Thursday, February 3, 2011

February 3: Megadeth, "Peace Sells"

Artist: Megadeth
Song: "Peace Sells"
Album: Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?
Year: 1986

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Whenever a band pushes to any extreme point across the musical spectrum, the chances of success are at their smallest, as history has shown that taking such a musical approach is almost always forced to compromise in some way.  This can be seen in the most mellow and melodic styles, as far too often, there is some element of the music that gets in the way of its own perfection.  Such instances are just as common in the most aggressive music one can find, yet in either case, when a band is able to overcome this trend, they are almost instantly vaulted to legendary status.  This is exactly the case that one finds within the music of thrash-metal icons, Megadeth.  Formed in the wake of Dave Mustaine's brief stint with Metallica, the group quickly distanced themselves from the rest of the heavy metal scene, and to this day, few groups have even come close to the energy and sound they produce.  Making a conscious effort to be a bit darker, a bit faster, and taking plenty of time to show off their superb talents via instrumental passages on nearly every song, Megadeth formed the blueprint for thrash-metal, and nearly thirty years after their first records, they sound just as fresh and fierce.  Boasting a massive catalog of heavy metal classics, there are few songs from any point in music history that can compare to the power, mood, and impact found on Megadeth's 1986 anthem, "Peace Sells."

As "Peace Sells" begins, it sounds about as far from heavy metal as one could imagine, with the bassline from Dave Ellefson standing in retrospect as the first clear link between funk and metal.  The fact that Megadeth is able to fuse these two styles together is one of the clearest examples as to why their music is "more" than metal, and countless bands have copied this hybrid over the decades.  Yet even with this groove being set into place from the onset, it is the drumming underneath by Gar Samuelson that injects the nervous energy into the song.  It is this strict, quick pace that gives "Peace Sells" much of its mood, and as the song progresses, the power displayed by Samuelson grows with every minute.  While the rhythm section here is certainly in top form, there is simply no way to discuss the sound of Megadeth without mentioning the core of their sound: the guitar tandem of Dave Mustaine and Chris Poland.  Whether they are pounding out the songs' rhythm or playing brilliant, speedy fills and solos, in many ways, this is as good as heavy metal gets.  The energy and emotion that one can feel within their playing is captivating from beginning to end, and one can hear influences form bands ranging from The Stooges to Black Sabbath within their sound.  Furthermore, there is a simplistic genius in the combined sound of the band on "Peace Sells" that is nothing short of heavy metal bliss.

Along with the brilliant musical arrangement on "Peace Sells," the song is made better by the somehow perfect vocals from Dave Mustaine.  Though his vocal range is rather limited, they are able easily convey all of the necessary emotion and power, and it is perhaps this limit in range that makes the songs of Megadeth so anthemic in nature.  This is especially evident during the closing section of "Peace Sells," as the entire band joins in on the chorus, and it is this part of the song that has made the song a regular part of the bands' set, and why it remains one of the most treasured songs in their entire catalog.  Yet one can also see the lyrics on "Peace Sells" as the definition of the early years of Megadeth, as they bring a straightforward, critical attack that can be interpreted in a number of different ways.  Though the band has denied it at times over the decades, the most popular interpretation of the song is that it is an attack on the stereotype that all "metalheads" are lazy, anti-everything idiots.  On many levels, this is clearly untrue, and one can even hear the lightning fast guitar solos as a statement to refute this generalization.  Obviously, one can also take the songs' lyrics on a far larger scale, giving it a global social context, and regardless of which way one reads the song, the impact and oddly inspiring vocals from Mustaine help to propel this song to the level of absolute thrash classic.

Strangely enough, though the station rarely made any "real" time for heavy metal over the years, the opening bassline of "Peace Sells" was used for years as the closing music for EmpTV News.  This fact makes it clear that though they preferred to play less aggressive music for their viewers, at least one person in the stations' programming department had a far wider range in musical taste.  The song has also appeared in a number of video games and TV shows over the years, and this is the final piece of evidence that one needs to argue just how important a song "Peace Sells" has been in the development of modern music.  Though there were many metal bands at the time, Megadeth sounded very little like their peers, as in both their town and musical arrangement, they were completely unique.  Throughout all of Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?, the band is in top form, and though they have released a large number of records over the years with many changes in lineup, one can still argue that it is this record that best defines the band and their sound.  Whether it is the unique groove put forth by the rhythm section or the fast-paced, crushing guitars, there is a dark, almost apocalyptic feel to their music, and it is this mood that makes the album stand out among the other metal bands of the era.  The aggressive, grity overall feel is both perfect and unique, and there is no denying the lasting impact that one can hear within Megadeth's 1986 thrash-metal classic, "Peace Sells."

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