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With all of the problems facing both Dave Mustaine personally and his then still young thrash project MegaDeth, there is a somewhat peculiar sense of irony to the album “So far, so good, so what?”, both in its title and the consistent yet varied subject matter contained in its eight various chapters. The musical dimensions from track to track contrast quite starkly, combining Mustaine’s unique blend of epic songwriting and raw thrash attitude with lyrical themes spanning several issues relevant both to Dave personally and society in general at the time.
Coming off a brief stint as a three piece outfit for their slot on the movie soundtrack “Shocker”, MegaDeth had a rather large task of matching the expectations created by their early career peak “Peace Sells” with a near completely revamped line-up. Jeff Young is worthy of the position that he holds on this album and does a good enough job when assuming lead duties, but between Poland and Friedman it is really difficult to wow the core-MegaDeth fan, and compared to them his style is not terribly distinctive. Chuck Behler manages to make a hell of a racket on the kit on several of the faster tracks on here, check out “Hook in Mouth” and “502” in particular to see what I mean.
The album opens in with a curve ball quite similar to the one found on Deth’s debut, only manifesting itself in a rather inspired military march complete with accompanying brass instruments. “Through the Lungs of Hell” functions as a sort of extended multi-movement epic prelude to “Set the World Afire”, which is among the more powerful speed metal songs on here. The riff development is quite impressive as the first minute and a half of music are loaded with winning ideas, all of them hard edged, all of them memorable. The vocal delivery showcases Mustaine at his most crisp and precise, lacking any misplaced or overtly raw throat anomalies that were occasionally found on earlier songs.
Much of the other speed tracks on here are shorter and simpler, drawing upon the fewer riffs and fragmented solos approach of earlier releases. “Liar” features the roughest vocal delivery, appropriately so as Mustaine has opted to rip apart former band mate Chris Poland for stealing from him. “502” is an anthem for high speed driving that makes Sammy Hagar’s “I can’t drive 55” sound like the theme music to Driving Miss Daisy. But the true goods are delivered on the riff monster “Hook in Mouth”, where Dave is at his socio-politically conscious best as he accurately depicts one of the most hideous enemies of freedom of speech Tipper Gore.
Where things really get interesting is on the slower tracks, which showcase Dave’s varied approach to songwriting probably better than any other release has. “Mary Jane” has a dream like atmosphere to it, contrasting a series of gloomy lead riffs with a set of mellow clean guitar drones. Mustaine’s vocal delivery is colored by both a sense of fear and excitement, leading one to believe that he is either in the midst of a drug trip or experiencing some sort of supernatural occurrence. “In my darkest hour” is quite a morose yet sorrowful elegy to former friend and band mater Cliff Burton, featuring a gloomy acoustic intro as well as a somewhat modified version of the main riff of “Jump in the Fire”.
For those aspiring thrash fans who have yet to purchase this particular MegaDeth opus, it is among the better ones put out by them, despite the turmoil surrounding the band at the time and the inconsistency of its line-up. All of the original songs found within, as well as the rather well modified Sex Pistols cover, are shinning examples of Mustaine’s genius and resilience. The re-mastered version includes 4 alternative mixes of some of the songs that give some insight as to how the original product sounded; a definite must for the sake of past perspective. This is something of a swansong for MegaDeth in many ways, and to this day continues to be underrated by core-fan and casual listeners alike.