PEACE SELLS…BUT WHO’S BUYING?
Released on September 19, 1986 (Capitol Records)
1986 was a killer year for heavy metal especially for the quartet of American bands eventually to be known as “The Big Four.” New Yorkers Anthrax spent the year sandwiched between their important second and third releases Spreading The Disease and Among The Living while Metallica and Slayer dropped groundbreaking records Master of Puppets and Reign In Blood. Not to be outdone, Megadeth (fronted by Metallica castoff Dave Mustaine) tore into 1986 unleashing their epic sophomore classic Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? Combining the thrash energy of his former band and tossing in bits and pieces of raw speed metal along the lines of Slayer, at times tongue in cheek commentary more often delivered by Anthrax and topping it off with a snarky blend of hardcore punk and Motörhead-like attitude, Megadeth unceremoniously dropped a whirlwind of sounds on headbanging fans like a barrage of bombs over a moshpit of unsuspecting metal maniacs. The impending result an eventual classic known simply to most fans as the first half of the title – Peace Sells.
Now I wasn’t new to the Megadeth carnival having dug Metallica since the early tape trading days of metal and by the time Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? came out, I was not only a fan of Dave Mustaine’s early stuff with his old band but also the killer Megadeth debut Killing Is My Business….and Business is Good! Truth be told, on any given day when the wind turns the right direction, I’m likely to pick that first one but admittedly over half the time, I’m just a little more a Peace Sells kinda guy. Yeah, I know most might point to any one of the following Megadeth albums as THE true Megadeth classic record and sure, out of all the cool Megadeth tunes, it’s “Countdown To Extinction” that has probably been covered by many a bar band the most. However, for me personally, just like with Dave‘s ex-band, my metal mojo lives and dies by Megadeth‘s first couple offerings, especially Peace Sells.
To this day, I still have fond memories of staying up late on the weekend’s to watch Headbanger’s Ball and one of the coolest sights ever was that of crazed metalheads surrounding a caged stage while Megadeth tore through opener “Wake Up Dead,” a track that has everything a mosh-riffic song needs. There’s speeding thrash as well as choppy grinding slow circle pit grooves. It’s easy to see how you can wake up to that but dead? Maybe from the aftermath of all the energy and life leaving your body. A ferocious way to kick-off a record and the perfect set up for second track “The Conjuring” which continues the concentration on music over vocal quantity just not to the minimal extreme of “Wake Up Dead.” Helping Megadeth stand out from their metal brethren has always been Mustaine‘s snarky raw vocals, which to this day remain unique in the genre and never fail to set to tone regardless of whether nasely sang lines or Mega-Dave‘s piss and vinegar spoken bits. Two songs in and most of the Megadeth kitchen sink has not only been tossed in but smashed to pieces and the best is yet to come.
Back when MTV was actually a thing, it took advantage of the goodness of Megadeth by pilfering the opening to the now classic title track to the band’s second album and with good reason, Ellefson‘s galloping bass is still to this day impossible to tire of. While that other band’s big tune “Enter Sandman” has become an earsore to many metalheads, “Peace Sells” only seems to get better and better with age. As teens, Mustaine‘s snarky lyrics stood as rebellious lines to spit at the older generation and now as the older generation somehow STILL feel like perfect words to throw out at the world. Doesn’t take too many peeks at Facebook to think to yourself, “I didn’t know you had any feelings.” Hmmmmm… what a crazy world we live in when even our peers are no longer “just not your kind.” To this day, I still love this song and even more so, dig covering it on the rare occasion that I am able to.
If introspection in metal is your thing, then chances are when this record came out you dug “Devil’s Island,” another galloping track featuring a full-on gang chorus this time focusing on the inner thoughts of a prisoner contemplating the final days to execution and life. Heavy theme material for any band and certainly not something you might catch fellow L.A. rockers W.A.S.P. delving into at the time cranking the second half engine for the even darker bottom half of Peace Sells. Yeah, maybe peace wasn’t a big commodity at the time (according to Mr. Mustaine) but in 1986, fans of metal were understandably buying into Megadeth‘s blistering snarky thrash offerings – with tunes like the intro/song combo of “Good Mourning/Black Friday” turning things up down the stretch, it was impossible to not want to mosh along. Starting off melodically dark and sinister, the eerie combo builds to a piledriving fury with frantic leads and snarky Dave vocals aplenty. If fast lane temp changes are your thing, this one will easily cut you down with a smile and again, gotta love the punky gang vocals at the finish.
When it comes to metal, I have always loved slow prodding dark power chord moments. In the case of “Bad Omen”, the effect off the jump is the perfect set up to the eventually punchy groove but perhaps just as grabbing are the sudden moments of silence Megadeth slip in to allow for a half a breath before the next gut punch. Lyrically, Dave gets the point across but it’s the music here that ultimately gets the idea of a “Bad Omen” across and if it wasn’t already enough that it’s delivered in such a way as only Megadeth can deliver, they go and continue the theme with their own unique take on Willie Dixon‘s “I Ain’t Superstitious.” By “their own take” I mean, before Metallica up and decided that they were cool enough to cover un-metal tunes by the likes of Bob Seger, Megadeth kicked out a blistering cover of 1965 Nancy Sinatra hit “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” in the guise of “These Boots” on their 1985 debut and this time around look back even farther into the sixties by taking bluesman Willie Dixon‘s “I Ain’t Superstitious” and turning it inside out.
Yeah, Megadeth stick to the blue progression and lyrics but otherwise ‘Deth it to beautiful bits. In addition to how they deliver metal in their own snarky, punky attitude of a way, I have always appreciated Dave‘s unapologetic choice of cover tunes perhaps not considered proper by the “metal rules, everything else drools” portion of the metal crowd. That “don’t give a crap” attitude is what makes Megadeth just as metal as former band Metallica – they head in the direction they want to regardless of whether the average metalhead might think it’s metal enough or not. Simply put, Dave is going to cover an early ’60s blues tune and if that’s not OK by you, here’s Dave‘s middle digit for about five minutes until the next song kicks in.
Perfectly titled to close out things, “My Last Words” might be a tad closer to classic hard rock than ’80s thrash metal leaning towards to heaviest sides of classic bands like Deep Purple and early Judas Priest but once again, with Dave‘s spit-fire vocal style, the track is all Megadeth diving headfirst into full on metal halfway through. With “My Last Words”, Megadeth finish things off much like they started ’em on Peace Sells by tossing in everything from the killer guitar, raw vocals, and kitchen sink gang backups down the stretch. Eight tracks down to catch a satisfied breath, you really just want to flip the record over and get beaten to ‘Deth again.
Despite just about every self-inflicted obstacle along the way, Megadeth would go on to create a great body of classic work on their way to becoming one of the classic metal bands of all time. They are a quarter of “the Big Four” along with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax after all, and on their killer 1986 sophomore release, they were just getting started. Classics So Far, So Good…So What (1988) and Rust In Peace (1990) would give them a trio of platinum records leading up to 1992 double platinum rocker Countdown To Extinction (with that oh so most covered title track of tunes) itself followed up with the platinum and gold greatness of Youthanasia and Cryptic Writings as well as another eight solid heavy metal releases. Despite a battle with cancer, Dave and co. are also looking to add another triple dot platter in 2021 with the hinted release of The Sick, The Dying…And The Dead. That’s not surpising though.
History has kind of shown us all that Dave Mustaine has no plans to go away easily (or quietly for that matter). While age maybe has softened his edge a tad, allowing for renewed relationships with his former Metallica bandmates and for him to find a bit of religion — God love him — at the end of the day, Dave is still pretty much Dave. As long as that stays the same, Megadeth will pretty much always be Megadeth and yeah, we pretty much all love that. In 2021, the world may even less want to buy into peace, but we metalheads sure still are sold on Megadeth and the still awesome to the ears sounds of Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?
01. Wake Up Dead
02. The Conjuring
03. Peace Sells
04. Devil’s Island
05. Good Mourning/Black Friday
06. Bad Omen
07. I Ain’t Superstitious
08. My Last Words
Dave Mustaine – guitars, lead vocals
Dave Ellefson – bass, backing vocals
Chris Poland – guitars
Gar Samuelson – drums
Produced by Dave Mustaine and Randy Burns
Engineered by Randy Burns and Casey McMackin
Mixed by Paul Lani and Stan Katayama
Reviewed by John Stoney Cannon for Sleaze Roxx, September 2021
Megadeth‘s “Peace Sells” video:
Megadeth‘s “Wake Up Dead” video: