Buyers Guide – Megadeth by Adam McCann
The ‘Big 4’, that age old quadrant of Thrash Metal, the one that causes so many debates with your friends, acquaintances and colleagues. To play it safe, let’s go with Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth. Those bands pushed the boundaries of the genre at its beginnings, at its height and have left a legacy that defines it as a game changer in world of Heavy Metal.
Megadeth formed in 1983 and you know the story, in fact anyone with a vague knowledge of the history of Heavy Metal knows that vocalist and guitarist Dave Mustaine was booted out of Metallica, sought an undying revenge and formed Megadeth, utterly determined to beat his former band-mates and now deadly rivals. It is debatable whether it is this, Megadeth’s huge turnover of members with more lead guitarists and drummers passing through Megadeth’s door than Axl Rose does costume changes in a set, Mustaine’s angry and occasionally amusing, gritted teeth vocal delivery or the virtuosity that has oozed out of Megadeth since their inception that is at times not just impressive, but jaw-dropping and breathtaking, easily putting them above their peers in terms of skill.
Taking their influences from the likes of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Diamond Head, AC/DC, Iron Maiden and the Sex Pistols, Megadeth separated themselves away from the majority of the Thrash Metal movement by moving away from topics such as Satanism, demons and violence by voicing their opinions on politics, war, America and the government. These sort of topics that Megadeth cover have always managed to keep them relevant and this shows with Megadeth having impressively sold over 50 million records worldwide.
As with a lot of the Thrash Metal bands, Megadeth hit the ground running, singing with Combat Records and releasing their debut album, Killing is my Business… and Business is Good! In 1985 before a major record deal with Capitol Records dawned with the release of one of the most famous Megadeth releases, Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? hitting shelves in 1986. However, it was the turn of the decade into 1990 where Megadeth struck gold with the ‘classic’ line-up of Dave Mustaine, perennial bassist David Ellefson, ex-Cacophony shredder Marty Friedman and drummer Nick Menza releasing Rust In Peace, Countdown to Extinction, Youthanasia and Cryptic Writings and although each one of these releases watered down Megadeth’s original Thrash Metal sound, it also saw them expand their fan base hugely with constant MTV rotations and songs featured in many movie soundtracks.
Not everything lasts forever and Megadeth’s luck would eventually wear thin, 1999 saw Megadeth hugely experiment with their sound with the aptly titled Risk followed by a departure from Capitol Records. Mustaine would take the band heavier again with The World Needs a Hero as the first Megadeth album of the millennium released in 2001, but would ultimately call it a day albeit briefly after suffering nerve damage in his arm. The System has Failed was released in 2004 with the intention of being a Dave Mustaine solo album, however, record company pressure and contractual obligations forced Mustaine’s hand in placing the name Megadeth on this album and it wasn’t until a good few years later that Megadeth would find their feet again.
2007 was the second coming of Megadeth, this Megadeth was heavy, fast, angry and above all, hungry again, with a line-up that featured brothers Glen and Shawn Drover, Megadeth released United Abominations, the only noticeable absentee was David Ellefson who would return for 2011’s Thirteen although by this time, Glen Drover had departed and was replaced by former Jag Panzer virtuoso Chris Broderick. However, as is the norm in Megadeth land, Drover and Broderick would quit Megadeth days apart in 2014 and go on to form Act of Defiance.
Last year, Megadeth defiantly released Dystopia to an exceptionally warm reception featuring the versatile Angra guitarist, Kiko Loureiro whilst loaning drummer Chris Adler from Virginia Groove Metallers, Lamb of God. As Adler had fulfilled his duty, former Soilwork drummer, Dirk Verbeuren replaced him as Megadeth look set for the future with a new line-up, plenty of inspiration in the political world and another solid foundation with Dystopia, the Megadeth will undoubtedly continue.
Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?
Capitol Records, 1986
In the year that saw some very big and successful releases along the lines of Master of Puppets and Reign in Blood, Megadeth also joined the party with Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? Although certain tracks such as The Conjuring and Devil’s Island still alluded to the darker themes set out on the previous album, Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? moved towards the defining sound of Megadeth with the title track coupled with that iconic bass intro, fretboard wizardry a la Chris Poland and the relentless machine gun drumming of Gar Samuelson. Both Poland and Samuelson brought an undercurrent of Jazz/Fusion flair into their work with Megadeth that helped raise the bar for not only their peers but future members of the band. Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? is not just an essential album by Megadeth, it is also a classic album from this era and still stands tall 31 years on.
Rust In Peace
Capitol Records, 1990
Many people regard the line-up that conducted Rust In Peace, Countdown to Extinction, Youthanasia and Cryptic Writings to be the ‘classic’ line-up of Megadeth and who can blame them to be honest. In a line-up that boasted the then metronomic chest thumping of Nick Menza on the drums and the other-worldly skills of Marty Friedman, a man who’s trademark long curly mane and virtuoso playing blew the technical skills of most bands out of the water. All this came together to create one of the Thrash Metal magnum opus’ with tracks such as Hanger 18 and Holy Wars… The Punishment Due still doing the rounds in guitar playing magazines and still receiving heavy airplay. With Rust In Peace, Mustaine is at the pinnacle of his axe grinding with lyrics focusing on religion, conspiracy theories and nuclear war, pay attention to the rather amusing pseudo British accent during Dawn Patrol. If Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? made Megadeth, then it was Rust In Peace which solidified their position with a foothold that is as strong today as ever.
Countdown to Extinction
Capitol Records, 1992
By 1992 the music world had evolved once more and Megadeth returned with another huge record, the magnificent Countdown to Extinction. A lot of the faster Thrash elements were on their way out now, although a few glimpses were still present with the likes of the double bass blasts of Skin O’ My Teeth and insane shredding from both Friedman and Mustaine on Ashes In Your Mouth, Megadeth had moved more towards a more slower more groove laden Traditional Heavy Metal sound, what was lost in speed was now gained in heaviness. The ‘classic’ line-up was now more than bedded in and the song writing and craftsmanship shows this with the likes of Symphony of Destruction, Sweating Bullets and Architecture of Aggression all favourites from this album. Capitol Records were also piling the money on here and this shows with excellent slick production, soundbites and samples used on Countdown to Extinction, the most famous of which was the then President George Bush Snr’s famous ‘read my lips’ speech from Foreclosure of a Dream. Countdown to Extinction perfectly blends two worlds of Heavy Metal together following Metallica’s lead into the arenas.
Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good!
Combat Records, 1985
Megadeth kicked into life when they signed with Combat Records in 1985 and released their debut album, Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! After being booted out of Metallica, Mustaine hungered for revenge with Megadeth receiving a budget of $8000 to write and produce their album. The band did the decent thing and spent over half of this money on booze and drugs causing them to produce Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! Themselves. This resulted in an album of such low-fidelity that it could have been considered a demo. However, Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! is not without its charm and it quickly gathered a following with its blistering guitar solos courtesy of Mustaine and Chris Poland and the aggressive, venomous lyrics that Mustaine spat out. Clocking in at under half an hour, the album burns through songs so fast that the vinyl was in danger of melting, songs such as the head banging anthem, Rattlehead, the updated torturous version of hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil with The Skull Beneath the Skin and the Metallica provoking Mechanix all planted Megadeth firmly on the map.
So Far, So Good… So What!
Capitol Records, 1988
Of the many people to come in and out of Megadeth, it was Chris Poland and Gar Samuelson who were the first casualties of Megadeth with both members being fired after the Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? tour. Chuck Behler was Samuelson’s drum tech and succeeded him to be first to join the So Far, So Good… So What! line-up with guitarist Jeff Young following months later. Although the production on the album isn’t exactly the best, sometimes songs just don’t need it and songs like In My Darkest Hour; a eulogy to Cliff Burton shines the brightest on this album with Mustaine showing that he is more than capable of the personal, emotional touch. So Far, So Good… So What! shows Mustaine stretching out experimenting with different instrumentations such as the arrangement of horns and wind instruments on Into the Lungs of Hell as well as various vocal deliveries particularly with Hook In Mouth and the motor mouth tongue twisting of Liar which proves that Dave Mustaine is a better rapper than Kanye West. Although Behler and Young would only stick around for this album, So Far, So Good… So What! does a fantastic job of bridging Megadeth of the 80’s and the beast they would become in the 90’s.
Capitol Records, 1994
Following the rampant success of Countdown to Extinction, Megadeth continued to streamline their sound down for 1994’s Youthanasia with the song writing and craftsmanship becoming testament to a strong and stable line-up. Gone completely was any trace of Megadeth’s Thrash Metal roots with more emphasis on radio friendly riffs and grooves such as Train of Consequences, Reckoning Day and the rather sombre, thought provoking A Tout Le Monde. A reunion with Max Norman in the production seat helped continue the vein set forth on Countdown to Extinction with yet another super slick production once again backed by the faith that Capitol Records have put into Megadeth. Although the speed had slowed significantly, Nick Menza’s drums still thundered louder than ever which is more than evident on the speaker shaking Reckoning Day and Addicted to Chaos, however, what Megadeth now lacked in rage, they more than made up with melodic hooks which certified Youthanasia as Platinum. Youthanasia shows a band at its prime and height of powers untouched by anything around them.
Tradecraft Records, 2016
A lot of fans felt hugely let down after the lacklustre, giant meh that was 2013’s Super Collider. Following this, Chris Broderick and Glen Drover departed from Megadeth within days of each other causing Mustaine and Ellefson to go back to the drawing board. Hiring Kiko Loureiro from Angra and lending Chris Adler from Lamb of God, Megadeth put together one of the best albums of their career with Dystopia. Dystopia is a return to the Thrash Metal sound and easily their best work since Countdown to Extinction, it is fast, it is melodic and it is laden with everything that you love about Megadeth, from the conspiracy heavy Fatal Illusion, Death From Within and Post American World to Mustaine getting back to his rage fuelled revenge type lyrics with The Emperor. Coming from Angra, Loureiro fits into Megadeth a lot better than you would expect, Loureiro has some fantastic trade on and off interplay with Mustaine showing that he can give Megadeth that creative spark and not just a puppet that can emulate Friedman and the rest. Dystopia provides a brilliant foundation for Megadeth to build on with a future looking brighter than ever.
Capitol Records, 1997
The final album to feature the ‘classic’ line-up, Cryptic Writings takes the sleek production and Pop melodies that ran through Youthanasia to the next level. However, Cryptic Writings is more a mixed bag, there are some faster songs on here than the previous album with the likes of The Disintegrators, She-Wolf and the Motorbreath sounding FFF, but it all the focus on Cryptic Writings was on the Pop sensibilities that ran through the album. This was shown with the choice of singles, Trust, Almost Honest and A Secret Place was a million miles away from the songs created at the start of this line-up. Mustaine also experimented with various different instruments during this album, noticeably the use of a sitar during the intro to A Secret Place and the second appearance of a harmonica on a Megadeth album used on Have Cool, Will Travel. Time has been kind to Cryptic Writings with tracks like Trust and She-Wolf fan favourites in the Megadeth set list, yes Cryptic Writings contains some filler and it did signal Megadeth’s move towards a more Pop-orientated sound, but here, the good definitely outweighs the unmemorable.
Roadrunner Records, 2007
Following a small break, Megadeth were back with United Abominations. Mustaine was the last man standing, Ellefson was now gone, replaced by former White Lion bassist James LoMenzo as well as siblings Glen and Shawn Drover on drums and guitars respectively. A lot had happened in the world since Megadeth’s last ‘true’ release back in 2001 with The World Needs A Hero and now Megadeth sounded rejuvenated, Mustaine was back with his rage directed at the American government, Iraq, Afghanistan, extremism and the United Nations, everything was fair game and got it with both barrels. However, some of the songs can be considered xenophobic and borderline racist, especially with Amerikhastan and although this song signals the album tailing off towards the end, there are some utterly fantastic songs on this album. The supreme vengeance of Sleepwalker, the preparation for an attack on American soil with Washington Is Next! and the reworking of A Tout Le Monde which featured Lacuna Coil vocalist, Christina Scabbia. United Abominations is the beginning of the second coming of Megadeth and it was good to have them back.
Roadrunner Records, 2009
Following on from United Abominations, Megadeth released their 12th studio album with Endgame. True to the standard story of Megadeth, Glen Drover had departed and was replaced by Chris Broderick. Broderick brought an even Thrashier edge back to Megadeth and this shows on Endgame, from the opening instrumental of Dialectic Chaos into the battle cry of This Day We Fight! Megadeth meant business. Endgame is classic Megadeth, it has an undercurrent of conspiracy theories running through it such as references to I.D. chips and the invasive government measures introduced by President George W. Bush in the title track and Bite the Hand. However, the award for the best song on the album goes to Head Crusher, a fast shredding masterpiece about a torture device that wouldn’t be out of place on Countdown to Extinction. Unfortunately, Endgame is also coupled with some acoustic numbers which let the album down, The Hardest Part of Letting Go… Sealed with a Kiss is something of an embarrassment whilst How the Story Ends falls into completely unmemorable.
Capitol Records, 1999
Never has a record been more aptly named than Risk. Other than Mustaine’s distinct vocals, you would actually never guess that this was Megadeth. Gone are traces of any Thrash Metal and even the Heavy Metal riffs that filled their most famous works, Risk is coupled with a hideous Pop production and quick guitar interjection licks rather than the riffs and virtuosities associated with Megadeth. Risk was a commercial failure and even now, Risk is still critically scorned and although Risk has actually aged better than some of its contemporaries it still stands far below any other Megadeth record. With Risk, Megadeth tried something new, it didn’t work and they would return with a much better record in 2001 with The World Needs A Hero.
The System Has Failed
Sanctuary Records, 2004
After a much shorter than anticipated hiatus following Dave Mustaine’s arm injury, Megadeth returned with The System Has Failed. Although initially penned as a Dave Mustaine solo album, record company obligations forced Mustaine to use the Megadeth name. The System Has Failed is also one of the first points where Mustaine references his conversion to Born Again Christianity with songs such as Shadow of Deth, which featured lyrics from Psalm 23 and also My Kingdom whilst Mustaine also reflects on life with Of Mice and Men. The System Has Failed may not be to everyone’s taste, but it also sees Mustaine working with former Megadeth lead guitarist Chris Poland again who shows what a talent he has with excellent solos on Die Dead Enough and Blackmail the Universe, but it is Mustaine who steals the show with one of the best songs Megadeth ever recorded with Kick the Chair in which Mustaine refers to the financially fluid American judicial system as a menu. Megadeth have done far better than The System Has Failed, but they have also done a hell of a lot worse, but this album is often down to personal taste, so the best way is to put it on and see for yourself.
Essential Megadeth Playlist
- Mechanix – Killing Is My Business… And Business is Good!
- Rattlehead – Killing Is My Business… And Business is Good!
- Wake Up Dead – Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?
- Peace Sells – Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?
- In My Darkest Hour – So Far… So Good… So What!
- Hook In Mouth – So Far… So Good… So What!
- Holy Wars… The Punishment Due – Rust In Peace
- Hanger 18 – Rust In Peace
- Skin O’ My Teeth – Countdown to Extinction
- Symphony of Destruction – Countdown to Extinction
- Ashes In Your Mouth – Countdown to Extinction
- A Tout Le Monde – Youthanasia
- Angry Again – Hidden Treasures
- Diadems – Hidden Treasures
- She-Wolf – Cryptic Writings
- 1000 Times Goodbye – The World Needs A Hero
- Sleepwalker – United Abominations
- Head Crusher – Endgame
- Fatal Illusion – Dystopia
- The Emperor – Dystopia
Adam McCann / MHF Magazine