Monday, February 5, 2024

Megadeth - Killing is My Business...and Business is Good! (1985)

Say what you will about the drama with Metallica that birthed this band, its status as arguably the most high profile 'revenge act' in metal, or the long and problematic history of one David Scott Mustaine. Even at a young age for me, it was obvious that this dude was going to make huge waves, not only for his distinction and talent as a guitarist, but the aura of sheer attitude that always surrounded him. From junior high to the real deal, he was one of the most often discussed musicians in the genre among not only my metal fan peers, but a larger audience of hard rock and glam fans whose underground dive went about as far as...Megadeth. So as I cover this debut, I'm not going to kick up a stink about what riff was taken from where, who wrote what, but just the work as it stands alone, and then maybe some meta-comparisons to Dave's alma mater.

Killing is My Business... was a fun, energized kick in the ass that was also a bit of a clutter, but excels when it hits its more accurate stride. While it exhibits a lot of the same roots as peers like Kill 'Em All or Show No Mercy, British-influenced heavy metal dirtied up in technique and meted out with a far nastier disposition, Dave's unique writing and riffing shines as something that you really hadn't heard on either of those seminal West Coast works. He's got a lot more game on the higher strings, and there's also a lot more of a hyper-bluesy groove on tracks like the titular "Killing", which certainly existed on tracks like "Jump in the Fire" or "The Antichrist", but it's in service to more complex, flashy rhythm guitars that characterize this band's sense of excess and indulgence. In many ways, this album serves as a prototype to one that you'd certainly have heard half a decade later, the same sense of finesse and momentum, but here the ore is just less processed and refined. Still, Dave in particular turned a lot of heads with this material, just because he was one of the most lethal six-stringers around at the time.

Now the leads here from Mustaine and Poland don't fare for me as well as the riffs themselves; they have that loose, frilly feel that you'd associate with Slayer and other early thrash bands, but even there I'm barely remembering the patterns or how they ever quite elevate anything else. They're functional and raw, but too straight-to-the-face with little payoff. It's the rhythm guitars that impress, but also the furious rhythm section, with some of David Eleffson's loosest and most effective playing mooring the whole production with a darker bottom end. Revisiting this once again, I have to say that I am also pretty floored by Gar Samuelson's work here, he's hitting the kit so hard that I feel like certain drums are about to fall off the thing, and yet it's well-controlled and pretty intense for 1985 with some nice kick and loads of strong fills. Mustaine's voice itself is already formed as a more nasally and angsty alternative to Hetfield's control, thriving in both that gravely constipated mid-pitch as well as the higher howls.

As far as the songs, I do think that not all the transitions are created equal, and occasionally there's a smidgeon of that clunkiness which can simply come with inexperience. For example I don't think the album starts out on its best foot...once "Loved to Deth" gets going, it has some magnificent riffs in between the verses, but the lurching rhythm of the verse itself seems a mess, and I also thought the "Last Rites" piano and guitar intro was really forgettable and the two don't complement each other in succession. That said, there is certainly foreshadowing in this track for betters to come, and once you get more into the 'meat' of the album, things become more consistent. "Killing...", "The Skull Beneath the Skin", "Rattlehead", "Chosen Ones", the atmospheric "Looking Down the Cross", and "Mechanix" make for quite a kickass 20-25 minutes, each of them also giving me prototype vibes in retrospect, but the opener doesn't always click with me, and I couldn't care less about the Nancy Sinatra cover beyond the fact that it does at least viably offer you that in a speed metal context. To be fair, it doesn't stand out too sorely from the originals, but it's a little goofy and unnecessary here. It's not nearly as cool as covering "Am I Evil?"...I had to say it.

So how does this hold up to the debut of Dave's previous associates? It's certainly more ambitious and advanced, even two years out, where Kill 'Em All toiled with its NWOBHM roots a little less glaringly as it began transmuting them into thrash. This was something more charged-up. Fresher. However, I've come to love every second of that 1983 masterpiece, it's one of my favorite Metallica records, whereas this one seems less consistent and something I'm less apt to revisit, especially if the choice is against some of Megadeth's later 80s material. It's certainly iconic, with the great cover photograph that introduces us to Vic Rattlehead, and belongs in a fan's collection, most of the tracks have plenty of rewarding replay value, but it's just not as seamless and developed as its successor. Also, perhaps an unpopular opinion, but I actually prefer The Final Kill remaster that dropped about a decade ago, I just dig the balance of the more muscular rhythm tone and vocals a little more than on this, but then again, that's not a deal breaker since this still holds its own. But if we're evaluating that version you might adjust my rating a few points upward.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (and I know just what to do)

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