Review Summary: Totally out of control.
It becomes apparent with a few listens that, from the bands of the so-called Big Four, Metallica is the most accessible, Megadeth is the most technical, Slayer is the most aggressive and Anthrax is the most undeserving of being included. Each of these bands started off unsure, not yet well defined, taking several albums to fully shape their sound and develop into the force that made their band long-lasting. And out of all their debuts, the one that is (arguably) the meanest, thrashiest, vilest of them all, is Megadeth's Killing is My Business
, an album made great by how unrestrained and out of control it is.
Mustaine was never an exceptional vocalist, but he compensates the shortcomings his voice has with a variation of whatever types of sound the human vocal chords are able to emulate. Gruffs, howls, woah's, shouts, grunts, snarls, barks, this album has them galore. Megadeth's power always came from Mustaine being a rabid dog, and on no other album is he more rabid than here. As far as vocals go, there are a couple of interesting compositional decisions on the album. For example, the title track, which incidentally is probably the best track on here, has two layers of vocals in its verse - one sung and one spoken. I personally have never heard that done in metal before '85 so it was quite innovative at the time and, along with the enormous main riff and chorus, make the song huge. (Note of interest: Axl Rose allegedly stole the idea for this type of vocal layering for one of Guns and Roses' songs) The maniacal panting and snarled enunciations of "You better believe it" and "You think I'm kidding, don't ya?" at the end of Killing is My Business
and These Boots
respectively are also interesting design decisions, giving attitude and character to the songs. Decisions such as these add a certain cosmopolitan sleaze to the songwriting, for which the band will always be loved.
But, vocals aside, as always with Megadeth, the main centerpiece of their music is the guitarwork. Still far from the progressive character of their later works, Killing is My Business is instead filled with adrenaline-induced crazy riffage, that doesn't make an attempt to be coherent -- It is disjointed, mismatched, random at times, but ever-technical and aggressive, pure thrash. The speed department is adequately represented by numbers such as Mechanix
(which is tens of times more primal and better than The Four Horsemen) and Rattlehead
. As far as solos go, the duo Mustaine-Poland doesn't disappoint, lacing each song with wild and unrestrained solo performances, the deranged zaniness of which is unmatched by none of the other Big 4 bands. The guitar work is more adventurous and virtuousic than that of Megadeth's rival bands, with Mustaine utilising tapping on a number of occasions (Last Rites, Looking Down the Cross
), a technique guitarists like Kerry King and Kirk Hammett will only employ albums later.
The lyrics themselves are more on the youthfully naive side, discussing contract killers (title track), anthemising the metalhead persona and the band's mascot (Rattlehead
, Skull Beneath the Skin
) as well as fantasizing about screwing on the job (Mechanix
). There is however one song which stands out for its lyrics (among other things), and that's Looking Down the Cross
. Discussing the last temptation of Christ, the song employs multiple riff, solos and tempo-changes, that make it more mature than the rest of the songs found on the album. Like I said, this song has a lot going for it, but the lyrics are what ultimately make it lastingly impressive, as their depth easily surpasses the lyrical efforts of other thrash acts at the time.
The cover, These Boots
often gets slagged, but I personally see it as natural, considering Chris Poland, coming from a jazz-fusion background, was in the band. This album is already crazy enough, why not include a jazz cover? The bass-descent at the beginning is deliciously sleazy and the lyrics alterations are nothing short of hilarious:
You keep saying you got something for me
Something you call love, but I call sex
You've been kissing when you ought-a-be-a screwing
and now someone else can kiss your ass
Overall, Megadeth's debut compensates whatever faults it has in structure and coherence of expression, with raw power, maniacality and unhingedness. Even though it may be abrasive to the initiate listener, it eventually grows on you and you come to appreciate it for the classic that it is.
- Killing is My Business...
- Skull Beneath the Skin
- Looking Down the Cross