Friday, April 3, 2009

Megadeth - 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.