Review Summary: Megadeth's Peace Sells is a timeless classic of the thrash metal genre, easily at the top with fellow thrashers Metallica and Slayer.
Megadeth were founded in 1983 by Dave Mustaine, formerly of the bands Panic and Metallica. In 1985, Megadeth released its debut record “Killing is My Business… and Business is Good!” In 1986, they quickly followed up “Killing…” with “Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?” In retrospect, Peace Sells has been recognized as one of the greatest thrash metal records of the 1980s and has since been certified Platinum by the RIAA for shipments of over one million copies.
Peace Sells starts off with the epic “Wake Up Dead,” a mostly instrumental track based on the idea that if Dave Mustaine’s girlfriend (addressed as “Diana”) caught him coming back from getting piss drunk and cheating with another girl, he would “wake up dead.” With an overtly metal premise like getting ***ed up and cheating on your girlfriend, how can you go wrong? It seems you can’t, as the beginning baseline leads to some face-melting thrash riffery and crazy shredding solos by both Mustaine himself and jazz musician Chris Poland. Notably, there is a backwards guitar riff near the end of the song, which literally seems to have been written and played backwards.
“The Conjuring” starts with some simple notes and riffing, quickly descending into a monster of a tapping solo. Often noted as one of the highlights from Peace Sells, the Conjuring describes a Satanic ritual of some sort, with someone losing their soul to the dark lord of heavy metal (no, not Mustaine). The riffs are piled on top of each other, and filled with as much variation as your average jazz song, albeit heavy as heavy gets in 1986. The final word, “OBEY!” is spoken by Mustaine and a crowd of demons (apparently).
The title track, “Peace Sells”, seems to have nothing to do with peace or how if it were for sale it wouldn’t sell at all. Instead, the focus is on metalheads in popular culture: “what do you mean I don’t believe in god? [i] talk to him every day!”, “what do you mean I don’t support your system? I go to court when I have to!”, “what do you mean I ain’t kind? [I'm] just not your kind!”, “what do you mean I don’t pay my bills? Why do you think I’m broke? Huh?” Accurate sayings on inaccurate stereotypes about the heavy metal culture. The song’s baseline is arguably the most well-known in all of heavy metal, having been featured on even MTV News for some time. The baseline, written by Mustaine and played by bassist David Ellefson, sets the pace for a groovy track littered with solos and plenty of thrashing to keep even the most critical of listeners hooked.
“Bad Omen” is my personal standout. Featuring easily one of the most eerie intros to be found in thrash metal. A very slow picked electric guitar sequence of notes, leading into some crunching riffs which would make Black Sabbath themselves proud, along with some laughing guitar slides. The jazz riffery makes a stunning return in the start-stop picking rhythms with some incredible driving drumming. At the end, a blazing double-tapping solo by Mustaine and Poland sends your soul to utter chaos and destruction… or something like that.
One thing that deserves mention is the powerful drumming to be found throughout the album. Gar Samuelson (June 12th, 1958 – July 22nd, 1999) was guitarist Chris Poland’s jazz-drumming brother in arms. As a jazz drummer, he adds a flair found to Megadeth’s compositions previously unheard of. While there are faster (Dave Lombardo, Slayer) and more popular (Lars Ulrich, Metallica), there certainly aren’t better to be found in thrash metal. His drum patterns are very wild, and they hit you all through the album, even if you’re not really into drumming. The complexity and heaviness of the drumming is yet to be matched in thrash metal, and may very well never be. Though he is dead (of liver failure at the age of 41), Peace Sells is his life’s statement. And what a good one it is.
The weakest track on the album is “I Ain’t Superstitious”, a cover of the same song by bluesman Willie Dixon. Though quite different than the original, featuring Mustaine’s snarly crooning style and cursing throughout (I ain’t superstitious / no such thing as bad luck / I ain’t superstitious / I couldn’t even give a ***), it doesn’t quite stack up to the rest of the tracks on the album. Along with “Devil’s Island”, the weakest, certainly. Does that make them weak? By no means. Both tracks are very listenable and better than most cuts from both “Killing” and later albums.
The final track is “My Last Words” and features an electric guitar intro with the slow and eerie patterns as seen on “Good Mourning/Black Friday” and “Bad Omen.” The thing that strikes most about My Last Words is the guitar/bass sections where they seem to duel a bit. Sometimes the double guitars do the riff, sometimes both guitars take the back seat to the bass. An interesting track, with interesting lyrics.
Megadeth’s Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? was an instant classic upon release and remains as influential and powerful today as it was all the way back in 1986. One listen tells the listener how amazing it sounded back then and how timeless it remains. Along with Metallica’s Ride the Lightning, Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Slayer’s Reign in Blood, and Megadeth’s own Rust in Peace, this is a perfect thrash metal record.