A founding member of Metallica, Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine hails from a generation of headbangers unafraid to list the Sex Pistols and the Dead Boys as influences alongside Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. When he was booted out of Metallica — over power struggles and a growing (but since overcome) drug problem — the singer/guitarist hooked up with bassist David Ellefson and took his rock’n’roll vision a step further, forming Megadeth to play a faster, louder and more intricate brand of metal with far more realistic and relevant lyrics (when you can make them out) than the usual macho bravado. With an outspoken political orientation (the group name comes from the military term for nuclear war casualties), Megadeth attacks speed metal with abundant chops, intricate arrangements, tricky time signatures, on-a-dime tempo pivots, explosive dynamics and bold tonal experiments.
The precise, complex (but clearly articulated) hyperspeed guitar power of the quartet’s first album almost sails into jazz waters; Mustaine’s rock vocals dispense with typical tremulous screeching for listenable roughness. Only the lyrics are business as usual: even an overhaul of “These Boots Are Made for Walking” adds vulgarity to maximize headbanger appeal. Other songs — about death, sex and religion — witlessly tread well-worn ground. Still, Megadeth’s galloping high-tech sound (check “Rattlehead” and “Mechanix”) — soon to influence numerous young rock/metal bands — is clearly taking shape.
Peace Sells continues Megadeth’s macabre assault on the senses. Like a metal version of Dante’s Inferno, the LP offers various visions of hell on earth — murder, adultery, alienation, imprisonment and (d)evil cults. Frankly, the music’s scarier than the lyrics, since Mustaine’s strangled vocals are barely audible in the mix; the music, on the other hand, hurtles forward with undeniable and relentless power. Oldsters will be left stunned by the incredible version of Willie Dixon’s (via Beck and Stewart) “I Ain’t Superstitious,” rewritten in trademark Megadeth style.
Recorded with a new guitarist and drummer, So Far, So Good…So What! includes a tribute to Metallica’s late bassist Cliff Burton (“In My Darkest Hour”), a driving-while-drunk song (“502”), an instrumental that starts acoustic before hitting typical Mega-drive (“Into the Lungs of Hell”), an unnecessary (and lyrically inaccurate) cover of “Anarchy in the UK” with ex-Pistol Steve Jones in tow and the obligatory PMRC putdown (“Hook in Mouth”). Though Mustaine’s vocals are improving and the new guys fit in fine, it’s a bit of a letdown after Peace Sells.
After a layoff prompted by Mustaine’s growing drug dependence (and subsequent abatement thereof), plus more conflict within the band, Rust in Peace was recorded with a new lineup, now including guitarist Marty Friedman, a capable foil for Mustaine, and jazz-schooled drummer Nick Menza, the son of saxophonist Don Menza. The change is for the better, especially the supple drumming, which elevates the band to a new plateau, on which they swing (!) as never before. It’s also the group’s best album sonically, even if Mustaine’s lyrics (nearly all about war or his former habit) and his still-improving-but-not-quite-there vocals could both use a dose of clarity at times. Musically, though, Megadeth’s at the top of its game.
Countdown to Extinction is solid and fresh-sounding, incorporating even trickier instrumental twists without sacrificing the band’s headbanging crunch. Youthanasia moves Megadeth to a more centrist, mainstream-friendly position, employing polished production and more conventional song structures. “Train of Consequences” and “Elysian Fields” are killer songs by any measure, metal or otherwise.
Hidden Treasures, an eight-song roundup of Megadeth’s contributions to soundtracks and compilations, includes cover versions of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” and a previously unissued version of the Sex Pistols’ “Problems.” Among the originals are “Angry Again” (from Last Action Hero), “Go to Hell” (from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey) and “99 Ways to Die” (from The Beavis and Butt-head Experience).