"A generation which ignores history has no past and no future." Robert Heinlein
By Sam Graham
Well it was only a matter of time before I got to this.
I’m not going to go much into the backstory, because let’s face it, you know it all, and it’s a well-trodden path. Suffice to say, it was 1985, the past was the past and the future had just begun for a then-young Dave Mustaine. He’d finally managed to get a band together and create this album, Killing is my Business… And Business is Good! It was as raw and as edgy as it was hard-hitting, the cover art was a complete let down for the band, and the sound quality was a bit off, but hey, that’s what happens when you blow the label’s money on narcotics.
Megadeth’s debut album opens with Mr Mustaine playing a piano melody that sounds a little too close to a passage from Toccata & Fugue (by Johann Sebastian Bach) for comfort. It doesn’t stay that way for long as when it’s over, Mustaine busts in with a riff that even to this day I can’t tell what’s going on. The song is called Last Rites/Loved to Death and I’m assuming that the piano part is Last Rites and the rest is Loved to Death. After some wailing the main verse hits and the wailings become incomprehensible words. It seems that the thinking behind this song was to cram as much as possible into a short space. There’s probably endless theories about how it was pre-mediated in an effort to out-do Metallica, but frankly, who cares? This isn’t Youtube. With that much going on on the guitars and the odd-sounding time-signature, this song feels a little bloated, but it set the foundation for what Megadeth would later build upon. The solo (played by Mustaine) in this song is another staple of what would soon become ‘classic Megadeth’, because it’s unashamedly fast and has about a billion notes crammed into so few bars like it’s a tin of sardines.
The title track comes second and with a title like Killing is my Business… And Business is Good, it can’t not be about somebody who kills people for a living. It’s said to be about the Marvel comic character The Punisher, which makes sense enough. Thankfully the song starts out less chaotically than the previous one, with a more groovy kind of riff while the lyrics introduce the sniper and his mad skills with a high velocity rifle. Unlike Last Rites/Loved to Death, it’s actually possible to hear the bass (played by David Ellefson) as well as the guitar, which makes the guitars sound less tingy. The song speeds up a bit, then slows down again until it decides it’s had enough screwing around and becomes all-out thrash. Dave Mustaine screams out the songs title over and over then the then-lead-guitarist Chris Poland shreds over it. Poland’s most noticeable works would later feature on their second album Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? And between here and then his style didn’t change much.
Skull Beneath The Skin starts off as a bit of an ear-bleeder. Some, what I can only assume is sweep-picking on the guitar that goes up in pitch until the crescendo breaks. Thank god for Dave Ellefson on this album. If it wasn’t for the bass guitar, some parts of this album would have rendered it almost unlistenable. The late Gar Samuelson (1958 – 1999) plays through a short gap on the drums and works to create a build-up that when it kicks in, doesn’t disappoint. Mustaine takes all three solos in this song (sort of makes you wonder why he hired Poland as lead guitar at all) and the riff after the opening one is nothing short of a good old headbanger, as are the next few that follow it. It’s in this song that Mustaine shows he can write a thrash song that’s not only catchy, but audible too, as I think it’s easy to rely too much on the drums to make a song sound thrashier than it is.
Like most Megadeth songs from their salad years, Mustaine’s signature snarl is such a way that unless he’s saying the name of the song, you’ll likely have a hard time deciphering what he’s on about, but the degree of pent-up rage in his voice makes up for that.
If you own a real old copy of Killing is my Business… And Business is Good! then the next song will be their cover of the Lee Hazlewood classic, These Boots (originally released in 1966 by Nancy Sinatra). Apart from the lyrics, it’s a completely different song. Allegedly they covered it as a joke and in that respect it’s OK. Chris Poland takes all the solos here (I suppose it was only fair considering Skull Beneath the Skin) and they’re full of his effortless-sounding widdlage. The music is fairly bog-standard for Megadeth, considering they are known for being as technical as they are. For that reason it sounds more like something from Kill ‘em All (1983) by Metallica, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise really. This song was taken off future releases of the album by the disgruntled Mr Hazlewood, but when the rerelease came about in 2002, it was stuck back on, bold as brass, at the end of the album. My copy doesn’t have this song on it anywhere, so imagine how rustled my jimmies were when I found out there should have been another song on the album.
“Well here I come.” Proclaims Dave Mustaine as he rips the intro to the next song, Rattlehead. This is the gratuitous song about being in a band that every band seems to have, except for AC/DC who have many albums worth. At least Megadeth don’t reference their own band name in this song, unlike another previously mentioned band I can think of. Rattlehead is a fairly short song, but features five guitar solos! Five! The first and last ones played by Mustaine and the rest given to Poland. It does beg the question, what does Ellefson do when all this is going on? This is my least favourite song on the album, just because I’m not keen on the main riff. It sounds a bit sloppy, and isn’t of the same calibre as the rest of the tracks. It’s not a bad song, but if I had to pick a least favourite, it’s Rattlehead.
Chosen Ones starts out with a completely opposite feel to the previous song. It’s slower, and the riff is cool. As opposed to all out thrash, this song has a groovier kind of feeling to it. Of course, this is Megadeth, so there has got to be some speed in there somewhere. Fans won’t be disappointed as after a couple of verses the song kicks into the bands’ main forte. For a track that’s just under three minutes it’s got a pretty long solo that extends over the last verse. After a brief but welcomed bass solo, Chosen Ones hits a final chorus before going out with a bang.
The penultimate song, Looking Down the Cross is my favourite on the album. It starts off slow with some haunting sounds on the guitar, followed by a short solo that only adds to the eerie atmosphere. This song clearly had the most thought put into it as the entire first half feels like a build-up. The solos don’t overdo it and after a brief pause in the music, the song reaches what it’s been building up to. It’s definitely one for the mosh-pit fans. Mustaine goes for a long shred session towards the end and as gratuitous as it is, I’d be lying if I said I don’t enjoy it.
The final song on Killing is my Business… And Business is Good! needs no introduction… But I should give it one anyway, just so’s this review makes sense. Like I said before, I don’t want to go too much into the Metallica/Megadeth history, but with this song, it’s kind of unavoidable. OK, originally written by Dave Mustaine in 1982 when he was the lead guitarist in Metallica, once they fired him they decided to keep the song, slow it down a little bit, change the lyrics and rename it The Four Horsemen. As you can probably imagine, Mustaine wasn’t best pleased. He decided, in a brilliant display of tenacity, to stick the original version, Mechanix, on this album. Since that day there’ve been endless tiffs and squabbles about which version’s better. Frankly, I don’t care. They’re almost identical aside from a few intro chords in Mechanix and a slow breakdown in The Four Horsemen anyway.
Mechanix is a solid thrash classic that’s simpler than say Last Rites/Loved to Death, but not as catchy as Killing is my Business… And Business is Good. Instead this song’s focus seems to be speed, and that’s something that it excels at. I don’t know the exact beats per minute, but the closest I could work out is around 260. Needless to say, that’s pretty fast. Towards the end of the song, Mustaine takes the final solo which as good as leads to the very end of the album, and the final few seconds makes sure the album goes out on a high note.
And that’s Killing is my Business… And Business is Good!
All in all it’s a good album, providing you’re willing to overlook a couple of things. For one, the quality, especially when compared to their second release, Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying? It’s not terrible, but there are some parts that’ll make you think “Oo that was a bit sharp”. There’s too much echo on the vocals, except at certain points it’s hard to tell the bass even exists, the drums sound a bit lightweight, the guitars have too much treble and the whole thing doesn’t feel that heavy. It’s definitely got the thrash element down and it shows a lot of the groundwork that still exists in Megadeth today, fourteen albums later.
Has it stood the test of time?
Aside from Mechanix, the songs from Killing is my Business… And Business is Good! are a rare treat to hear live. They do have fifteen albums worth of music though, so it’s not so hard to understand why they don’t really get around to it much. This album is Megadeth’s dusty old gold bar at the bottom of a very big pile, and it helps to be a big Megadeth fan to fully appreciate it. It’s often overlooked in favour of Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying? Or their most popular fan favourites, Rust in Peace (1990) and Countdown to Extinction (1992). It’s understandable to see why people overlook this album as on first listen, it’s a bit lax for the reasons I mentioned earlier. I will say though, if you’re willing to give this album its time of day, it won’t let you down. Crank it up to eleven, turn the bass up on your speakers and you’ll be in for a treat. After all, this was the album that started it all: the career, the accusations, the feuds, the divagation of the fans, everything.
I myself took a long time getting accustomed to this album. I may be an enormous Megadeth fan, but I’m no sycophant. If something’s bad I’ll be the first guy to point it out. For example, When from The World Needs A Hero (2001) may just be the most irritating song ever committed to the history of heavy metal. They have other awful songs and I’ll be happy to make a list if it absolves me of sycophantism.
To summarise, for the hardcore Megadeth fans, this album is top notch, but for the everyman, it’s easily obscured by their early nineties works.
Today only two of this album’s line-up are still in the band. Obviously there’s Mega-Dave (Mustaine), but David Ellefson did leave in 2002, only to return in 2010. Chris Poland stuck around for the next album, then left. He came back for the 2004 album The System Has Failed and since then has played with OHM and has made a couple of solo albums. Drummer Gar Samuelson, like Poland, stuck around for the next album before departing. Sadly Samuelson died in 1999 of liver failure.
Devil-Horn Rating (Out of Five): \m/ \m/ \m/ \n