Another weekend and sadly another hero of the metal world passes on. Nick Menza was undoubtedly up there with the most influential metal drummers, but his shift behind the kit is now over at the age of 51. His influence is in part due to the fact that Megadeth were multi million sellers at their peak, of which he was a major factor, and in part due to the quality of his playing. I have no doubt that Tommy Lee inspired a lot of drummers... but he is no Nick Menza.
Menza joined Megadeth for one of the best (maybe the best?!) thrash albums of all time: “Rust In Peace”. Not enough good things can be said about that record, really. Great riffs, great songs, fantastic playing and youthful energy to the whole album made it a snarling and dangerous beast. From “Holy Wars... The Punishment” Due through to the quasi title track, every track counted (even “Dawn Patrol” is very enjoyable!) and Menza stamped his authority all over the record. His performance on each song is stellar; it is tight and focused, with flair in the right places: but never does he over play and resort to constant fills. The beats are rhythmical and with chops, but not ridiculously techy. He didn't feel the need to smother everything in double bass drums, either, choosing instead to use the bass drums for accents and little flourishes in a similar manner to a jazz player.
“Countdown to Extinction” was my introduction to the band back in 1992 and still holds up as a genre classic today. It was seen at the time as a little bit of a sell-out. Unfair, with hindsight. It is a metal album to its core- albeit one infused with melody and... hooks (not necessarily in mouth!). Nick opened the record in great grandstanding style with hands and feet in perfect call and response for “Skin O' My Teeth” and his performance on “Ashes in Your Mouth” is still a marauding animal nearly twenty five years later. He played with economy here too. Listen to the verse sections on “Skin O' My Teeth”. Fills? Nope. Cymbal crashes? Occasionally, and expertly placed. If “Rust In Peace” was a tech thrash tour de force, then “Countdown…” represented a kind of AC/DC version of thrash metal. Enough songs for casual listeners to be brought in, but metal enough to keep the ardent metal head happy.
I personally love the “Youthanasia” record a lot; many don't. I looked forward to its release, excited by the fact the band had built and equipped their own studio in Phoenix (Fat Planet, as I recall?) and were working on beefing up the sounds. Beef up the drum sound they did... the songs were not as muscularly toned, though. The record was melodic and the band only opened up the throttle on the last track (“Victory” is still awesome, what solos!) but there was grit to be had in “Reckoning Day” and the groove Menza laid down in “Train of Consequences” was and is immense! “Black Curtains” is also an overlooked gem. Weighty stuff.
“Cryptic Writings” passed me by a little at the time- I had moved into more extreme musical climes- but when I got around to it in 2002 I was pleasantly surprised. Megadeth delivered a good radio friendly metal record with hooky stuff such as “Trust” and some more metal material such as “She Wolf”. Not a fantastic album to my ears, but the band were playing well. Sadly, with Marty Friedman leaving the fold, things unravelled until the new millennium and renaissance for Mustaine- albeit with a revolving army of side men. It was ever thus, except, of course for the time when Menza anchored the band and contributed to making them the second biggest metal band on the planet.
As a young drummer, he influenced me; working out “Holy Wars”, playing the “Reckoning Day” groove and so on. Even today, I regularly play the “Addicted to Chaos” intro when I have all the toms set up on my kit: feet doing semi quavers and hands paradiddling each other in call and response. Nick Menza was a talented and tasteful drummer, no doubt about it and his body of work is testament to that. He left a fine musical legacy behind and one that will be dipped into by drummers of all levels for a long time to come. As a musician, you can't ask for much more than that. After all, what we do in life echoes in eternity, as they say.