In this piece I’m going to take a look at the Megadeth song Ashes In Your Mouth from the Countdown to Extinction album.
This is an odd track for Megadeth; wilfully spiky and angular rather than being more of the more chromatically flavoured riffs that Mustaine and co are known for.
It’s played on a 5 string bass for one single note near the end… You could play it on a 4 and bump this note up an octave and as such I’ll tab this for 4 and 5 string basses.
There’s a link riff in this song that is in 4 bars of different times which is quite odd indeed for Megadeth.
Traditionally they might tail a riff with a 2/4 or 3/4 bar now and again and occasionally have whole sections in a specific odd time (Five Magics, I’m looking at you…) but to have bar by bar changes like this is quite unusual.
Needless to say, that riff alone has been a subject of “discussion” for decades now. It’s been tabbed out here and there and, more often than not, in quite lumpy ways.
I’ll be taking a look at this link riff as well as the Intro, the Verse, the Pre-Chorus and the Chorus and, as usual, comparing it to the “official” tab on Ultimate-guitar.
You’ll notice as you check this out that there’s a jump in tempos between the intro and the link riff (145bpm) and the verse (73bpm).
This is to allow for the cleanest and most economical way to transcribe things, keeping with the 16th note values for clarity.
UG get the initial tempo right but don’t change down for the verses leading to double the number of bars to follow and keep track of.
And yes, 73 is as close as you can get to half of 145!
One of the mistakes, as I see it, that most people make when tabbing out this intro is to miss the syncopation in what Ellefson’s playing.
It’s most often tabbed out straight as being a mix of 3 quarter notes and a couple of 8th notes in different combinations in bars 1 and 2.
This completely misses the “snatched at” feel of the 2nd note, it kind of pops up a fraction earlier than it would on a straight quarter note 1, 2, 3 4 & feel.
Here’s the UG version which has that quarter note motif:
You’ll notice that it’s a dotted 8th and a 16th note tied to a quarter note in bar 1 which is tied to another 8th note in bar 2.
The effect is a subtle, push/pull feeling so further down the page I’ve included the full intro tab with the bass part on it’s own and with the guitar (not necessarily exactly what’s played, not a guitarist!) because the chords fall on the beats where the bass is moving inside the beats.
Bars 3 and 4 are interesting. UG has Ellefson playing the following:
The rhythm is written wrong here (apart from UG’s annoying tendency to bar everything together!).
Beats 1 and 2 are right but 3 and 4 are wrong. Below is the JTR version:
You can see that there’s a tied note between between beats 2 and 3 which UG miss completely…
Ellefson isn’t playing the C after the low F (UG version), he’s simply playing 2 F’s on beat 2.
The pace and choppiness of this riff kind of requires exactness and not faffing about with string skipping in tight spaces!
Then we get to the tails of the riffs. I also used to think it was a chromatic run down from D to B but on much closer inspection, it’s not. And it’s different both times because of course it is!
But there’s a reason the tail of bar 4 is different as it’s makes landing on the B♭ easier.
Here’s the JTR version highlighting the point:
The first box is the double F’s.
Then we have the turn arounds; the first one allows Ellefson to finish the line and be back on the low E to start the riff over again and the second one does the same thing but finishes on the open A so that he can move his left hand back into position and land on the B♭ at the top of the riff again.
Here is the intro in full. Note the second time around, just this once, Ellefson DOES go up to the C but it’s just this once!
Below is the full intro tab and bassline with and without the guitar part.
Intro: Bass Only
Intro: Bass & Guitar
This is arguably a very simple riff but, again, it gets tabbed wrong all over the place (I assume because it’s hard to tease out the truth in the album mix!)
Here’s the UG rendering of this riff (they call it the pre-verse but it’s still part of the intro):
Intro Ending riff UG version
intro ending riff jTR version
Ellefson is a very musically smart bass player and only plays what he needs to deliver the riff and complement the guitars. This isn’t it.
Here’s what he’s playing (here’s the isolated-ish bass so you can hear it for yourself).
There are some artifacts in this isolated track that kind of make it sound like he’s playing 16th notes but he’s just laying down solid 8th notes while the guitars do all the gymnastics.
I love, love, love this riff. I loved it the moment I heard it. It’s so spiky and distinctive.
Here’s the UG tab of it:
Try counting that while you play it!
When you listen to the riff you should be able to feel that every low E is a downbeat. That should be guiding any transcriber to the truth…
Below is the JTR tab of this riff.
As mentioned above, every low E is a downbeat and you can see this clearly when it’s written out like this.
You could even count it if you wanted to, no need for wrestling with bars of 13/8!
Here’s how it sounds (really dig into those downbeats!):
Hopefully, reading the tab and listening to it isolated like this you can see/feel the downbeats and it makes sense to you tabbed as a 5/8, 7/8, 5/8, 4/4 part.
This whole intro and link riff section have been at 145bpm but now we’re moving into the verse riff so we halve the tempo to 73bpm and let’s take a look…
There are some subtle variations of this riff throughout the song, most likely not something deliberate but more a product of playing it at speed in the studio and just unconsciously tweaking note durations/rhythmic flourishes and choices of octave but it’s broadly the same throughout.
UG still has this running at 145bpm so you have this page of bars to follow along to:
As you can see that’s a lot of information to keep track of. It’s also filled with dead notes which Ellefson isn’t playing…
Here’s the JTR tab (no dead notes, at 73bpm and with octave appropriate tails)
The UG version has the “skip” in the tails each time but it’s not always there; sometimes the notes are simply played as straight 16th notes with no skip.
Here’s the audio of this:
This riff is odd: the tails are 1x, 2x, 1x, 3x through. You really need to concentrate when playing this one to make sure you don’t get lost!
As for the main bulk of the verse riff, this is Ellefson chopping things up and really locking in tight with Nick Menza’s kick drum.
Ellefson does this on Psychotron too (which will be a riff analysis pretty soon).
It’s really powerful as the bass tone adds serious extra weight to the kick and it becomes a super heavy bedrock for the guitars to work over.
We come out of this riff back into the link riff (5/8, 7/8, 5/8, 4/4) again and then into verse 2 which is almost a carbon copy of verse 1 (just the tails are slightly different).
Then into the link riff again and then we hit the first run of the pre-chorus.
Here’s the UG version (still at 145bpm!):
Here’s the JTR version (at 73bpm):
UG gets this mostly correct except for a couple of details.
The positions of the notes in the first 3 bars of theirs is wrong and it starts with a higher E when Ellefson starts with a heavy palm muted low E and then moves to the 7th fret A string for what is essentially a classic Megadeth descending chromatic line (that outlines a chord progression under the guitars).
Here’s how it sounds:
Something to note, as mentioned before, there are small “errors”, shall we say, wherein Ellefson is playing notes that seem to be slightly out of place (or inconsistent rhythms in repeated phrases).
This is just a part of what happens when a human plays an instrument live, these “errors” creep into the mix but they’re not wrong, they’re just something to be aware of and you can play them as-is or you can self edit and play “what he meant to play”.
I’m referring mainly to bar 3 of this riff where he misses out the 2nd fret B which is the logical note to land on in this downward progression (and is the note he lands on in all subsequent go rounds of this riff).
The low E’s make sense but there’s “one too many” of them!
Throughout the song whenever this riff comes up it’s slightly different (skips in some places but not there next time around) but the bones of it are the same throughout so if you only learn it this one way and play that each time you’ll sound like the recording.
Now we come to
This is one of my all time favourite Megadeth choruses (how do you ever choose!?). It’s so solid yet melodic. I especially love this riff when it comes in after the solos in a broken up form with harmony parts layered on top.
So, how has UG handled this riff?
They get quite a few of the right notes but not enough for it to be what he’s actually playing. The rhythms are off too…
Here’s the JTR tab and the audio (remember, we’re running at 73bpm here).
It sounds like this:
Again we have Ellefson chunking things down, chopping things up to lock in with the drums and create a punchy emphasis on beats 1 and 2.
It’s in bar 2 that things get more intricate.
UG’s bar 3 is JTR bar 2, beats 1 and 2 (still with me?) and they’re so close!
They have a random high E when Ellefson is playing a staccato open A string (for 3 of the 4 times around).
In their bar 4 (last 2 beats of JTR bar 2) they have C# to D when it’s actually C sliding up to D and then hitting the 7th fret A to sound out the notes of a D5 power chord; this, in turn, leads to an open D string giving Ellefson time to get his fretting hand down to the low G to F# to wrap up the riff.
It’s ever so slightly different the 4th time around (instead of the staccato low A he plays a high G making a C5) but as with other riffs in this song, the bones of it are consistent across the entire thing so if you learn it this way then you can play the whole song this way and it’s fine.
So there you have it: intro, link riff, verse, pre-chorus and chorus riffs decoded and laid bare!
As always, I hope this has helped to demystify what’s happening in the bass here. The mix on the record is both super clean/surgical and also quite thick which is really interesting.
Until next time (which will be Psychotron),
Happy riffing from Jack the Riffer.