the 2000s came around.”

Ellefson also recounted the cultural shift during Ozzfest ’98, where Megadeth was sandwiched between acts like Limp Bizkit and Tool. He observed the stark contrast between the emerging nü metal style and their own, traditional metal image.

“Dude, I remember doing fuckin’ Ozzfest ’98. And this was the moment for me. So you talk about Seattle moment. But for me, the moment was Ozzfest ’98. So our showtime was usually 6 p.m. every night. And headliners, obviously, was Ozzy , then it was Tool, then Megadeth, and then right before us was Limp Bizkit, and I forgot who else before us, but definitely the tides were turning. And so, Limp Bizkit was up there flushing cardboard cutouts of Spice Girls down their big toilet that they had as a stage prop, everybody’s got baggy clothes and they’re kind of doing, kind of the Korn… The body language moved, it changed big time — kind of more gangster, hip-hop kind of thing. And then we come out in our skinny jeans and we’re headbanging, and it’s, like, ‘This just feels very weird.’ We’re sandwiched between Limp Bizkit and Tool. And I remember, me and Marty Friedman, we’d go out and watch Tool. I loved them. I thought they were great. It was mesmerizing. To me, they were like the modern-day Rush 2112 kind of vibe. It was very non-mainstream, kind of almost Pink Floyd-ish. I was mesmerized by it, just how fricking cool it was. So, I got it. I’ve always adapted to new stuff that was coming out. So I thought it was really cool. Then, of course, Ozzy would come out. But it was just this weird cultural shift that was happening during that time.”

Ellefson expressed a particular fondness for bands that bridged the gap between metal and grunge, notably Alice In Chains. He also appreciated other acts from the era, including Soundgarden, Temple Of The Dog, and Pearl Jam, specially their debut album.

“I think going back to the grunge thing, the band that we can all agree on, I think anybody, but especially metalheads and guitar-player kind of bands, was Alice In Chains. They were just cool no matter what. They sort of won everyone over, whereas Soundgarden, I liked them. I didn’t love them. I love Temple Of The Dog. Cornell, him, and Eddie Vedder dueting on that track. And also, before Pearl JamMother Love Bone. What a cool band that was. And, of course, they only had that moment, and then it was over once the singer died. But I thought Pearl Jam Ten was great. I mean, that was one of those great, great albums. Top to bottom, it’s just a great record. I think probably for our genre, you have to sort of take your metal hat off and just listen to it as music.”

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