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Class ?

Main Category: Heavy Metal
Also applicable: --------
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Megadeth fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Megadeth fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1985

It's kind of a... bizarre little record. I don't fall for it, and I don't even really like it, but it did establish Megadeth as kind of a, uhm, 'special' band. It's hard, though, to understand what's so 'special' about this album on first listen. It just sounds like your average thrash-a-thon from a bunch of stoned metal kids. You could even say this is Dave Mustaine's painful effort to create his own Kill 'Em All and reap artistic revenge upon his former Metallica buddies who had the nerve to kick HIM, the band's founding father, out of the band just before it became really hot. Heck, both albums even have 'kill' in the title!

And there's not much to recommend this record in pure objective terms. Oh sure, Dave and the boys play fast and mean, but Metallica could play faster and meaner, not to mention Slayer, who certainly had a lot of trouble coming up with a half-decent song at the time, but at least they were faster and meaner than all the other metal bands for miles around. On the absolute down side, though, the production for the album is horrible, and as usual, you're hearing this from a guy who normally couldn't care less about "clear mixing" or even differences between mono and stereo. On a good metal album, the guitars should be loud and clear; these ones mostly sound as if they were recorded on a poor quality C-90 cassette which was later subjected to overheating, overfreezing, and finally dropped in nitric acid for a couple hours. Add to this that Mustaine has a weird tendency to sing a little bit, uhm, how do we put it, 'aside of the main rhythm', and that his voice is anything but impressive, and you got yourself a sound that at times can be taken as an unintentional analogy to Captain Beefheart's intentional oddball ways of playing, recording, and producing. On a thrash metal album, no less. Oh yeah, the lyrics suck ass too. 'Your body's empty now, as I hold you, now gone I miss you, but I told you...'. After such an impressive lyrical start, Metallica's 'no life 'til leather!' sounds like modern day Shakespeare.

Yet despite all odds, I made a conscious effort to like this album, and you know what? It does have its redeeming qualities. First of all, it's short - it's all over in less than half an hour. (Okay, that's not exactly redeeming). Second, it's not talentless. Just play it next to Slayer's Show No Mercy, and you'll see that. Where Slayer's songs pretty much all sounded the same, and that "same" was chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga all over the place with not a single riff of true merit, the eight songs on this album are certainly different. Not only do they have different, and usually distinctive (though awfully produced) riffs, they occasionally feature unpredictable chord changes and cutesy acoustic or other "moments" that detract from the obligatory heaviness. Okay, so that's nothing that Metallica couldn't do just as well or better, but when we arrive at the individual songs, you can sometimes find stuff here that you won't find on any Metallica album.

It's kinda astonishing, for instance, when the album - a quintessential thrash release - begins with a brief classical-influenced piano, organ, and guitar introduction ('Last Rites'), and a nice introduction at that. Fifty seconds into the track, a loud swooshing phased noise sweeps that all away, and is replaced by the main riff to 'Loved To Death'. Cool, classy riff! Fifty more seconds, and instead of that cool riff, you get the ugly, almost dissonant, murkily produced main melody - from now on, you'll be finding plenty of reasons to hate Megadeth (to be frank with you, I was afraid my MP3 version of the song had something terribly wrong with it the first time around; took me some listening to understand that was really the way the song was recorded), but those first minute and a half, hoo boy. They almost made me believe in the band, you know.

And just about every song triggers that love-and-hate reaction. The main riff in the title track? Love it! Almost funky in a Zeppelinish kind of way! The main vocal melody? Do you call a bunch of disjointed screaming (in which it's hard to believe that Dave actually has any ear for music at all) "melody"? Well, maybe then you'll be wanting to regard Megadeth as heavy metal's answer to the Birthday Party. The descending rhythmic chuggin' in 'These Boots'? Pretty awesome! Chris Poland's guitar solos? Generic and unconvincing, even if they do kick a certain amount of booty. The "tiny" lightning-speed guitar fills in 'Looking Down The Cross' while the bass guitar meticulously grunts along at a much slower tempo? Inventive! The balance between guitars and vocals? More or less similar to the balance between a sperm whale and a bat-eared fox.

There IS one undisputed classic on the album - the very last song, 'Mechanix', which is actually the same tune as Metallica's 'The Four Horsemen', originally written by Dave while he was still in the band and re-recorded here with different lyrics and at a much faster tempo. It almost sounds as if it was recorded in a different studio or something - much better production, so that it's possible to hear both the guitars and the vocals at the same time. And it's definitely great. But, of course, one song doesn't make an album a classic, even if the drumming on it is better than on contemporary Metallica albums. Yeah you heard. Some tremendous fills on here. Geez, these guys should have beaten Metallica at something at least.



Year Of Release: 1986

The peak for early-era Megadeth. This one took some time to grow on me, and even now I feel a bit uneasy about most of the tracks, but sweet goddammit I just can't seem to be able to trash a record like this. Sure enough, it suffers from several problems quite common to the thrash genre - (almost) everything sounds the same stylistically, and the lyrics are laughably bad; check out 'Black Friday' in particular if you want to see a prime example of how not to write an ode to sadistic dismemberment. It's not even disgusting, it's just hilariously cringe-inducing as you witness Dave unearthing every possible blood-and-gore cliche and piling them all together. But look now, if I don't have the lyrics sheet, I can't make out anything he growls out anyway, and do you condemn Slayer for their lyrics, too, or what? At least Mr Mustaine doesn't go for the Cookie Monster tone, and I guess the way he half-sings, half-grumbles his way through these songs is actually entertaining, unlike many other bands I could mention.

I don't even despise the one universally despised song on here - Mustaine's sacrilegious "re-write" of 'I Ain't Superstitious'. Sure it sucks cock, but let me ask you when was the last time you heard a blues cover on an album unequivocally categorized as "speed metal"? Besides, Mustaine changes the lyrics so that they really match the title ('I ain't superstitious/It's all bullshit don't you know/Ain't afraid of the shadows/I like the dark anyway, and that's a fact!'), and that has me rolling under the table by itself. It's stupid, messy, and gimmicky, but I give it my thumbs up for pure novel value.

Okay now, let's move on to the core. The main problem of the previous album has been corrected: the production is marvelous. Well, not exactly "marvelous", maybe, but this time around you can hear both guitars on their own and sometimes you even get to discern the individual styles and melodies. As before, not everything on here is blinding thrash; most of the songs are multi-part, and most alternate between slower and faster parts. Are the songs memorable? No. But few thrash songs are memorable anyway; the way I see it, it's all about speed, technique, and aggression. I don't have a problem with that. You try reviewing speed metal bands based on how much of their stuff you're able to remember in about three or four listens and I'll be laughing out of my face.

Besides, one song at least is memorable - the title track. A true classic of the genre. Unexpectedly, all of a friggin' sudden, Mustaine breaks away from the generic demonic image on this one and delivers a confusing, socially/politically charged rant which actually shows that the guy is capable of interesting lyrics (my favourite line is, of course: 'what do you mean I couldn't be the President of the United States of America? Tell me something, it's still "We The People", rrrrright?'). He also sounds unexpectedly mean and lean delivering all those "what do you mean...", and the track is peppered with these cute little riffs that sound more like hardcore punk sometimes rather than metal. And then, of course, it all comes down in the immortal 'Peace sells... but who's buying?' chorus which you're bound not to forget provided that the previous songs didn't lull you to sleep.

Which they definitely shouldn't if you're more of a metalhead than me. The band doesn't actually try to out-Metallica Metallica this time; compared to some of that band's crunchiest tunes, the overall tone here would be wimpier. The emphasis is regularly on Mustaine/Poland interplay, and as far as prime ass-kicking goes, there's plenty of it to be had on the album. The album opener, 'Wake Up Dead', starts out fast and ends up slow, but the riffs are powerful all the way through. The chorus of 'Devil's Island' is almost sing-along-style (if you're ready to just cry out the name of the track over and over). 'Black Friday', according to the laws of the genre, is preceded by a half-acoustic moody intro called "Good Mourning" before kicking into the expected speedy overdrive. 'Bad Omen' is almost funky, with a very untrivial rhythm pattern being pursued - kind of like 'Walk This Way' rewritten for the Metal Age. And 'My Last Words' just works as a plain rip-roaring rocker, with not a lot of pretension but a lot of speed and fiery guitar soloing at a boogie tempo.

In short, this is how thrash should be done: valuing melodicity along with the notion of speed, not putting speed above everything else. What good is it to have a set of ultra-speedy songs if the speed simply prevents them from having discernible melodies? On the other hand, if you thought Metallica's "classic era" albums were too pretentious or "artsy" or something, then Peace Sells is the perfect alternative. It's not genius, but I tip my hat to all the craft. Now if only these guitar solos - many of which rule anyway - were a little bit more diverse, not just running up and down the scale! But that comes later.


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