Metal Allegiance Is No 'Swingin' Contest,' Dave Ellefson Says: Video Interview
Egos stayed home as Skolnick, Portnoy, Menghi and Ellefson rallied all-star roster for album.
Metal Allegiance -- the all-star collective that united in 2014 to perform cover tunes simply for the love of metal -- has taken a bold step forward by recording an album of original material. The four songwriters of the new Metal Allegiance project (Testament’s Alex Skolnick, Megadeth’s Dave Ellefson, the Winery Dogs’ Mike Portnoy and Metal Allegiance founder Mark Menghi) visited Billboard’s studio to discuss the inspiration behind the group’s formation and how they worked together to make the album.
While multiple cooks were bustling in the songwriting kitchen, no one tried to dominate the flavor of the soup in the musical pot. “We all come from a very high pedigree of our histories and very blessed in our careers with the success we have,” says Ellefson, “and lots of times you get into a room with people like us, and it becomes like this swingin’ contest, if you know what I mean,” he notes, eliciting laughs from his cohorts. “‘Well, I’ve done this, and I’ve sold more than you.’ There was none of that here. It was really a cool thing.”
Metal Allegiance contains a sizeable roster of guest performers, including Chuck Billy (Testament), Phil Anselmo (Down), Randy Blythe (Lamb of God), Gary Holt (Exodus, Slayer), Misha Mansoor (Periphery), Matt Heafy (Trivium), Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) and Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy). When it came to choosing which person should perform on a track, the core foursome focused on picking who was best-suited for a particular song. For instance, “With the singers, it was, ‘Who was best going to fit this song?’ ” recalls Menghi. “It wasn’t about forcing it on a song or trying to get a ‘name’ singer on a song. [It was] ‘Who’s going to be the best performance for this song?,’ That was the No. 1 crucial point to getting Phil [Anselmo], Chuck [Billy] Randy [Blythe] and Matt Heafy.”
Watch the official video for Metal Allegiance's "Dying Song," sung by Anselmo:
The album’s vast list of talent represents a variety of musical styles. “We’re a very unlikely consortium here, because we come from very different backgrounds,” observes Ellefson. “Alex and I have certainly toured a lot together with Megadeth and Testament but had never musically done anything together. Mike [Portnoy] is pretty much known for coming from a very progressive world.”
Although the quartet was enthusiastic about recording original material, there was some trepidation about whether it could create a truly cohesive album, given said backgrounds. Portnoy, however, had no doubt it would fly. “I’ve done dozens of albums where you get all of these different people together, and I had a lot of faith,” he says. “I think I had to like kind of convince you guys half the time: ‘No, this will work, trust me. I know. We can work fast, we can do this.’ I’ve done a million albums like this, and I think everybody now sees, just trust your instinct.”
“There’s a good willingness to try stuff with this group,” says Skolnick. “I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t always experience that right away — which is understandable, because you get a certain sound with certain groups, so there’s some really melodic stuff that we do that might not fit anywhere else, but we can try it because it’s wide open and we can always get rid of stuff that we don’t like. Generally, once we try stuff out, we’re pretty much in agreement, and if we’re not feeling something, we’re all kind of like], ‘We’re not feeling it.’ ”