Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? (25th Anniversary Edition)
There’s a funny anecdote about Lars Ulrich visiting a record shop in Copenhagen in 1985 while Metallica was recording their opus Master of Puppets. Apparently he drove to the store to hear Megadeth’s debut album Killing is my Business… And Business is Good!, and after a moment of listening said something to the effect of, “That’s what I expected it to sound like,” and walked out. While the storied history between the two mega-groups definitely doesn’t need any more words (nobody needs to see any more awkward therapy sessions), this was an important moment in the world of thrash that clearly illustrates the phylogenic branches in the genre’s family tree.
Since the rise of thrash in the early ’80s, an ongoing and fierce debate has occurred within the metal community over what it constitutes. Mostly characterized by blistering riffs and a relentless intensity, the style fused British heavy metal with pure American moxie, flowering from the turd of the southern California glam-metal scene. At the time, it captured a spirit of youthful rebellion that was lost in the sea of spandex clad man-divas. Dave Mustaine’s position as main shredder in Metallica, one of the scene’s founding groups, meant that he had an important contribution to the development of the style, bringing to it a wild energy that still resonates to the core of the style today.
Within two years of his embittered departure from Metallica in 1983, Mustaine had formed Megadeth and took with him a vision for a sound that was much more a straight-ahead bull-rush than anything else. During this time, his former group had been exploring different approaches to harmony and dynamics in a genre that he saw to be more about balls-out aggression than anything else. “Wake Up Dead,” the opening track on Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? serves as strong a statement of Mustaine’s intent as he could make. The song – a multi-part odyssey of riffs – sets the table for the rest of the album, with quick changes underlaid by heavy grooves. It, along with tracks like “Bad Omen” and “Devil’s Island” features some of the band’s most powerful riffing. It’s awesome to listen to, and they give plenty to latch on to – though it’s hard not to think that most songs just serve as a platform for Mustaine’s shredding. And yes, the solos: in the school of Megadeth, the faster you play, the better you thrash.
The reissue does an ok job at bringing out some of the body in the mix that was lost in the poor-by-today’s-standards studio recordings. Dave Mustaine’s voice, however, has lost none of its oddness. It’s something that you love or hate; guttural and a little forced. That’s not to say that he can’t sing, Peace Sells is full of vocal crescendos, nicely complemented by the occasional shout chorus. What doesn’t help his cause is the quality of material he gives himself to sing. This is a shame, because there’s no good reason that something fast and heavy has to be trite.
Unfortunately, the album splatters itself over the walls like a frat house riot, and its theme orbits around a sense of vaguely defined doom and lost control, sprinkled with songs about hangovers and holocausts. On “Good Mourning/Black Friday,” he sings, “Hey, I don’t feel so good/ Something’s not right/ Something’s coming over me/ What the fuck is this?” before describing scenes of senseless horror and homicide. This element of the album hasn’t aged well, and it’s hard to avoid the campy aftertaste. To be fair however, Megadeth’s thrash is about being fast, heavy and scary, nothing more.
Peace Sells is Dave Mustaine’s ideal vision of thrash music. The issue is that by 1986, Exodus’ Bonded by Blood, Slayer’s Hell Awaits and Anthrax’s Spreading the Disease had all already been released. In the context of these albums, Megadeth’s contribution seems like a predictable next step in the genre’s development. The album definitely has great riffs, is fast and intense, however its songs seem to lack the soul that could take the album from just good thrash to good music. In the same year, Metallica’s Master of Puppets would attempt to take the genre in radical new directions. With Peace Sells, Megadeth seems amidst in an arms race and Mustaine comes off as a crowd pleaser.
That being said, Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? maintains its value despite its lack of subtlety and complexity. There’s a definite sense of intent to reference the past by outdoing it, and in that sense the album could serve as a baseline for what thrash strived to be in the 1980s. The reissue treatment seems to be trying to emphasize this by going for quantity and giving you three (THREE!) mixes to choose from, as well as a bonus never-before-heard live album. Unless you really care about hearing the subtle differences between each cut, just hunt down a used CD.
by Jordan Ardanaz