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MEGADETH Producer Recalls Almost Giving Up On DAVE MUSTAINE’s Demos For Countdown To Extinction


Remember that iconic riff of “Symphony of Destruction”? We do too, and it wouldn’t exist without a surprising behind-the-scenes struggle. Producer Max Norman recently revealed to the Talk Louder podcast (transcribed by Ultimate Guitar) his initial confusion with Megadeth‘s demos for Countdown to Extinction, even contemplating giving up.

Already seasoned with Ozzy Osbourne, Norman faced a different beast with Megadeth. Their commercially successful Rust in Peace set the bar high, and leader Dave Mustaine handpicked him for the new album – even though he was a mixing engineer during Rust in Peace, and the production was done by Mike Clink. But the demos for Countdown to Extinction threw Norman for a loop.

Dave sent me a cassette with all the demos for Countdown. And I listened to them. I listened to them for days and days, and I had no idea what to do with it,” he admits.

Determined to help, Norman spent days analyzing the music. After contemplating giving up, a breakthrough arrived. He poured his critiques into a whopping four pages of notes, suggesting edits, rearrangements, and even cuts. Imagine telling Dave Mustaine how to rewrite his music!

“So I thought, ah, I fuck it, I’ll just give it one more listen and then I’ll call him back and go, ‘Okay, fine, whatever. I don’t really have any ideas,'” said Norman. I listened to it one more time, and all of a sudden, I started to get an idea of what was going on. And I started to get some ideas. And I go, ‘This first one, this part’s too long. And I don’t think this part even fits, take it out, let’s look at this.'”

“So I wrote about four pages of notes for all of the songs, basically editing and pointing out places where maybe we could figure something else out or giving him an idea or whatever. Going through and fucking chopping it up like an editor.”

He continued: “I sent him these four pages of notes. And I didn’t hear anything for three or four days. And then my wife at the time called me, she said, ‘Dave Mustaine is on the phone.'”

Fearful of Mustaine‘s reaction, Norman braced himself. But instead of the expected outrage, the response was completely positive.

“He goes, ‘Okay, I got all your notes.’ There’s this big long pause. And I’m like, ‘He’s gonna rip me a new fucking asshole I can tell.’ Because I already knew Dave, we were already kind of friends anyway. So he goes, ‘Yeah, I agree with about 99%.’ So I was like, ‘Okay?’ He said, ‘Great, let’s do it.'”

Countdown to Extinction soared, becoming Megadeth‘s biggest album to date. Tracks like “Symphony of Destruction” and “Sweating Bullets” cemented their legacy. Even when its journey from demo to masterpiece wasn’t smooth sailing, it proved that sometimes the best outcomes come from trusting the expertise of others, even if it means facing your own creative blind spots.

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