Everything you need to know about the story behind the song, amp and pedal settings as well as used guitar techniques.
Many of you asked for a Complete Guide to one of Megadeth's trademark songs "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due" and we're happy to make your wishes come true. Enjoy!
UPDATE: Added the 100% correct tabs from Dave Mustaine himself.
Megadeth "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due"
Writer: Dave Mustaine
Producer: Dave Mustaine
Album: Rust in Peace (UG Score 9.6)
Released: September 23, 1990
Genre: Thrash metal
This song is featured in the video games Guitar Hero: Warriors Of Rock and Rock Revolution.
Story behind the song
The lyrical theme of "Holy Wars" deals with the Northern Ireland conflict. In an interview with the UK magazine Guitarist, Mustaine says that he was inspired to write the song in Northern Ireland, when he discovered bootlegged Megadeth T-shirts were on sale and was dissuaded from taking action to have them removed on the basis that they were part of fund raising activities for "The Cause" (i.e. the Provisional Irish Republican Army). Mustaine also stated at a gig at Rock City (Nottingham, U.K. 18/02/2008) that it was at this venue that he wrote Holy Wars, after they traveled there from Ireland in a bulletproof bus.
Although the song has been interpreted to be about the troubles in Northern Ireland, Dave Mustaine has also indicated that the song is about Israel (Mustaine's mother is Jewish though he is Christian). On Israel National Radio, Mustaine said: "I've mentioned Israel in songs before, in 'Holy Wars.' Holy wars don't necessarily have to start in Israel. It can be anywhere. There are so many holy wars taking place in the world right now anyway. People are dying for a cause. It's so unbelievable."
Concerning the second half of the song Mustaine has explained that was inspired by the comic book "The Punisher," which Mustaine no longer reads because "it's been commercialized."
Official music video
The "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due" video was filmed in August 1990 (around the time of the Gulf War in 1990). It represents news footage of various armed conflicts, mainly from the Middle East interspliced with footage of the band playing.
One of the first live performances of "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due" at Ventura Theater in Ventura, CA (USA) on September 13, 1990.
Live at Hellfest 2016.
Acoustic cover by Christophe Deremy.
Gear and settings
Megadeth are known for their strong and continuous relationships with Jackson guitars.
1986 Jackson King V Custom
Dave ordered this guitar from Jackson with his own requirements and thoughts of how the guitar should look and play. It is primarily a King V model painted completely black, with Kahler fixed bridge, Seymour Duncan JB pickup in the bridge position and a Bill Lawrence 500L in the neck.
This guitar also has a thin-profiled neck with 24 frets and JE-1200 active mid-boost circuit. One of the main visual characteristics of this guitar is a "Megadeth" logo imprinted on the body.
Dave played it from 1986, up until 1991/92, when he started receiving tons of new guitars from Jackson, as a result of a very successful Dave Mustaine Signature Series King V - which would become one of their best-selling guitars.
This particular King V was modified a couple of times during the period Dave played it: pickups were changed several times, the body was completely repainted, and neck was replaced.
Marty gained his popularity as a solo artist and lead guitarist for Megadeth playing almost exclusively Jackson`s black 22 frets single humbucker Kelly.
David Ellefson is known as a long-time user of Jackson basses. Association with Jackson led to the production of a line of his signature basses.
David Ellefson recalls how his thrash metal tone was born and describes the specs of his new signature Jackson bass.
Amps and effects
It's worth noting that most of the gear is rather stage-oriented stuff that you probably won't need to use anytime soon.
Mustaine's very simple and spartan approach to his gear has inspired many to follow his example.
What you will notice is that most of his amps are numerous Marshall models. Mustaine never really felt the need to change them to anything else, while he included various preamps to get the desired sound.
Back in the day, Marshall JCM800 was a very popular amp. It was used by a large variety of artists, but it just seemed to be naturally good at producing a great metal sound. As a matter of fact, Megadeth used the JCM800 to record a number of Megadeth's initial albums.
During the "Rust in Peace" period of time, Megadeth was playing through a Bogner Triple Giant Preamp into a VHT 2150 power amp.
Bogner Triple Giant Preamp
Used as a preamp for the most part of "Rust in Peace," since the Bogner Fish which is usually mentioned in relation to this song wasn't released until some time later after the album was finished.
VHT 2150 Power Amp
First used in the early 90s, most likely as early as 1990 on Rust in Peace album. For next couple of years, Megadeth would stick to this power amp but would go through a couple of different preamps.
Marshall JCM800 2203 Vintage 100W Tube Head Amp
Although it's difficult to say for sure, but Dave most likely used a lot of different JCM800s during the Megadeth's first three-four albums.
For cabs, Megadeth used Marshall cabs.
Assuming all tone knobs are 0-10, amp setting should be:
- Gain 6
- Bass 7
- Mids 4
- Treble 6
- Presence 5
These are top tabs rated by the UG community:
The Guitar Pro version is 100% accurate as it was sent by Dave Mustaine himself.
Guitars: Standard tuning (E A D G B E)
Bass: Standard tuning (E A D G)
The song is played in E minor key.
One of the most important features of the song is the use of spider chords and spider riff.
The spider chord is a guitar technique popularized during the 1980s, it is used to reduce string noise when playing riffs that require chords across several strings. There's a common opinion that the term "spider chord" was coined by Dave Mustaine.
Dave Mustaine speaks about "spider chords" in Dave Navarro show.
Speaking about bass line, David Ellefson's original playing style involved using his fingers; however, as Megadeth progressed and the music became more complex, he tended to prefer playing with a pick/plectrum.
Actually, this track consists of two: "Holy Wars" and "The Punishment Due."
"Holy Wars" Section
Intro: 0:00 - 1:28
Mustaine takes a while to come in with the vocals but the music should be certainly entertaining enough before he enters, the aggression on this track is obvious and the speed should satisfy any Megadeth fan.
The opening riff is a Dave Mustaine classic. Fast, tight, precise and absolutely ripping. You should pay close attention to the picking. Otherwise, your picking hand will probably have a lot of trouble getting everything up to speed.
The main riff that involves a lot of hammer-ons and pull-offs with rapid palm muted alternate picking between. Timing is the big issue in this section. Also, the main riff is played with a lot of power chords.
Verse 1: 1:29 - 2:16
Mustaine comes in with the vocals as he sings over a variation on the introduction riff with a melody that sounds great and an energy which is apparent.
Acoustic solo (by Marty Friedman): 2:16 - 2:26
The song has an unusual structure, shifting at 2:26 after an acoustic solo with a Spanish flavor by Marty Friedman to a different, slower and heavier section called "The Punishment Due", before speeding up again.
In this solo, you should use hammer-ons, pull-offs, and vibrato. This solo also has a sequence, which is presented by a series of triplets, supported with hybrid picking. The solo ends on power chord, which is let to ring.
"The Punishment Due" Section
Punishment Due Bridge: 2:26 - 2:58
Slow section, supported by heavy power chords.
Punishment Due Verse 1: 2:58 - 3:29
The verse riff here is a variation of the bridge riff, there you should use even more power chords.
Guitar Solo 1 (Marty Friedman): 3:29 - 3:52
During the solo, Dave plays a rhythm riff.
Punishment Due Verse 2: 3:52 - 4:23
The same verse riff is used here.
Guitar Solo 2 (Marty Friedman): 4:23 - 4:39
Completely different, but still very challenging solo.
During this solo, Dave plays the same rhythm riff as for the previous solo.
Marty Friedman stated in an interview in 2002:
I had to fight to record the second electric solo in this tune the way I wanted! The first take I did as I was just warming up was the one that producer Mike Clink liked. When he heard it, he said, "That's fine. Good job." And I was like, "Whooooaaaa! Wait a minute. I haven't even tuned my guitar yet. Let me play a real solo here." He and Mustaine both thought it was fine and that we should move on to something else, so we left it at that. As the days went on and on, just knowing that solo was on there really bugged me. So I kept bringing it up to the guys that I wanted to redo it. Everybody liked the solo that was there, so I had no allies! Eventually, I wore down Mike Clink's nerves and he had me come back in and re-cut the solo, and the new solo is the one that made the record.
"Holy Wars" Section
Guitar Break: 4:39 - 4:57
This section brings us back to "Holy Wars."
Pay attention to natural harmonics in this section. Spider chords are also used here.
Guitar Solo 3 (Dave Mustaine): 4:57 - 5:42
Dave Mustaine's solo differs from Marty Fridman's. It has a pretty chaotic structure, mostly played at very high speed and uses a lot of licks, based on bends, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides and vibratos.
During the solo, Marty plays rhythm riff.
Final Verse: 5:42 - 6:32
There are several variations of the riffs, used before.
Dave Mustaine "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due" lesson (starts from 4:05)
Dave Mustaine shows riffs of the song.
Opening and the main riff
Pay close attention to the picking indications in the video lesson for the opening riff. Otherwise, your picking hand will probably have a lot of trouble getting everything up to speed.
You should be sure you can feel these rhythms internally before attempting to play them at full speed.
These riffs require a high amount of articulation between fretting and picking hands, so you should practicing them quite slow at first.
Verse and rhythm riffs
There are many riffs taught in this lesson but by far the most difficult will be the first verse. It moves around a ton with lots of fast picking and interesting chord voicings.
Marty Friedman solos
The first three solos are performed by Marty Friedman.
His playing style is always highly musical yet very unorthodox. He doesn't play the typical guitar licks that are found in most guitarist's playing.
You will find a number of challenging techniques within these 3 solos including economy picking, large skips and sweep picking. Each solo is described phrase-by-phrase, so it is a great way to practice them.
Dave Mustaine solo
This guitar solo differs from the Friedman solos. Dave Mustaine's soloing style can be highly chaotic and hard to reproduce. However, there are many incredible licks to be learned here and a few of them are very challenging to get up to tempo.
Riffs showcase on slow speed with tabs
David Ellefson bass line
David Ellefson playing Holy Wars for his Hartke Bass clinic at Sam Ash.