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There is no doubt countless stories of children who discovered the phenomenon of metal in their early teens or late pre-teen years, I myself had been subject to such an experience at the dusk of the genre’s prominence. My brother, like many adherents of the 80s metal scene, had decided it was time to hang up his fixation with the seemingly obsolete (in his mind) genre and thus I inherited a sizable supply of audio cassettes and a couple of vinyl records from an era that was fast being forgotten. “Peace Sells”, the album in question, was my first real experience with metal outside of the mainstream glam scene that I had been into as a younger child.
I was taken in by the album for a number of reasons, but the most salient one was my desire to grow as a musician, which was bolstered by the impressive display of instrumental virtuosity expressed both by Dave Mustaine and Chris Poland. The former of the two has a keen sense for riffs and song structure that can be observed in every single song on here, to speak nothing for his agitated pentatonic shredding. The latter’s soloing style is highly unique, blending a powerful dose of technical ability with a rather uncommon mellowness reminiscent of older soloists of the blues/rock persuasion.
The politics of the album obviously took a little while to grow on me, if for no other reason than that a teenager knows only as much as he is taught, and what schools teach children is contrary to the more accurate picture of American politics as portrayed in Mustaine’s lyrics. I still have my share of differences with him on certain things, but I have found his sentiments on the foreign policy and internal policy of the 80s to be highly accurate, particularly the rise of the Christian Coalition and various other malformations of the New Right. Some may look at his current Christianity and see hypocrisy under the guise of maturity, but as a practicing Catholic that loves metal, I can appreciate the courage of both choosing to believe something while simultaneously fighting those who use the same belief as a tool of oppression.
Considering that the thrash genre has often been pigeonholed as one-dimensional (it began this way of course), this album is revolutionary in its measured approach to consistency and variation. “Wake up Dead” places a large emphasis on instrumental sections and lead breaks, being steeped in solos and tempo changes yet having only a small collection of lyrics. “The Conjuring” has a bit more atmosphere to it at the beginning, but follows the same emphasis on riffs, lead and speed that the opening track features. The title track and “Devil’s Island” are the most traditionally formatted of the bunch, feature some fancy bass work, choruses with a lot of sing-along value, in addition to the usual sectional development.
“Good Mourning/Black Friday” is a double feature of sorts that throws some sand into the gears with a quiet and gloomy acoustic/electric intro, before exploding into a blazing fury of speed. “Bad Omen” begins similarly, though the intro is less sorrowful and more menacing and the eventual body of the song is not quite as fast. “I ain’t superstitious” defines the thrash sense of humor, drawing upon the old 12 bar blues model (though obviously elaborated more than is common to that older style) and injecting it with witty yet profane lyrics deriding something absurd. Our closing track “My last words” is another soft intro followed by classic speed/thrash, a final brief break before the last fateful burst of brilliance.
For the prospective buyer, the greatest perk offered by the re-mastered version is 4 songs in their original format as bonus tracks. The principle difference to be observed between the older mixes is the vocal presence, which is somewhat mired by overuse of reverb, which was typical during the 80s. The result is a radical difference in the dimension of the lead vocals and the backup parts that occasionally pop in and out. Although I experienced the original first, I wholeheartedly endorse the changes made, as they have done nothing to corrupt the timeless music contained on here. This is a piece of thrash history that not only championed all the best components of the genre, but also changed my life as a guitarist and musician.