Vic Rattlehead has been the face of Megadeth since day one. Even before scoring a record deal, Dave Mustaine had a clear vision for his mascot. The 1984 demo Last Rites proudly displayed a crude rendering of Vic on the cassette insert.
Combat records quickly inked a deal with Megadeth and released Killing is my Business…and Business is Good! Unfortunately Vic’s entry into the national spotlight did not go as planned. Fans may love the inaugural Vic Rattlehead but the band was far from happy. Dave Mustaine claims he has “mortified” upon seeing the artwork, later describing this incarnation of Vic as “a plastic Halloween skull.”
Dave and company continued to loathe the Combat rendering of Vic. In the late eighties, a run of Killing is My Business t-shirts dropped the album cover to reimagine Rattlehead as a hatchet-swinging doctor. Wearing a medical bandage beneath an operating table light, we can presume that Vic is literally engaged in official business.
In 2002, Killing is My Business was remixed and remastered. The original cover was dropped and redesigned to match Mustaine’s original vision.
Megadeth soon perfected their mascot. Peace Sells But Who’s Buying introduced a fully realized Vic Rattlehead. No longer a store bought skull, Vic stands fearlessly in the midst of a warzone. Bony hands hold a “For Sale” sign as a trio of warplanes fly above the decimated United Nations Headquarters.
Now signed to Capital records, major label resources allowed for the release of singles. Vic Rattlehead appeared on the Wake up Dead sleeve and even a picture disc!
Vic Rattlehead was found on countless posters, pins, patches, and t-shirts. One memorable image of Vic rising with a mushroom cloud was accompanied by a dictionary definition. Officially defined as “a unit of measure equal to the death of a million people by nuclear explosion,” Megadeth may also refer to “the world’s state of the art speed metal band.”
Vic Rattlehead continued to evolve with the release of So Far…So Good…So What! The third Megadeth album moves Vic into outer space. Gripping a machine gun with plenty of ammo, Vic patrols the moon while planet earth glimmers in the distance.
“Mary Jane” tells the story of a witch that was buried alive by her own father. A legend grew that anyone who dared desecrate her grave would meet an untimely death. The cover art finds Vic tempting fate in front of the deceased witch’s tombstone.
In 1989, Megadeth recorded a cover of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” for Wes Craven’s Shocker. Released as a single, the sleeve allowed for yet another rendering of the Megadeth mascot. This time Vic is lifting himself out of a vat of radioactive waste. Bathing in the glowing green goo has caused Rattlehead to grow into a giant, grinning skeleton.
Megadeth ushered in the nineties with the classic album Rust in Peace. Surrounded by world leaders, Vic stands front and center. One hand holds a radioactive orb while the other rests on a dead alien.
Holy Wars…The Punishment Due places Vic in a position of true power. Now General V Rattlehead, the Megadeth mascot has access to nuclear weapons. With his finger on a launch button, Vic Rattlehead is about to unleash unprecedented devastation.
Hangar 18 furthers the alien concept. Vic is now a scientist attempting to splice human DNA with a captured alien. He even makes a brief appearance in the promo video!
Speaking of videos, 1991 marked the end of a milestone. Megadeth had made four thrash masterpieces and were about to take a stylistic left-turn. To commemorate their achievement, Megadeth released the VHS video collection, Rusted Pieces. Naturally Vic Rattlehead appeared on the video box!
Countdown to Extinction holds the distinction of being Megadeth’s most commercially successful album. Slower tempos were not the only changes on album number five. Vic Rattlehead was noticeably absent from the front cover. Yet, Megadeth did not abandon their mascot. Vic could still be found lurking on the back cover.
Youthanasia also banished Vic from the front cover. Rattlehead appeared again on the back cover. It was becoming clear that Vic Rattlehead was no longer the face of Megadeth.
Megadeth soldiered on with Cryptic Writings and Trust. Both albums featured a more polished sound and no trace of Vic Rattlehead. The latter record failed to impress fans, prompting Mustaine to reconnect with the band’s heavier side. The World Needs A Hero flirted with Megadeth’s storied past. Not only was there a sequel to “Hangar 18,” but the 2001 album ushered the proud return of Vic Rattlehead.
The System Has Failed solidified Megadeth’s return to form. Not only did Chris Poland contribute guitar solos, but Vic Rattlehead resumed his pivotal mascot role. Back in 1990, Vic had been featured alongside President Bush. Standing in front of the Supreme Court, Vic now sells a not guilty verdict to the second President Bush. Other notable politicians are present to embrace blatant corruption. A price-list hangs at Vic’s podium. Offenses include murder, adultery, and of course….holy wars.
In 1991, Megadeth had a measly six videos that comprised their VHS. In 2006, there was enough footage to encompass a 2 DVD set. To promote Arsenal of Megadeth, the undead mascot was set on fire as he clutched a nuclear warhead!
At first glance, it appears that Megadeth abandoned Vic Rattlehead once again with the release of United Abominations. A closer look reveals that Vic is now half-human. This strange twist was the result of a contest in which contestants were asked to design a new version of Vic Rattlehead.
Fans that got the inclination that Vic was one again being minimized were correct. Vic Rattlehead was nowhere to be found on the cover of Endgame. Thankfully, the immortal mascot returned in time for Thirteen.
Thirteen only offers a rear view of Vic’s unmistakeable figure. A look at Vic’s face came courtesy of the single Public Enemy No. 1. Revisiting the idea of a human Vic Rattlehead, one couldn’t help but wonder what the future held for Megadeth’s mascot.
Dystopia finds Vic in a post-apocalyptic world. Now a cyborg, Rattlehead confidently traverses the harsh landscape with his sword drawn. Musically, Dystopia was hailed as Megadeth’s finest record in years. In the past, there seemed to be a correlation with Vic and the quality of songs. Dystopia reinforces that perception.
Megadeth is simply at their best when Vic Rattlehead is involved. Long live the ultimate thrash metal mascot!