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If someone who was an expert at the general history of thrash was by some odd coincidence not familiar with MegaDeth listened to this album, he would probably conclude that it was recorded in 1984 and composed a few years before. Like many of the first offerings in the thrash genre, every song is lightning fast and loaded with flash solos, not to mention a vocal delivery that relies more on rawness and attitude than skill and precision. However, one aspect of this album that separates it from the fold, even when considering how late it was by the standard of the genre, is Dave Mustaine’s rather unique approach to songwriting.
Dave’s quasi-classical tendencies jump out at the listener from the intro “Last Rites”, which gives this otherwise primitive thrash album a somewhat epic feel. The second half of the opening song “Love you to Death” follows all speed, zero niceness approach that Mustaine originally suggested his ex-band mates in Metallica follow. The beginning of “Looking down the Cross” also defies the textbook approach that Hetfield and company followed on their debut and incorporates some quasi-Sabbath sounding doom elements, not all that dissimilar from Overkill’s “Raise the Dead” actually.
The area of this album where MegaDeth holds the edge over most of the competition, most particularly Kirk Hammet, is the lead guitar department. Both Mustaine and Poland avoid the cliché sound of an angry man venting with repetitive shred licks and create solos that are both methodically structured and individual in character. The former has his moment of triumph on “Mechanix”, a solo which is probably better known on Metallica’s debut, albeit played by someone who never could have composed it. Poland has various moments of brilliance on “Skull beneath the skin” and the title track, where note quantity does not supplant their quality.
Although complexity is a noteworthy feature of this album, it is also important to note the strength that is exhibited through the purely fast and simplistic numbers. “Chosen Ones” is short, but sweet, assaulting the ears with a barrage of speed riffs that puts “Hit the Lights” on notice. “Rattlehead” succeeds in being the most catchy, mosh worthy, and one of my top 5 favorites in the genre. It attacks with the same viciousness as Anthrax’s “Deathrider”, while exhibiting a similar sense of polish as can be heard on Metallica’s “Trapped under Ice”, although it doesn’t share the slick production.
Like any good heavy guitar player who didn’t contemplate killing himself every time he wrote a song, Mustaine is not without a sense of comedy. Although the censors who continue to insist that his remake of the Nancy Sinatra classic “These Boots” is not fit for our consumption can’t be bothered with cracking even a little smile, I can’t help but be tickled pink both by how ridiculously fast and lyrically profane it is. It rivals somewhat less vulgar joke songs such as Priest’s “Eat me alive” and challenges the super unfettered satirical mayhem of Storm Troopers of Death. However, I can’t tell which is funnier, the unedited version I downloaded a year ago, or the bleeped out on my CD. Anyone who thinks that a teenager hasn’t heard what Dave is saying before is definitely worthy of being chuckled at.
To those of you who have yet to obtain this album, the recent re-master also provides you with the 3 tracks from the “Last Rites” demo, a powerful bonus to accompany what is already a solid album. If you liked the Anthrax and Metallica debuts, this will definitely leave your neck just as sore and the imaginary bells around your head ringing just as loud. It’s not the most shinning example of a slick production, and it’s barely over a half hour long, but it packs a punch that will leave your head rattling well into next week.