1986 was a year of metal landmarks. With Thrash fast becoming the alternative to hair bands and other commercialized “metal” music, the movement saw releases by what would later become giants of the genre. And these weren’t just releases of standard fare, they were historical releases – Slayer’s Reign In Blood, Metallica’s Master Of Puppets, Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends, Flotsam and Jetsam’s Doomsday For The Deceiver, and others.
Among those releases in that great metal year (in the greatest of metal decades, the 80’s) was an album that would help define the metal that followed it – Megadeth’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying. One of the musical peaks of Thrash Metal, and one of the greatest metal albums in history, period.
To understand this album, you must understand the mastermind behind it – Dave Mustaine. To some a complex figure, to me, a simple man with dreams. Dreams that were almost shattered after being booted from Metallica under seriously bad circumstances. It’s one thing to be kicked out of a band when you’re in your own hometown, it’s another to be booted when you are on the other side of the country right on the cusp of fulfilling those dreams. Was it of his own doing? Yes, to a great degree it was. But due to this unceremonious firing, metal changed forever, and it helped to define heavy metal to this day. For Dave Mustaine did not wallow in sorrow, he soared in anger, sought revenge (later this attitude would change), and pursued it without relent, no matter what obstacles presented themselves. Neither external, nor internal (drug addiction) would stop him.
Dave Mustaine became a one man wrecking crew (but that is another story for another day). And Peace Sells…But Who’sBuying was one of his vehicles to exact revenge and create wreckage upon an unsuspecting metal world.
Megadeth’s first release Killing Is My Business And Business Is Good was a very good first release. It was creative and had a personality all its own. Clearly distinguishable from other bands, it carved out a space all its own. But Peace Sells surpassed it in every way. The jump in quality of production, musicianship, and songwriting was one of the best the genre has ever seen. The first album had poor production, and was erratic both in its songwriting and vision. Peace Sells was anything but. It also contained something magical. It had the anthem of the Thrash Metal generation – The title track Peace Sells.
Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying is more than a statement of metal mastery, it is also proves the point that metal can not only be hard ass, and tough, but it can be charismatic and catchy at the same time. A trademark of Dave Mustaine’s writing is his ability to combine the seemingly contradictory elements of catchiness and metal hardness (something Pantera was excellent at on their first two albums of their post faggish glam stage). But he does it often, and has carved a career out of it. And on Peace Sells he does it to great effect, forever changing the way he wrote albums after this one. And changing the way we write them as well. I call it the punk effect, adding a simplistic and catchy chorus to a song that anyone can sing to, something that punk rock did in its heyday. And punk, along with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, were critical components of the big bands of the Thrash era.
The title track affords a prime example of much of what made this album a classic. It has a classic bass intro that is addicting, even to the point that MTV used it as the intro MTV news. It is followed up by a powerful guitar intro that leads into an instantly recognizable lead guitar section, with the rhythm guitar rising in the background with a heavy crescendo riff that leads into the super catchy verse riff. The vocals are key here, because Mustaine uses a punk rock approach to the verse section, almost spoken, very catchy, and easy to follow and sing along to, and then magic happens – The chorus…one for the ages. Sarcastic, emotional, charismatic, and drives the point home in epic fashion. The guitar solo exchange in the middle section provides a great transition to the outro. And what can you say about the outro section? A complete change of pace that works in perfect harmony with the first section. Powerful, fast, epic, and emotional, with solos that are near pristine. And that leads to me to the guitar work.
Incredible. That’s what I have to say about the guitar work. Mustaine is known for recording all the rhythm’s, much like his musical peer James Hetfield. Clear, precise, heavy, every rhythm note has a life and vitality to it, very much like Metallica’s rhythm playing during this era. It sets a standard. The solos are almost as good, only weighed down by what I consider to be Mustaine’s Achilles’s heel, his sloppy solo work. He has some peaks, but his lack of technique has always held him back, and has limited his ability to play truly emotional solos. Chris Poland has no such problem. He is the high point of the solo work. His distinct style, fluidity, great technique, and emotional solos make this a must have album for any guitar soloist. One can only wonder how many more great solos we would have been blessed with from Poland had he not been fired for his drug use (something the whole band suffered from at the time).
The only thing that I can truly criticize it for is the length of the album. It’s paltry. Especially considering some of the other releases that year that had far lengthier material. Dude, this album had a cover as one of only EIGHT SONGS! Eight SHORT songs. A cover song was something that Mustaine adopted for Megadeth’s first three albums. To me its just filler bullshit, but I think there’s a reason for this that I’ll get deeper into another time, but I’ll suffice it to say that Metallica was playing much of his previous material, so he had to start writing from scratch, and this left him with less quality material to record at the beginning of Megadeth’s career. But fortunately, its not about quantity, its about quality, and here, quality comes in spades.
In closing I’ll add that this album’s place in heavy metal history can’t be understated. The 80’s defined metal. The decade gave it form and unleashed it to the greater populace and found its audience in great numbers. This album was critical to forming it. And though metal has been subdivided into several subgenre’s, the core established in the 80’s is still the same – Heavy, hard, mean, aggressive, musical, bold, honorable, and unrelenting. This album has all those things, and more. As does all great metal, regardless of subgenre.
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