After a summer break, finally, here is Something Old, Something New Album Review #14. I had to wait a little bit for this one. It’s not every day one of your top 5 favorite bands releases a new album. Nearly 6 years after their last fantastic record (and a couple extra weeks of me having to wait for my local record store to get the vinyl in stock), Megadeth’s new album, “The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead” is here. I dipped in the thrash metal well for review #12 and gave you a little history of the genre, but I’ll focus 100% on Megadeth here and do a look back at their 1986 classic “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?” and the bands selected history.
Megadeth – Pease Sells…But Who’s Buying?
Originally Released: 1986 Capitol Records
In 1986 there were lots of emerging talented thrash bands, but in that year and the following year, 4 bands managed to release genre and career defining records and become “The Big 4”. Those bands were Metallica with “Master Of Puppets”, Slayer with “Reign In Blood”, Anthrax with “Among The Living” and Megadeth with “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?”. These bands would become, and remain, amongst the most popular bands in Heavy Metal history, with Metallica becoming one of the biggest bands in music history, period. But there is only one man who can lay claim to effectively launching the careers of TWO of the four bands. That man is Megadeth frontman and architect, Dave Mustaine.
Before gaining fame in Megadeth, Dave Mustaine was actually a member of Metallica. Not exactly a founding member however as the nucleus of the band was and is frontman James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich. Lars’ friend Brian Slagel was putting together a heavy metal compilation album of local southern California bands to kickstart his label, Metal Blade Records and Lars begged to be on it. Brian obliged, and Lars quickly put together a band. After meeting James through a newspaper ad and becoming fast friends, the two reworked a song James had written with his previous band, Leather Charm called “Hit The Lights”. That initial recording featured James on rhythm guitar, vocals and bass, Lars on drums, and a friend Lloyd Grant on lead guitar. The song itself is much more fast hard rock/metal than actual thrash metal. After this, Lars and James put together the first functioning Metallica lineup, which featured Ron McGovney on bass Dave Mustaine on guitar. Reportedly, when Dave auditioned, while warming up and tuning his guitar James and Lars were so blown away by his talent, they offered him the lead guitar job on the spot. Dave had already been playing in a proto thrash band called Panic. Once they joined forces, it was ultimately Dave who refined the band into what it became, taking the best parts of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and combining it with American attitude and speed. On March 14th, 1982 Metallica played their first live show. Over the next 11 months, Metallica played, refined their craft, wrote songs with Dave, kicked out Ron McGovney and moved to San Fransisco for bass virtuoso Cliff Burton, and ultimately signed a record deal with brand new record label Megaforce Records in New York. While waiting to get in the studio to record their debut record in New York, James and Lars made the decision to fire Dave Mustaine. They were all partiers, but Dave was apparently an angry drunk, and it became too much for them to take. He was replaced by Exodus member Kirk Hammet. Dave told them “just don’t use my music”, which they did.
Sent home on a Greyhound bus, Mustaine was seething angry and not only wrote words to later classics like “Set the World Afire”, he read a political ad and came up for the name of the band he was already envisioning in his head. The pamphlet said “The Arsenal Of Mega Death Can’t Be Rid”. And that was that. On that bus ride, Megadeth was born.
Once back in Los Angeles, Mustaine got to work. While cycling through quite a few members, he eventually settled on bass player David Ellefson, Guitarist Chris Poland, and drummer Gar Samuelson. With Metallica quickly making a buzz in the metal world from their albums “Kill ‘Em All” and “Ride the Lightning”, released in 1983 and 1984 respectively (both featuring Mustaines material), the spotlight was on Dave and Megadeth, and they quickly got a deal with Combat records. Recording of their debut record began in late 1984 and finished in early 1985. The band was given an $8000 recording budget, but quickly spent half on food and drugs, and they had to finish producing the record themselves. The result, 1985’s “Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good!” is a bit of an uneven affair. The songs are great. But Mustaines white hot anger, causing him to bump every song up at least 20 beats per minute from when they were originally written and their relative inexperience (actually, no experience) producing made for a frenzied record that’s hard to listen to (it has been remixed and remastered twice, the last one, in 2018 is GREAT). Regardless, they successfully toured and prepared for the follow up.
Making an executive decision to slow everything down and simplify the music a bit, to let it breathe and let the riffs and playing become more clear, they recorded “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?” in February and March of 1986. Major label Capitol records, seeing the success Elektra was having with Metallica after they bought their contract from Megaforce, did the same with Megadeth and bought their contract from Combat. They pumped some extra money into the record and had it remixed, and also made promotional music video’s for the title track and “Wake Up Dead”, and the band was off to the races. A remarkable jump from their debut in nearly every aspect, from production/sound quality to song writing, the album became an instant classic. Because the music was slowed down, fans were now able to hear Dave’s rollercoaster riffs and the lead guitar interplay between Mustaine and Chris Poland. Speaking from a point of musical and instrumental skill, there wasn’t really any band in 1986 that could touch Megadeth. Dave Mustaine to this day is one of the tightest rhythm players in Metal History as well as one of the best lead players. Chris Poland and Gar Samuelson were both trained Jazz musicians, and could play circles around nearly everyone in the genre. And Ellefson was very capable himself. Just keeping up with those guys was a feat in itself. nails, a guitar string, and a coke bottle. Through the doc I saw what kind of player he was, the punk elements sure, but he was very much a bluesman. That intrigued me. I revisited the White Stripes and found I couldn’t have been more wrong initially. That garage rock punk was also mixed with some effects, but also Delta Blues, slide guitar, and more to make a really wild and interesting overall sound.
The album itself opens with “Wake Up Dead”, the song has a short intro and main riff/vocal section before launching into guitar solo’s and a multitude of different riff sections that lets the listener know you’re in for it. There are more great riffs in that one song than lots of bands have on whole records. The next track “The Conjuring”, describes a satanic ritual and is a song Mustaine refuses to play anymore due to it’s content. This is followed by the iconic title track that starts with the classic bass intro that for a long time was the theme to “MTV News”. Lyrically, Dave shows why for a long time he was referred to as the “Smartest Man In Metal” as it starts a trend of his lyrics gravitating towards political and social issues. From the there the record is a dizzying array of heaviness and superior musicianship, with a little more lighthearted break near the end for a cover or “I Ain’t Superstitious”, and ending on another dizzying array of guitar heroics with “My Last Words”.
The 1984-1986 lineup of Megadeth may have possibly been one of the most talented bands ever, but in a familiar turn of events, drugs tore that lineup apart. Both Chris and Gar had heroin addictions from their time in the Jazz scene, and since Dave was the main songwriter, the lions share of the money went to him. They pawned gear, lied and stole for drug money, and both ended up fired from the band. It’s a shame because as a whole, talent wise, that was the best lineup of the band, closely rivaled by the early to mid 90’s lineup and the current one.
Which brings us to…..
Megadeth – The Sick, The Dying…And The Dead
Originally Released: 2022 UMe Records
Although I really liked 2013’s “Super Collider”, it was supposed to be the album that kicked them out of the rut of good but run of the mill thrash albums that their preceding couple of albums had been. The band tried to pull style elements from parts of their history, their 80’s and early 90’s thrash, their more commercial early 90’s material and their WAY too commercial late 90’s material, ultimately to most of their fanbase, it didn’t work. So they got back to basics and in 2016 unleashed “Dystopia”, their best album since 1994’s “Youthanasia”. It was the mix of thrash and catchy hooks they were hoping to achieve with “Super Collider”, but didn’t quite master. With “Dystopia” came quite a bit of renewed interest in the band and once that cycle ended, fans couldn’t wait to hear what the band had in store next. Never a band to make fans wait for new albums, the universe apparently had other plans…
While starting pre production for their new album in 2019 news came out that Dave Mustaine had throat cancer. While Dave is a very determined individual, understandably, that slowed the album down. Luckily for us fans, he beat cancer and is in remission. While going through that ordeal of course, the pandemic hit, which slowed down not just the band, but everyone across the world. If that wasn’t enough, in May of 2021, long time bassist and founding member David Ellefson was part of a sex scandal involving the grooming of a possible underage girl. He was quickly dismissed from the band and his bass parts for the new album erased and re recorded.
With all the adversity, it took 6 years to unleash this new beast upon us. And…it was worth it. Lamb of God’s Chris Adler handed the drums as a guest on “Dystopia”, and Dirk Verbeuren joined shortly after, who from a technicality standpoint, is the best drummer they’ve had since Gar Samuelson. His addition is a large one. His drumming is able to drive the well oiled Megadeth machine, and he is more than capable of handling past material. Mustaine’s rhythm playing is sharp as ever and his lead guitar interplay with Kiko Loureiro, who joined the band in 2015 after a lineup shakeup that saw Dave let go of both the drummer and lead guitar player, is nearly as good a mix as any prior Megadeth lineup (the bar set by Chris Poland and Marty Friedman is extremely high). The entire album punishes, save for the second last track “Mission To Mars”, which features a spoken word part that drags.
Now all that being said, I think the band is capable of more. Their classic material was driven by Dave Mustaines VERY distinguishable riffs. His riffs were complicated and distinctive (see “Holy Wars…ThePunishment Due”), and over the years he has simplified them. Maybe those riffs were too difficult to play and sing at the same time live? I’m not sure. But this is the defining factor of a great Megadeth album for me. If I can remember not just a chorus, but I can HUM A RIFF after a listen or two, than it’s a classic. And unfortunately this time around, I can’t. Maybe after repeated listens? With “Dystopia” there were songs where the riffs stuck with me immediately. If I were rating that album, it would get a 4.5 out of 5.
Overall while I don’t think “The Sick, The Dying…And The Dead!” is as good as their last record “Dystopia”, it’s nearly as good and is a very solid record. There really aren’t many bands at this stage in their careers still releasing material of this quality. While it’s obviously not the record I would recommend a brand new listener try first if they were interested in the band, you could do a lot worse.
If you got through all that, thank you very much for reading another one of my reviews! I promise the wait won’t be so long for the next one! As always, find me on Instagram at @SteveDestruct if you like what you read here, as I do many condensed versions there. If you want to give me a follow and suggestions for future articles, I’d appreciate it. Cheers!