Dave Mustaine says Lars Ulrich wrote the opening riff to Metallica’s Master of Puppets

Dave Mustaine and Metallica comp
(Image credit: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for SiriusXM; NDZ/Star Max/GC Images)

Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine has made the extraordinary claim that it was Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich who was responsible for writing the opening riff to Master Of Puppets

The song, which has enjoyed a summer in the limelight thanks to its inclusion in the Stranger Things Season Four finale, is one of the cornerstones of the Metallica setlist, a blockbuster epic and showcase of James Hetfield’s bona-fides as the greatest rhythm players in metal guitar. This Mustaine does not dispute.

But while discussing the contentious issues surrounding the songs he wrote while he was a member of Metallica between 1982 and ’83, which is one of the reasons why Metallica’s No Life ’Til Leather demos never saw a deluxe reissue, Mustaine tells Songfacts that he was in the room when the riff that opens Master Of Puppets was written, and it came from the drummer whom he considers a “great arranger”, if not a great drummer.

“I would love to work with James. I’d like to work with Lars again, too, but I think the real talent in Metallica has always been around the guitar – everybody makes fun of the drums,” Mustaine said. “Lars is a really great song arranger. And believe it or not, I watched him on a piece-of-shit acoustic guitar write the opening riff to Ride The Lightning.

“You know what that was? It was a guy with a guitar that doesn’t know how to play, and he’s going [mimics playing a chromatic run] on the neck. It wasn’t anything really mind-blowing by any means. The way James played it made it mind-blowing.”

Asked if he realised that what he was humming was Master Of Puppets, not Ride The Lightning, Mustaine protested that he didn’t know the song-titles.

“Yeah, whatever that is. I don't fuckin’ know their song names,” he said. “I don’t listen to them. I totally respect them, I just don’t listen to them. It’s not out of me not liking them. When they come on the radio in my car, a long time ago I would change the channel, but I don’t anymore. It’s just music, and I’ve been able to put all that stuff behind.” 

It is a remarkable bit of history, and Songfacts posted the audio on its Soundcloud for clarity.

That stuff, presumably, is Metallica, and the time he spent there, then being fired, which invariably comes up in every Mustaine interview – often prompted, often not. 

I would love to work with James. I’d like to work with Lars again, too, but I think the real talent in Metallica has always been around the guitar - everybody makes fun of the drums

Dave Mustaine

Unquestionably, that is one of metal’s most legendary beefs, recent years have seen relations thaw, and in the same interview, Mustaine reminisced fondly about busting someone’s leg after they went for Ulrich, and getting in between Hetfield and a would-be assailant.

The Big Four tours that mustered Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax under the one banner in 2011 are something that he would like to see happen again, if only to pass the baton onto anotherBig Four. He urged Metallica to “step up” and make it happen, and for Slayer to reunite for the occasion. 

“I really think it's time for the guys in Metallica to step up, and us do one last round, see if we can get Slayer to come out of retirement and do a ‘Big Four passing of the torch’ to the new Big Four,” Mustaine said. “It would remain to be seen who they are, but I have a feeling it would include some of the players we already mentioned [Arch Enemy, Lamb of God, Trivium].

“I think it would be really cool symbolically if we did something at like, the LA Coliseum, even if it's one show and that’s it. Slayer is from Los Angeles, so it would probably make it more convenient for them to go home at night.” 

Don’t count on it happening, however. Gary Holt and Kerry King have both came out publicly to say Slayer were too soon to call it a day, but there has been no suggestion that there would be a reunion, and besides, Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth are all in business. With the former two are working on new records, Megadeth touring The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead!, there is no need to be passing torches.

“I personally have been hoping for this for a while, and I keep asking and asking and asking,” said Mustaine. “They’re just not into it. But that’s up to them.”

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.