The Answer Is Still “Nobody:” Megadeth’s Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? At 25

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole quarter-century since Megadeth sprayed the eternally-burning napalm of Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? all over the unsuspecting mulleted masses; hell, I was still listening to Sesame Street albums at the time. Presumably, this thing would have scared the hell out of four-year-old me, even though kids these days grow up listening to Job for a Cowboy or whatever. To celebrate the anniversary, Capitol is putting out a ridiculously complete box set with three different mixes on CD and vinyl, a live show, a super high quality mix for people who like to listen to music on something other than iPod earbuds, vintage posters, concert tickets, and probably a lock of Dave Mustaine’s hair. So we decided to take a look at the album and figure out what makes it so worthy of the red carpet treatment.

Back when Dave Mustaine was mainlining heroin instead of Jesus, he wrote some insane stuff. And with Peace Sells, his first major label release, you could actually appreciate the dynamic instrumental interplay instead of having to interpret it through a wall of floppy fuzz (Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good didn’t sound so good, is what I’m saying). Out of all the nascent thrash acts, Mustaine and Chris Poland unleashed the most intricate, complex riffs (at times the aural equivalent of a contortionist), drawing on a myriad of influences from jazz fusion to punk rock to, yes, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in a way that the others didn’t. Peace Sells was the first real crystallization of that sound. Obviously, there was a certain other thrash touchstone released that year by Mustaine’s former band (Controller of Marionettes or something), but that was a much more ambitious, ponderous beast. PS was a leaner, nastier predator – the velociraptor to its competitor’s Tyrannosaurus rex. Megadeth preferred to kill with speed and precision instead of size and power.

And, oh yeah, there were some killer tunes. “Wake up Dead” was the sign of ‘deth to come, its acrobatic, proggy tempo changes more nimble than anything that had come before, and its personal lyrics about the dangers of unfaithfulness (a lesson it would take Mustaine himself a while to learn) a far cry from the politics and sorcery that abounded at the time. Not that there was any shortage of that stuff here, though. “The Conjuring” and “Bad Omen” dealt with black magic, which Mustaine would later claim ruined his life. Still pretty sweet as far as Dungeons & Dragons metal goes. “Good Mourning/Black Friday” tells a creepy serial killer story over a classical base, and despite the pedestrian subject matter, it was pretty rare for neoclassical influences to appear in acts that didn’t wear frilly shirts or come from Europe. Then, of course, there’s the politics, in the form of the song that would single-handedly define Megadeth as a band (and MTV news, for that matter) for the next couple decades: “Peace Sells” itself. Its unforgettable opening bass line instantly cues any metal head anywhere to throw up the horns and prepare to shout along to Mustaine’s spoken/snarled wordplay, a cynical screed against God, the system, government, and humanity’s hypocrisy in general. The song still hasn’t lost any of its power (or relevance) to this day.

Neither has the album as a whole, actually. Megadeth still plays a fair amount of songs from it live, and you can hear its influence from Arch Enemy (their latest, Khaos Legions, sounds like a tribute album at times) to Dragonforce. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve heard a band that sprang from Vic Rattlehead’s bony loins. So in the unlikely chance that you never listened to Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?, you owe it to yourself to find out what you’ve been missing for the last 25 years.

Indulge your consumer compulsions here!