KILLING IS MY BUSINESS…AND BUSINESS IS GOOD!
Released on June 12, 1985 (Combat Records)
When it comes to classic heavy metal bands, my heart more often than not leans towards an act’s first couple releases. Not that I don’t have love for much else past that in a heavy hitting band’s catalog, I have just found myself more drawn in by say the first couple Iron Maiden records with Paul Di’anno, and the first two Anthrax releases despite each featuring a different lead vocalist. For me, The Legacy and The New Order will always be the best of Testament‘s albums, the first two Black Sabbath offerings their true groundbreaking achievements as well as the first two “solo” shots by former Sabbath singers Ronnie James Dio and Ozzy Osbourne. It just doesn’t get any better and I feel the same rings true for Metallica‘s Kill ‘Em All and Ride The Lightning as well as that first duo of albums by Metallica castoff Dave Mustaine‘s band Megadeth.
As metal history has written, there was a time when you could cut the metallic tension between Mustaine and his former bandmates with a knife if you could avoid getting sliced back in the process. It was nasty as was/is the case with many bands and former bandmates but it has to be argued that without that added tense edge, those classic debut albums might not have been as brutally metal. Most importantly, whether anyone wanted to admit it or not, without Mustaine‘s snarky, punkish attitude and creative ability, there’s a good chance both albums don’t end up as edgy or filled with as many face melting songs. Surely there are metalheads out there who’ll disagree but the proof is in the pudding. Over time, Metallica‘s releases have wavered in terms of sonic quality and substance while overall, Mustaine has driven the Megadeth train down a pretty consistent path that’s always been, well, pure snarky Mustaine metal.
Yeah, through the years, Metallica have rubbed sounds with Bob Seger, Marianne Faithfull and Lou Reed. Aside from totally owning a cover of Nancy Sinatra‘s “These Boots” on their debut, Megadeth have rocked tunes by the likes of Sabbath, the Sex Pistols, and Alice Cooper. Sure they’ve both leaned on some Thin Lizzy and punk covers but just looking at the above mentioned choices, I can at least partially rest my case. That being said, the relative release of both bands’ debut albums remains monumental and explosive and on any given day, I could lean either way if given a choice. At the end of the day, the common denominator between the two is Mustaine but seeing that this is for the 35th anniversary of Killing Is My Business… though, on this day, I’m gonna happily have to slap on the appropriate metal tee and denims and crank in favour of Mega-Dave and his early ‘Deth dudes.
When I landed back in the States in the fall of 1981 after a few years in Germany, I did so armed with the knowledge bestowed on me through the metal teachings of albums and the rock festival live impact of classic bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, but also bands that were new to me like Iron Maiden, Accept, Mötorhead, Krokus and Saxon. A bombastic blessing but one that on my arrival in the southern United States placed me in what at the time was the rare dead center of the two main groups at my school, one side consisting of usually high heads stuck on Hendrix and The Doors and the other side clean cut preppies awash in the sounds of new wave. As the kid in the middle, I walked this grey line seasoned with bits of both sides but mostly doused in records ordered through the import ads in rock magazines. In the early eighties, quite a bit of my allowance and lawn cutting earnings ended up invested in bands chosen solely by the cool graphics and brief descriptions found in magazines.
Yeah, without Spotify or Bandcamp, there was really no way to hear a new band and it would be a couple more years before kids in my neck of the woods would dig the sounds enough for the local record store to stuff ’em in a listening station. In Germany, I could walk past a record store and there would be Maiden‘s mascot Eddie staring at me, but back in the good ol’ U.S. in 1981, my fate remained with outlets across the seas and that meant mailing off an order and waiting a long while for it to return hoping my visual choices would end up pleasing to my ears. Fortunately, between some chance picks including some cool compilations like Metal Massacre and some raw stuff from a few tape trading pals, by the time 1985 rolled around, I was already well versed on Metallica and salivating for the first tastes of Megadeth. Finally, just as I was enjoying the finally bakes of summer vacation, I finally got my eager mits on Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good!
Now I’ve never been sure what the big deal about the original cover is. About all I know is that on first view, my immediate thought was “Holy crap, that is metal as f**k” but also there was a part of me that was thinking maybe Mustaine on his own would be more aggressive punk rock and in a way, I was correct on both counts. I’ll admit though, after my usual flip through the cover and inside stuff, I was eager to not only listen, but mostly to hear the song “Mechanix” to see if Dave had changed anything about it after Metallica had pilfered it for their own debut a couple years prior. Mere minutes after dropping the needle to hear that tune first, quiet contemplation immediately turned into “Rocking the f**k out” as it was not as raw as any of the early Metallica demo versions but blasting out of my speakers just as kick ass.
Thinking back now, it’s hard to believe that the band was able to put together such a great sounding metal debut for a mere eight grand. Was it the very most professional record it could have been? Well no and thank God for that because part of the power of the record is the pure raw, metal energy mixed with Dave‘s snarky attitude. Besides, if the story is true that they were forced to go low budget after spending the other half of their budget on drugs, alcohol, and food, well hell, I’m just glad they managed to get the album done and lived to rock on about it!
Once I was set to crank Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good from start to finish, I was pretty taken aback by the piano. Not that I wasn’t used to hard rock bands using keyboards, just that the last thing I was expected was to hear ’em start off Megadeth‘s debut but just the same, pleasantly and devilishly surprised to experience the building progression through “Last Rites” and into “Loved To Deth.” Initially, one of the things I loved the most from the jump and throughout the record was (and to this day still is) Mustaine‘s unique snarky vocals. Over the years, there has been plenty of criticism over the production quality, which I can see, but I’ve had to laugh over the flack critics tossed at Mega-Dave over his vocals on this album. Yeah, maybe the lead vocal thing wasn’t originally in Dave‘s job description but to date, when you hear a Megadeth song, you know in part due to the lead vocals that it is no doubt a Megadeth song.
Mustaine doesn’t really wail, rarely growls, never garbles through a song and certainly doesn’t toss in a “Yeah Heh!” every so often like a certain former bandmate but what he does do is provide a snarky, sinister, one-of-a-kind vocal that if compared to anyone might be early eerie Alice Cooper. One of the things I loved the most about metal in the eighties was the fact that even most of the heavier bands were fronted by actual vocalists and the ones with the impossible to understand death metal garglers weren’t really my thing. Bands like Testament, Maiden, Anthrax, Metallica, and Megadeth had not only solid vocalists, but ones that were to a point unique to that band. And yeah, Dave fit right into that category. Most powerful singer of all time? Nah, but for sure there’s no one else that sounds like him.
Supposedly inspired by the Punisher comic books, the title track takes a classic hard rock groove and bastardizes it with full on thrash treatment seasoned with hints of hardcore punk and pre-crossover metal and to this day is my favorite track on Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good as well as one of my top five fave Megadeth tunes. Starting with the energy of thrash and hard rock, it has just enough of the ingredients of crossover metal and punk to give it a rawer, nastier attitude but not veer it into that all over the place mess that some hardcore punk can end up. I’ve always had a mixed opinion when it comes to records named after a track on the album but sometimes a title track is the locomotive that pulls everything along and just steamrolls over everything in its path and this one is that to the core.
Side one finishes off with “The Skull Beneath The Skin”, a blasting tune that starts off very ram shamble but within a blink of an eye slams full on into classic Megadeth metal much like fans would hear on followup Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying before powering into their take on sixties Nancy Sinatra tune “These Boots.” On paper it might not seem right in the least bit but on vinyl, the mix falls right into Megadeth‘s already unique take on thrash metal. When you really think about it, on one foot “The Skull Beneath The Skin” is full on eighties heavy metal and on the other foot, what’s more metal than stomping all over someone?
Some Megadeth fans would have probably been happy if “These Boots” had just been left off of future versions of Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good after the tune’s writer Lee Hazlewood found Mustaine‘s re-written version offensive leading initially to it being pulled from the record. Future versions of Killing Is My Business…and Business Is Good would include everything from a modified rendition to a proper cover take featuring Hazlewood‘s original lyrics. While all those modified Megadeth versions are cool, they take away from the original idea the band had covering it in the first place without bowing a metal heart down to any opposition. Opinions among fans may vary on the tune but for me, I dig Megadeth‘s snarky take on the song and if given the choice between a version other than than one found on Megadeth‘s 1985 release and just having it taken off, I’d rather not have “These Boots” on the record. Lucky for me, this is an anniversary review of the original release of Killing Is My Business…and Business Is Good so in this case, none of those other chipped at versions apply.
Iron Maiden have Eddie and Megadeth have Vic Rattlehead but only the latter has their own direct theme song “Rattlehead” which kicks off side two. A “throw your hands in the air” rollicking metal anthem said to be just as much for the band’s metal fans as Megadeth‘s skull-domed mascot. The ongoing barrage of shred solos over crushing power chords is made for moshpit metal and the chunky breakdown about halfway in pure headbanger heaven so even with all of Megadeth‘s great pit tunes to crank in concert, it’s a shame that “Rattlehead” is usually not one of them that they play live. “Chosen Ones” keeps the ball rolling classic metal style bending back and forth between early Priest and NWOBHM, unique in a way that is just as much heavy rock as heavy metal. With a main riff that is as infectious as heavy, this could be considered a Megadeth heavy metal hook and even listening now, my head can’t help but to bob along. It’s a perfect rocker to ease into following track, “Looking Down The Cross.”
Perhaps the most unique tune on Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good, “Looking Down The Cross” is an early example of what made Megadeth stick out among the growing pile of metal bands in the eighties. Yeah, ‘Deth does unleash fast thrash fury but early on stepped away from the faster is better idea taken up at the time by groups like Slayer and to an extent, Metallica. It’s pure killer hard rock blasted with bits of metal and the bass-driven vocal break is the perfect build up to the brutal climax. Not just air guitar worthy, but drums, bass, and the perfect lead up to the skull crushing album finish of “Mechanix.”
At the time, many critics panned Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good for its thin production even going so far to praise future remixed and mastered version helping it to fall in line sound wise with other classics in Megadeth‘s catalog. Maybe those critics have a point. I don’t know but as I’ve worked on this review, I not only pulled out the original vinyl copy but also sampled some of the future versions and honestly, while some may have a fuller mix, in my opinion they also lack the raw aggression of the original 1985 debut. Fans discovering the band later might not understand but from first vinyl crackle, it’s the sound of a place and time Megadeth (and early fans) will never encounter again. It’s like those first few KISS records, low-fi yet somehow years later, perfect in a way that makes it nearly insulting to have to hear any other way.
We will never know what Metallica would have sounded like had they not sacked Dave but I think many will agree, it never would have sounded like Megadeth. Sure there are similarities between both legendary bands but from the jump, Megadeth were different in that there were more hints of early hard rock and hardcore in Megadeth‘s mix of thrash metal. Mustaine‘s snarky vocals alone separated them from the pack and it didn’t just show up after the band achieved mainstream success. It has been all over Dave‘s sneer from the angry start when Megadeth announced that Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good and throughout the years, they mostly killed it rarely straying from their brand of metal. It’s mostly what sets Dave and his band apart from other metal bands of the day especially his former group. He’s always been Mega-Dave, not some heavy metal dude changing ’cause that’s the way the masses are pulling him, or slapping on some shiny suit or new hairdo, or even teaming up with old musical underground critics faves. Not saying he’s been perfect but it’s kind of hard to not admit that in comparison to old company, he’s definitely been more real and consistently his own true self. That’s why we love Dave, snarky warts and all, and that’s why I love the original 1985 version of Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good.
01. Last Rites/Loved to Deth
02. Killing Is My Business…and Business Is Good
03. The Skull Beneath The Skin
04. These Boots
06. Chosen Ones
07. Looking Down The Cross
Dave Mustaine – lead vocals, rhythm and lead guitar, acoustic piano
Chris Poland – lead guitarist
David Ellefson – bass guitar, backing vocals
Gar Samuelson – drums, timpani
Produced and mixed by Dave Mustaine and Karat Faye
Co-produced by Megadeth
Pre-production by Jay Jones
Reviewed by John Stoney Cannon for Sleaze Roxx, June 2020