(Century Media Records, 2018)
In the archives of the vast Megadeth discography, there are several popular favorites. For many fans, myself included, 1990’s absolute masterpiece Rust In Peace is considered one of the greatest albums of all time; not just for Megadeth, or in thrash metal, but one of the best albums of all time, period. Others prefer 1986’s groundbreaking Peace Sells…, or the more commercial and streamlined sounds of Countdown… and Youthanasia. Even more recent albums such as Endgame (2009) and Dystopia (2016) receive plenty of love among the Megadeth faithful.
Then there's Killing is My Business...and Business is Good. The debut record, usually a crucial jumping-off point for new bands, turned out to be rather inauspicious in Megadeth's case. First off, time wasn’t exactly on the side of main man Dave Mustaine. Having just recently been fired from Metallica back in ’83, the indomitable Mustaine quickly teamed up with bassist and Minnesota native David Ellefson to form his ultimate piece de musical vengeance. They were then joined by talented lead guitarist Chris Poland and jazz-influenced drummer Gar Samuelson, who perfectly complemented Mustaine’s blistering thrash riffs on seven promising original tracks. The only problem was that Killing, which was recorded independently and released on Combat Records, is one of the worst-sounding albums of all time. No joke – the record sounds like it was recorded inside a steel barrel filled with feces that was then dropped into a 30-foot aquarium. The individual instruments are indistinguishable, the overall mix incredibly tinny and barely audible. This unlistenable sonic tragedy buried some truly innovative and enjoyable thrash – until now, that is.
Yes, that’s right. Now revisiting his debut album one last time here in 2018, Mustaine has teamed up with Century Media Records to release Killing is My Business…: The Final Kill. This re-release serves as Mustaine’s one last attempt to correct the album’s myriad production woes, and he’s largely succeeded in bringing what was essentially a lost recording into fresh, reinvigorated light. Remixed by metal veteran Mark Lewis and remastered by Ted Jensen, The Final Kill sounds like a real, bona fide 1980s thrash-metal record. Now all the instruments are clearly delineated in the mix, with Mustaine and Poland’s intricate riffs and leads shining through like a thrashing rainbow (please just go with me on this metaphor, folks). The bass and drums are much more audible as well, which makes the original seven tracks sparkle and pop all the more. Volume-wise, the remastering job is quite satisfactory, though one would never confuse this for an overly-mastered modern metal album. It sounds like it was recorded in the mid-‘80s, just like it should. Granted, there are some who still prefer the “punk” rawness of the original production job, and I respect that. But man, does this version sound so much better!
Now onward to the tunes. “Last Rites,” the iconic harmonized neo-classical intro, barely hints at the speed-tastic, thrashy goodness to come. On “Loved to Deth,” Mustaine succinctly establishes the unique Megadeth thrash formula: complex, almost proggy riffs and arrangements; heavily-syncopated, jazz-influenced sections; and exhilarating ultra-sonic tempos. This sounds as if a more spazzed-out Metallica started listening to Rush records; there really wasn’t anything quite like it on the market. Next up, the classic title track and its snakelike, almost funky main riff. Then the rapid-fire main riff kicks into gear, and henceforth no necks would be salvaged. “The Skull Beneath the Skin” showcases Mustaine’s innate ability to combine brutal and almost chaotic riffs within the context of one dynamic song. This is brilliant and classic stuff.
The fun and frenetic punk/speed-metal fest, “Rattlehead,” is the catchiest tune on the record; it also foreshadows some of the more streamlined songwriting approaches that would be featured on later albums. Whew! Later Megadeth songs such as “Skin O’ My Teeth” would vaguely resemble “Chosen Ones,” both in its relentless intensity and blues-based (yet thrashy as all get-out) riffing. With its chiming arpeggios and minor, brooding darkness, “Looking Down the Cross” offers a fantastic example of Mustaine’s melodic and dynamic skills as a songwriter. Of course, the original album’s centerpiece is “Mechanix” – the iconic thrash-metal epic that also featured on Metallica’s debut as “The Four Horseman.” Essential stuff.
In addition to the original album, The Final Kill also includes seven live bonus tracks, their previously-removed cover of “These Boots,” and their 1984 three-song demo. These extra tracks are fine but not the main course. For those few who are satisfied with the original version of the album, this revamped version may not be essential. Otherwise, Megadeth’s debut record finally sounds like it deserves to. Raised horns and brews to that.
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot