Dave Mustaine had been the lead guitarist in Metallica when he quit to form his own project. Bassist David Ellefson was first on board and would last the course longer than many. Taking their name from an apocalyptic term for military Armageddon, Megadeth raced through guitar players and drummers before releasing the independent Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! (1985) with Chris Poland bringing his jazz rock (fact) chops to the table and the late Gar Samuelson adding a similarly exotic backbeat to affairs. We hook up with the ‘deth for Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? (1986) their major label debut on Capitol. Produced by Mustaine and Randy Burns this remains a seminal must hear before you buy the farm type affair. Like most of the band’s discs on catalogue we’d point you towards the remastered 25th Anniversary version and the 2004 remixes for different takes and extra material which definitely live up to the maxim: all killer, no filler.
The basic album is fantastic, including a ridiculously rocked up take on Willie Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious” and the anthemic title-track which is infamously blasted into orbit by Ellefson’s absurdly slick bass intro.
So Far, So Good... So What! (1988) took Megadeth out of the underground and into the American and mainstream thanks to a reconstruction job on the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK” and the tripped out epic “In My Darkest Hour” where new recruits Jeff Young and Chuck Behler shine out on guitar and percussion respectively.
Fusing the taboo and the deeply personal by now Megadeth’s fourth excursion Rust in Peace (1990) was a huge hit in the UK and took them high up the Billboard charts even though they’d again replaced the axe and skins makers with Marty Friedman and Nick Menza. Certainly hunt down the 2004 reissue for demos: the early “Take No Prisoners” is well worth the effort.
The entire band locked horns on Countdown To Extinction, second phase Megadeth. A gear crunching, hard political beast this disc deserves its right to be called a masterpiece of coherent thrash thanks to classics like “Symphony of Destruction” and “Ashes in Your Mouth” – both examples of Mustaine’s lyrical acumen. A huge live draw by now Megadeth’s prowess in that department can be heard on the accompanying disc, Live at Cow Palace (San Francisco). The posters and collectable cards are pretty neat. This is still their biggest commercial success to date.
But Youthanasia ain’t no slouch. Thrash? Rock? Alternative? Mustaine had heard all the descriptions and borne the brunt of so many brickbats that he went hell for leather in this their sixth album. An additional player crops up for the first time in the shape of Jimmie Wood who adds waling harmonica to the standout cuts “Train of Consequences” and “Elysian Fields”. To celebrate a decade of hard slog and sweat the band appeared at the Monsters of Rock festival in South America and recorded a version of “Paranoid” for Nativity in Black: A Tribute to Black Sabbath.
Cryptic Writings (1997) is something of a departure. Not quite a discard of the template more an effort to make themselves more accessible. Recording in Nashville with Dann Huff (his credits range from Faith Hill to Michael Jackson) Mustaine began to explore more overtly melodic ground on “Trust” – their most successful single to date – while sneaking in a sitar on “A Secret Place”. Generally, this is solid Class A metal rock rather than over the head with a mallet thrash.
The band’s final album for Capitol is the brilliant Risk. This contains the hit tracks “Crush ‘Em”, “Breadline” and “Insomnia” and sounds unlike anything else in their catalogue. Grunge ballads, contemporary studio technology and Dann Huff’s precise mixing method makes Risk live up to the title suggested to them by Metallica’s Lars Ulrich. No doubt that the opener, “Insomnia” is a radical throw of the dice with its Middle Eastern arrangement. Probably as dark as any of their other discs there is still a lighter, more tuneful air here that befits a group who are savvy enough to act their age, not their shoe size.
While they remained active of course in the interim we’d like to point you towards their label return on Super Collider (2013) where drummer Shawn Drover joins Mustaine and Ellefson and multi-guitar hero man Chris Broderick (ex-Jag Panzer).
Guest vocalists and speakers and even the Shannon Rovers Irish Pipe Band crop up on this outré disc with extra cello, fiddle and horn for good measure. Despite another spin towards mass acceptance there is plenty of the old slash and burn around on “Kingmaker” and their cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Cold Sweat”.
Before we leave you in peace remember to investigate the Countdown to Extinction: Live album from 2013. We also have a fair batch of compilations from Anthology: Set the World Alive to Capitol Punishment: The Megadeth Years and the accompanying Greatest Hits: Back to the Start; both teamed together will give you hours of Mega exhilaration.
A landmark band that rose above the underground and brought hard core metal and thrash to the masses Megadeth’s importance can’t be overestimated. As far as a late 20th/early 21st century act goes they are right up with the pioneers. Megadeth sells… are you buying?
Arguably Megadeth's strongest effort and a classic of early thrash, Peace Sells combines a punkish political awareness with a dark, threatening, typically heavy metal world-view, preoccupied with evil, the occult, and the like. The anthemic title track and "Wake Up Dead" are the two major standouts, and there is also a cover of Willie Dixon's "I Ain't Superstitious," which takes on an air of supernaturally induced paranoia in the album's context. The lines between hell and earth are blurred throughout the album, and the crashing, complex music backs up Dave Mustaine's apocalyptic vision of life as damnation -- his limited vocal style is used to great effect, growling and snarling in a barely intelligible fashion under all the complicated guitar work. Vital, necessary thrash.
Words: Steve Huey
A sobered-up Mustaine returns with yet another lineup, this one featuring ex-Cacophony guitar virtuoso Marty Friedman and drummer Nick Menza, for what is easily Megadeth's strongest musical effort. As Metallica was then doing, Mustaine accentuates the progressive tendencies of his compositions, producing rhythmically complex, technically challenging thrash suites that he and Friedman burn through with impeccable execution and jaw-dropping skill. Thanks to Mustaine's focus on the music rather than his sometimes clumsy lyrics, Rust in Peace arguably holds up better than any other Megadeth release, even for listeners who think they've outgrown heavy metal. While the whole album is consistently impressive, the obvious highlight is the epic, Eastern-tinged "Hangar 18."
Words: Steve Huey
Megadeth guns for arena thrash success and gets it on Countdown to Extinction. Following the lead of 1991's Metallica, Megadeth trades in their lengthy, progressive compositions for streamlined, tightly written and played songs more conducive to radio and MTV airplay. Cries of "sellout" seem pointless when the results are artistically (as well as commercially) successful; songs like the mega-hit "Symphony of Destruction," "Skin O' My Teeth," "Foreclosure of a Dream," and "Sweating Bullets" are among the band's best.
Words: Steve Huey
A largely uninspired effort recorded with a new guitarist and drummer, So Far, So Good...So What! lacks the conceptual unity and musical bite of Peace Sells, which helps push much of its lyrical material into the realm of self-parody, as Mustaine rants about the PMRC, the apocalypse, ex-girlfriends, and other people he is angry with, while hinting at the depth of his substance abuse problem with "502," a paean to driving drunk. The album wants to sound threatening but mostly comes off as forced and somewhat juvenile; typical is the embarrassing cover of "Anarchy in the U.K.," which is played in Megadeth's tightly controlled riffing style and without the looseness of the original, making it sound stilted and stiff -- and Mustaine doesn't even get the lyrics right. This one is for diehards only.
Words: Steve Huey
Megadeth's follow-up to the hit Countdown to Extinction lacks the focus of its predecessor, but Youthanasia makes up the difference with more accessible, radio-friendly production and tighter riffs. Unfortunately, they have abandoned some of the more experimental, progressive elements in their music, but those are hardly missed in the jackhammer riffs of tracks like "Train of Consequences."
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
With Youthanasia, Dave Mustaine began moving Megadeth away from its thrash roots, incorporating synthesizers into their sound and writing subtle, textured songs. Cryptic Writings continues this evolution, which unfortunately reads better than it plays. Megadeth doesn't quite have the skill or imagination to craft such ambitious material; they sound better playing thrash, which they only occasionally do on Cryptic Writings. Essentially, the band sounds tired and listless instead of reflective, especially since the production is so slick. It's admirable that the group is attempting to move forward, but the music simply doesn't resonate.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
In many ways, Megadeth's career trajectory has run parallel to Metallica's; both bands started out as speed-metal outfits, then broadened into technically adept progressive thrash, and in the early '90s, streamlined and slowed down their songs for mass-market acceptance. While that mainstreaming process was initially viewed as both commercially and artistically successful, it also meant that neither band represented heavy metal's cutting edge any longer. As MTV combined its appetite for new trends with decreased music programming, Megadeth found themselves unable to rely on it or a cultish underground fan base to promote their music. So, they began to concentrate on a medium that had all but ignored them during the '80s: album-rock radio. Certainly, radio had become more willing to accept their music as time passed, and Megadeth cultivated that more conservative audience with polished production and reduced fury. And that's what they continued to do with 1999's Risk. To their credit, Megadeth never went as far as trying to reshape their sound around AOR's rampant '70s worship, so even if their music lost a good deal of its danger and excitement, it has aged gracefully (something that can't always be said of Metallica's '90s output). Risk is not much of a departure from its two predecessors; more reflective, melodic, and conventional than the Megadeth of old, it delivers a well-played set of hard rock tunes suitable for metal and AOR fans alike. Some of those tunes are catchier than others, and they're enough to carry the album if you're a fan of this style. Even if the album's title is a misnomer, it's startling to see Megadeth still around -- and still successful.
Words: Steve Huey