If I had to pick a favorite band that I have listened to since I first got into metal, it would be difficult to choose between Metallica and Megadeth. I have oftentimes enjoyed Megadeth's far more emotional style of thrash metal and politically-minded ravings than Metallica's workmanlike machinations. Vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine is a better musician than any given member of Metallica and his voice is more interesting than James Hetfield's. What makes Megadeth falter though is Mustaine's inferiority complex about Metallica. It has caused him to make some very poor musical decisions over the years resulting in some albums that do not rise to the level of memorability as much of Metallica's work, to say the least of mainstream exposure. Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica shortly before they recorded their debut album and has held a grudge against them ever since. He is also apparently difficult to work with as Megadeth has had 20 members over the years with only Mustaine being there the whole time.
However, when Mustaine wants to, he can still write some very good music. I have been a fan of Megadeth almost as long as Metallica. My older brother had their Countdown to Extinction album and I borrowed it frequently when I was getting into metal. Megadeth was the first metal band outside of Metallica whose album I bought. I got Youthanasia around Christmastime of my eighth grade year with a gift certificate.
I own every full length Megadeth album, as well as a live bootleg that was played on the local hard rock station in Lincoln, a live bonus CD, a compilation of songs for soundtracks, and a greatest hits compilation. I will use this post to only discuss the full-length albums and perhaps I will have a follow-up later on to cover the other stuff I have.
KILLING IS MY BUSINESS...AND BUSINESS IS GOOD!
The debut album by Megadeth showed that the band was ready to take on the thrash scene. They played much faster than Metallica and were louder and more brazen. The best example of the difference in the bands' speed can be found in the song "Mechanix". This was the early version of the Metallica classic "The Four Horsemen", except it is much faster and more chaotic. In addition, Mustaine's air raid siren vocals and sinister sneer made their first appearances. Mustaine was nastier and angrier than Hetfield, adding a malevolent edge to the music with his unique vocal style. The guitar work is fantastic, but still a shell of what it would soon become.
PEACE SELLS...BUT WHO'S BUYING?
Megadeth reached their full potential already as a thrash metal band on this terrific album. The production quality is not great, but it gives the songs a raw, dirty vibe. This album is a thrash metal landmark, but it came out at the same time as Master of Puppets so it does not get the credit that it so richly deserves. What distinguishes this album from others is the very impressive lead guitar work. There are almost constant guitar solos running through everything, a trait which would continue in a lot of Megadeth's albums. The bass is also incredible. David Ellefson is a very underrated musician. Mustaine's sneer has improved by leaps and bounds. The songs do not feature a typical progression and there are frequent, long instrumental interludes, but that's not a problem when the music is this good. The opening bassline for "Peace Sells" was featured as opening music for MTV News for years.
SO FAR, SO GOOD...SO WHAT!
This album certainly has some classic songs, but it is evident that the band is attempting to break into the mainstream somewhat. A lot of the raw feel has been smoothed over on this album. This is the band's first album on a major label and it is clear that the label viewed the band as some sort of poor man's Metallica. Hence the production values. This album just is not quite as memorable as the two that came before it although, again, there is some great stuff here. Mustaine's lead guitar work has continued to improve, as have his vocals. The album is still fast and loud as hell, but the glossy sound kind of takes out some of the fun. It is nice to fully hear what is going on in the music, but the raw feel is greatly missed. The band did show off a rare somber side with "In My Darkest Hour", which I believe is the best song on the album.
RUST IN PEACE
This is not only the best album Megadeth has ever released, it is one of the best metal albums in history. I had it ranked #3 behind only Metallica's Ride the Lightning and Iron Maiden's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. The songs are all amazing, with only one exception. The musicianship is incredible, and Mustaine's vocals sound better than they have before or since. The real key to this album is the solo contest Mustaine had with new axe-slinger Marty Friedman. He truly found a guitarist every bit as talented as he was and the trading solos on this album proved a bit of a friendly rivalry as to who could out-shred the other. The songs featured a little more of a progressive songwriting style and the genre of the album fluctuates between thrash, progressive, and traditional metal depending on the song. "Hangar 18" and "Tornado of Souls" are probably two of my absolute favorite Megadeth songs, if not metal songs in general. Megadeth would never be as good as they were on this album again, which is a major shame.
COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION
Countdown was Megadeth's bid to be more commercially successful and was mostly the result of Mustaine's continuing envy of the success of Metallica. The songs are much shorter and feature more traditional metal song structures, such as verses and choruses, something which had been lacking in their music previously. It was extremely successful and this is the band's best-selling album to date, featuring many hit songs such as "Symphony of Destruction", the title track, and "Sweating Bullets". The title track also won the band the Humane Society's Genesis Award for its spotlight on species extinction and canned hunting. Unfortunately, while many of the songs are good, this album was the album in which Mustaine really sold out, choosing radio-friendly songs instead of the thrash classics of the band's past.
This was the first Megadeth album I owned. The album was an effort to combine the radio-friendly aspects of the last album with some harder-edged more metallic elements. The songs were still very melodic, including the hit "A Tout Le Monde", but the album also featured some very heavy riffs, such as the one at the beginning of "Train of Consequences". This album essentially continued the downward turn from the prior album, but all was not lost as Mustaine's gift for writing catchy and interesting songs was still very much intact. The songs on this album were not as heavy as prior material, but they were interesting in their own way.
I'm not really sure what happened here. At least the last two albums prior to this bore some resemblance, however slight, to the albums that came before them. This album was a total shift in sound. There are very few moments where any signs of thrash metal still exist. For the most part, this album was produced in order to get Megadeth their long-desired #1 album. It was hugely successful as there were many radio hits on the album. There are still some harder songs, such as "The Disintegrators", "Vortex", and "She Wolf". However, many of the songs are lighter and geared towards modern rock radio. It is still mostly a metal album, but it fit in well with stuff on the radio at the time. At least the songs were good and catchy, and I still like this album better than Metallica's Load.
The name of the album says it all. This was a huge risk, and it did not pay off. After the success of the last album, Mustaine gave up more creative control over his band to a producer to again try for a #1 record. What resulted was a commercial and musical failure. This is one of my least-favorite albums in my music collection. I drag it out to listen to maybe once a year. Mustaine refuses to play any songs off of this album in concert, and for good reason. There is virtually no metal at all present on this album and Megadeth incorporates influences from electronic music, country, and several other areas the band had no business reaching into. Quite frankly, other than Mustaine's voice, this sounds nothing like Megadeth. There are very few decent moments and a whole lot of bad ones. It's odd that one band can supply one of my absolute favorite albums, as well as one of my most hated.
THE WORLD NEEDS A HERO
Thankfully after the mess that was the last album, Megadeth made a comeback of sorts. This album is not a complete return to form, but it does at least reach back to their more melodic traditional-sounding metal of the early 1990's. There are definite metal riffs and the album is significantly heavier than the last couple of albums. Mustaine's voice sounds great once again and his guitar solos have slowed a little but made up for their decrease in speed with improved technicality. Marty Friedman had left the band by this point because he did not want to return the band to its prior metal sound. It's unfortunate, but it did lead to Mustaine retaking the reins of the band and the spotlight. The album features some more personal songs such as "1000 Times Goodbye" and it also features a continuation of "Hangar 18" called "Return to the Hangar" with new lyrics centered around the same riff. This is a decent album, certainly better than their last couple, but not at the level as their early work and it really drags in the middle section.
THE SYSTEM HAS FAILED
This album basically built on the previous one. Megadeth were clearly on their way back, but they seemed to be taking baby steps. This album is a little more consistent and did not have a long dragging point in the middle of it, but they were not quite all the way back yet. Megadeth had gone on quite a long hiatus before releasing this album. Mustaine suffered a horrific injury that threatened to end his guitar-playing days and he broke up the band setting off major lawsuits with longtime bassist David Ellefson. He then found God and made a full recovery. His newly Christian values are apparent in this album with the last two tracks. Politcal rants re-emerged as the major lyrical topic. The guitar work is once again fantastic. At the least, Mustaine proved that he could definitely still play. Unfortunately there are not really any must-hear tracks on this one. They are all good, for the most part, but there are not any standouts.
Again building on the previous improvements, Megadeth is still fighting on this album to regain their place among the pantheon of thrash metal greats. They take another step closer on this album. It was well-received critically and commercially. Mustaine even managed to ruffle some feathers with the United Nations based on the title track and received a rebuttal of his claims in that song. That's pretty impressive that a metal band forced the U.N. to respond. This album also features a re-recording of "A Tout Le Monde" with Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna COil providing guest vocals. The only real issue with the album is that it does sound quite a bit like the previous two albums. It's clearly the best album Megadeth had produced since Youthanasia at least. It also again gave fans hope for the next album to be what they have desired for the next one. The old Megadeth was clearly on its way.
And they arrived. This is an incredible album. It's the best Megadeth album since Rust in Peace, better than all of the albums that came before it. Megadeth's aggression and anger came roaring back on this album with the blazing "Head Crusher" and "The Right to Go Insane". The album kicks off with a bang on "Dialectic Chaos", one of the best album opening tracks I have heard in a long time. The intensity level never backs off either. It is the most complete Megadeth album in a very long time. Even Rust in Peace had a throwaway track, but this album really does not. This was one hell of a comeback and was a very pleasant surprise. Even the frequent guitar soloing sounded like the old Megadeth. Hopefully the band continues in this vein.
Megadeth released some bad albums but they have been striving for a comeback for quite awhile. As far as the Big 4 of American thrash, Megadeth is probably the most musically gifted and they have also proven that they can still be viable in the metal scene. Slayer has been the most consistent, but none of their latest albums comes close to the latest Megadeth album. Anthrax has not been good in a long time. And finally, although Metallica put together their own colossal comeback album, it does not hold a candle to the newest Megadeth album.