Once upon a time, there was a band called Metallica. This up-and-coming, yet struggling band was hard at work on their first album, when they decided to fire their guitarist, Dave Mustaine. Down, but certainly not out, Mustaine formed his own heavy metal band called Megadeth, and the rest, as they say, is history. While this split may have been very painful at the time, it did give the world two great metal bands.
The Album & Audio
Megadeth's first album "Killing is my Business...and Business is Good" was a rough and raw attempt, which is actually similar in many ways to Metallica's debut "Kill 'em All" (both albums even share tracks which have essentially the same music.) For Megadeth's second LP, the Mustaine fleshed-out the band's sound somewhat and gave the songs a more epic feel. The resulting album, "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying" became an instant metal classic and put the band on the map. This album has now been released in DVD-Audio format by DTS Entertainment.
The DVD contains three distinct audio tracks, DVD-A 5.1, DTS 5.1, and PCM 2.0 stereo, along with a host of extras (which are outlined below). The PCM track sounds exactly like the CD release of "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying", so I won't go into much detail on that. The DVD-A and DTS tracks are comparable, although, I must say that the DTS track is slightly louder. I will now examine each song, both for its musical content and the quality of the new 5.1 audio:
1. "Wake Up Dead" -- "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying" kicks off with a flurry of drums and guitars as Dave Mustaine growls "I sneak in my own house". "Wake Up Dead" is a classic song, and it lets the listener know immediately what this album is going to be all about: guitars and savage beats. The song is basically an instrumental with a few lyrics (about the fear of being caught cheating) thrown in for good measure. The 5.1 mix sounds great, as the guitar solos are spread around the speakers in a very interesting fashion. The background vocals at the songs conclusion roar from the rear speakers and sound particularly good.
2. "The Conjuring" -- This decidedly arhythmic tune has never been one of my favorites. The song's use of beat and time changes start off as creative, but then becomes repetitive. The lyrics sound as if Mustaine is reading a spell straight out of a book on witchcraft. This track doesn't sound all that different from the 2.0 stereo track, other than the obvious fact that the instruments are spread across 5 speakers. The vocals here are very muddy and low in the mix, making the odd lyrics even harder to understand.
3. "Peace Sells" -- What can I say about this great song? The opening bass line can still be heard as part of the MTV News theme and this was the song that introduced me to heavy metal. Mustaine's angry vocals, which question politics and everyday life reveal a more serious side of Megadeth, and growing political unrest which would come to the front on the band's subsequent albums. The driving guitar lines and intertwined solos still work today. During the interview included on this disc, Dave Ellefson explains that re-verb was a natural part of the recording process, due to the shape of the studio. The re-verb is quite obvious in the vocals here, and takes some getting used to. Also, this track sounds somewhat tinny at times. But, the strength of the 5.1 mix does shine here, as there are some cymbals that I've never heard before.
4. "Devils Island" (sic) -- This track ties with "Wake Up Dead" as the best sounding track on this DVD. The mix is very strong, as the vocals, guitars, drums, and bass are all well balanced, with no one component dominating the mix. The bass and drums sound great here, and subwoofer gets quite a workout. The song deals with a fellow who has been imprisoned and shows that Mustaine has some ability as a poet.
5. "Good Mourning/Black Friday" -- This song opens with a dare I say, beautiful acoustic (?) guitar solo, and then moves into an incredibly fast and hard-driving song about a guy who kills people with a hammer. How's that for diversity? The track stars off sounding great, as the first high-pitched electric guitar to be heard sounds fantastic as it cuts across the speakers. However, the track goes downhill from there. When CDs first emerged, there were complaints that the clarity revealed mistakes from the recording sessions. That appears to be happening here as there are (what sounds like) mis-cues in the guitar solos. The vocals are incredibly low in the mix, and often can't be heard. And, unlike "Peace Sells", there are cymbals missing from this track which are very audible in the stereo 2.0 mix.
6. "Bad Omen" -- I've always questioned the sequencing of "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?", as "Bad Omen" and "Good Mourning/Black Friday" shouldn't have been placed right next to each other, as the two songs have nearly identical structures -- slow melodic intro moving into speed metal song. This complaint aside, this track has a great solo and the hooks are undeniable. The floor toms at the break between the intro and the song's opening sound fantastic and shake the room and, for that matter, the drums sound great throughout the song. However, the vocals are muddy in this track as well, and are dominated by the music.
7. "I Ain't Superstitious" -- This is a cover of an old blues tune, which has been covered in the past by The Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones. Despite the fact that Mustaine changed the lyrics to make them somewhat more ominous, this song simply doesn't fit the album and comes off as more of an outtake. The drums and bass sound great here, and the placement of the guitars in the 5 channels is very creative. The vocals are still low in the mix here, but not as low as "Bad Omen".
8. "My Last Words" -- "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?" closes with a great song about Russian Roulette. How special. As with Tracks 5 & 6, this song starts slow and builds to a rapid beat. The song has no chorus and keeps chugging along towards it's guitar-filled conclusion. A classic song and a perfect way to finish the album. The mix for this track sounds similar to "The Conjuring", in that it's not that far removed from the 2.0 stereo mix. However, those pesky vocals swim to the bottom again, making Mustaine's speedy lyrics even harder to make out.
The DVD contains many extras which will thrill Megadeth fans. We start with the "'Devils Island' Mix Breakdown". This feature breaks the song down into six different components; 1. Drums & Bass; 2. Drums, Bass, & Rhythm Guitars; 3. Drums, Bass, & Chris' Guitar; 4. Drums, Bass, & Dave's Guitar; 5. No Drums; 6. Final Mix. This segment serves two purposes; 1. It gives the casual listener an idea of how a song is mixed from its various components, and 2. As Mustaine points out elsewhere on the DVD, it gives musicians a chance to remove their instrument of choice from the mix and play along with the song. Next up is a 14-minute, newly created interview with surviving band members Dave Mustaine (Guitars), Dave Ellefson (Bass), and Chris Poland (Guitars). This is sort of an odd interview, as it's clear that each of the three was interviewed in the exact same spot, but they were interviewed separately, so we get no interplay between them. In this talk, the band members discuss the making of the album, how certain songs were written and how some songs got their sound, and they also comment on the new 5.1 re-mix. They also give some insight into the two videos which are included on the DVD. (More on that in a moment.) Finally, they speak at length about the late drummer Gar Samuelson, who died in 1999.
The DVD contains the two promotional videos which were produced for this album. Both are clearly low-budget, but they are effective. "Wake Up Dead" was directed by Penelope Spheeris (Wayne's World) and features the band playing in a steel cage, on which crazed fans climb. It's as if the country-western bar scene from The Blues Brothers were taking place in hell. The video for "Peace Sells" is more memorable as it features a performance by the band accompanied by seizure-inducing images of international atrocities such as war and rioting. These images are synchronized to the music and drive home the point of the song. Both videos are presented full-frame and show a noticeable amount of grain, and "Peace Sells" shows some scratches as well. Both videos are presented in both DTS 5.1 and PCM 2.0 stereo. The extras are rounded out by a still gallery which features 17 images and finally, the lyrics to the songs. It would have been nice if the lyrics could be viewed while listening to the songs.
Megadeth's "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?" has been a favorite of mine for nearly 20 years now (Man, I'm old!), and it's great to have a DVD-Audio version of the album. This DVD contains a nice audio mix, but it can't solve the apparently inherent problem of the recording's muddy vocals. The 5.1. tracks do show off the virtuosos guitar work on the LP and the drums and bass shake the walls. It was nice to re-visit this album and see how well much of it holds up today.