Complete Guide to Megadeth 'Holy Wars...The Punishment Due'

Everything you need to know about the story behind the song, amp and pedal settings as well as used guitar techniques.

Ultimate Guitar
Complete Guide to Megadeth 'Holy Wars...The Punishment Due'

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)
Recorded: 1990
Released: September 23, 1990
Label: Capitol
Genre: Thrash metal
Length: 6:32

Additional Information
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."

Music videos

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.

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Live version

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One of the first live performances of "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due" at Ventura Theater in Ventura, CA (USA) on September 13, 1990.

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Live at Hellfest 2016.

Notable cover

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Acoustic cover by Christophe Deremy.

Gear and settings


Megadeth are known for their strong and continuous relationships with Jackson guitars.

Dave Mustaine

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 Friedman

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

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.

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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.

Amp settings

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:

Tab version: Holy Wars...The Punishment Due Tab, Holy Wars...The Punishment Due Bass Tab

Interactive versions: Guitar Pro, Tab Pro

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)

Song key

The song is played in E minor key.


Megadeth rhythms are all about fast alternate picking and palm muting. This song also displays variation in rhythm which is far more imaginative than the stereotypical breaks with clean fills.

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.

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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.

Song breakdown

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.

For the part of the intro, Dave Mustaine plays several passages with slides and vibrato.

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

A lot of sweep picking is going on here. Then it followed by a series of hammer-ons and pull-offs, slides, bends and releases, and vibratos.

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.

Recommended lessons

Dave Mustaine "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due" lesson (starts from 4:05)

Dave Mustaine shows riffs of the song.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Riffs showcase on slow speed with tabs

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David Ellefson bass line

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David Ellefson playing Holy Wars for his Hartke Bass clinic at Sam Ash.

20 comments sorted by best / new / date

    These guides are fucking awesome. I hope these become more frequent. Keep up the good work.
    Pull Me Under would be a good one. That one kind of intoduced Petrucci to the guitar community way back when.
    Mike Clink what a legend - Appetite For Destruction & Rust In Peace! Lars, you shouldn't have got rid of him during the making of ....And Justice for All!!
    Next suggestions: - Rime of The Ancient Mariner - Seasons in the Abyss - Wherever I May Roam - Blackbird (Alter Bridge) - Whole Lotta Love
    Awesome guide! It's also a very difficult song to play AND sing at the same time. It's the most dissected song análisis I've ever read so far on this song. Very many thanx!!!
    Marty Friedman claims he's never used sweep picking in his life
    But he actually does sweep. It's probably just that he doesn't like calling it sweep picking because when someone says 'sweep picking' people associate that with guys like Yngwie and MAB, who sound completely different than Marty.
    Got a question... Marty didn't use a kelly with 24 frets?... I need those extra frets for actually this song and tornado of souls...