To celebrate the launch of Megadeth‘s new album, Dystopia, on Friday. I’ll be doing a series of posts about the behemoth thrash metal kings. There seemed only one sensible place to start, and that’s with a rundown of my Top 10 Megadeth Songs! I’m going to preface this list by saying how difficult it was to choose just 10, and then try to rank them! I considered doing 20, but it seemed far too much.
10. Dread And The Fugitive Mind
To kick us off, is a song from an album I’m not the biggest fan of: The World Needs a Hero, not sure why, just never connected with it. This song still took a few goes to really enjoy, but it’s so much fun to play on guitar! I love the verse riff, it contains so much space which Mustaine‘s gnarly vocals happily fill with short snappy lines. The change of texture for the pre-chorus/ chorus is really great as well: The vocals becoming more continuous, and the contrast between this and the staggered section before is great. Then I love how it seamlessly moves back into that aggressive verse again. The middle section begins by sounding slightly like Metallica‘s One, but then starts to make use of the chorus material, with the guitar solo just fighting its way to the surface, before erupting into that fantastic melodic solo. The song rounds off perfectly, varying the verse riff material to bookend the track.
This track begins with one of my favourite Megadeth riffs ever! In fact, relistening to this song to write this list, I couldn’t help but pick up a guitar to play it. I couldn’t tell you a thing about what the lyrics are saying, but I really love that riff, and how it develops for the build into the solo! It’s just genius, I’d like to think that a lot of thought went into how to vary, and develop that riff, but I imagine it was an instantaneous idea that Friedman came up with in a couple of minutes. His solo in this as well, is excellent, making full use of the whole neck, beginning in the lower register, before positing himself in the perfect place for when the backing changes for the climax of the solo. A really well-worked solo section, and a great song.
8. Tornado Of Souls
Another song which is all about the guitar playing. Megadeth‘s Rust In Peace album is regarded as the most technical, and that’s definitely shown in this song. Right from the intro riff, it’s filled with a variety of guitar techniques used in a creative and different way to how they’re usually used. The basis for the song is built around the B chord, but the variety of textures, dynamics, drum beats and grooves, as well as the chords it’s combined with in various riffs means that it doesn’t feel harmonically bland at all. It’s in fact really exciting use of material for development. Despite dispute regarding the lyrics’ meaning, Mustaine (1993) said “‘Tornado of Souls‘ is about me getting out of a dysfunctional relationship. It has nothing to do with killing anybody.“, it’s hardly the most original subject, but he presents a creative way of looking at it, and the lyrics are consistent in delivering a cohesive metaphor. Of course I couldn’t mention this song without discussing the solo. You’ve heard it, you know it’s great, I won’t analyse it, just leave you with quote from the man himself, Friedman (2002):
“When I finished the solo to this one, Mustaine came into the studio, listened to it down once, turned around and without saying a word, shook my hand. It was at that moment that I felt like I was truly the guitarist for this band.”
7. The Conjuring
Picking a favourite from the Peace Sells album was difficult, but I settled on this, purely due to my reaction when I re-listened to the album. I love the raw sound, and energy in the music; the way it moves through grooves, and doesn’t stay full throttle all the way through, but uses half-time grooves to make the fast sections more impactive. I also like that there’s not really an obvious chorus in the track, there’s the times that Mustaine yells “The Conjuring. Obey” but other than that it’s all strophic. The subject matter in the lyrics is also really interesting, relating to Mustaine‘s experimentation with witchcraft at the time: “I read the Satanic Bible and all that stuff, but it was so adverse to what I wanted, and it hasn’t been until the past couple of years that all that stuff’s been shaken…There was one time where I did some witchcraft on this guy who had punched me, and it physically affected him, and to this day I regret it. That will never leave my mind – the power of that stuff…There was a time when I was very comfortable being part of the darkness because I didn’t understand the light.”. The lyrics of The Conjuring describe some kind of occult or perhaps Satanic ritual, learned by Mustaine during the time described above.
6. Washington Is Next
This is most recent song to feature on this list, and the only one that was released since I first heard the band 10 years ago. I could have featured a couple of songs from United Abominations, but this is the song I have always enjoyed the most from the album. I love the intro riff to this track and how it varies over the fantastic underlying chord progression. This progression is continued, though with a different rhythm, through the verse and I remember being blown away by this when I first heard it. It’s also probably the only song I could easily recite all the lyrics from on this list; it’s in part due to the mix, but also because the lyrics regard a fairly accessible subject matter in government regimes, propaganda and secrets. I really enjoy the slightly syncopated variations throughout, and how Mustaine alters the rhythm and melody to emphasises certain lines. It really makes them stand out as key moments. They’re also often the more creative, insightful of controversial lines.
5. Holy Wars…The Punishment Due
These top 5 could literally be in any order, depending on the day of the week. This track is the brilliant opening track from Rust In Peace, it draws you in instantly, and sets the tone for the whole album with that technically intricate descending guitar run, that has gone on to be one of the most recognisable Megadeth riffs in their history.
One of Mustaine‘s most impressive traits is how well he can sing while playing such intricate riffs on guitar, and the verse riff in Holy Wars is a great demonstration of this, with that incredible intricate riff underlying his poignant lyrics. The first half of this song is about the Holy Wars between the Irish Protestants and the Irish Catholics; and the lyrics describe Mustaine‘s experiences over there. While The Punishment Due was based on the comic book ‘The Punisher’.
The break for the middle of this song is great, the way that it gradually dies down, slowing the tempo, and moving away from the dense texture into a more melodic section, allowing the solo to take great shape and provide a way to move back to the fast paced thrash style pace again. It’s something that band hadn’t explored much before this album; for example in The Mechanix, they chose not to include the slower middle section that features on Metallica‘s The Four Horsemen. It showed a real maturity to their song writing as they moved slightly away from the philosophy of playing everything as fast as possible.
4. Skin O’ My Teeth
Many people would argue that this song has no right to be ranked above Holy Wars, but as a personal list to my own tastes and experiences, this is the first Megadeth song I ever heard and have liked it ever since. It was featured in a Total Guitar Magazine edition, along with Metallica‘s Seek And Destroy. I loved the song, the way it starts with that awesome drum fill; its kick-ass verse riff and just the overall aggression shown throughout the track. There’s great textural variation for the chorus, which remains technically impressive, featuring an excerpt from the verse riff. It’s great, and definitely an excellent gateway into what Megadeth are all about.
3. Hangar 18
This is again a song that most would rank below Holy Wars, and coming directly after it on the Rust In Peace album is sure for direct comparison. There’s less textural and dynamic variation, the structure, as a song, is not as strong and it’s less iconic. However, the guitarist in me loves this track, and rates it so highly on this list. It has a 3 minute solo-off between Mustaine and Friedman! How could I not love it?
The intro is superb, the way the bass and the guitars is work together is tremendous, with the guitar playing intricate arpeggios, and the bass accenting the key notes to identify the tonality. If there was ever a sign that a song is all about the guitar work, it would be this: The lyrics are probably the shortest Mustaine has ever written, they fit nicely over the music underneath though, but it’s a clear indication that he know it’s all about the guitars on this one.
Hangar 18 also provided a tremendous way to introduce the world to Friedman‘s incredible guitar playing talents as he and Mustaine provide perfect adversaries to each other. Each challenging the other to improve upon their last solo, and in doing so (over a magnificent backing btw), create some of the best solos either of the pair have ever produced.
Just missing out on the top spot, is the first Megadeth track I ever learnt to play on guitar. It remains one of their best all-round songs in my opinion, though it doesn’t fully fit into the Thrash Metal category, it’s a well rounded fast paced song, with great metaphorical lyrics, and a tremendous harmonised lead guitar melody at the end.
The song builds incredible intrigue right from the start, with Mustaine‘s lyrics describing this evil creature, over a lone rapid alternate picked guitar riff; with only the occasional disturbances from the wails of whammy dives imitating the menacing creature. It all works fantastically well together, and continues through the song.
The way the lead guitar is used overall in this song is great, it fills gaps between the spaces in Mustaine‘s snarling vocals and provides fills to aid the flow of transition sections. Then it really gets it’s chance to shine in outro solo: While this may not be Friedman‘s most elaborate, virtuosic or technically difficult solo, it is definitely one of his most melodic. It manages to use such a small amount of material to make such a huge impact, by developing and adding harmonies to the varying melodies, creating a wonderful soundscape of harmonised guitar greatness!
1. Rust In Peace…Polaris
So here is my number 1, favourite Megadeth song, also hailing from the Rust In Peace album, this track is technically challenging, brilliantly written, with a great lyrical theme, and an incredible range of textures to create this fantastic track.
The lyrics are influenced by a bumper sticker Mustaine saw that read “May all your warheads rest in peace”. He explored this sentiment further, resulting in the discussion of nuclear war and its effects, while touching on the political side of nuclear war and how everyone is ready to go at the touch of a button.
This is arguably one of Megadeth‘s most technical songs. The intro riff alone is enough of a test, for the drums, bass and guitars to play all of that together in unison is impressive. Then how it goes forward, with an equally demanding verse, I have no idea how mustaine sings and plays this song. Even if he played the bare minimum, the rhythms and melodies on guitar would be extremely off-putting. The textural shift into the hook “I spread disease like a dog” really provides great contrast to maintain interest and the excellent mix and production of the track prevents this from becoming muddy due to the dense instrumentation.
The solo is only about 20 seconds long in this song, but it plays its part in helping the track transition into that awesome riff development section at the end. This is probably the most impressive section of the album, and it’s a daunting task to undertake attempting something like that. Players can all too easy to get lost in the minor alterations, but Megadeth once again show their technical proficiency that they are so revered for, by pulling it off magnificently.
It may not usually be considered their greatest song ever, but for me, nothing gets better than Rust In Peace…Polaris for Megadeth to showcase their technical brilliance, band cohesion, overall song writing ability and Mustaine‘s lyrical writing. Fantastic song.
Honourable Mentions (In no order): Rattlehead/ Peace Sells/ Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good/ Trust/ Lucretia/ Sleepwalker/ Almost Honest/ Wake Up Dead/ Sweating Bullets