It was a headbanger's dream. Imagine Pantera/Down vocalist Phil Anselmo fronting a band consisting of three of the heaviest drummers, two of the most brutal bass players and two guitar players who will bring blood to the ears with their shredding. This metal menagerie came together on April 12 at the Key Club when Metal Masters 3 camped out in Hollywood for a night of some merciless jamming. Drummers Dave Lombardo, Charlie Benante and Mike Portnoy beat anything that moved while Dave Ellefson and Frank Bello thumped the low end behind guitarists Kerry King and Chris Broderick. Ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy opened the evening with Adrenaline Mob and then this historic lineup of players took the stage.
They ran through several Slayer songs including "Raining Blood" and "Angel Of Death" and some Pantera numbers like "Mouth For War," "A New Level," "Walk," "This Love" and "Fucking Hostile." Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler came up to play on "Hole In the Sky" with Anselmo doing a wickedly intense version of Ozzy.
Sponsored by Hartke, Zoom and Samson, the event combined jams with more intimate moments where various musicians talked about their music and gave inspiring little sermons. Before the show began Megadeth's Dave Ellefson and Chris Broderick and Anthrax's Frank Bello sat down to talk a little bit about Metal Masters.
UG: This gathering of metal musicians is very cool. But is there any sense of friendly competition amongst all of you?
Dave Ellefson: It's definitely not competitive.
Frank Bello: Definitely not.
Broderick: No, not whatsoever. Really to tell you the truth it's one of hectic angst because of the way everything's just being thrown up onstage. Anytime you're playing a club like this where you've got three drummers that have their full kits up there and three bass players and a few guitarists and stuff like that, it's definitely a lot of work. Not only for us but also the crew that sets this thing up.
Ellefson: I'd say you know who's competitive are the three drummers. And here's the funny thingall drummers like to play Slayer songs. When someone plays a Slayer riff, drummers just jump in. It's like a primal call to action.
Bello: That's really well put because it's almost like they have to get this addiction out. They've played it a million times in their lives but it's, This is my time oh my god! And that's kinda what it is. Then everyone one of them played that same part. It's like, Wow, dude.
Are Slayer songs difficult for bass players to get a handle on?
Ellefson: I'd say the Slayer stuff is the hardest because it's so drum and guitar intensive and the bass plays such a vital role. But the bass isn't always playing a lot of notes, which is kind of a good lesson to learn.
Ellefson: You tend to think that, OK, if I just shred and learn all these notes I'm gonna arrive at some point. Then you find out the less notes you play the more money you make [laughs] and the more people show up.
Bello: Yeah, less is more.
Ellefson: Chicks like less notes kind of thing.
Bello: Yeah, and you could look good doing it.
Are there songs you play in your own bands that are difficult to master?
Ellefson: Out of our own songs I'd say for me Holy Wars and Hangar 18 and pretty much anything off Rust In Peace is the most complicated stuff for me to play well every night.
Bello: On Caught In a Mosh, I still have to watch everything because there's a lot of stuff going on in that song. I'm not even doing that song tonight. People know the song, c'mon. Got the Time, I'll probably do that just with Charlie as bass and drums alone. We did that the last time didn't we?
Bello: So I'll do that just to get a little different thing going. Yeah, the Slayer songs. I looked at YouTube to watch Tom because he was doing less than Kerry was doing. I'm still doing similar to what Kerry is doing but it's less and definitely less is more with Slayer. So it's kinda cool that we learned that here and we'll bring that with us.
Have you learned that the bass playing in Slayer is different than what you bring to Anthrax?
Bello: The way I play, yes. It is. I do that occasionally but usually I'll do something different and tell a story with my bass playing. I won't just follow the root all the time. Once in a while I'll do that but I'm anxious and that's the way I play.
When you come together with these musicians from different bands, does it make you realize how different Megadeth is than Anthrax? How different Slayer is than Pantera?
Bello: I learn.
Ellefson: Yeah, it was the big time. Frank and I went into this particular Metal Masters different because now there's more guys onstage and so now he and I are even divvying up bass duties. A lot of times I'm really laying back and playing a lot less and I'm happy to just kind of lay out and even kind of play simple roots like Es and F#s and just kinda keep the lines really simple. Because I've found in these jam situations over the years that when everybody wants to play all the notes, man, it's just a freakin' hornets nest out there.
Bello: No matter how tight you are as a player it doesn't matter if somebody's gonna be different or somebody doesn't hear the same thing. A drum may be off somewhere with one of the drummers. There's three drummers [laughs] so this is different for us.
Ellefson: Frank and I have actually been able to orchestrate bass lines together. Hey you take the octave. In fact there's one song where I'm actually playing a third up from him like way up in the top octave. I go, You know what? I'll take the higher third on this.
Bello: And it sounds good because Dave and I have fun with this stuff.
You're playing music from a bunch of different bandswhat are you looking forward to playing?
Broderick: I was such a huge fan of Pantera growing up so it's a real honor to be up there and play with Phil. And just kind of play some of those guitar lines.
Did you have a chance to spend any time with Pantera when they were around?
Broderick: No, I didn't but I felt like I did from watching all their videos all the time.
What made Pantera so special?
Broderick: To me it was a few thingsfor one they were kind of bucking the trend at the time. When Cowboys From Hell came out, they were in Cargo shorts and flannel when the rest of the hair metal bands were still wearing makeup and eyeliner and stuff like that. Secondly they just had such a presence between Dimebag's playing and Phil's vocals and of course Vinnie and Rex as well. It was just one of those things where they commanded the stage and you also heard it through the CD too.
Besides Pantera who did you listen to back in the day that influenced you?
Broderick: Definitely all the shredders like Jason Becker, Paul Gilbert and Greg Howe and stuff. Also bands like King Diamond and Mercyful Fate before that.
You two are really the cornerstones of Metal Masters.
Bello: Dave and I have been doing this for a while with these clinic things so we kinda know each other. Pull back and you go and I'll come in. It doesn't matter because there's no ego for sure and we've been friends forever. It's just left at the door. And we watch the drummers kind of. We have to pull back tonight and that's what we're kinda doing. Right?
Ellefson: Well it's interesting because depending on how many drummers are on deckeither one, two or all threeyou can feel things shifting and floating so you kinda gotta pick a drummer to lock onto.
How would you describe the differences playing with Dave Lombardo, Mike Portnoy and Charlie Benante?
Ellefson: Dave is the new guy on the deck tonight and as his wisdom shows, if in doubt he sits out. Which is cool because he doesn't have to jump up because the couple tunes he's gonna play and some of the clinic stuff he's gonna do is plenty. Because what he plays and how he plays is so jaw-droppingly amazing. And that just to me shows great musical maturity. That's kinda the thing I was even talking to Mike Portnoy about to was, Let's work parts out here.
Is that a different approach than the first Metal Masters you did?
Ellefson: The first one we did about a year ago was pretty simple: two bass players and two drummers and that was it. Then we started adding Kerry King and Scott Ian jumped on in New York when we did it and Phil Anselmo came up and we had a singer and it was like a real band now. So it was, We gotta get out of the way of the vocal. And then of course now adding the third drummer.
Does the presence of a new musician change the dynamic of the music?
Ellefson: Every guy that comes in completely shifts [the music] and the ground moves beneath you so to speak.
Bello: And we have to catch it. Even in soundcheck and rehearsals it's not easy to catch all the time. You really have to focus because if you don't you're in trouble.
If you could play with any musician dead or alive who would that be?
Bello: I wouldn't mind Hendrix [laughs.]
Ellefson: I'd say get Stanley Clarke up there and then we'd have another bass player kick these drummers down a notch.
"Then you find out the less notes you play the more money you make [laughs] and the more people show up."
Bello: Or Jaco; Jaco would be fun. Come on in, Jaco.
Ellefson: It's funny too with that because when we were growing up the jazz guys were the guys who got to do all this stuff. Cause they were revered as the uber shredder guys and they had all the great chops and they were a really tight community. A lot of em were like sidemen so to speak as well as some of the artist guys. So they're usually the ones that got the calls to do the clinics and to do these kinds of things. I even did a thing here with Bass Player Live! one time and that was a lot of low end rumble going on with a lot of bass players out there. But again I was the only rock guy and the only guy up there playing with a pick on the bass and still am actually tonight.
So metal musicians are being showcased more in these types of clinics?
Ellefson: It's so cool that our music, which has always been intense and progressive and ferocious, and metal musicians are being called up to do this kind of stuff. And it isn't just one or two of usit's all of us of our genre. It just goes to show like, Holy smoke, man, there's a lot of really intense and ferocious right-to-the-wall playing going on. The fact that we can do it in a jam setting too is amazing. Because most guys write songs and sometimes when we write songs it's not easy to jump out of that and just go throw down and jam someone else's tune because we're so locked into our own creative world.
Bello: Really good point. Even learning these songs as we did is different for us; the way you approach learning the song is different. It's like, Alright, let's listen to what we have here and just get away from your whole thing that you have in your head and just open yourself up. You kinda have to do that with each one and even the Pantera songs because Rex is a great bass player. He has these little things you don't hear but I started YouTubing stuff and it was like, Ahh and you start picking out little things. Believe me technology has helped me a lot.
Since Metal Masters is a clinic what type of advice would you pass along to young musicians?
Bello: This is why I wore this shirt tonight [a Little Kids Rock t-shirt.] I believe in this stuff and I believe in passing the torch. Little Kids Rock and foundations like that. I made an inexpensive bass for that reason so parents can afford to buy one. We all do that; Dave did it too. That's our future and the continuation of what we do. I was that kid and I don't forget that. I have a five-year old and I want to pass the torch to him. So for me it's very, very important and that is our future and believe me I will be doing a lot more of that.
Was that sense of passing the torch one of the main reasons why you initially got involved in Metal Masters?
Ellefson: Our whole genre has been really brought into the spotlight mostly from video games and especially Guitar Hero: Rock Band in particular. But also our music from our bands we're getting called and asked to write songs specifically for video games now. And that of course, those game controllers are right in the hands of tomorrow's music listener and tomorrow's musician. They're the most intense probably of the whole thing because they love the shredding and the playing and they love the commitment. They realize the commitment it takes on their end to actually get good at doing this. It's a certain person and if you have that aptitude and that skill and quite honestly that discipline at that young of an age, that's a serious discipline to have at 10, 11, 12 or 13 years old. That's not a discipline a lot of people have but if they get committed that early, they maybe won't go on professionally but they're definitely gonna become great musicians. I think that's what they see with us is they're coming and wanting to dig into the details and the nuances. Granted a lot of the stuff can be on YouTube but for us to stand up there and give a short little lesson, it's like a personal lesson to 900 people.
Bello: It really is; exactly. We have to cut back tonight our normal thing even more because there's a time thing here tonight. Usually when him and I do clinics together we have our thing but we cut that in half again. It's really strange but it's cool because it's actually built around a show so you get a little bit of both.
Chris Broderick: I had no goals in this. It was really Mark from Zoom and Ellefson going, C'mon, dude, play it. We need another guitarist to fill in on a couple songs. I was like, Alright, I'll do it.
You have an iPhone app out?
Ellefson: It's the David Ellefson Rock Shop app and it's basically a mobile practice studio for guitar and bass players.
Bello: I heard it's great.
Ellefson: It's available at the Apple iTunes Apps store and basically you can plug in and play bass through it or play guitar through it. It's got a few effects on it so you can have flanger and different tones I think are appropriate for bass and different settings for clean, dirty and distorted guitar tones. The cool thing about it is you can go out and access your iTunes music library and bring it right into the app. We did a special thing where if you have the Megadeth Peace Sells album, which is actually tuned 50 cents flat, if you bring it in the App will automatically recognize it's that record and tune those songs up to A440. So you don't have to tune your bass. Also when you're in there you can do speed control, pitch control and there's a looper. So for instance if you want to learn the intro to Peace SellsBut Who's Buying you could actually grab that as a loop and slow it down without changing the pitch [sings the bass riff slowed down] so you can actually learn it like that. It's really designed to be an all-around, all-in-one portable musician practice school.
"No matter how tight you are as a player it doesn't matter if somebody's gonna be different or somebody doesn't hear the same thing."
You're headlining on the second stage of the Mayhem Tour, which is closer to the audience. What's that been like?
Bello: Well that's the whole point of it allyou'll have the audience right there and you have the option of going to the other stage. Nobody wants to go on early when there's nobody there and stuff like that so it's better for us to have the impact of the crowd and maybe push them over to the other side. We know just from the history that it works and I think that's a great bill. I just wish Megadeth was on with us. Seriously. Cause it's a friend to hang out with. We were talking with the guys from Slipknot and Slayer obviously and we're all buds so it would be great to have our buds on it and we do other than Megadeth.
Megadeth have always been a big part of festivals. Do you like being involved in those types of shows?
Broderick: I love to see it because it used to be you had to head over to Europe to get stuff like that. Now we're starting to see it in the States and for us to be spending most of the month of May touring with Rob Zombie and also hitting a lot of these festivals is pretty amazing in the States. I don't think 10 years ago that was really doable. And we're also going to South America to play Countdown to Extinction in its full length.
Do you have any favorite songs from Countdown to Extinction?
Broderick: You know what? When I get to play the whole CD I'll let you know because the repertoire we've done has been fairly limited. And now I get the chance to learn all of it.
Rob Zombie has a great band with John 5. Have you hung out with John at all?
Broderick: I've met John 5 but I really want to get to know him more and pick up some good country riffs from him and other stuff as well.
Besides learning from the other musicians around you in Metal Masters, do you also learn new things about your own playing as you describe what you do to the audience?
Bello: I'm just honest and I try to be as honest as I can. I don't pretend to be somebody that I'm not. I'm not this schooled guy who went through music class and music school. I started there and it didn't work for me; I developed my ear and that's how it works. I don't pretend I'm somebody I'm not. I'm just me. If you like my playing, great; if you don't, sorry, go to somebody else. That's just the way it is and this is it. I don't know how you feel, Dave. I just want to be honest with the thing. If I can help you get inspired, great; if you don't, dude, there's other players out there.
Does it feel different playing with Frank Bello than Dave Ellefson?
Broderick: Absolutely yeah but the songs I'm playing are different as well. To me it kinda fits the change in mood and style. But all the bass players definitely have a different sound and of course the drummers as well.
The drummers tonight bring a completely different feel than what Shawn Drover brings to Megadeth?
Broderick: Oh yeah, definitely. But again it falls right into the idea that they are different songs that we are playing.
What has it been like playing guitar with Kerry King?
Broderick: Umm, it's cool. Kerry has got a great right hand and rhythm and I love to watch him play and pull those riffs out. So yeah, it's really cool.
Metal Masters is a salute to metal music. What are your feelings about the state of metal music right now with so many cool new bands coming up?
Broderick: Yeah, there really are but it's so hard to define these days because it seems like music is evolving faster than people can keep up. So you get new genres and sub-genres like every 10 minutes and I'm like, What genre is that? I'm trying to think of the latest one I heard of: dub sub or something like that. At any rate I hear all these genres all the time and I think we need to get rid of those labels because once a band is labeled that way, I don't think people think they can be diverse at that point.
Interview by Steven Rosen
"Anytime you're playing a club like this where you've got three drummers that have their full kits up there and three bass players and a few guitarists and stuff like that, it's definitely a lot of work."