Review Summary: Megadeth's debut features some interesting elements not seen in their later work.
Killing is My Business... And Business is Good! Review
Megadeth has certainly been through the ringer. Dave Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica just before they became one of the biggest Metal bands of all time. He created Megadeth in order to be faster, heavier, and better than Metallica. They've had some of the worst drug problems in the music industry. They've gone through so many lineup changes that it can actually be difficult to keep track of who was in the band at what time. However, throughout all of this, they've managed to deliver great music throughout (for the most part). But before all of that, they were just a small time thrash band trying to make it in the crowded Bay Area scene of the mid-1980s. In 1985, they finally managed to put out a record.
┬*Killing is My Business... And Business is Good! Is sort of an odd specimen. It really doesn't sound much like what we consider Megadeth to be nowadays. It doesn't have any of the cynical political lyrics that came to be a trademark of their style. A lot ┬*of the riffs are quite ┬*unusual, not resorting to an overuse of power chords like most other thrash bands. The songs are short, fast, and barely let up, creating an exhausting listening experience similar to Slayer's 1986 masterpiece Reign in Blood. But let's dissect this album a bit more to see exactly what you can expect from Megadeth's humble debut.
The first song, Last Rites/Loved to Deth starts off with a classical piano intro written by Bach of all things. We get about a minute of this until a blistering riff starts. The song really kicks into gear after a high pitched squeal from Dave that sounds like he got his nutsack stuck in a garbage disposal. Dave's vocals are quite intense on this track. He really sounds like a psychopath. The lyrics deal with a boy who really loves a girl, but the girl doesn't love him back, so he kills her. Overall its a great way to start off the album and is a pretty good representation of the sound of the rest of the record.
After that, we get the title track, and it is truly awesome. This was the first Megadeth song I ever heard so I might be a bit biased. We get one of the best riffs of their entire discography, and some awesome grooves that are sort of unusual for an early thrash band. Dave tells of an assassin who gets a job to kill someone, but then gets a job to kill the same person who just hired him. The lyrics, while offering a cool concept, are pretty corny,
I am a sniper.
Always hit the mark.
Working after dark
Hunting through the night
Targets on you┬*
Aiming at your head.
Near the end of the song we get a frantic solo from Chris Poland. The song fades out with Dave laughing maniacally and making weird animal noises.
I have mixed feelings about the next track, The Skull Beneath the Skin. On one hand, it has some great riffs, fantastic bass work from David Ellefson, and some pretty cool lyrics about the origin of band mascot Vic Rattlehead.
Metal caps on his ears┬*
he'll hear not we say.
Solid steel visor┬*
riveted across his eyes.
Iron staples close his jaws
so no one hears his cries.
On the other hand you probably won't be able to decipher these lyrics because this song has one of Dave's worst vocal performances EVER. The only way I can describe it is that it sounds like Dave is trying to sing with his mouth closed. I'm going to assume that Mustaine was completely hammered when he recorded the vocals, and seeing as half the production was spent on food, beer, and drugs (more on that later), ┬*it really wouldn't surprise me if that were the case. Another problem with this song is that there is basically no structure to it. It is all just a loosely assembled sequence of riffs. Its a good song, but it takes some getting used to.
The second most controversial track from this album (we all know what the first is), These Boots is a speed metal cover of the Nancy Sinatra song of the same name. The song starts off with some sound effects of someone browsing through the radio and supposedly stumbling on this song, indicating that it is probably not meant to be taken seriously. The most jarring thing about this track is the censored lyrics. The writer of the original song, a man by the name of Lee Hazlewood, got really angry when he found out about the changed lyrics in the mid 90s and even threatened to sue if Megadeth didn't remove the song from all future releases of the album, even though he ┬*received royalties for almost ten years before he objected to the song. Eventually, an agreement was made the song could stay on the album if┬*all the changed lyrics were censored. Most people would think that they would just bleep out the curse words or replace them with less offensive words. That's not what happened at all. Entire verses ┬*are bleeped out. Yeah, there are actually more words bleeped out than there are unbleeped. This was actually quite funny when I first heard it but it gets really annoying as the song goes on. I was able to find an uncensored version on YouTube, just to see what it sounded like. The lyrics basically are the same as the original, with key words replaced to change the meaning.
You've been kissin'
When you ought to have been screwin'
There's not much else to say about this one, except for a pretty good solo from Chris, even though its nothing special.
Now we come to side 2, which brings us Rattlehead. Contrary to what the title may make you think of, the song is not about Vic Rattlehead. It's actually about headbanging... and that's pretty much it. Its not a particularly memorable track. I would almost consider it filler, but it is a good way to bring you back into the album's mood after the goofiness of These Boots.
After Rattlehead comes Chosen Ones. This song's lyrics show a bit of the political side that Dave would later be known for, but it's not obvious at first. The song is about a group of Crusaders who are sent to destroy a group of a different ┬*religion. The knights consider the other group to be monsters, but when they finally destroy their enemies, they are depicted as the monsters. This is a great track with one of the best solos on the album.
Looking Down the Cross is often considered by almost everyone who has heard this album as the best track on the record, and I never understood why. It's not a bad song by any means but it isn't really any better than the other tracks. It's the only song to break away from the blistering speed of the rest of the album. As the title states, the lyrics are from the point of view of Jesus Christ as he is sentenced to crucifixion and what he is thinking during his final moments. Once again, it's a cool premise, but it's not pulled off very well and comes off as kinda pretentious. David Ellefson gets a short little bass solo that is a nice break from the constant guitar battling of Poland and Mustaine. It's a good track, but it's very overrated amongst Megadeth fans.┬*
And we come to the notorious final track. It is the topic of one of the most heated debates of the metal community; Which is Better:┬*Mechanix, or The Four Horsemen? It's gotten to the point where you can hardly critique the song without comparing it to it's infamous Metallica counterpart. Let me just get it out of the way now, I prefer the Metallica version. It has better lyrics, and the instrumental interlude really adds to the song. Anyways, let's get into a little history ┬*with this track. The song was written by Mustaine before he joined Metallica. The song appeared on Metallica's No Life till' Leather demo tape as The Mechanix, featuring Dave's original lyrics. What are the lyrics you ask? Basically just a bunch of stupid sex puns.
You make my drive shaft crank
You make my pistons bulge
You melt my ball bearings from the heat
When Dave Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica, James Hetfield rewrote the lyrics into an epic story of the Apocalypse, added a long instrumental section, and put it on Kill em All as The Four Horsemen. When Dave formed Megadeth, he bumped up the tempo by about 30 bpm, added a new intro, and kept the original lyrics, and put it on this record as Mechanix. Gar Samuelson's drumming really shines on this track. He just pounds his way through with some crazy fills and furious speed. It contains Mustaine's best vocal performance on the album by far. He keeps his trademark snarl, while still singing in key, a feat I thought to be impossible. Crazy soloing ensues near the end of the song. It is a truly furious performance and a fantastic way to end the album.┬*
Now that I have the tracks themselves covered, I would like to cover each band members individual performance.
Dave Mustaine: Dave shows his chops as one of the almighty riff masters here. He doesn't get to solo much however as Chris Poland takes care of that for the most part. His vocals here are some of his most intense, and with the exception of The Skull Beneath the Skin, they are actually some of my favorite from him.
Chris Poland: Poland takes over lead guitar duties and has some quite impressive fretwork here. I've read that Chris has actually has a torn tendon on his left index finger that allows him to stretch unusually far distances, and it shows on some of his intense solos. They can get a bit sloppy at times though. As a guitar player I was actually able to catch a few little mistakes where he didn't quite hit the fret he was trying to hit, resulting in a little squeak rather than a note. These moments are few and far between however and don't distract from his overall playing.
David Ellefson: Unlike most metal records, you can actually hear David's bass clearly all the way through the album. He does a good job at keeping the rhythm while also inserting some nice little melodic deviations from the guitar that add some depth to the songs. We also get some occasional backing vocals from him, but there not common enough to really say whether they are good or not.
Gar Samuelson: Gar was mainly a jazz drummer before joining Megadeth, and it shows here, with his unique fills and fun grooves. There's not a whole lot to say other than he gives a really tight performance that lends a sense of order to the chaotic guitar work. Unfortunately Gar Samuelson died of liver failure on July 22nd, 1999.
This is actually my favorite lineup of the band. I think that having 2 mainly jazz musicians in the band really adds a unique flare to the standard thrash fare.
Production: This record was plagued with production issues. Let's start with the artwork. The original shows a plastic skull with a tin foil visor over its eyes and what looks like fishhooks on its lips to represent the clamps holding Vic's mouth shut. It looks really low budget. According to the band members and studio employees, there was actual professional artwork made based off of a sketch by Dave Mustaine, but the studio lost it and made this instead. Now that that is out of the way, let's talk about the actual sound. The sound quality is kinda fuzzy, but you can still make out clearly what is going on for the most part. I recommend getting the 2002 remaster. It removes the fuzziness. One thing I found interesting was the fact that the guitars don't actually have that much distortion on. Maybe they did that to help combat the fuzzy sound quality, but it gives the record a unique quality. The mixing can be quite poor at times, with bits that are supposed to be up front in the mix being drowned by other things, but these moments are few and far between. The band was given $8000 to make the album, but they spent half of it on drugs and beer. They were given another $4000 by the record label but the same thing happened. With only $4000 left, they had to fire their producer and mix the album themselves, which would explain the poor production.
Overall, I think that this is a great record, and it is quite interesting historically. A lot of concepts and styles used on this album were never touched again by Megadeth, which is rather disappointing. Another disheartening thing is that the band never plays anything from this album live with the exception of Mechanix. I really wanna see some of these tracks back in their set lists. It seems that this album often sits in the shadow of the genre defining Peace Sells and the the magnum opus that is Rust in Piece, which is a shame because there is some truly great material on this album. You should really check this out if you haven't. It doesn't really sound like anything else from Megadeth, or anything else from the 80s thrash movement.
Last Rites/Loved to Deth┬*
Killing is My Business... And Business is Good!
This is my first review. If you want to leave negative feedback, please explain what is bad and what could be done better in future reviews.I love writing reviews and I hope to continue in the future. I'm all for constructive criticism!