Monday, April 25, 2011

Megadeth - Peace Sells... But Who's Buying? (1986)

Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? is the second full-length album from Megadeth. Recorded in late '85 / early '86 and produced by Randy Burns, the original mix did little to satisfy the band's desire to improve upon the sound of Killing is My Business... By the time Capital Records bought out their contract from Combat, they hired Paul Lani to remix the album and in November 1986, one of the all-time classics of Thrash Metal was unleashed upon the world.

Aside from the low budget that they started out with, the band also struggled with internal problems stemming from drug abuse. While all of the members were involved in this, to some extent, Chris Poland and Gar Samuelson lacked the same level of passion and commitment for the music, itself, thus allowing their bad habits to wreak havoc during the recording process. In fact, the album nearly never came into being. Notwithstanding, Mustaine's dedication and drive forced the birth of this landmark album and cemented his place in the Metal pantheon.

As was common throughout the years, Dave always had one eye on what his former bandmates were doing and continued to feel that he was a step behind. However, it is actually nothing more than ridiculous paranoia since, on a purely artistic level, Megadeth's 1986 output crushed Master of Puppets in nearly every way. While it may not have led to the same financial success, it is clearly the superior record and that should count for quite a bit more.

The album begins with "Wake Up Dead", which wastes no time with acoustic intros, instead opting to just bludgeon the listener's skull with crushing heaviness and Mustaine's killer solos. The difference between this album and the previous one is very clear, from the opening moments. The sound is thicker and yet still possesses enough raw feeling to appeal to those that appreciated the debut. This song actually feels like an instrumental at some points, given that the vocals are so sparse. Nevertheless, when utilized they display that Dave had already begun to gain a little more control of his voice. Musically, the tempos are varied and yet each riff flows into the next with such ease that it is very obvious that Mustaine's songwriting skills were second-to-none at the time, especially when compared to Metallica.

The next song is "The Conjuring", which starts with a dark melody and an ominous build. Tracks like this gave Megadeth a Satanic image, back in the mid-80s, occasionally being labeled as Black Metal. The lyrics to this song were attributed to Dave's experimentation with black magic, during his youth, though he later rejected such practices. The various riffs offer a clinic in Thrash Metal, showcasing abilities that most other bands were simply lacking. The music manages to be memorable and still evokes a somewhat sinister vibe.

"Come join me in my infernal depths
Mephisto's hall of fame
I've got your soul, I've got your soul
The conjuring... Obey!!!"

The title track is a rather odd track, in some ways. Upon first hearing it, many years ago, it seemed to interrupt the flow of the album with the unorthodox vocal delivery and bass intro. It almost has more of a pop feeling, though undeniably heavy. It is one of the earliest forays into politically aware lyrics, though in the minority on here.

"Devil's Island" opens with doom riffs and incredible solo work, before picking up the pace and serving as yet another vehicle to exhibit Mustaine's unique ability to create songs that are both intense and yet infectious as well. This is a rather straightforward song that sounds like something written prior to the release of the debut album. As with the rest of the tunes, one can easily notice that the bass has more presence on this record than with many other Metal bands of this period, and the guitar work is incredibly solid. Whatever personal issues the band members had to deal with, they were able to hold together enough to create something quite remarkable.

Side B starts with "Good Mourning/Black Friday", which features a haunting and somewhat sorrowful intro that adds another layer of darkness to the album. Eerie riffs and masterful solos lead the listener deeper into the mouth of Hell, as Dave's voice soon emerges from the shadows to lead the damned on their cursed path. Once the song gets going, the riffs become more intense and the lyrics are basically early Death Metal, with all of the sadistic glory that would be utilized by bands such as Death and Autopsy, sometime later. This song stands out as one of the highlights of the album, which is saying something considering the high quality of nearly every track on here.

"Their bodies convulse, in agony and pain
I mangle their faces, till no features remain
A blade for the butchering, I cut them to shreds
First take out the organs, then cut off the head"

"Bad Omen" continues the dark feeling that was conjured up by many of the earlier tracks, going from themes of death back to Satanic rituals. While not reaching Venom or Slayer levels of blasphemy, it still maintains a darkness of its own, nonetheless. The atmosphere is evil and the slow build is done to perfection. Doom riffs and menacing solos give way to a troublesome bass line before a rather subdued riff carries the first verse. Soon enough, this bleeds into one of the best lead breaks of the entire album. The pace picks up as Dave continues to tell of demonic rites and the music continues to leave no doubt about the band's skill. The fast section is one of the most enjoyable parts of Peace Sells... being intense and also well-crafted.

"Their master's time has come
The moon is full tonight"

This is followed by another cover song, "I Ain't Superstitious". While well done and worth hearing to some extent, it really doesn't fit in with the rest of the material and is kind of pointless, thus resulting in the album losing points for coherence. Still, in some way, it kind of fits in regarding the lyrical content, in an odd manner. The fast part at the end isn't too bad, but the album would have benefited from this track being omitted.

The record ends, appropriately, with "My Last Words". It starts with an acoustic intro, joined by foreboding guitar work. Once the song gets underway, one can hear more of a NWOBHM influence in some of the riffs, which is very enjoyable. While not blistering, the pace is rather fast and aggressive. The final minutes of the song are absolutely classic Speed / Thrash with intricate solos and killer riffs that will have even the most comatose listener banging their head. There is something very epic about the melodies, enabling the record to end on a high point. One can also detect a sense of melancholy in the vibes created by this closing section, and the lyrics seems to add to this feeling.

"You... come on... next victim... your turn to die"

Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? is the definitive Megadeth album, a testament to the overwhelming skill and brilliance of its creators. While lacking the rawness of the debut, it still managed to destroy Master of Puppets and Reign in Blood, both of which were released that same year. Not without its faults, but certainly a classic and proof that whatever difficulties arose from the other members of the band, it was a battle worth fighting with an end result such as this. With Dave Mustaine's excellent songwriting and the combined talents of each member, Megadeth was able to give birth to their crowning achievement.