SO FAR, SO GOOD… SO WHAT!
Released on January 19, 1988 (Capitol Records)
In terms of Megadeth’s 1988 album So Far, So Good… So What!, it took a few years before I actually embraced it. A good friend of mine, at the time, Artie K. as we will call him, actually discovered the So Far, So Good… So What! album long before I did. I recall Artie coming to school one day proclaiming that he just heard the work of Megadeth. He really loved it. “Yeah right” I thought to myself. I wasn’t too sold on his proclamation. I felt that Megadeth were just another one of those bands that lacked talent and chose to make up for it by playing super-fast. Of course in 1988 when this album was released, I was well aware that the band existed. How could I not, Much Music of course would play the band’s videos on a regular basis… Well, not exactly on a regular basis, but I did see the odd Megadeth video on the Pepsi Power Hour. And there would always be the many heavy metal magazines back in the day that would feature the odd article on the band. So I was totally aware of Megadeth, but at the time chose to stick to more mainstream bands such Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Poison, etc. More of the glam type bands.
With all this said, little did I know in a few short years, this album would be played regularly on my stereo. It was actually on the band’s 1990 release Rust In Peace that I would finally take notice. If you’ve read some of my previous reviews, it can be attested that I’ve said it before, “It’s all about timing.” Isn’t that like most things in life though? Relationships, music, etc. So with that said, the timing was perfect. Our eyes met, it was love at first sight and the rest is history. Well not exactly, I liked them. They liked me? Wait, no they had no idea who I was, so regardless of my demented mindset, we still formed some sort of a bond — just musically of course. You know the one — obsessed fan, band of your favorite musicians coming together in unison. Ah yes, the perfect scenario played out in one’s mind.
It would be the classic line-up of Dave Mustaine, Dave Ellefson, Marty Friedman and Nick Menza that really helped me gravitate towards the band. I am still a fan to this day. Looking back retrospectively, I think in 1988 when So Far, So Good… So What! was released, I just wasn’t ready for the progressive sound of thrash metal. There’s that timing thing again. You get the picture, right?
So moving forward to 1994, the band’s Youthanasia album was released. I really took notice of this album. Megadeth became my favorite band of the time. I thought that the musicianship on display was second to none. The production was flawless. The lyrics were in depth and really spoke to me as a young 20 something trying to find myself within a complicated world. I decided at this time that I needed to acquire every album that the band had done to date. This is where our story begins to take shape. I believe I acquired this album at CD Plus on Brock Street in Pickering, Ontario, Canada. For those who are not familiar with this CD establishment, next to HMV downtown Toronto, this was the best place to shop for obscure hard rock and heavy metal music. The selection was unbelievable. They even had a huge quarterly catalogue that contained thousands of CDs that were available for purchase. Since CD Plus was two seconds off Highway 401, I would make regular visits on my way home from work, especially on pay day. Any extra money I had would be spent on music. Was I looking to my future with the possibility of possibly saving to buy a house one day? Hell no. I was living in the moment. Buying a house just seemed too adult like for this young metal head. I was happy to live out my days in my parents’ basement, playing guitar and rocking out to my extensive CD collection.
As winter arrived in 1994 and going into 1995, I decided that every day after work I would come home, play guitar, wait for my Mom to call me for dinner, eat and then proceed back to playing guitar until it was time for bed. On the days where the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club were on CHCH Hamilton (a local Canadian TV channel), I would put down the guitar — oh but wait, this was the winter of the 1994/95 NHL lockout — so that is a pure fabrication. There would be no hockey on TV. There was nothing else to do but play guitar. The song that sticks out in my mind that I was determined to learn at that time was on the album we are speaking of today. The classic track that singer Dave Mustaine had written about his deceased friend Cliff Burton of Metallica.
“In My Darkest Hour” was and still is an intricate, piece of heavy metal music. The music itself adds a great mystique to the song. Making reference to a piece in the title, that’s just what the song was — dark. “In my hour of need, well you’re not there. I reach out to touch, but you wouldn’t lend a hand.” There is such coolness to Mustaine’s vocal execution. Desperation comes to mind. That snarl and sarcasm that we have all come to love, or hate depending who you ask is so prevalent within. Over top of the precise chord progression that is heard beneath the lyric really adds a nice touch to what Mustaine is trying to convey. For me at the time, this song was a constant on my playlist. Well, of course it wasn’t a playlist; it was me manually hitting the rewind button on my car stereo tape deck in my 1990 Dodge Shadow. Who remembers those days? As I move forward, the question that may be asked is “Did I learn the song in question?” Of course I did. I was determined to learn every single note and little intricacy that ensued within the composition. “Do I remember how to play it today?” Nope… well maybe the rhythm part, other than that it has been so many years that I would have to re learn it today.
At the time, it wasn’t just this song that caught me. It was the whole body of work, but I may be eating crow with that statement because what I thought of this album some 20 years ago, is not my same feeling today. As I start the album, the intro section of “Into The Lungs Of Hell” where the overlying electric guitar compounds with the serene feel of the acoustic guitar beneath, building into an all-out thrash metal attack sounds somewhat dated to me. This is a heavy weight instrumental that provides the listener a look into what is to come. “Set The World Afire” begins with a WWII sounding track being played on an old 78 RPM record player, scratches and all. Suddenly the bomb hits. A guitar, sounding like a sharp razor blade is to follow. The song takes a change as the whole band is heard thrashing it out. Then a Metallica like riff, changes the tempo once again. Mustaine’s snarly vocal is heard. I can’t help but be easily negative as I find the actual sound of the recording very muddy. The vocals are hard to make out. The guitars themselves are very trebly with the bass being heard, but not felt. As for the drums of Chuck Behler, they have a splash to them, but they are thin and die out quickly between each hit. Not exactly the best production compared to the bands later albums Rust in Peace, Countdown To Extinction and Youthanasia.
The band’s cover of “Anarchy In The U.K.” is well done, but once again something about the production really doesn’t do the song justice. It’s very thin. I do hear the original aggressive demeanor that The Sex Pistols were conveying back in the ’70s. That to me was the approach of all the thrash bands in the ’80s. They continued on where punk left off. “Mary Jane” is a very thought out, melodic composition. I am hearing what Mustaine would become on the next album Rust In Peace. It was just the beginning of something special. In some ways, especially in the intro, I am thinking that Mustaine learned something about melody from working with Cliff Burton. I can’t help but criticize the guitar sound during the solo sections. It’s so in your face, over the top. It really doesn’t sound appealing to my ears. I understand in thrash that that was the approach, but once again I resort back to the later albums of Megadeth where the mix is perfectly matched. To me, Megadeth were a band that deserved to have well done production. With a brainchild like Mustaine fronting the band, it only seemed natural.
“502” is another aggressive track with the guitar once again cutting like a razor blade. I find the vocals to be a little low in the mix. When the melodic guitar comes in between the verses, I find it to be too sweet sounding compared to the razor blade like rhythm tracks. Listening to this track in 2018, I just want to skip this one. Of course, “In My Darkest Hour” is up next, and even though I have previously spoken of this track, there are a few things that I find interesting as I listen back to it. I still love the intro section. The acoustic guitar, with distorted guitar behind adds such a nice feel, then going into the heavy riff that leads into the verse. It really is a brilliantly planned out song. Unfortunately, the vocals sound so thin. I will allude to the fact that Mustaine did go back and remix the album for re-release a few years back, but that too was disappointing. Some of the levels just didn’t work for me.
“Liar” is a cool track, with a very narrative vocal by Mustaine. His vocal execution really makes this song shine. Once again the music heard behind really doesn’t cut nicely. The separation between the instruments is hard to decipher. The drums especially just make me cringe. “Hook In Mouth” starts with drums and bass, with Mustaine singing over top. It’s nice to actually be able to make out a vocal — then the guitar hits and totally takes away from the song. I hate to say it, but let’s just fast forward two years so I can dig into Rust In Peace. As I am listening, I enjoy Mustaine shouting out to the PMRC. That brings back some memories. The fight of metal against the Washington Wives. A great ode to Tipper Gore [laughs].
Overall, this album could be so much better. I mean at the time, maybe Mustaine and Ellefson were struggling with some demons, so I do give them the benefit of the doubt there. Had the two been clean at the time, I do wonder what the album may have sounded like. Maybe they would have had more control to make a better sounding album. I think there are many variables that played into the fact that this album just doesn’t live up to other Megadeth releases. Let’s take the other two players in the band for instance. Jeff Young was a hot shot, guitar teacher from California that really didn’t fit into to the mix of Megadeth. A great player, but not the right player. Chuck Behler, just another of the many Megadeth drummers that has faded into obscurity. I can’t even judge his playing because I can’t hear it clearly enough to begin with, so how can I really make a proper assessment. This album, to me is just a mismatch of bad sounds. The songs are there, but they just weren’t captured the way they should have been.
Had say, Max Norman or Mike Clink produced this album, we’d probably be looking at this in a totally different light. I am curious to find out Michael Wagener’s take on this album. It must have really been a tough job when it came time to mix. Even with the lackluster production, it’s not surprising to me that this album did achieve platinum status considering Mustaine was the driving force. Being associated with Metallica I am sure helped sell a few albums. The question I ask it, did it really deserve a platinum certification? You be the judge. Thankfully with that said, the platinum status this album achieved would make it possible for Megadeth to record the next one with a bigger budget which in turn allowed for better production. Obviously Capitol Records could see the potential for success. To me, this album was a stepping stone. The momentum it gained gave way to what would follow in the years following. In this business today, you don’t really see that. Here today, gone tomorrow. I really do hate to criticize or cut up someone’s work, but if I must be honest, at times this is an outdated, hard listen. I think in terms of Megadeth the band, this was an interesting and confusing time for both the band and the listener. Better days were to follow.
01. Into The Lungs of Hell
02. Set The World Afire
03. Anarchy In The U.K.
04. Mary Jane
06. In My Darkest Hour
08. Hook in Mouth
Dave Mustaine – vocals, guitar
David Ellefson – bass
Jeff Young – guitar
Chuck Behler – drums
Steve Jones – guitar
Reviewed by Tyson Briden for Sleaze Roxx, January 2018
Megadeth‘s “In My Darkest Hour” video:
REMASTERED IN HD!Official video of Megadeth performing In My Darkest Hour from the album Warchest. Buy It Here: http://smarturl.it/53ycjr Like Megadeth on F…
Megadeth‘s “Anarchy In The U.K.” video:
Capitol Records 1988