[2 October 2008]
This is the fourth Megadeth collection Capitol Records has released in the past decade. I could make a number of jokes here… I guess the company is hoping one of these CDs will magically turn into a Metallica album and sell a million more copies. Chuck Behler must be enjoying those twelve-cent royalty checks. It’s good to know that if there ever is a real nuclear megadeath, plenty of evidence will be left behind to prove a similarly named band once existed (the Pyramids and Chaplin, on the other hand, will probably be lost to history). Stop me if you’ve heard these before.
Capitol apparently wants to squeeze all they can out of the ripe chunk of Megadeth recordings they reign over. Who can blame them? The Deth’s take on thrash metal is great stuff. Epileptic drums, schizophrenic riffing, and snarled vocals covering everything from drug addiction to black magic to alien invasions to farm foreclosures. It’s the perfect soundtrack for the disaffected, denim-clad stepson in all of us. I’m not going to fault this fine record company for pimping out the best metal band on their legendary roster. (I’ll fight all you Iron Maiden fans in the parking lot once this review is over.)
What I will fault Capitol for is the uneven selection on Set The World Afire. Perhaps this is just pathetic fanboy griping, but it baffles me how four songs here are culled from Megadeth’s third album, So Far, So Good… So What!, and not one of them is the classic head-slamming anti-censorship rant “Hook In Mouth”. Was it really necessary to remind us of that silly “Anarchy in the U.K.” cover (or as I like to call it, Mustaine’s Folly)? “High Speed Dirt” makes an appearance with the Countdown to Extinction material. Really? You took the sky diving song over, oh, I don’t know, “Architecture of Aggression”? The latter might be the scariest metal song ever to include real samples from CNN broadcasts!
Further confusion arises from the specific versions of Megadeth songs Capitol included on this anthology. A great example is right up front—the first two tracks, “Mechanix” and “Rattlehead”, boast a notable difference in sound despite ostensibly coming from the same record, 1985’s Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good! (man, was this band ellipsis-happy). For reasons unknown, the producers/assemblers of Set The World Afire decided to use the remixed version of “Mechanix” from the 2002 Killing CD remaster while “Rattlehead” comes directly from the infamous poorly mixed original release (although they manage to make it sound pretty good here). I guess continuity isn’t really these guys’/girls’ bag. That would also explain why “Foreclosure of a Dream”, a song Megadeth dropped in the early nineties, is tacked on at the end of the set amongst the group’s post-Y2K stuff.
Then there’s the whole “Take No Prisoners” thing. In 2004 it was discovered that Capitol misplaced/lost/sold for magic beans three original vocal tracks from Megadeth’s epic 1990 album Rust in Peace, forcing a considerably different-sounding Dave Mustaine to growl and yelp the songs all over again for that CD’s same-year reissue. Why in the name of Wayne Newton’s wig would the folks behind Set The World Afire choose one of those re-recorded Rust in Peace tracks, the aforementioned “Take No Prisoners”, for this set? To remind the world Capitol doesn’t pay their audio librarians enough? After three Rust cuts offering Mustaine’s original guttural vocal delivery, the redone “Take No Prisoners” sticks out like a sore thumb.
Of course, the fact that Capitol allowed Megadeth to fiddle with Rust in Peace in the first place is proof enough they should be shut down for gross incompetence. The Mona Lisa doesn’t need a mustache, Of Mice and Men doesn’t need an epilogue, and Rust in Peace, the most fantastic and pleasing thrash metal album ever recorded, never needed to be re-mastered. You can’t improve upon perfection. That idea should have been vetoed mid-sentence. Killing Is My Business? Yes, make that one louder, please. So Far, So Good… So What? Anything you can do to improve the sound of that one, chief. Rust in Peace? To paraphrase my favorite ghost-chasing Canadian SNL vet, don’t touch it with a ten foot cattle prod. But they did, and now a generation of metal fans who aren’t in the know will think Dave Mustaine is some kind of groovy time traveler.
At the very least, Set The World Afire succeeds in reinforcing the fury and fierce musicianship that was always the hallmark of Megadeth at their peak. Galloping cuts like “Wake Up Dead” and “Devil’s Island” remind the listener these guys could lay waste to all phonies and imitators even at their most drugged-out. The foundation was still strong years later after umpteen rehab visits and interventions, as evidenced in “Angry Again”, “She-Wolf”, and the pile-driving “Dread and the Fugitive Mind”. “Ashes In Your Mouth” is hands-down the best song ever written about the futility of serfdom. The real test, though, is “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due”. If that song fails to vaporize your intestines and straighten the hair in your nether regions, check your neck for electrodes. You are probably the walking undead.
I’d say we have about six to eight months before Capitol drops the next Megadeth anthology/greatest hits/box set on us. I say we force them to get really creative. Let’s start a letter-writing campaign begging them to release a five-hour collection of Megadeth’s most embarrassing studio banter. Surely there exist (if they haven’t lost them) reels and reels of the fellas arguing over how loud the bass should be in certain songs or whether a pinch harmonic is called for in a certain guitar solo. These are the real gems us Mega-fans want to hear. All I want before I die is to hear a recording of a tearful Marty Friedman demanding to play the libretto from Carmen in the middle of “Hangar 18”. Then my Megadeth experience would be truly complete.