When they started out almost 40 years ago, Megadeth were the enfants terrible of thrash metal – semi-feral drug-and-booze fuelled livewires driven in part by mainman/mouthpiece Dave Mustaine’s desire to stick it his ex-bandmates in Metallica. But revenge can only carry a band so far, and Megadeth sobered up and straightened out became one of metal’s most vital and respected bands without losing their explosive edge.
The ensuing years have seen plenty of highs and lows, musically and personally. There have been controversies, countless line-up changes and the singer’s throat cancer diagnosis. But Megadeth’s 16-album, 180-song back catalogue is testament to the resilience of the band and their frontman.
We asked you to help us whittle down their epic back catalogue to the 20 best Megadeth songs. Here they are…
20. Ashes In Your Mouth (1992)
This Countdown To Extinction deep cut is one of Megadeth’s most circuitous and side-winding compositional slices with scalar legato pushing the intro and chorus, an almost math rock sensibility and a swaggering shuffling Bay Area gallop. Being one of the few tracks written by all members, it’s also indicative of how good they could be when everyone contributed.
19. Lucretia (1990)
What comes to mind upon hearing the arpeggiated intro of this Rust In Peace track is Mustaine and co-guitarist Marty Friedman’s fingers dancing across the fretboard like spider legs on a hotplate. This, before said spider dons its loosest bellbottoms and tightest shirt and does the R. Crumb strut to the nearest Jimi Hendrix séance.
18. Hook In Mouth (1988)
So Far, So Good…So What! may be the ’Deth’s most quizzical moment, but there’s no doubting the veracity of this scathing PMRC rebuke. A brilliant and labyrinthine journey through dynamics – bass driven verses, shredding bridges, infectious vocals and ridiculously clever lyrics – it stands tall in the Megadeth cannon and seems remarkably relevant considering what’s going on in America today.
17. Trust (1997)
By 1997’s Cryptic Writings, Megadeth had mostly abandoned their thrashing roots in favour of straight-forward driving metal. Trust is a deceptively simple offering made mildly unorthodox with walking guitars and Vangelis-like keyboards interspersed amongst the populist chug. The mainstream really cottoned on: it won a Grammy, was heard in movies, and first brought the band to the world of professional sports arenas.
16. Five Magics (1990)
This Rust In Peace side one closer throws caution to the wind and embraces the mentality that spawned progressive/free-form/jazzy extreme metal. Tempos are abused, screaming leads come and go like a couch surfing relative, bluesy scat is reimagined as fluttery thrash, the bronchitis-addled call-and-repsonse in the denouement… It’s like looking at a construction site’s random materials then coming back a few months later to see a gleaming skyscraper standing in the same spot.
15. My Last Words (1986)
If there’s a song on Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying that sounds left over from the sessions for debut album Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good, it’s this. With its scrambly minor scale attack and busy bass playing off the sustained chords, climactic build and fist-pumping gang-vocal climax, “My Last Words” is a tension and release masterstroke, the same tension and release celebrated in the track’s subject matter: Russian roulette. Don’t try this at home, kids!
14. Countdown To Extinction (1992)
The title track to album number five may have taken its foot off the gas and nodded to the past as it filtered the NWOBHM through California sunshine and glitz, but at its heart it was a forward-thinking call out of trophy hunting and animal species being wiped off the planet. There’s something in there about being doomed in the future if the past isn’t acknowledged, especially as the same environmental crises continue today.
13. The Conjuring (1986)
What would one of thrash’s greatest albums ever be without a helping of tritone madness? Mixing one of the most evil-sounding guitar runs in the history of evil with then-bassist Dave Ellefson’s happy-go-lucky flippancy, The Conjuring’s black magic, satanic ceremony and incantation subject matter was a long time black-list following Mustaine’s religious conversion. Until 2018, that is, when it was surprisingly dusted off at a Czech Republic gig.
12. Mechanix (1985)
Known better as the song that begat The Four Horsemen, in the hands of the original young, dumb and full of fiery cum Megadeth Mechanix is a rip-roaring racer that double times its more famous fraternal twin and spits out ribald innuendo that would make Aerosmith blush. “Made my drive shaft crank/Made my pistons bulge…” Oh my!
11. Rust In Peace… Polaris (1990)
This one has a definite old-school shimmy-shimmy-shake and therefore comes as no surprise to learn it was penned during Mustaine’s pre-Metallica days. The original idea was improved upon then paired with the jazzy pitter-patter of then-drummer Nick Menza’s foot work in the creation of rhythmic riffing also inspirational to metallic hardcore kids like Converge and Cave In as Dave’s Cold War-and-superpower-nukes-program takedown continued.