CD Review: Megadeth "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying" & "Thirteen"

CD Review: Megadeth "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying"
Capitol Records
All Access Review:  A-

CD Review: Megadeth "Thirteen"
Roadrunner Records
All Access Review: B+

Getting booted from Metallica put Dave Mustaine in a foul mood for … oh, about 30 years. Chip planted firmly on his shoulder, the surly, snarling Viking – practically besotted by alcohol and drug problems – plotted to usurp the crown from thrash metal’s mighty kings when he formed Megadeth around 1983 and he almost succeeded twice. The first attempt at revolution came in 1986, when Megadeth offered heavy metal a deal it couldn’t refuse, the thermonuclear warhead Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? Four years later, Megadeth brought forth Rust in Peace, and it was a great leap forward for Mustaine and company, what with its mind-bogglingly complex arrangements and sheer musicality. But then, in 1991, came The Black Album and Metallica, in short order, squelched any hope Mustaine had of an insurrection. The throne was firmly in Metallica’s possession, and they weren’t going to share it with anybody.

Flash forward to 2011, and Metallica seems hell-bent on throwing away its career with Lulu, its disastrously bizarre and barely listenable collaboration with Lou Reed. Megadeth, meanwhile, is on a roll. Rumor has it that Megadeth’s performances during the Big 4 tour trampled the competition, including Metallica. As if that weren’t enough to put a weak smile on Mustaine’s face, Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? has been reissued in celebration of its 25th anniversary, and the treatment it’s been given is worthy of royalty. And then, there’s Thirteen, the well-received new album from Megadeth that finds longtime bassist Dave Ellefson back in the fold. Suddenly, Megadeth again has regime change on its mind.

A remastered version of the original album that packs on sonic vigor and enhanced clarity, this particular species of Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? attacks with all the unbridled rage of a pack of wild dogs. Exploding out of the gate, with a short, but bad intentioned, burst of drum artillery, “Wake up Dead” is a pummeling jackhammer of a track that, without warning, seamlessly downshifts to navigate a series of tight guitar switchbacks before being swallowed up in a chaotic skirmish of head-spinning guitars, drums and bass, and then joining in a stomping, rhythmic infantry death march. Unrelentingly heavy and more ferocious than ever, Megadeth gallops darkly through “The Conjuring” and the shouting of “Devil’s Island” like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, both tracks seething with menace. The beautifully drawn guitar intro to “Good Mourning/Black Friday,” its etching more pronounced on the reissue, gets blown to bits by aggressive riffing and a blinding speed-metal riot that no cops could quell; it all sounds so violent and yet controlled, as if Mustaine knows just how far to push it before the whole thing will collapse on itself. Somehow managing to come off even meaner and angrier, the ubiquitous “Peace Sells,” with that familiar nimble, rumbling bass line that MTV nicked for the opening of its news slots, finds Mustaine breathing fire and growling with fangs bared. “Peace Sells,” as he writes in the well-written reissue liner notes, “ … was something different … because it told a story about my faith; my beliefs; my distrust of government; my work ethic; my integrity,” and that’s why it connected with an audience as disaffected and marginalized as Mustaine. Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? not only made Mustaine a guitar hero – his soloing so sharp and precise, and yet completely unpredictable here – but also a messiah for the misanthropic. His is a voice not crying in the wilderness, but rather, it is one that steadfastly and bravely expresses discontent and rebellion. Metallica’s Lars Ulrich’s assessment of Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? in the liner notes, augmented with a few classic Megadeth photos, is that it was something fresh and new that turned the trash scene on its ear. And the scene still hasn’t recovered.

 In 1987, Megadeth played the Phantasy Theatre in Cleveland. Never before released, the recording of this fiery show is not of the best sound quality – Megadeth seems to have performed in a Campbell’s soup can that night – but the band’s raw energy is undeniable and frightening. In contrast with the album versions, “Wake Up Dead” and “The Conjuring” are brutal street fights of sonic mayhem, Mustaine’s stiletto soloing knifing through the night air. In rare form, Mustaine’s vocals are scratched up and battered, and in a bludgeoning speed-demon killing machine like “Rattlehead,” they sound as if they were made for metal, while “Killing is My Business … And Business Is Good” ratchets up the intensity to unsafe levels. Never taking a breath, Megadeth stampedes through a volcanic set that boasts blazing solos, complex guitar puzzles, and bone-crushing riffs, the disc including furious remakes of “Looking Down the Cross” and “My Last Words,” along with a sped-up “Peace Sells” that’s simply vicious and unapologetically pissed off.

And so, into this boiling cauldron, walks Thirteen, an album that couldn’t possibly live up to Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? could it? “Sudden Death” doesn’t back down a bit, however, as the opening track – melodic in parts and hard-hitting in others – is whipped around by an awe-inspiring maelstrom of guitars, and “Public Enemy No. 1” is a satisfying and nasty grinding of Mustaine’s boot heel into one’s throat, while the snaking crawl of “Guns, Drugs & Money” seems as deadly as a rattlesnake’s bite.

Thirteen is not plagued by bad luck. It is, instead, a showcase of Megadeth’s ability to shred (as the traditional trash-metal flurry of “Never Dead” proves) and newfound playfulness with melody. Shrouded in mystery and nightmarish atmosphere is “Deadly Nightshade,” which features one of the most fearsome, well-constructed and compelling choruses in the Megadeth canon, and it’s almost as potent a poison as Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” Almost as gothic, “Black Swan” doesn’t quite rise to the same level, it’s “churchyard shadow” not quite so imposing. “Wrecker” also seems to fade away, instead of burning out. But, “Millennium of the Blind” is one of those stinging political diatribes – “We The People” and “New World Order” are others – of Mustaine’s that should rock the foundations of Congress, and “13” reveals another side of him, one that is reflective of the rocky journey he’s walked all his life. Thirteen may not knock Metallica off the mountaintop, but it will add to Megadeth’s street cred – something Metallica, sadly, is losing.

-          Peter Lindblad

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