Drummers provide not just a backbone but a rhythmic soul to the music we love. The best drummers are studied as much as lead guitarists or vocalists. And the best are always remembered because the essence of metal is ultimately rhythm; without that forward drive — without the primal power of the universe, the preternatural volcanic eruption — metal would lack ferocity.
Nick Menza — best remembered for his time in Megadeth — was one of the drummers that earned fierce love and respect. Menza died after collapsing on stage on Saturday, apparently from heart failure. Menza’s style, approach, and effortless invention were as essential to Megadeth as Bill Ward’s quirks and fills were to Black Sabbath or Dave Lombardo’s ferocity was to Slayer.
Without Menza, those classic Megadeth albums from the ’90s aren’t the same. They’d still be good. But Menza was an intrinsic part of the magic. Dave Mustaine has talked in the past about how he tried to hire “lead drummers” and Menza certainly fit the description. His drumming and jazz chops honed at an early age by his musical family helped him build songs and embellish on them in a fluid, quirky and ultimately revelatory fashion.
Menza joined Megadeth as Mustaine was hitting colossus stride as both a songwriter and guitarist. Menza’s first album with the thrash legends was the standard and Hall of Fame entry Rust In Peace. If you are a metalhead — particularly a metalhead that came of age before the 21st century — Nick Menza has been a part of your life. While Mustaine was the head of the operation could you think of “Hangar 18” or “Symphony Of Destruction” without Menza behind the kit?
Menza stayed with Mustaine until near the end of the last century; his last record with Megadeth was Cryptic Writings. Fans always pined for a return of the classic Megadeth. Mustaine hinted during our discussion with him about Dystopia that the idea of a Rust In Peace lineup reunion was at least kicked around. While we won’t get that reunion, we still have a history of classic recordings, evidence of a life well-lived. Thank you, Nick, and rest easy.