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Members of Megadeth are praying for you

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Megadeth 1 by Travis Shinn.jpg

After the decades of substance abuse, fights, injuries, pathologies, legal hassles, breakups, floods, plagues of locusts -- it's a miracle the members of Megadeth are still able to stand, much less tour and record.

Small wonder they pray together backstage. Twice before each show, in fact.

"We haven't had bad stuff happen to us for a long time, but it used to be commonplace," says Dave Mustaine, the veteran heavy metal band's singer-guitarist and unmovable founding member. "We all -- well, not Chris [Broderick, guitarist] -- but we all enjoy praying before we go on stage. Our schedule is down to a routine. An hour before stage everybody has to leave [the dressing rooms] except family. Thirty minutes before, family has to leave. That's when me, Shawn [Drover, drummer] and Dave [Ellefson, founding bassist] do our first prayers. Ten minutes before stage, we then do a big group prayer. That's really grounding."

GIGANTOUR
featuring MEGADETH & MOTORHEAD
with VolBeat and Lacuna Coil

• 6:30 p.m. Feb. 10
• Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence
• Tickets, $45 advance; $50 day of show; (800) 514-ETIX, jamusa.com

This is a band with a legendary and punishing hard rock sound, visuals that often include a demonic, skeletal form reaching out to grab viewers, and cynical album titles -- the breakthrough "Rust in Peace" in 1990, the multi-platinum "Countdown to Extinction" after that, "The System Has Failed," "United Abominations," etc. -- that aren't exactly chapter and verse.

"Yeah, a lot of eyebrows go up when I say, 'Let's pray,'" Mustaine says. "Some people who work for us probably thought there would be decadence, a lot of terrible things going on. They probably think there's going to be a goat in the middle of the prayer circle."

Such activities are ordained -- literally -- now that Ellefson is back in the band. He's currently a student at Concordia Seminary, studying to be a pastor in the Lutheran Church. His emails are signed, "Vicar Dave."

That in itself is a miracle, given that in 2004 -- two years after Mustaine had folded the band -- Ellefson sued Mustaine for $18.5 million, claiming he'd been short-changed on profits. Court documents claimed Mustaine, who's been in drug rehab at least a dozen times, resented Ellefson for having kicked his own habit. Before long, the two were arguing publicly online, and Mustaine reformed the band with other players.

The suit was dismissed a year later, just as the new Megadeth was launching its first Gigantour -- an ambitious package concert supported by Dream Theater, Anthrax, Fear Factory and six other bands. Megadeth organized and headlined three more Gigantours in '06, '07 and '08.

After that, some fence-mending was in order.

"I flew out to Phoenix, and Dave and I met for dinner," Mustaine says, recalling the reconciliation with his founding bassist. "We sat down like the two old friends I always said we were. I said, 'I forgive you.' It looked like a 10-pound weight came off his back. He said, 'It was the dumbest thing I've ever done.' If you really love someone, you love them when they're up and when they're down. I've always cared for David."

The partnership revived, a new album was recorded, "Th1rte3n" -- nominated for a Grammy at the Feb. 12 ceremonies -- and the Gigantour was reborn, this year featuring metal legends Motorhead, plus VolBeat and Lacuna Coil.

"It's not that I decided to bring it back," Mustaine says of the package tour, "it's that I decided not to do it the last few years because there wasn't a good-enough second band available. ... We've toured with Motorhead before and did dates with them a long time ago when we were just babies. We've been friends, and we can definitely stand up against each other."

Can I get an amen?

"I know, people might be surprised, but I have no problem with God," Mustaine continues, chuckling. "The first line of 'Peace Sells' is, 'What do you mean I don't believe in God / Talk to him every day.' I've confessed my faith pretty openly. 'Looking Down the Cross' is all about Jesus. I'm not afraid to talk about it. We talk about the dark side of stuff, but it's accented because of my knowledge of the light."


Mustaine rejoins Metallica momentarily

It's a time of reunions for Megadeth founder Dave Mustaine. He's reconciled with bassist Dave Ellefson, who sued him a few years ago. He's revived the band's package show, the Gigantour. Plus, last fall -- as the devil tried on some ice skates -- Mustaine was back on stage with Metallica.

Mustaine was a founding member of Metallica in 1981 with James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, but he was kicked out two years later because of personality conflicts and drug abuse. He was replaced by guitarist Kirk Hammett.

An angry Mustaine immediately formed his own band, Megadeth, intending to be harder, faster and louder than Metallica. Revenge metal!

A lot of water and blood under the bridge -- by 2009, Metallica was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and invited Mustaine to participate in the ceremony. He declined, citing European touring commitments.

But last December Mustaine finally rejoined Metallica on stage in San Francisco for part of the band's 30th anniversary celebrations.

"I played four or five songs with them -- just me, James, Lars, Robert [Trujillo] and Kirk was over on the side," Mustaine says. "Kirk didn't look too happy about it, but I think he was a good sport.

"I think you can see from the way the guys lit up that it was mutually beneficial for everybody. We all expected something magical to happen, and it did. We were playing stuff off the first record that I'd written in my teenage years. It was a blast."

Does this mean the long-standing feud is over? As New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys gave into their own gravity to become NKOTBSB, will these monsters of metal now become Megatallica?

"I would certainly look forward to another opportunity with those guys," Mustaine says. "The competition is done. I'd love to do a record with James, Lars and Dave Ellefson, but I don't know if it's in the cards. Maybe a single for charity or something."


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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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