DAVE MUSTAINE EXPLAINS THE HISTORY OF VIC RATTLEHEAD
Story by Ryan Downey
Iron Maiden‘s beloved “Eddie,” Motörhead‘s iconic “warpig” symbol, Danzig‘s instantly recognizable skull – no discussion of heavy metal mascots is complete without mention of Vic Rattlehead, the skull-headed specter whose visage has adorned multiple Megadeth album covers, T-shirts, posters, tour programs, and comic books, not to mention notebook covers, the world over since Dave Mustaine first sketched him out himself.
In a YouTube video, Mustaine explained that “Vic” came from the word “victim” and “Rattlehead” came from his mother admonishing him about head banging too often. “She said that I would rattle something loose up there,” he said with a smile.
Vic Rattlehead is the personification of “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil.” As Mustaine sang on one of the earliest Megadeth songs, 1985’s “The Skull Beneath the Skin”: “Metal caps his ears/He’ll hear not what we say/Solid steel visor riveted across his eyes/Iron staples close his jaws/So no one hears his cries.” In recent years, a super-tall Vic has even started lumbering around onstage with the band, ominously surveying the crowd.
Vic returns once again on the cover of TH1RT3EN, in stores November 1, so we thought it only fitting to do a quick roundup of his more notable appearances. Of course, to list them all might be impossible, so we thought it best to stick to album covers for now. If any of you out there has one of those T-shirts with Vic in scuba gear swimming away from a blown-up vessel, please let us know!
Killing is My Business… And Business is Good! (1985)
The most traditional Vic Rattlehead, which was seen recently on the Big 4 guitar picks alongside the symbols for the rest of Megadeth‘s legendary thrasher brethren, featured criss-crossed bones which Dave says were meant to represent “confused religion, organized religion fighting against each other,” with chains that brought it all together. This original artwork concept was reportedly lost; something closer to Dave‘s sketch wasn’t seen until years later when Megadeth‘s debut was reissued. The photograph of a more realistic Vic that adorned the original album sleeve was something commissioned by the group’s original record label; Mustaine was never fond of it.
Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? (1986)
Megadeth‘s first mega-selling album, the untouchable Peace Sells…, features what is perhaps the most well-known depiction of Mr. Rattlehead. He’s wearing the suit of a shady realtor and hawking a bombed-out United Nations building. It was the first of two Megadeth album covers to be painted by Ed Repka, who’s been responsible for classic covers for bands like Death, Nuclear Assault, Vio-Lence (featuring members of future Roadrunner stars Machine Head) and Sanctuary, whose debut album was produced by Mustaine.
In an interview with Target Audience magazine during this past summer’s Rockstar Mayhem Tour, Megadeth bassist David Ellefson called the Peace Sells… cover his favorite depiction of their beloved mascot. “It’s very colorful. It’s not black. It’s orange. It pops! You walk by it in a record bin and it’s like ‘Wow, that thing jumps out at you, with Vic leaning over the ‘for sale’ sign, it’s cool. And it was the first time that we got it right.”
So Far, So Good… So What! (1988)
The third Megadeth album features a more photo-realistic Vic, this time in military gear a la Rambo, brandishing a gun. It ties in directly with the post nuclear holocaust apocalyptic vibe of “Set the World Afire,” which Mustaine wrote shortly after exiting Metallica.
Rust In Peace (1990)
Ed Repka returned for what many consider to be one of the greatest metal albums of all time, Rust in Peace. Here we see Vic surrounded by world leaders deep inside “Hangar 18,” standing over a captured alien from a fallen spacecraft. It’s an absolutely stunning image, to be sure. For you history buffs, those world leaders are John Major (UK), Toshki Kaifu (Japan), Richard von Weizsacker (Germany), Mikhail Gorbachev (Soviet Union) and George H.W. Bush (the US of A). Repka created artwork for two of the album’s singles, as well.
Countdown to Extinction (1992)
Megadeth‘s big commercial breakthrough, which contains the immortal “Symphony of Destruction” among other classic tracks, was the first of their albums not to feature Vic Rattlehead on the cover. He does, however, appear inside, sticking a bony finger onto an abacus. The album also began a collaboration with artist Hugh Syme, whose work can be found on several releases from Rush, among others.
Like its predecessor, Youthanasia didn’t feature Vic on the cover but he was lurking inside. Syme worked on this album as well.
The World Needs a Hero (2001)
Vic skipped another two Megadeth albums (1997’s Cryptic Writings and the experimental 1999 album Risk) before returning with a vicious vengeance. He’s literally bursting out of Mustaine‘s chest on the cover, in a gory Photoshop masterpiece reminiscent of that great scene in the movie Alien. The picture was so graphic in fact that several record stores would only carry it with a black bar placed over the bloody parts.
The System Has Failed (2004)
Mike Learn did an excellent job of capturing the classic Vic Rattlehead vibe on this comeback affair, which Mustaine had considered making a solo album, or Megadeth‘s swan song, at one point. Luckily, the fan reaction to this collection of vintage ‘Deth inspired him to continue with the band, and the artwork has that same juxtaposition of classic elements and forward-thinking vision. Vic is selling Supreme Court verdicts to a modern cast of political characters, with $100 dollar bills on the cover featuring his very own fiendishly frightening face.
United Abominations (2007)
Five years ago, Megadeth launched a contest with Deviant Art where “Droogies” (the band’s term for their most diehard fans) were invited to tweak Vic‘s design. John Lorenzi didn’t win the battle (contest-wise), but he certainly won the war, as they say. He’s rendered the artwork for the band’s War Chest collection as well as each of their Roadrunner releases, including this one. This Vic is more modern, even somewhat comic-bookish. He’s also covered in flesh and blood, with his skull buried truly deep beneath his skin. All of his metal parts were intact, however. And his “true” nature, as we’ve all known and loved it these many years, is clearly visible in the reflection of a window on the cover.
Vic skipped the Endgame cover in 2009, but he’s back for TH1RT3EN, where we’re seeing him from a different angle… Literally. Vic has his back to the viewer this time, surrounded by thirteen candles. Does he want to knock over the candles representing the covers he’s absent from? No matter, because he’s back in full force, of course, even adorning the Public Enemy No. 1 single in a cool, trippy way.
Megadeth‘s TH1RT3EN will be in stores November 1, but you can pre-order it on CD or deluxe