Capitol Punishment: The Megadeth Years

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Since the release of Megadeth's 1985 debut, Killing Is my Business...And Business is Good, these once self-proclaimed, state-of-the-art speed-metal mongers have survived drug addiction, hair rock, grunge, a dead drummer, Dave Mustaine's giant ego problems, and alcoholism. And that's just for starters. Furthermore, Mustaine, along with other founding member and bassist, Dave Ellefson has gone through bandmembers like a bad game of Russian roulette -- only exacerbated by Mustaine's deep insecurities and his consistent need to cling on to his dignity. Mustaine has often bellyached about his need to be respected by his quote/unquote, more heralded, sometimes dismissive peers (many of who have fallen by the wayside). So then, isn't ironic that after 17 years and eight studio records, the Megadeth name and moniker is still bigger than the band itself? Here's the problem. To this day, the Megadeth name and logo is still one of the most recognized in rock. Every rock & roll fan is aware of who Megadeth is. Every metal kid claims to have been a fan of the band at one point or the other. But after trying, and trying some more to reinvent itself, the quartet has yet to make the necessary artistic leap needed to reach a super-mass audience (read two-million-plus) that they've always pined after. Megadeth have never been able to get out of the niche that they've built for themselves. And don't doubt for a minute that Mustaine doesn't know this. Well. For years, it fueled his addiction and made him petty and difficult. It also made for some great copy in the press. Indeed, one certainly cannot take anything away from Mustaine, especially if you re-listen to the songs that he co-wrote on Metallica's first two records, but sadly, he's always compared apples with oranges. Because at the end of the day, Metallica is a very different band. Not just a better band, but a superlative one at that, and something that Mustaine has finally come to grips with once and for all.

Although hailed as part of the "mighty thrash four", the band's audience rarely inspired Slayer-type fanaticism or even benefited from the kudos given to New York's more innovative Anthrax. But through it all, Mustaine and co. have remained a constant in the burgeoning metal scene. As Megadeth eventually watched Anthrax and Slayer's commercial fortunes wane, Megadeth stayed true, consistently releasing gold and platinum platters. Although his rancor and jealousy toward ex bandmates is well documented, rarely, does he get enough credit for what he has accomplished. For one, he's managed to keep the Megadeth name alive for an unbelievable 17-plus years, and through all of 'Deth's lineup changes, he's always managed to squeeze out two or three great tracks on each release (sometimes more). Although artistically the band never topped the groundbreaking Peace Sells...But Who's Buying, they certainly gave it their best on Rust in Peace, and 1991's commercial breakthrough, Countdown to Extinction. As the band's deal with Capitol Records comes to an end, the label has pieced together a "best-of" compilation which features 12 catalog tracks and two new cuts, "Kill the King" (a solid effort) and "Dread and the Fugitive Mind" (just OK). But taken as a compilation, many of these songs make sense. Cuts like the classic "Peace Sells" (used for years as the intro and outro of MTV News), "Symphony of Destruction," the overlooked "A Tout le Monde" and "In My Darkest Hour" are exemplary, fine-tuned, hard rock songs. Meticulously arranged, these cuts have not only aged well, many sound just as relevant today as they did back when they were recorded -- the mark of a good band. Tracks like "Trust" and "Almost Honest" from the ambitious Cryptic Writings, and especially the hockey anthem "Crush 'Em," do hint at a sign of experimentation; clearly, they show a band at odds with itself trying to break out of its shell, with apparently mixed results. The word "extraordinary" will never be used to describe Megadeth (especially in a live setting where they often sound murky and uninspired), notwithstanding, one should never fault the band for having survived itself.

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