“Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?” was released on September 19, 1986.
Edward J. Repka as the cover illustrator is the rock star here. While the concept design is listed as coming from Dave Mustaine and Andy Somers, its Repka who brought the concept to life.
There is Vic Rattlehead, portrayed as a real estate salesman, in front of a desolated United Nations Headquarters with fighter jets in the sky and frayed flags still on the poles.
The band for this album is the same as the debut, with Dave Mustaine on guitars and lead vocals, David Ellefson on bass, Chris Poland on guitars and Gar Samuelson on drums.
The album is produced by Mustaine but Casey McMackin as the engineer also deserves credit as he was involved with mixing or engineering quite a few albums from the California Thrash Metal scene, for bands like Vio-Lence, Saint Vitus, Nuclear Assault, Zoetrope, Dark Angel and Flotsam and Jetsam. And in the 90’s he did “1916” and “March or Die” by Motorhead. Mixing was done by Paul Lani and Stan Katayama but there’s a story in that as well.
The album was troubled due to the high level of drug abuse. Mustaine and Ellefson were already heavy users, however Samuelson and Poland were said to be even more extreme, something which Poland has disputed to say that what he did was nothing different to what other people were doing at the time. Regardless of the differing point of views, Samuelson and Poland got fired after the promotional tour for this album.
Another issue was the record label. The project started with Combat Records, resulting in the original mix of the album and a co-production by Randy Burns, however Capital Records then purchased the rights to the album (and the band) and got Paul Lani to remix it himself. Lani was more of a Pop Rock mixer, so he knew how the album should sound to get favourable MTV and Radio treatment. And it got that attention as well.
All songs are written and composed by Dave Mustaine, except “I Ain’t Superstitious” by Willie Dixon.
“Wake Up Dead”
The film clip got me interested. It was the steel cage and the chaos around it, with people climbing all over it towards the end. It was dystopian and unsettling and I loved it.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Mustaine’s voice to begin with, but man, the music had me hooked. There was just so much guitar playing to unpack and learn.
Like the head banging riff that plays between 1.10 to 1.40. Or the blistering super-fast picked riff between 2.03 and 2.26. Or the change in groove in tempo from 2.42 with the unorthodox solo from Chris Poland combining exotic lines with fast jazz chromatic lines.
And there wasn’t much singing in this “single” like the hard rock singles I was growing up with. Actually I think all up there are about 8 lines as those lyrics describe Mustaine cheating on his current partner however he stayed with her because he was homeless at the time and needed a place to stay. But he had to leave her because he thought she had intentions to kill him.
The song is about black magic and contains instructions for hexes.
The intro is ominous but it’s the fast riff from 0.57 which I like while Chris Poland moves in with another atonal solo, making sharps and flats fit chords they shouldn’t fit.
Check out the galloping and progressive riff between 1.43 and 1.58. A favourite and so fun to play. Or the fast riffs from 2.36 to 2.57 and then my favourite foot stomping, head banging riff in the song from 2.58 to 3.29.
And Mustaine is not working within a Verse and Chorus structure. Until the next song.
It’s iconic, musically and lyrically.
The bass intro sets the tone. Even though Ellefson plays it, Mustaine wrote it.
The “No More Mr Nice Guy” vocal delivery over a riff that Mr Hetfield would use for the “Enter Sandman” verses is excellent. Then again, the E pedal point with a F chord chucked in was a staple of thrash metal music and Mustaine’s favourite band “Diamond Head”.
The Motorhead inspired outro from 2.20 is where it’s at. It’s fast, its unrelenting and Mustaine’s war cry of “Peace Sells But Who’s Buying” echoes the great work to come, especially in the track “Holy Wars” from “Rust In Peace” a few years later.
I like the lyric “What do you mean, I don’t support your system? I go to court when I have too”
And the best summary of the song is the way Mustaine put it on a VH1 doco; “peace is something we all want, but nobody wants to give up stuff.”
Mustaine takes some of his riffs from his Metallica days and re-uses em here as the intro reminds me of a section in the song “Phantom Lord”. He also used a similar riff in “This Was My Life” from the “Countdown To Extinction”.
But my favourite riff is the Chorus riff. Check it out.
Another great riff is from 2.22 to 2.43.
The title is a reference to a former French penal colony off the coast of French Guiana. The lyrics detail the thoughts of a condemned prisoner awaiting execution. He is spared by God, but must spend the rest of his life on the island.
“Good Mourning/Black Friday”
Side 2 begins with this.
“Good Mourning” begins with a clean tone acoustic guitar begins. Its haunting.
And some serious shred is heard as the song transitions from “Good Mourning” to “Black Friday”.
How good is the musical groove and feel from 1.48 to 2.23?
Another ominous like intro with arpeggios as the song builds into a thrasher from when the fast bass riff begins at 1.19. But it’s the groove metal riff at 1.36 which gets me interested to learn it.
The soloing from Chris Poland is so different to what I was used to. Very Jazz fusion like in the vein of Al DiMeola.
At 2.50 it goes into a supercharged neck breaking riff and some serious shredding.
“I Ain’t Superstitious”
Other artists did it, but I feel that Mustaine showed the metal community that you could cover songs that didn’t really come from the genre you are classed in and still make em sound like they are from the genre, like this blues funk song, suddenly sounds like a metal blues song.
From a reference point, “I Ain’t Superstitious” is written by Willie Dixon and originally recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1961.
“My Last Words”
Mustaine again showcases his arpeggio clean tone riff writing for a song about playing a game of Russian roulette.
The intro on this song is excellent. After the clean tone arpeggios and open string pull offs, it goes into a face melting riff.
But check out the riff from 3.10 to 3.25 and the solo after it. Even Lars Ulrich has given this track his tick of approval.
At 36 minutes long, Mustaine created an album that took hours and hours of learning in order to get the riffs and leads down. And from that, I became a fan of Megadeth.
“Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?” is very influential in the movement of technical thrash metal. Mustaine (if he hadn’t done so already) raised the bar here. Along with other thrash releases from Metallica and Slayer, future extreme metallers had a holy trinity of release for reference points.
From a commercial point of view, the use of the “Peace Sells” bass riff to introduce the MTV news segment, showed other thrash bands the commercial potential of thrash metal if done right. But MTV didn’t pay em, because they used the “fair use” defence which is why they cut off the music after a few seconds, as if they went past that timeframe, they would have to make payment.
Musicians who would go on to form Sweden’s Melodic Death metal scene have always referred to this album as an influence.
The album does have a Platinum certification for the U.S and Canada and a Silver certification for the U.K.