Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Megadeth - Peace Sells...but Who's Buying? (1986)

I mentioned in my Killing is My Business... review that I really dug one of the remastered versions, but I'm the complete opposite when it comes to its follow-up. You want the original Peace Sells..., the default version and an improvement over the debut album in every category. Alright, if you PREFER the rawness, the disheveled vibe of old thrash and speed metal demos or albums, then perhaps this one came across a fraction too polished. Personally, though, I thought this record was straight fire when I first heard it and I've never changed my mind in going-on four decades. If it wasn't for one other album, this would be my favorite from Dave Mustaine, but even then it's a close match, and the sophomore is one of the most mandatory and iconic works of its genre. From the amazing Ed Repka cover art (which put the guy on the map) to the Cold War themes, the incorporation of the mascot, the bold orange and violet colors, this is not an album you look at and forget. It's also not one you could LISTEN TO and forget...

From the opening, bass-heavy grooves of "Wake Up Dead", it's almost shocking how much these four members had matured within the span of a single year. Instantly, there is more 'control' to the songwriting and performance, and while that might sound unappealing for a reckless band like Megadeth, borne on attitude and twisted sneers, they still manage to keep that personality intact. This thing is a riffing fucking juggernaut, and Randy Burns and his staff knew how to capture all the lightning in the bottle. The songs have an excellent level of variation, atmosphere and pure power, whether the band's moving steadily along or at some unbridled clip. Rhythm guitars are imbued with a lot of punch to the chords, and crunch to the palm muting patterns. Ellefson's bass lines are some of the best sounding of the era, joining others like Harris, Lemmy or Burton as an exemplar of how important the instrument should be in the medium. Strangely, Gar sounds a little more subdued than on the debut, that's not to say the beats are lacking, but it's just part of the balancing act.

The leads are quite a lot more memorable than on the debut; they've harnessed that slight sloppiness into something more defining and melodic, but they can still feel a little reckless and uncouth, and incorporate a little more harmony alongside some of the low-end thrashing (as in the bridge of the title track). Dave's vocals are also reined in for the better, the nasally mid-range adding some nasty bite and wit to some really memorable lines. In fact, I think "Peace Sells..." is the poster-child for his sense of sarcasm and socio-political critique, his pinched delivery can often prove cringe-worthy on later tracks like the awkward "Sweating Bullets", but they come off perfectly in this track, and the lyrics are truly hilarious, inspired, and 'Murica (in a good way). And so much of this is just so goddamn catchy, the first four tracks are unassailable, from the neck-stressing breakdowns of "Wake Up Dead" to the evil trot of "Devil's Island", this is how to start off an album, and I'd run these up against almost anything else in the genre when it comes to structure, pacing, and riff choice.

The 'B-side', well, not quite so much. It's funny that I have some of the same complaints as on the debut, only they are minimalized due to the sheer momentum of the band's musical maturity. For example, I don't care much about the "Good Mourning..." intro, with its clean guitars and lead, but it's at least better at setting a mood than "Last Rites" on the previous album. Also, there's the obligatory cover, this time Willie Dixon's "I Ain't Superstitious", and unlike "These Boots", they are playing this one a little closer to the belt...it feels like a bar cover by a couple metal musicians, but until they get to the nether regions of the track, they don't really metalize it at all, and even then it's too late. Then again, "My Last Words" is quite good, and there's a case where the acoustic/bass intro really shines. "Bad Omen" seems like a largely instrumental flex, but a decent one, and "Black Friday" probably dominates this deeper part of the track list, it far exceeds its intro half with those churning little rhythms during the verses.

Because of these small B-side missteps (at least for me), Peace Sells... doesn't quite reach the perfection of the albums Megadeth's two West Coast peers put out in the same year. Yes, it's basically up against my two favorite metal albums of all time, in the same genre, from the SAME fucking State! Uncanny, but to be fair to Dave and the boys, this album really does hold its own, it's one I am constantly listening back to, and the many positives almost completely obfuscate its few flaws. Within a span of months, Mustaine had already manifest into the metal godhood for which he was destined, and what a joy it is to have been around then, to have heard this when it first came out, and grown up with it. Worth every penny, worth every drop of nostalgia, and a triumphant evolution that doesn't cede any of the band's intensity other than sounding like the product of a studio and not a shack.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10] (Just not your kind)


No comments: