Philosopher Francis Bacon once said, “In taking revenge, man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior.”
True. Then again, if Dave Mustaine had taken the high road when Metallica sacked him in 1983, the world would have been denied some of the most provocative metal to emerge in the ascendant days of thrash.
After being dropped off at New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal and taking a miserable ride back home to the West Coast, Mustaine was as fired up as his red hair to get payback, and he got it with Megadeth. His goal was to “destroy Metallica,” as he noted in a recent tweet, but Megadeth’s longevity (the group celebrates their 35th anniversary in 2018) attests that its music sustained the course long after his lust for retaliation faded.
The quartet has sold 38 million albums worldwide (according to its label); birthed Vic Rattlehead, one of metal’s coolest-looking mascots; and delivered five consecutive Platinum-certified albums that form the cornerstone of its career: 1986’s Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?, 1988’s So Far, So Good… So What!, 1990’s Rust in Peace, 1992’s Countdown to Extinction (which was certified double Platinum) and 1994’s Youthanasia.
Metallica and Megadeth made amends long ago, and treated mutual fans to a dream lineup when they participated in the Big Four thrash concerts with Slayer and Anthrax in 2010 and 2011. After 12 nominations, Megadeth also finally won the best metal performance Grammy Award in 2017.
Through it all, the band has sustained numerous personnel changes and been steered by Mustaine, whose sometimes volatile personality and addiction issues (he is now sober) have made for plenty of colorful copy. Whatever his opinions — while never a declared liberal, several of his comments in recent years slant conservative — his music has griped about the U.S. landscape no matter which president was in the White House, and has frequently addressed issues like political corruption, war and the working man’s fading chances of achieving the American dream.
Here are the 15 best Megadeth songs to date.
15. Megadeth – “Angry Again”
This No. 18 Mainstream Rock chart hit was from the hard-rock-heavy soundtrack — a rarity at the time — to the 1993 movie Last Action Hero, and is No. 5 among Megadeth’s top 10 best-selling songs, according to Nielsen Music. (Honorable mention: “Disconnect” from 2001’s The World Needs a Hero, where the band rocks just as hard at a more moderate pace.)
14. Megadeth – “The Conjuring”
Born-again Christian Mustaine stopped playing this Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? cut about black magic because he says it contains hexes, and he attributes past difficulties in his life to once following the dark arts as a teen. (Honorable mention: “Dance in the Rain” from 2013’s Super Collider for its acerbic venting about the struggle of the middle class.)
13. Megadeth – “Five Magics”
After a rapid-fire start, Rust in Peace’s thematic cousin to “The Conjuring” meanders through a rare extended downtempo intro that takes its formidable time reaching the first verse. Its lyrics are grounded in wizard-inspired fantasy, and the musical prowess on display is just as otherworldly.
12. Megadeth — “A Tout le Monde”
“A Tout le Monde” was originally recorded for Youthanasia, and the treatise about emotional despair draws its title from the French verses in the chorus. The band revisted the song on 2007’s United Abominations with Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia joining as a guest vocalist.
11. Megadeth — “Mechanix”
When Mustaine’s messy breakup with Metallica transpired, he took “Mechanix,” found on 1985’s Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good!, with him. He had written the track prior to joining Metallica, and it was reworked into that band’s “The Four Horsemen” during his tenure. It’s a raw, sweaty promise of what was to come with Megadeth.
10. Megadeth — “My Last Words”
A madcap yet focused rampage on Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? that recounts the thrilling terror of Russian roulette and flaunts a punk influence in its galloping pace, fueled by the adrenaline of suicidal risk-taking. (Honorable mention: “This Day We Fight!” from 2009’s Endgame. It goes berzerker its entire 3:27 running time and doesn’t allow a moment to breathe.)
9. Megadeth — “Good Mourning/Black Friday”
Deep cuts like this from Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? are why Megadeth won its place in thrash’s Big Four lineup. The unpredictable time changes and plethora of amazing riffs perfectly complement lyrics about demonic possession and murder. (Honorable mention: The equally frenzied “Set the World Afire” on So Far, So Good… So What!)
8. Megadeth — “Trust”
Before the revered Rust in Peace lineup of Mustaine, Dave Ellefson, Marty Friedman and Nick Menza fractured, it produced this sleek hit from 1997’s Cryptic Writings, which peaked at No. 5 on Mainstream Rock, the band’s highest position on that list. (Honorable mention: The title track from 2016’s Dystopia, whose return-to-classic-form composition snagged Megadeth’s long-deserved Grammy.)
7. Megadeth — “Sweating Bullets”
Countdown to Extinction’s spoken-word rant is a bleak yet comical trip through the soul of a madman. Mustaine growls so much, it’s like he’s mocking his own disdainful frontman persona. (Honorable mention: United Abomination’s “Washington Is Next!,” whose wicked lead riff is reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s “Wasted Years.”)
6. Megadeth — “Symphony of Destruction”
This Countdown to Extinction single — Megadeth’s only Billboard Hot 100 hit (No. 71) and its best-seller — clicks with the urgency of a bomb ticking toward annihilation. (Honorable mention: Endgame’s “This Day We Fight!,” a bone-crushing hail of guitars and percussion that confirms the band can shred as hard as it did in the ’80s.)
5. Megadeth — “In My Darkest Hour”/“Hook in Mouth”
Mustaine composed “In My Darkest Hour” (on So Far, So Good… So What?) following the 1986 death of former Metallica bandmate Cliff Burton.
As measured as his expression of pain is on “In My Darkest Hour,” the same album’s “Hook in Mouth” pulverizes from start to finish. (Honorable mention: Endgame’s “44 Minutes,” which blazes as fiercely as the infamous 1997 North Hollywood firefight between police and bank robbers recounted in the lyrics.)
4. Megadeth — “Hangar 18”
Before conspiracy theories had the Internet to spread them, Rust in Peace warned about Hangar 18, the warehouse where the U.S. government allegedly stored the wreckage of the 1947 Roswell, N.M., UFO crash. After the second verse, the gripping track charges into even higher gear when guitarists Friedman and Mustaine trade off on blistering solos.
3. Megadeth — “Wake Up Dead”
Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? kicks off with a no-holds-barred thrash jam about drunken infidelity that might turn out to be a lethal mistake. It traverses several time changes at a clip that defines the term “speed metal” before culminating with a breakdown that slinks along to a rhythm that’s as menacing as it is badass.
2. Megadeth — “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due”
All four players strut their appreciable talents on this Rust in Peace jewel, written about religious fanaticism that has become more germane in the passing decades. Drummer Menza (who sadly died in 2016) never lets up on the breakneck pace, and Friedman lends a muso touch to a sitar-effect solo.
1. Megadeth — “Peace Sells”
Mustaine’s teeth-gritting diatribe on Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? drips with contempt, but it still reflects a man who nonetheless prays to God, pays his bills and participates in democracy. Ellefson’s throbbing bass line is a classic-metal calling card, and the song remains a dead-on assessment of society’s judgmental attitudes toward those deemed nonconformist.