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Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good! (1985)
 

Throughout 1982 and into 1983, Dave Mustaine was the lead guitarist for Metallica. During the band's formative period, he was instrumental in the development of Metallica as well as that of Thrash Metal as a whole. They took their NWOBHM influences (including bands such as Motorhead, Angel Witch, Diamond Head and Venom) and harnessed this with a youthful aggression that produced something heavier, faster and much more vicious. Mustaine was a huge part of this, yet he found himself ejected from the band just before the recording of Kill 'Em All, in early 1983. It was a blow that Dave would never fully recover from, yet it inspired him to prove something to the world.

In the summer of 1983, he met David Ellefson and formed Megadeth. Early on, he attempted to get Sean Harris (of Diamond Head) to sing for his band, but with no luck. By the end of the year, Dave Mustaine took this duty on as well. After recording a three-song demo, Megadeth recruited Kerry King (of Slayer) for some of their first live shows, but he returned to his primary band after a short time. Mustaine and Ellefson were then joined by guitarist Chris Poland and drummer Gar Samuelson. By late 1984, the band was signed to Combat Records and entered the studio to record their debut L.P. Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good! was released in early 1985.

Along with Metallica, Megadeth was one of the first Thrash Metal bands that I got into, so many years ago. I grew up with a lot of rock and traditional metal and NWOBHM, including Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Dio, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Satan, Motorhead, etc. What bands like Metallica, Megadeth and (later) Slayer represented was something harder, faster and more aggressive. While it may not have been the most evil thing released, Killing Is My Business... features a lot of dark atmosphere, especially for someone who was some years from hearing his first albums from Slayer, Bathory, Venom and so on.

"Last Rites/Loved to Death" begins with a very eerie passage, played on the piano. Much like a horror score, it creates a dark atmosphere and builds to its climax of doom. As these sounds fade, a familiar guitar riff opens the album. If you listen to the first albums from Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth, you'll notice a very similar way of opening the first song. The difference here is the ferocity and anger that fuels Mustaine's playing and the animalistic roar that he unleashes at the beginning of the song. Immediately, it is evident that this is faster and more intense than Mustaine's previous band, while also being much darker in sound. Even the lyrics are morbid and obsessed with death and murder. The socially conscious, political lyrics that Dave became known for are completely absent from this release.

Already, by the time the title track begins, the listener gets a real feel for Mustaine's style of songwriting. This song begins in a relaxed, mid-paced way before racing along at break-neck speeds. As with the previous song, there are plenty of riff and tempo changes. Often, people complain about the production that this album received, but it suits it just fine and adds to the charm. Anyone who came years later and only got the remixed version, you have been robbed of a true classic Thrash Metal album. The raw sound is as much a part of this as the riffs and vocal lines.

"Skull Beneath the Skin" begins with a psychotic lead solo and more of Dave's demonic screams. This song features some of the best thrash riffs written and it's no wonder how Mustaine was so influential to this growing scene. The lyrics are dark and much more fitting for this music than the political topics that would be used, later on. Of course, this isn't as harsh as Bathory or Sodom, but it is certainly darker than Metallica and Anthrax. Even all these years later, this music is filled with a great deal of energy and makes you want to destroy everything in your path while listening. There is a strong, violent force that pulses through this album.

The awful cover song must have been the result of a bad night of drugs and alcohol, so it will get no more attention here other than to say that it is completely out of place.

The next song is one of the most straight-forward Speed Metal songs of the album, "Rattlehead." This one lacks some of the dark atmosphere that is present elsewhere, but it makes up for that in pure, raw energy. This is simply one of the most intense songs on Killing Is My Business...

"Chosen Ones" is the shortest song on here, clocking in under three minutes, though it features a few more riffs than the previous song. This one really shows the NWOBHM influence and has more of a relaxed feeling, while still maintaining a decent speed. As with most of the other songs, this is very memorable. It's actually somewhat reminiscent of Motorhead, which may account for the calm pace. It is these more retrained parts of the album that might imbue the listener with a little frustration as Mustaine is known as one of the godfathers of Thrash Metal and it can seem like a waste when he's not unleashing incredible thrash riffs at full speed.

The next song begins with a very dark intro. "Looking Down the Cross" builds up very slowly and has the most evil and epic atmosphere of any of the songs on this album. The speed is more mid-paced, which lends to the dark aura. Brilliant riffs are circling over your head like vultures over a fresh carcass. The lead solos on this album are very methodically structured and individual in character. This is quite apparent on this song. It's difficult to believe that while this album displays a lot of complexity for an early Thrash Metal release, it's relatively straight-forward when compared to later Megadeth albums.

This classic is brought to its conclusion with "Mechanix", which is better known as "The Four Horsemen", from Metallica's Kill 'Em All. This is the original version that Dave brought with him into that band. This is much faster, features different (ridiculous) lyrics and is missing some of the dynamics that made it so effective on Metallica's debut. Mustaine did add a very nice intro to the song, but it does seem to fall a little flat when compared to "The Four Horsemen". The intro is mid-paced and works to create a sense of doom before the shredding onslaught begins. This is not filler, by any means. So long as it's no compared to anything else, it stands on its own pretty well. It's been said that Dave's vocals aren't the greatest but they make up for it in rawness and attitude. Well, this song is probably the biggest "fuck you", musically, as this gives him the opportunity to showcase his ability to play the riffs and lead solos that he created and that Kirk Hammett got credit for.

All in all, this is a very impressive debut album. It put the metal world on notice and made sure that Dave Mustaine would not be forgotten. Some criticize the cover art, the production or the vocals, but all of these things come together to make Killing Is My Business... the classic Thrash Metal album that it is and the starting point for one of the best bands in the genre. For any Thrash fans that have not yet obtained this, do whatever it takes to get your hands on the original, rather than the awful remixed version that drains all of the character right out of the album.
 
(3 Apr. 2009)

 
 

Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? is the second full-length album from Megadeth. Recorded in late '85 / early '86 and produced by Randy Burns, the original mix did little to satisfy the band's desire to improve upon the sound of Killing is My Business... By the time Capital Records bought out their contract from Combat, they hired Paul Lani to remix the album and in November 1986, one of the all-time classics of Thrash Metal was unleashed upon the world.

Aside from the low budget that they started out with, the band also struggled with internal problems stemming from drug abuse. While all of the members were involved in this, to some extent, Chris Poland and Gar Samuelson lacked the same level of passion and commitment for the music, itself, thus allowing their bad habits to wreak havoc during the recording process. In fact, the album nearly never came into being. Notwithstanding, Mustaine's dedication and drive forced the birth of this landmark album and cemented his place in the Metal pantheon.

As was common throughout the years, Dave always had one eye on what his former bandmates were doing and continued to feel that he was a step behind. However, it is actually nothing more than ridiculous paranoia since, on a purely artistic level, Megadeth's 1986 output crushed Master of Puppets in nearly every way. While it may not have led to the same financial success, it is clearly the superior record and that should count for quite a bit more.

The album begins with "Wake Up Dead", which wastes no time with acoustic intros, instead opting to just bludgeon the listener's skull with crushing heaviness and Mustaine's killer solos. The difference between this album and the previous one is very clear, from the opening moments. The sound is thicker and yet still possesses enough raw feeling to appeal to those that appreciated the debut. This song actually feels like an instrumental at some points, given that the vocals are so sparse. Nevertheless, when utilized they display that Dave had already begun to gain a little more control of his voice. Musically, the tempos are varied and yet each riff flows into the next with such ease that it is very obvious that Mustaine's songwriting skills were second-to-none at the time, especially when compared to Metallica.

The next song is "The Conjuring", which starts with a dark melody and an ominous build. Tracks like this gave Megadeth a Satanic image, back in the mid-80s, occasionally being labeled as Black Metal. The lyrics to this song were attributed to Dave's experimentation with black magic, during his youth, though he later rejected such practices. The various riffs offer a clinic in Thrash Metal, showcasing abilities that most other bands were simply lacking. The music manages to be memorable and still evokes a somewhat sinister vibe.

"Come join me in my infernal depths
Mephisto's hall of fame
I've got your soul, I've got your soul
The conjuring... Obey!!!"

The title track is a rather odd track, in some ways. Upon first hearing it, many years ago, it seemed to interrupt the flow of the album with the unorthodox vocal delivery and bass intro. It almost has more of a pop feeling, though undeniably heavy. It is one of the earliest forays into politically aware lyrics, though in the minority on here.

"Devil's Island" opens with doom riffs and incredible solo work, before picking up the pace and serving as yet another vehicle to exhibit Mustaine's unique ability to create songs that are both intense and yet infectious as well. This is a rather straightforward song that sounds like something written prior to the release of the debut album. As with the rest of the tunes, one can easily notice that the bass has more presence on this record than with many other Metal bands of this period, and the guitar work is incredibly solid. Whatever personal issues the band members had to deal with, they were able to hold together enough to create something quite remarkable.

Side B starts with "Good Mourning/Black Friday", which features a haunting and somewhat sorrowful intro that adds another layer of darkness to the album. Eerie riffs and masterful solos lead the listener deeper into the mouth of Hell, as Dave's voice soon emerges from the shadows to lead the damned on their cursed path. Once the song gets going, the riffs become more intense and the lyrics are basically early Death Metal, with all of the sadistic glory that would be utilized by bands such as Death and Autopsy, sometime later. This song stands out as one of the highlights of the album, which is saying something considering the high quality of nearly every track on here.

"Their bodies convulse, in agony and pain
I mangle their faces, till no features remain
A blade for the butchering, I cut them to shreds
First take out the organs, then cut off the head"

"Bad Omen" continues the dark feeling that was conjured up by many of the earlier tracks, going from themes of death back to Satanic rituals. While not reaching Venom or Slayer levels of blasphemy, it still maintains a darkness of its own, nonetheless. The atmosphere is evil and the slow build is done to perfection. Doom riffs and menacing solos give way to a troublesome bass line before a rather subdued riff carries the first verse. Soon enough, this bleeds into one of the best lead breaks of the entire album. The pace picks up as Dave continues to tell of demonic rites and the music continues to leave no doubt about the band's skill. The fast section is one of the most enjoyable parts of Peace Sells... being intense and also well-crafted.

"Their master's time has come
The moon is full tonight."

This is followed by another cover song, "I Ain't Superstitious". While well done and worth hearing to some extent, it really doesn't fit in with the rest of the material and is kind of pointless, thus resulting in the album losing points for coherence. Still, in some way, it kind of fits in regarding the lyrical content, in an odd manner. The fast part at the end isn't too bad, but the album would have benefited from this track being omitted.

The record ends, appropriately, with "My Last Words". It starts with an acoustic intro, joined by foreboding guitar work. Once the song gets underway, one can hear more of a NWOBHM influence in some of the riffs, which is very enjoyable. While not blistering, the pace is rather fast and aggressive. The final minutes of the song are absolutely classic Speed / Thrash with intricate solos and killer riffs that will have even the most comatose listener banging their head. There is something very epic about the melodies, enabling the record to end on a high point. One can also detect a sense of melancholy in the vibes created by this closing section, and the lyrics seems to add to this feeling.

"You... come on... next victim... your turn to die"

Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? is the definitive Megadeth album, a testament to the overwhelming skill and brilliance of its creators. While lacking the rawness of the debut, it still managed to destroy Master of Puppets and Reign in Blood, both of which were released that same year. Not without its faults, but certainly a classic and proof that whatever difficulties arose from the other members of the band, it was a battle worth fighting with an end result such as this. With Dave Mustaine's excellent songwriting and the combined talents of each member, Megadeth was able to give birth to their crowning achievement.
 
(25 Apr. 2011)

 
 

So Far, So Good... So What! is the third L.P. from Megadeth, and it is a very unique album. It is peculiar in many ways, yet criminally underrated. Following the much-praised Peace Sells... but who's Buying? and preceding fan-favourite Rust In Peace, this record is often overlooked or just outright ignored. It was surrounded by controversy, from the very beginning, as line-up problems threatened its very creation. Drug abuse had run rampant within the band since the beginning, but by 1987 Gar Samuelson and Chris Poland were ejected. Mustaine later made it clear that, as far as the former guitarist was concerned, it wasn't so much the drug use as it was the actions that resulted from it... such as stealing and selling off band equipment to pay for drugs. Dave and Junior were then joined by Chuck Behler and Jay Reynolds, on drums and guitar, respectively. By the time the album was set to be recorded, they discovered that theur new guitarist was incapable of handling the material, so they ended up replacing him with his own guitar teacher, Jeff Young. During the recording, the band also clashed with the producer, ending up with him being tossed out and the whole thing remixed, just as with the last effort. Despite all of this, by January 1988, Megadeth released their third album through Capitol Records.

Side A opens with "Into the Lungs of Hell", which is an incredible instrumental track. Clocking in at over three minutes, it really gives the listener the feeling of having been taken on an epic journey. Several of the riffs that are present here could have been used to sustain individual songs, and this was merely the beginning. It is almost reminiscent of the instrumental that starts out Iron Maiden's Killers album, just far more vicious. The feeling that is conjured up takes one to an earlier time, and sounds like something that may have been developed prior to the first album, with a good Speed / Thrash approach.

This leads right into "Set the World Afire", which was the first song that Dave Mustaine wrote after being fired from Metallica. Surely, it went through some sort of development in the five years that it took to make it onto a full-length, but it still captures a very raw feeling. Following the nuclear explosion, one hears the sound of razor-sharp guitars that slice right through you. Many say that the production of this album is somehow less effective than that of the others from Megadeth's classic era, yet the sound suits the material, perfectly. In fact, given that some of the songs pre-date Killing is My Business..., it is only appropriate that the production is a little more raw and ugly. This track is one of the highlights of the album, and features a variety of tempos and a good mix of Speed and Thrash riffs, along with wild solos and hateful vocals.

The next song is a cover of "Anarchy in the U.K.", by the Sex Pistols. As a matter of fact, Steve Jones even plays a lead solo on this version. Unfortunately, the song really kills the momentum of the album. It is well done and enjoyable enough, but the placement couldn't have been worse. It should have been buried somewhere on Side B, as with the previous cover tunes. At this point, the record has not been able to establish any particular feeling and the listener already begins to sense a feeling of disunity within the material.

This is followed by "Mary Jane", which starts with a rather eerie melody. The pace is considerably slower than the previous songs and really would have worked well as the second proper song. Some of the haunting guitar work and vocal effects are slightly reminiscent of Mercyful Fate, and the lyrics seem to deal with dark topics. Initially, I was a little annoyed with the song, thinking it was a reference to drug use and thinking such a thing to be immature and pointless to write a song about. It may very well be that, but the lyrics don't make it as obvious as the song title would have one expect. As the song continues, you can really see the chaotic nature of the record and it is actually a breath of fresh air when one considers how most of Megadeth's peers were getting farther from their roots, by this point.

Side B kicks off with "502", which loses the dark feeling that was present on some of the earlier songs. It's more of a straightforward song, being one of the faster tunes on the record, though never really reaching full speed. It lacks the intensity of some of the band's older material and the non-serious subject matter, once again, kills any sense of cohesion that that could have existed. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "throwaway track", but it could have used a little more work. All in all, not a bad song.

Next up is "In My Darkest Hour", one of the band's best-known songs of all time. The music was inspired by the death of Metallica bassist, Cliff Burton, while the lyrics seem to deal with something altogether different. The mixture of clean and acoustic guitars start the song out, before a mid-paced riff carries this miserable dirge toward the shadows of despair. It doesn't quite compare to a song like "Fade to Black", but it's about as close as Megadeth ever came to making such a song. Later on, the pace picks up and some nice solos are included, though not measuring up to those found on the previous record. Following an intense crescendo, the song returns to the slow and depressive riff that introduced it, before stepping forward and collapsing into an open grave.

"Things will be better when I'm dead and gone..."

"Liar" picks up the pace, as an ode to the band's former guitarist. Again, this sort of thing is not my cup of tea and manages to lose the feeling that has been conceived by several of the other songs. Musically, it's got some decent ideas, but none that are particularly brilliant. It is at this point that one gets the clear picture that So Far, So Good... So What! is very inconsistent.

The album ends with "Hook in Mouth", which is a little annoying until the second verse, since the first has no guitars. This song deals with censorship of music, most notably the P.M.R.C. This was a big issue in the late 80s, and is the only real example of anything political on this release. Naturally, as with the last song, the lyrical concept is less interesting but the music increases in feeling as the track progresses. There is also a decent amount of shredding tossed in. Going from heavy-as-hell Thrash riffs to more intricate Speed Metal passages, this features some of the best solos heard since the beginning of Side A, and at least ends the journey on a positive note.

Here we have an album that is made up of a few old songs that didn't make it onto either of the first two records, a cover song and a couple tracks that never really live up to their full potential. Combined with a somewhat more raw production job and an inconsistent feeling throughout, So Far, So Good... So What! is often discounted and largely forgotten. The fact of the matter is that there is a good deal of worthy material here, despite the album's flaws and anyone that likes the old Megadeth material would be doing themselves a disservice to overlook this collection of songs. While the whole may fall short of being greater than the sum of its parts, some of the individual tracks represent a few of Dave Mustaine's career highlights.
 
(27 April 2011)

 
 

Rust In Peace is the fourth full-length album from one of the elite bands of American Thrash Metal, Megadeth. Recorded in early 1990 at Rumbo Studios, and produced by Mike Clink (the first producer to make it through an entire Megadeth session without getting axed), the L.P. was released in September of that year. Considering when the material was written, this record features one of the final gasps of the 80s Thrash scene, as most bands would soon travel down a path of damnation and misery. This album featured yet another line-up, as Jeff Young and Chuck Behler were replaced by Marty Friedman and Nick Menza. Despite the hardships, Dave Mustaine and Dave Ellefson persevered and put together a tight unit capable of bringing to life one of the real masterpieces of the time period.

This was my first Megadeth album, and has always maintained a certain amount of sentimental value. In fact, it was one of the first Thrash Metal albums that I ever acquired, and part of a core group of releases that served as the measuring stick by which many other bands were judged, as I began delving deeper into this music. There was a time when this cassette was constantly in my portable tape player, accompanying me on many early morning walks to the school bus stop (and occasionally being listened to, at a low volume, during class). Nearly two decades later, I can't say that I even have a favourite album by this band anymore, as each one possesses its own charm.

Side A begins with "Holy Wars... the Punishment Due", which opens with one of the best thrash riffs ever written. Right away, one can tell that the production is cleaner than on the previous album, which almost does a disservice to the material. The guitars are thicker and the sound is reminiscent of that of their sophomore effort. While So Far, So Good... So What! seemed chaotic, at times, it is very clear that this is a group of musicians that are much tighter and up to the task of creating something special. The first couple minutes of the song are rather intense, and the lyrics deal with the Northern Ireland conflict. Oddly enough, there is a musical shift that accompanies a change in lyrical focus, which then describe a comic book character. This mid-paced section is memorable, but nothing compared to the shredding that follows. As the song progresses, the intensity builds again and it builds to a vicious crescendo, with the first riff returning to pummel the listener into complete submission.

The next song is "Hangar 18", which starts out with a somewhat melancholy chord progression. While clocking in at just over five minutes, the track has an epic vibe that is similar to the way Mercyful Fate would construct their songs. There are lyrics, which deal with UFOs and government cover-ups, but the song feels like an instrumental, in a sense. It is packed with killer riffs and great solo work from both Mustaine and Friedman. By this point, one gets a sense that Dave has given up on trying to sound too menacing with the vocals, as they sound a little more smooth and his snarl lacks some of its usual bite. All in all, this is one of the best songs that the band has ever written.

"Take No Prisoners" follows this, and is more of a straight-forward track with a lot of fast riffs and a little more attitude than the previous songs. Nick Menza seems a little busy behind the drum kit, but does a decent job anyway. There are enough riffs and tempo changes to keep things interesting, without going so far as to just throw them out there with no purpose.

Next up is "Five Magics", opening with some very ominous melodies that imbue the listener with a sense of doom. The riffs hearken back to some of the darker moments of Peace Sells..., before the song changes gears and turns into an all-out thrasher. There are some nice galloping riffs that are interspersed later on, just before the song speeds up and bursts with intensity. Beware of the remastered version, however, as this is one of the songs that was completely raped by the alterations that were made, rendering it completely ineffective.

Side B starts out with "Poison Was the Cure". The song slowly builds from a bass and drum intro, with crushing guitars that weave in and out, soon giving way to old school Speed Metal at its finest. The intricate riffs remind one of songs like "Rattlehead", from Killing is My Business... and there is a great solo at the very end. The only complaint that I have about this is that it is too short. That is something that it has in common with many of the other songs on this record; iit leaves the listener wanting more, never lasting long enough to become tiresome or boring. Either way, it certainly delivers.

"Lucretia" slows things down a bit, but still presents some interesting riffs. While not the most intense or impressive, songs like this are necessary for the cohesiveness of the album, as a whole, to give it peaks and valleys. There are some really good solos (as if anyone would ever doubt this band's capability to offer up worthy guitar solos), though the song's primary function seems to be only to break things up and add a little diversity.

Things speed up again on the next song, "Tornado of Souls". It is loaded with memorable riffs and has long been a fan favourite, since the album's release. It's not terribly fast, but the pace is more energetic than some of the other tracks. What one really finds on this album is a band that is more comfortable with its own identity, allowing for more melodic moments without compromising themselves as they would do later on. There are great transitions between each riff and, though the vocals aren't very threatening, they work well within the context of the song.

"Dawn Patrol" is a peculiar track, in that it doesn't feel like a real song and is just bass, drums, and Dave Mustaine doing a horrible accent. More or less, this is just an interlude and builds to the final real song. It is kind of interesting, but not entirely necessary.

The album ends with "Rust in Peace...Polaris". The opening drum sequence is very memorable and the riffs are some of the most intense moments to be found on here. Unfortunately, my appreciation for this song has waned, over the years, as I find myself wishing to hear more Thrash and less of the relaxed type of riffs that dominate much of the song. Things speed up a little, as the song nears its conclusion, but there's not quite enough to satisfy those who needed more of the speed and energy that the first riffs promised.

Rust In Peace is one of Megadeth's best albums, and is far more impressive and together than the the album that preceded it. However, over time, it doesn't quite stand up to the first two in the way that it once seemed to. Most of this record's best qualities are things that were done better years earlier. That said, this is a solid album and it features some of the band's best work. When compared to other releases from 1990, it is much more creative than Seasons in the Abyss, Souls of Black or Persistence of Time (to compare them to their closest peers), and it completely destroyed the pile of garbage that Metallica would unveil in the following year. This album is highly recommended, just be sure to seek out the original version.
 
(28 April 2011)

 
 

The early 90s were a sad time for Thrash Metal purists. Possibly as a reaction to Metallica's "Black Album", many bands were slowing things down and looking to create a more accessible sound, in order to appeal to a wider audience and sell more records. In other words, it was a time of compromised values and decreased creativity. Unfortunately, Megadeth jumped on this bandwagon as well, though faring a little better than many of their contemporaries. Countdown to Extinction, released in July 1992, represented the beginning of a new era for the band. This much was evident just by the absence of Vic Rattlehead from the cover art.

This one took me a few years to get around to, since I was too busy with the old records. However, once I did, I actually appreciated it for what it was and listened to it during a very rare time in my existence where things were actually fairly decent. As a result, the album holds a handful of good memories. As well, since it was over a decade and a half ago, I was somewhat less picky when it came to music; i.e. I had a tendency to remain loyal to bands even after they had betrayed their fans and changed into something else. Not that this album is so terrible, but it is a far cry from the days of Killing is My Business...

The L.P. begins with "Skin 'O My Teeth", with introduces the listener to a much cleaner sound than what was heard on Rust In Peace. While it had most of the sharp edges smoothed out, this is completely polished and ready for mass consumption. With that said, it's still aimed at Metal fans, at least. There's less thrash, and an overall lower lever of aggression, but it actually feels as if it is connecting back to more traditional Metal. There are still some enjoyable riffs and solos, and the added sense of melody is not necessarily a bad thing. It's just not what most people wanted to hear from Megadeth. The song is catchy and still feels like the same band, just from a different angle.

Next up is "Symphony of Destruction", which is mid-paced and even catchier. The verses are a little annoying, since they feature vocals backed only by drums, bass and sparse guitar riffs. The more melodic parts are where the band manages to shine, as the main riff actually gets tiresome after a while. A fairly simple song that doesn't hold up very well, after all these years.

"Architecture of Aggression" is yet another song that deals with war. Musically, it's another mid-paced affair, possessing a relaxed atmosphere and a nice solo later on in the track. Many of the songs on this album really don't stand alone very well, so they are best appreciated in the context of the album as a whole. There isn't anything particularly awful or offensive about this, but it seems like filler.

The weak and non-threatening vibe continues on "Foreclosure of a Dream", which deals with more political matters. It actually contains more interesting riffs than the two songs that precede it, though it never lives up to the potential that is hinted at.

"Sweating Bullets" follows this, and is one of the most annoying songs that Dave Mustaine has ever written. The lyrics are irritating and the delivery is completely laughable. The verses are entirely cringe-worthy and the song, as a whole, is largely useless until the middle section. The "war march" riffs and accompanying solo are the only things that save this track. In the end, it really should have been left on the cutting room floor.

The next song is "This Was My Life". For one reason or another, this one is my favourite track on the album. Again, it's slower, but there is a melancholy vibe that draws you in and the execution of the material is more successful than some of the other songs on this record. Near the end, there is an eerie solo and a doomy riff that was originally heard (in a somewhat different form) on Metallica's "Phantom Lord", back when Dave was a part of that band.

Side B starts with the title track, which is a little more engaging than a lot of the other songs. It still suffers from the same issues that plague the rest of the album, but somehow it all works a little better in this case. The chorus is memorable, as are several of the riffs and guitar melodies. The harmonies that are found late in the song feature some of the most interesting guitar work of the whole album.

"High Speed Dirt" is a faster song and, while it isn't terribly intense, this pace shift is quite welcome. The riffs sound like they could have been used earlier on in the band's career. Strangely, this song would have sounded inferior or generic on any of the previous albums, but it manages to stand out a little bit, here.

"Psychotron" is one of the catchiest songs on the record, though that isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it comes off as one of the more well-structured pieces when compared to a few of the other tracks. Oddly enough, I always felt that certain parts of the song would have sounded better if sped up, and only recently heard the demo version which proved that to be true. Not only were the riffs more effective with an increased tempo, but that allowed for a harsher vocal approach. Obviously, this is not what the band was going for, but it just goes to show that the material here had the potential to be more in line with what Megadeth had been known for.

The next song is "Captive Honour", and the mood gets mellow once again. The vocals, and the various voices that are used, are on the ridiculous side and it is difficult to take this song seriously. Nevertheless, once it gets underway, there are some redeeming qualities. The latter part of the song includes some good riffs and nice solo work and, overall, the song isn't painful to listen to.

The album ends with "Ashes in Your Mouth", starting out with something a bit more in the vein of the last album. The production may hide this a little, but this song definitely contains a few leftover ideas from Rust In Peace. This one track is more interesting than most of the other songs, combined. The guitar harmonies, late in the song, are particularly enjoyable. There's a hint of melancholy that weaves throughout the riffs and even the vocal lines. In a way, some of the lyrics point to the situation that the band found itself in, by this point.

"Where do we go from here?
And should we really care?
The end is finally here"

Countdown to Extinction is widely regarded as Megadeth's attempt to follow in Metallica's footsteps, by simplifying their music and attempting to build their fanbase. Ironically, they were far more successful in altering their approach while still sounding like the same band, albeit in a more easy-to-digest form, but failed to reach the same level of notoriety. Nonetheless, this ended up being their highest-selling album, but at what cost? This is recommended for loyal fans, but it's not a good starting place for anyone that is new to the band.
 
(29 April 2011)

 
 

Things had certainly changed by the time Megadeth's sixth studio album, Youthanasia, was released in November 1994. The band had abandoned their Thrash Metal tendencies on their previous album, Countdown to Extinction, in favour of a more traditional (and accessible) sound. Despite the criticism from longtime fans, it turned out to be their most commercially-successful album, ever. So, two years later, there was a lot of pressure to match this feat. As well, it was a time to improve upon that album's shortcomings. Internally, the band was experiencing conflict, which was not much of a surprise, given Megadeth's history. The difference, this time, was that some of the members were becoming greedy and looking at the band as a business venture, being more concerned with profits and less focused on the creative process. Nevertheless, Mustaine and Co. managed to record their final album that would possess any level of relevance (for many years, at least).

I still remember when this came out, and that a couple of the songs were in heavy rotation on the local Rock station. Megadeth did not sound like anything else that found its way onto the airwaves, so the idea of tailoring the album to the musical climate of the period was a little ridiculous in the first place. While not the band's most noteworthy release, Youthanasia has a bit of sentimental value for me, since it was on this tour that I was able to see them play live for the first time. It also seemed like a heavier and better Metal album, regardless of the simplified riffs, and more in line with what one would expect from Megadeth than its predecessor. This was the last album that I picked up from this band, as what I heard from the one that followed it was enough to force me to give up on them for over a decade.

From the opening moments of "Reckoning Day", it is obvious that Dave was looking to make up for the overly clean sound and non-aggressive riffs that plagued much of Countdown to Extinction. The riffs seem like classic Mustaine, just not played with the same energy. The drumming is more relaxed and one can tell that they have no desire to go back to any sort of all-out Thrash assault, but there is a decidedly more Metal feeling present here. The riffs are memorable and the vocal lines match this as well, while still possessing a little anger and power.

"Train of Consequences" starts out with some riffs that are tuned a bit lower than they should be. Again, there is a focus on melody when it comes to the vocals and some of the later riffs. As it progresses, there are some decent moments, but the chorus and earlier riffs actually become tiresome once you've heard the song a dozen times. I may simply be biased due to hearing the song on the radio, constantly, for several months.

The next song, "Addicted to Chaos", is slower and darker. There is a strain of melancholy in the riffs and the vocal delivery. It isn't as overt as a Doom Metal song, for example, but it becomes clearer as the song unfolds. There's something epic and haunting about this, even though it contains softer parts. Whether aimed at reaching a larger audience or not, there was a lot of attention to songwriting for this album, and it paid off. There are a lot of subtle touches that add multiple dimensions to this piece and lend a sense of darkness to the album, overall.

This is followed by the other radio hit, "A Tout le Monde". In all honesty, the song is not so bad, though I also grew tired of hearing this on a daily basis, back in early 1995. It begins with a clean guitar and soon leads into heavier riffs, though with a lot of additional melodies. The lyrics and the music paint a picture of misery, a perfect soundtrack for moving on and leaving the world behind. It does everything that a single is supposed to do; it's catchy and memorable, while still showcasing the band's talent and making people want to listen to the full album and see what lies beyond. The guitar harmony near the end is one of the high points of the record.

"The sleeping feel no more pain..."

"Elysian Fields" is the complete opposite of the song that precedes it. It bursts forth from the speakers and crushes your skull in a way that a Megadeth tune is supposed to; possibly one of the first times since the mid-80s. In fact, some of the riffs on this album hearken back to the slower moments of Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? What the band did on Countdown to Extinction was to drop the intense riffing and put their energy toward making melodic and infectious choruses. On Youthanasia, they continue with that while also allowing the guitars to become more dominant again.

The next song is "The Killing Road", and it opens with yet another classic Mustaine riff. It shows that, had he wanted to go down that path, he could have easily constructed another Thrash Metal classic. In that sense, it is unfortunate that the band had different goals at this point in their career. Either way, this is a very solid song with the catchy chorus section that reminds one of "Psychotron", from the previous album. The solo suits the song, perfectly, and the music remains powerful and riff-driven, even though they opted for a more melodic and trimmed-down approach.

"Blood of Heroes" is another rather short track, clocking in just under four minutes. The pace is a little slower, but the formula is quite the same. Again, there is a sense of sorrow present in the music, without being completely depressing. It is a shame that Megadeth didn't reach the same heights as Metallica, considering the fact that when each band sought to widen their audience, Dave did a much better job of it and actually remained within the realm of Metal, whereas his former bandmates chose to transform themselves into a Hard Rock entity.

One of the darkest tracks on the L.P. has to be "Family Tree". This isn't dark in an evil sense, except when one considers that the depravity of the human mind is capable of much more sinister deeds than most ghouls conjured up by the imagination. The lyrics deal with rape and incest, something all too common in this age. There is something more disturbing when the monsters are not shadows in the closet, but rather those that are in total control of your existence at a young age. The music fits well with the atmosphere created by the lyrical theme and, of course, there is a melodic solo near the end.

The title track hits a little harder, right off the bat, but it's a mid-paced affair that kind of plods along for the first half. However, it's actually not too bad. Around the middle, things speed up a little a very nice lead solo explodes forth, adding some much-needed energy and melody to the song. The slower riff returns to end things, giving off somewhat of a doom vibe.

"We are the damned of all the world
With sadness in our hearts
The wounded of the wars
We've been hung out to dry"

"I Thought I Knew It All" continues with the sorrowful vibe that is present throughout the album, and features more haunting guitar melodies. The band manages to pull of melodic, catchy songwriting while still retaining the heaviness that they were previously known for and it even seems that Dave stepped up his vocal delivery. His voice has always been somewhat controversial, and at times it could be grating, but he does very well to ensure that his voice matches the music and never detracts from the proceedings.

More typical Megadeth riffs begin the next song, "Black Curtains". It has more of a relaxed feeling, and is short enough to not overstay its welcome. It is not particularly remarkable, but nothing to complain about either. It fits well within the context of the album, but doesn't possess enough positive qualities to really stand on its own.

The record reaches its conclusion with "Victory", which may have been written prematurely. His battles were not even close to being over. At any rate, this is one of the faster songs of the album, about the closest thing one would find to the old material. Interesting enough, it seems like a farewell to the early days, including a ton of old song titles in the lyrics and giving a sense of finality to that period of the band's existence. There's a melodic section in the middle, which seems reminiscent of some old NWOBHM and even the solos remind on of Diamond Head.

Youthanasia was the final real Metal album released by Megadeth, for many years. While some considered this to be a weak effort, it was actually superior to Countdown to Extinction in a variety of ways. The songwriting was stronger, the attitude was nastier and the sound was heavier and more riff-oriented. Everything that they had striven to achieve with the last record, they succeeded at with this opus. This is Megadeth, minus most of the Thrash, but repackaged as a more traditional Heavy Metal band. If you haven't given this a chance yet, do so. It kills anything that followed it and also showed, once and for all, that Mustaine had ten times the musical talent as all of the members of Metallica, combined.
 
(2 May 2011)

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