The 10 best Megadeth songs you may have overlooked
Trivium's Corey Beaulieu boils down the 'Deth's early output to the bare essentials...
When I was a kid and just getting into metal, the first band that I heard was Guns N’ Roses. That led me to Metallica and then a friend of mine was like, ‘Hey, have you ever listened to Megadeth?’ At that point I hadn’t, so we called in to the local radio station and we asked them to play some Megadeth. I didn’t know any songs, but they played 'Sweating Bullets' and I thought it was a really cool tune.
Then I remember going to Boston for a hockey game with my parents for my birthday, and I picked up Rust In Peace from a CD shop as a present. I put on the record when we got home and heard songs like Holy Wars for the first time, and the more I listened to it the more I realised I’d never heard music played like that before in my life.
I started playing guitar around this time too, and listening to Megadeth was one of the first times I was totally blown away by what you could actually do on the guitar. Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman have always been big influences and inspiration on the guitar – from rhythm song writing to lead guitar playing – and there weren’t many metal bands that could rival their level of musicianship around at that time. There still aren’t, really.
Megadeth were always the leader of the pack in metal to me, and Mustaine’s song writing and riff writing was so innovative. They had a unique sound. They’re one of those bands that don’t come around that often, and alongside Metallica they massively helped shape the sound of what became thrash metal. They’re a very versatile band that can show a lot of different sides, and I’ve always appreciated bands that are willing to take chances and expand upon what they can do. Megadeth are definitely one of those bands that did that, and did it really well. And they’re still around to this day, still doing it well.
They’re an extremely creative band that inspired me, and probably millions of other guitar players around the world. These are my 10 favourite lesser known tracks from the first decade of their career.
THE SKULL BENEATH THE SKIN (Killing Is My Business…and Business Is Good, 1985)
The last time we came to England for our last album [Vengeance Falls], I was on a massive Killing Is My Business kick where I listened to that record over and over again. Before our first day of press I actually sat in my hotel room with it on loop whilst drinking coffee for like six hours to try and get over the jetlag. I talked to some journalists during breaks about how underrated that record is, and how it has a unique style to it that’s really vicious and off the rails. They kind of refined that intensity for Peace Sells […but Who’s Buying?] and controlled it a little bit more, but the guitar playing on Killing Is My Business sounds like it’s trying to kill somebody. And The Skull Beneath the Skin was one of the first songs off that record that really grabbed me. Having a song that starts off with this fucking slow building arpeggio thing is going to sound interesting to any guitar player, and when the song kicks in it’s totally vicious and very intense. There’s really interesting guitar playing throughout the whole record – but that song is definitely a highlight for me.
LAST RITES/LOVED TO DETH (Killing Is My Business…and Business Is Good, 1985)
The interesting thing about this song is the vocal parts at the beginning. He does this long yell that you’ve never heard Mustaine do on any other record since then. There’s lots of things he did on Killing Is My Business that were very unique to that record, and some of the guitar parts on this song I still have no idea what the hell he’s even playing. It’s a really twisted song, and that opening riff when it kicks in sounds like a buzz saw or a swarm of bees attacking you. I actually got to hear parts of a remixed version of the album for its 30th anniversary, and it sounds fucking awesome. I put one of my best friends who is a record producer forward for the gig because Megadeth are on the same management company as us, and he was cool enough to invite me once it was all done and approved to his studio in Orlando to sample some of it. I think people are really going to get a new appreciation of how incredible that album is once they hear it. If the record came out with the way it sounds now, it would be an instant legendary classic. Even though a lot of people view it as an amazing record anyway, the production probably held it back a little bit, but now it’s definitely going to get its dues and I can’t wait to hear the whole thing.
THE CONJURING (Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?, 1986)
This song just rips! I always loved it because there’s one riff in there that’s just the most fun thing ever to play, even if you’re just jamming it by yourself. There’s so many intense riffs in there, which combined with the lyrical content just make the song even more wicked because he’s actually singing black magic lines. Even Mustaine said that every time they played it live something weird or bad would happen, and so they stopped playing it. It was like the song had a kind of curse to it, and I guess that makes it even more of a fucking heavy metal song. But again, it’s another classic Mustaine shred fest and another great song off another classic Megadeth album.
GOOD MOURNING/BLACK FRIDAY (Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?, 1986)
I love how this song starts off with a very dark, creepy guitar thing with all these cool phrases over it and then it builds and goes all fast and furious at the end, and when it kicks in it’s murderous. And the lyrics are talking about killing people, so it’s just one of those cut your throat type thrash songs. The amount of drugs that they were doing at this point probably had a lot to do with why these songs are so fucking out there at times too. They were in a totally different mindset of how to create music because they were so jacked up, and they went to places the average person wouldn’t think to go to for that reason. You read the history and hear interviews of them taking about the experiences of making those early records, and you can connect the dots because you realise the reason the songs are so outside the box and weird is because they were so out there mentally when they were coming up with all that stuff.
SET THE WORLD AFIRE (So Far, So Good…So What?, 1988)
This song is another great example of how Megadeth could write great, catchy songs by using very unorthodox song structures. There’s the long intro that keeps building and building with Mustaine chugging on an open note, and then just riff after riff where he sets you up then brings you back down. Then it all kicks into gear and all that stuff just shows you the twisted song writing vision of Dave Mustaine. One of the highlights of that song for me as well is when it builds up at the end and that outro solo just keeps going and going, and the drums go double-time. It’s just a really epic way to end with everyone head banging and everything going off. It’s kind of hard to describe but it’s just an awesome song, and Megadeth has always been great at making each song really unique. They’ve always created their own path with their songwriting and there’s not many other bands that would go off on these riff tangents and do it in a really good way where you don’t actually get lost in the movements. That’s a skill that a lot of songwriters aren’t really capable of pulling off and making it sound like it’s easy for them.
IN MY DARKEST HOUR (So Far, So Good…So What?, 1988)
I read an interview with Mustaine who said that after he heard the news that Cliff Burton had died he sat down and wrote all the music to this song in one sitting. The lyrics are obviously not about that, but musically it was inspired by him being hit with that news and it’s an amazingly well written, beautiful piece of music. It’s kind of like a two-part song where you have the first slower half and then it goes into the thrashorama of the second half, and it’s really cool because just at the very end of the song it kind of comes back to the intro piece at the beginning. But the other reason that I put this one in my list, other than the fact that it’s this great two-part song and a Megadeth classic, is my emotional feelings towards it. I had just gotten in to Megadeth and I’d never heard this song before – it was in the infancy of my metal days when I was still learning the genre – and the first time I was introduced to it was on The Decline of Western Civilization Part II [The Metal Years]. I went into a video store one day and saw the movie on VHS tape. Mustaine was on the cover and I rented it because at that time anything I saw that was heavy metal related, I wanted to check it out. There’s a bunch of stuff on there from the Sunset Strip days and towards the end of the film Megadeth comes in to it. They show a clip of this song being played live at a club and there’s all these dudes climbing on stage and crowd surfing and diving off things. It’s non-stop, and it all looks so insane and intense. I’d never seen a band play music and have people react in such a rabid way to it before. I thought, ‘What the hell song is this?’ It was one of those tunes that as soon as I heard it I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’ I wanted in.
TORNADO OF SOULS (Rust In Peace, 1990)
This is the record that totally sold me on Megadeth. It was the first full-length record that I got by them, and it always has a special place in my music life as far as affecting me goes, but it was also the record I think where it all came together and they refined the precision thrash metal music they’d been developing on their previous three records. And for a record that became their breakthrough hit, it’s very unorthodox particularly as far as the songs that were chosen to be singles. Hangar 18 just has two verses and then like 15 guitar solos, and if you tried to pull that off today it would never fly. But Tornado of Souls - as well as being a great song, which obviously it is – is the one on that record that anyone who plays guitar instantly gravitates towards for that fucking god damn guitar solo, which is one of the lead guitar golden moments in heavy metal history. If you bring up Rust in Peace with other metal musicians, probably like nine times out of ten someone is going to start talking about that Marty Friedman solo in Tornado of Souls. Every song on the record is undeniable, but where it comes to that particular guitar solo there’s definitely a moment when they play that song live and you can feel the energy in the crowd be like, ‘Yeah, bring it on!’ It’s one of my favourite guitar solos of all-time, and from start to finish it’s a perfect solo.
ASHES IN YOUR MOUTH (Countdown To Extinction, 1992)
As a guitar player listening to this album growing up, I had a tab book and would learn all the songs from the record. And I think it was from being such a fan of the fast stuff that I loved this song, because it’s definitely the thrasher of that record. Some of the other songs had some challenging riffs but they were definitely slower and so it was a bit easier to learn them. Symphony of Destruction is one of those songs that if you’re just starting out on the guitar then it’s easy enough to play half decently because it’s not quite as challenging. But this song is the one on the record that wasn’t kids’ play. It seems like the more stripped down the music got - which it did on this record - Marty Friedman counteracted that by making the solos even harder to play. And there are some licks on this record where he really gives you a challenge if you’re trying to play along with him. It was really fun trying to learn that stuff and improve your playing. And Ashes in Your Mouth also stands out for me because it kind of bridges the gap of having that thrash virtuosity of Rust in Peace, but also the more straight forward song structuring of Countdown: it feels like the first song they wrote after Rust in Peace, and after that is where they went with Countdown to Extinction.
FAMILY TREE (Youthanasia, 1994)
I just always liked this song with the way he sings the verse over the bass line and then the riff that comes in is kind of like a prototypical riff that happened about 10-15 years later with what became those typical metalcore bass riffs. The root notes go from E to C and change within the riff to give the song this melodic sound, instead of just using the bass line in that chugging kind of way that a lot of thrash stuff has going on. Megadeth were one of the first bands to develop that melodic sensibility in the guitar playing to accompany the vocals, and it really stood out at that time because it wasn’t your typical thrash sound. The opening lick in this song is fantastic too, and it’s an amazing track that doesn’t get showcased as much as it should because they haven’t played it live in such a long time. And they should…
RUST IN PEACE…POLARIS (Rust in Peace, 1990)
This is the last song on Rust in Peace, and we have it on our pre-show playlists all the time. The drum solo is badass and there are certain riffs in the song, particularly at the end, that are so bad ass. It such a fucking frenzied song too, and it’s just an awesome way to end that album. I kind of wanted to give it some love because it’s the most recent one from that record that I heard and it made me think about what a great song it is. It’s a great song and one of the highlights of that record for me.
Corey Beaulieu was speaking to Matt Stocks. Megadeth will release their new album Dystopia on January 22. Trivium's Silence In The Snow is out now via Roadrunner.