Back to the heavy metal for another highly acclaimed 1986 release, today we have “Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?” by Dave Mustaine and Megadeth. Mustaine was originally with James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich in Metallica before being fired for substance abuse issues, and was replaced by Kirk Hammett. It is only natural for the comparisons between the two bands to linger throughout their respective careers. This intense album by Megadeth is rated #9 on the Top 10 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time by loudwire.com.
To get the comparisons out of the way, and I can only say this from this limited sample size as I have previously listened to very little Megadeth, there are noticeable similarities and some distinct differences between these two bands. I would say Hetfield definitely gets the edge as the superior vocalist, and that is the biggest and most important advantage I hear for Metallica. At least on this album, it feels like Mustaine sings because he is the best available, but not necessarily the best they could do. His tone is lighter, and reminds me of Rob Halford, but with less power and less range.
In contrast, as intense as Metallica is, especially on some of “Master of Puppets”, Megadeth answers the bell when it comes to drums, bass and guitar. That may or may not have sustained long-term, as they experienced way more turnover than Metallica, with only Mustaine remaining as an original member today. However, at that this point in time, I have no doubt there were Megadeth loyalists who maintained their band was truer to their metal core and intense roots.
“Wake Up Dead” is an outstanding opening track. This entire album took me a little more to warm up to, but by the second listen I was certainly banging my proverbial head, and this one rocks. Like most of this genre, this isn’t happy music about rainbows and puppy dogs. On songs like the title track, as well as “The Conjouring”, “Good Mourning / Black Friday” and “Bad Omen”, the explosive pace is fueled by darkness and anger. It is great aggressive music that absolutely gets the blood racing.
One surprising track where I actually resonated with Mustaine’s vocals was their unexpected cover of the Howlin’ Wolf track “I Ain’t Superstitious”. Both the arrangement and the vocal performance are reminiscent of the version by Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart, and I like the added dose of metal mania that blasts through, nearly twenty years after the Beck version. I don’t know if it ever happened, but it would have been great to see them play this song with Jeff Beck actually sitting in with them.
We aren’t done with the metal yet, but I am enjoying the side-by-side comparison of these two titans of American metal, and I am glad that over time, Mustaine has come to peace with his own success in this band, even somewhat reconciling with Hetfield and Ulrich, particularly after he battled and overcame a diagnosis of throat cancer.