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Idiosyncratic - 93%

gasmask_colostomy, January 30th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2004, CD, Capitol Records (Remixed, Remastered)

In my mind, Megadeth have always been one of all too few thrash bands that have a real identity. I don't mean that they have an identity as a thrash band, because there are thousands of groups who only have an identity as a thrash band to make them memorable, which of course backfires as they get lost in the masses; what I mean is that Megadeth have always had an identity apart from as a thrash band, meaning that they really do stand out distinctly from their multifarious generic peers and imitators. In fact, if we really think about it, Megadeth are not really that pure a thrash band. Ventures into hard rock and commercial territory aside, Dave Mustaine and his many cohorts forged a thoroughly unique sound from the beginning, as 'Killing Is My Business' is quick to prove if you listen to its speed metal riffing, baggy bass, and frantic shredding. Probably for this reason, Megadeth can easily lay claim to being my favourite of the "Big 4" bands and - if they truly play thrash - also my favourite thrash band.

In this regard, 'Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?' is a typical Megadeth album, exhibiting all the assets and the few drawbacks that have made Dave and co. so consistently entertaining for so long. There are lots of riffs and speed; there's Mustaine's idiosyncratic voice(s); no sense of restraint in terms of solos; hooks that never lose their hard edges; finally, there's that ever-present sense of excitement that mostly comes from the friction between white-knuckle technicality and enraged sloppiness, which is almost certainly the defining factor of early Megadeth. What makes 'Peace Sells' a little more than just a typical Megadeth album is its invention and daring. Whenever Mustaine has gone all-out and fired everything at an album or a song, it has come out exponentially better than the times he has played it safe, even if the song is riddled with weirdness or poor production or that imposing sloppiness that only someone really crazy could ever pull off (not Metallica, naturally).

The invention is all there in the bulk of the songs on this record, often coming from the guitars, though by no means limited to them. The entirety of opener 'Wake Up Dead' is a testament to an intensely different way of thinking about music, right from the splurge of words that leads the album out of the gate to the combative riffs that chop up the middle of the song with so many different time changes to the stomping feel of the closing solo section, which remains one of the most distinctive moments of Megadeth's career. The creativity on display here is inimitable and fearless, making the entire song feel thoroughly unpredictable and exciting after the hundredth listen, however much it might spin the listener's head at first. Then there are those broken riff licks on 'The Conjuring', the legendary bass line from the title track, the bloodied tatters of fingers flying off guitar strings during 'Black Friday', the funky dip and groove of 'I Ain't Superstitious', and the climactic gang shouts in 'My Last Words' - this album has a lot going on in terms of ideas. It shouldn't really work with this kind of hectic creativity, though that's the difference between being good and being unique.

Four men do their best to make this a great listen. The first one, I don't need to talk about, though I would like to say that Mustaine is underrated as a vocalist, since he crafts a whole load of different shapes from his voice and never sounds as though he's doing anything inappropriate. Chris Poland, while not as celebrated as Marty Friedman, may actually be as worthy of praise as the later axeman, particularly as his fills on the Willie Dixon cover and the album's title track are at once playful, skillful, and sound cool as fuck. David Ellefson has had his plaudits in the past, though 'Peace Sells' must be his best performance in Megadeth colours, doing way more than scraping around the guitarists and frequently putting his own stamp on fast and more measured sections alike. Gar Samuelson has not been endowed with the most robust drum tone on the 2004 remastered version that I'm listening to (there are a few beats that sound like he is throwing drum sticks at his kit from across the room), but he is super tight when the string players take off with their right hands and scatters fills about whenever he can. Perhaps his proudest moment might be the transition between 'Good Mourning' and 'Black Friday', where he rolls around all the drums before locking into a rock-solid beat.

For all this praise, however, there are some weak points in this album. The first one is the production, which I feel is imperfect on both the old and newer versions (I haven't heard the 25th anniversary version, but I have the original remaster). On the 2004 addition, everything still sounds pretty loose, with Ellefson's bass twanging tastily at times and rattling annoyingly at others, while OlympicSharpshooter's about "chickenscratch" guitars is apt in several places, where the E-string gets busy and we don't get a lot of joy from any real notes, just speed. A few of the solos also become rather abrasive at high-pitch, though that's not such a problem, since it gives these parts a physical punch that they would otherwise lack, guitars occasionally being thin. The second problem is a much more regular one, and that is the fact that 'Bad Omen', but especially 'Devil's Island', don't match up to the others in terms of quality or interest, remaining fairly predictable, though not completely bland. Since the other songs needn't resort to speed in order to surprise, these songs feel restrained in comparison whatever their pace, even if I rather suspect there are a fair few thrash bands who would have made them focal points of any of their own albums. The most bizarre complaint I have is that no else seems to be able to hear the totally obvious chant of "Neville's island" replacing the actual title of that song at some point in its latter half.

So, to sum up, 'Peace Sells' is a pretty obvious classic and plays more like an obvious classic nowadays than a few other 1986 peers, despite the signs of weakness in the production. There is a whole lot of quality packed into a relatively short album and even the less essential songs are exactly that - less essential, rather than inessential. The real selling point, however, must be the entirely unpeaceful attitude of this release, since it never lets up in terms of creativity and rarely gives the listener pause for thought either, unless that thought is, "Fuck, I like this."