Ezra Titus

1966 – 2009

MEGADEATH

“Megadeth” – the misspelled band name notwithstanding, brought respectability and a generous measure of musical proficiency to their genre of heavy metal. This band was the first to bring some sense of what I might call “Dignity” to fans from all walks of life who found themselves caught up in a musical era that is not greatly respected by those who never took the time to listen.  Words can’t transport those who will never believe back to concerts that convinced all in attendance that speed metal could indeed be cerebral, flawlessly executed, and even soulful.  The best I can do is recommend a CD, and I suppose that though it was early in the band’s career, low-budget and lacking certain benefits that better production might have imparted, “Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying?” must be the one.

Dave Mustaine, the only permanent member of Megadeth, wrote a great deal of the first two Metallica albums.  Regardless of what those guys say, Dave invented the genre, and, with saintly patience, taught Metallica’s James Hetfield how to play the style of guitar that defines it.  Therefore, contrary to popular belief, Mustaine was the innovator who changed heavy metal forever.  Dave Mustaine was thrown out of Metallica before they recorded “Kill ‘Em All”, their first album.  The guys in Metallica say they rejected Mustaine because of his drinking.  Dave has said the fallout actually occurred as a result of an episode in which Hetfield (guitarist and lead singer of Metallica) kicked Dave’s puppy, which resulted in Dave kicking Hetfield in the face.  Whichever the case, the breakup resulted in a lifelong competition between the two bands that were born of it.  Metallica sold more albums, but Megadeth consistently produced a superior product.  Christina Aguilera outsold both bands’ entire catalogues combined with her first two albums, which just goes to show that sales are absolutely not an indicator of true musical talent.  (I say this in light of the fact that without digitally “scrambled” vocal tracks and overfunding in the production department, Christina Aguilera is as talented as a tennis ball.)

Though Metallica continued to produce an “uncooked” version of this music over the past 25 years, they lacked the element that continues to make Megadeth a more enjoyable band – the unlikely and unique influence of blues music.  Dave Mustaine, the superior and more learned guitarist/singer of Megadeth incorporated his knowledge of the blues (somewhat amazingly) into speed metal, producing a series of albums that are inimitable and to this day, not even approached in their superiority by any contemporary metal band with the possible exception of a few songs by Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society.  (Note: Black Sabbath pioneered true heavy metal, but being a band nearly 40 years in action, can in no way be considered contemporary.)

I will now refrain from doling out lifetime achievement awards and focus on the CD being reviewed:

“Peace Sells …” was, in 1985 (and still is) greatly respected by most people who listen to it, be they metal fans or not.  Tracks like “Devil’s Island”, “Black Friday”, “Bad Omen” and “My Last Words” infused a blues-influenced soulfulness into darkly influenced subject matter in lyrics that topped off incredibly tight, smooth and intricate musicianship in an incarnation of Dave’s band that made all the tumblers click into place and show what was possible in heavy metal in a way that until then, had never been imagined.  This brought to the nation’s attention a band that simply could not be topped.  After hearing the album, everyone I knew wanted to see the band live.  The live show was, incredibly, even better than the album.  Mustaine was not an imitator.  He was the true embodiment of heavy metal, sincere and completely real.  He was the music he played; his performances showed unequivocally that his music came straight from his heart, complete with a certain and fascinating darkness which avoided Satanic comedy by mixing in a lightly humorous sarcasm that was both twisted and fun.  It was exciting.  It was completely unique and new, and show after show, it sounded incredibly good, regardless of the acoustics within whatever venue he played.  The band was so tight, and each member so talented that during those years, they just couldn’t lose.  The entire band, fused together behind Dave’s incredible ability to play incredibly intricate guitar and sing with complete sincerity in every word simultaneously made for a concert experience that was consistently and surreally impressive.  Everyone who liked Megadeth grew to love Megadeth as night after amazing night, they restated with increased magnitude what was cool about their music.  It was comprised of a fusion of influences that simply worked out in a way that until then, had never been heard, and certainly never will be heard again as it was played when we were young, and energy was bountiful.

– Oh, and there are those who will think this is just silly.  They probably won’t have read this far.  Even the name of this band is enough to make the closed-minded turn a blind eye.  They’ll never know how much fun it was, and how cool it made us feel.  (By the way, Megadeth is still in business, and they still make good albums, but I’m talking about a time when it was magic, and those times never last too long.  If you want to check out the latest, it’s called “The System Has Failed”, but right now, we’re talking about a time when Megadeth was new, and it was miraculous.)

“Devil’s Island” was, for metal, a well researched recounting of conditions encountered at the infamous, French island/prison.  While the band played tight, galloping, intricate and well thought out riffs, Mustaine added the soul of the song, somewhat ingeniously singing in a blues-informed style over music that had nothing to do with the traditional “1, 4, 5” chord progressions upon which, until then, the blues had always built a foundation.  It just worked in a way that can’t be done justice by literary description.  As with every other song, it must of course be heard to be truly experienced.

And just when you were thinking that was the coolest thing ever, the band hit you with “Black Friday”, a seven minute heavy metal opus that built from a sweet yet sorrowful beginning that showed these guys could play great acoustic guitar style lines that were intricate and melodic.  The intro peaked, and the electric guitars kicked in being still somewhat subdued, yet reaching a higher plateau of energy.  And then – the break; a wickedness, blues based yet with something different – a dissonant note thrown into the guitar line that made it meaner, and you thought, “Now, we’re really moving.”  But that was still the intro.  It pinnacled, the band slid down, and a single guitar took up a riff based on the last, but now, it was impossibly quick and cool.  That’s when it really started to feel … dare I say, “Too good to believe”?  Dave’s vocals then added yet another dimension to the music, singing about a murderer,

“I’m strung out with sadistic intent

The blackness surrounding, slamming through your head

A merciless butcher who lives underground

I’m out to destroy

I will cut you down”

–  And just at that spot, the band kicked into yet a higher gear that no one had ever heard before – full on, heavy metal euphoria.  – Dave kept his wicked, delta blues/speed metal soul going as he repeated, “On black Friday, we paint the devil on the wall” – but it wasn’t really the words, it was the way they were sung.  It was so cool, I can’t even describe it.  It has to be heard.  The feeling has to be experienced.

So, after that, one was sure they’d heard the best of the album, but then it got even better:  “Bad Omen” started out more heavily, with a riff so intricate, classical musicians would become curious.  And, despite the technical virtuosity displayed in the guitar riff, it never lost that feel – the feel that brought people who had never liked metal into the circle, where they said things like, “This band is the evolution of Led Zeppelin.”  Kids into new wave loved it.  Kids into disco loved it.  Everyone loved it, and then, Megadeth unveiled an even greater wickedness.  People like Tipper Gore called it “Evil,” but it was bigger than that.  It was deeper – it was more than that.  It was like jumping a motorcycle, or surfing a musical tidal wave.  It was thrilling, and then, it got better.

The album finished off with “My Last Words”, a song about playing Russian roulette.