Business is Still Good: Inside Megadeth's Warchest

With 11 studio albums behind them, including the very good United Abominations this past summer, Megadeth's sound has become so ubiquitous that it's easy to forget just how unique they sounded when they started making waves in the metal scene more than two decades ago.



Label: EMI
US Release Date: 2007-10-09

Whenever I hear a Megadeth song in passing, or listen to one of the band's many albums, or see them live, or in today's case, poring through the gigantic new five-disc, career-spanning Warchest anthology, I'm always reminded of my own naïve introduction to the band 21 years ago. As a 16-year-old headbanger whose only preoccupation was trying to decide what cassette to buy next, I was devouring everything I could get my mitts on, but in all my reading up on and listening to metal, be it mainstream or indie, Megadeth was a band that had somehow escaped my ears, which were nowhere near as close to the ground as I thought they were.

Completely oblivious to the fact that the band's singer was a former member of Metallica, who we all were obsessing over that year, and ignorant of the 1985 Combat Records debut Killing is My Business…and Business is Good!, my initial exposure to Megadeth was when the cover of the band's second album caught my eye in a local record store in November 1986. Visually, it was an eye-grabber aimed directly towards the male teenage metal crowd, from the unusual orange, red, and purple color scheme, to the identifiable band logo, to the comic book style illustration of the grinning, Eddie-like mascot named "Vic Rattlehead" posing smugly in front of a bombed-out United Nations.

More than anything, though, it was the title, which stuck in my head and drew me toward this album more than the fancy artwork: Peace Sells…But Who's Buying? With a title that darn clever, the music just had to be good (so was my hopelessly quixotic way of thinking back then), and with no knowledge of the band whatsoever, and not knowing a lick about the music therein (the band's first music video was still months from its MTV debut), I swiftly shelled out the eight or nine bucks for the tape. It would go on to be the single greatest spontaneous, blind album purchase of my life.

As a young fella who knew all about the more de rigeur bands of the era (Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Celtic Frost…the latter of whom I couldn't stand at the time) nothing could prepare me for what Megadeth sounded like. When I got home, I plunked the tape in the stereo and pressed play, and less than four minutes later I would have absolutely no idea what the hell this band was doing.

* * *

"Wake Up Dead" begins innocently enough. A stuttering, two-second bass intro kicks in, Dave Ellefson's descending, falling-down-the-stairs run punctuated by the snare syncopation of drummer Gar Samuelson, which then dives straight into the opening verse, vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine growling scarily over a series of ascending open chords. It seems like rather standard horror-film subject matter, Mustaine's low-key mutter taking on the persona of a stalker: "I sneak in my own house / It's four in the morning / I had too much to drink…I creep in the bedroom," and with a cinematic rise in his voice, "I slip into beeeed." Awesome stuff if you're a splatter movie-obsessed metal kid in the '80s…after all the W.A.S.P., Slayer, Alice Cooper, and Lizzy Borden albums we'd been listening to, the mind reeled at the violent possibilities. What's he gonna do? Before we can think any further, he delivers the payoff line:

"I know if I wake her, I'll wake up….dead."

Wait a sec. That's not creepy story about an angry dude exacting revenge on a woman he's grown to loathe by eviscerating her in her own bed. It's nothing but a tale of a pathetic drunk who's apparently so pussy-whipped that the mere possibility of facing the wrath of his significant other in the morning fills him with sheer terror. On an adult level, it's an absolutely hilarious slice of dark comedy (many older listeners can sympathize with Mustaine's bumbling narrator), but as a pimply adolescent who craves shocking depictions of violence to go with the aggressive music, not wry moments of adult self-loathing, it's incredibly deflating. And incredibly, we're only 25 seconds into the thing.

* * *

Of the much-vaunted "Big Four" American thrash bands, Megadeth was always a bit of an anomaly among the group at the time. For all of their extreme tendencies, there was always an air of accessibility to the other three bands. Despite the ambitious, intricate arrangements, Metallica was always resolutely melodic in its approach, artfully balancing hooks and aggression. Slayer, for all its blinding speed and atonality (especially in the solos by Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman), delivered a stunningly clean production style courtesy Rick Rubin. And Anthrax, despite drawing heavily from the New York hardcore scene, employed the services of Joey Belladonna, whose soaring lead vocals added a classic rock element to a cutting-edge sound.

Megadeth, on the other hand, was an oddity from the very beginning, and looking back now, it's absolutely remarkable that this band went on to sell 20 million records worldwide. Dave Mustaine's lead vocals are idiosyncratic to say the least, either emitting a demented growl, high-pitched squeal, or a quavering singing voice, the fragility of which flying in the face of the more bombastic, classic metal sound. While the arrangements displayed many of the thrash characteristics common at the time, that formula was not relied upon as heavily as Megadeth's peers did. Instead, songs flew off on quirky, unexpected tangents, often completely doing away with conventional songwriting structures.

Now Slaying

The Collector's Guide to Heavy Metal, Volume 3: The Nineties,

by Martin Popoff (Collector's Guide Publishing)

Rating: 9

The third and last installment of his massive, highly extensive culling of album reviews from the birth of metal to the new millennium (final tally: 6761 reviews), Popoff takes on the decade which saw the most radical, exponential growth the genre has ever seen, and not surprisingly, this doesn't disappoint. Although his opinions of 90s metal remains stubbornly classicist, his writing remains consistently entertaining; whether it's continually calling out Steve Harris or not buying Mayhem's shtick at all, whether you agree or not, it's a terrific read and an indispensable reference guide by the best metal writer around.

Various Artists, Metal: A Headbanger's Companion, Volumes 1 and 2


Rating: 8

Easily the most important metal record label in the last 20 years, Earache has dug deep into its vaults to piece together a pair of box sets that redefine the word, "exhaustive". Comprised of 12 CDs (six per set) and over 200 songs totaling well over nine hours, and priced at less than 20 bucks each, not only is this an absolute steal of a deal, but it's a fabulous crash course in extreme metal history, and a diverse one at that, which may surprise some. The usual death/grindcore culprits are present (Morbid Angel, Carcass, Entombed, Napalm Death, At the Gates, etc.), but these compilations dig much deeper, unearthing such sounds as industrial, noise, thrash, doom, electronic, stoner, sludge, and hardcore. While the liner notes (available online) don't exactly say much about the music or the artists, and it all might look overwhelming at first, everything's neatly organized enough for beginners to ease themselves into whatever subgenre they want to dive into, with a new discovery lurking around ever corner. If Rhino's Heavy Metal Box was a tasteful feast, this is an unbridled bacchanal.

* * *

After the 25 second mark of "Wake Up Dead", following Mustaine's successful sidestepping of the missus, he launches into a solo run that lasts 23 seconds, the rest of the band playing the same arrangement as the first verse, but at 48 seconds, the song takes its first major turn toward the left. No follow-up verse, no bridge, no chorus. Instead, a strange little segue that has Mustaine and Chris Poland delivering delicate chops of palm-muted notes that mirror the narrator's careful footsteps, as Samuelson and Ellefson engage in multiple stops and starts that add to the tension. Then after a languidly thunderous tom fill by Samuelson, the song settles into its unique central riff. But audaciously, vocals are left standing at the side of the road as the instrumental section settles in for an extended run, anchored by an insistent, crunching melody that can only be described as wonky, choppy notes leaping up and down the scale. A little awkward initially, but after quickly settling in, the wickedly contagious groove in the middle of this increasingly compelling song is undeniable.

* * *

For all of Megadeth's lack of conventionality, the one thing that's been able to attract such a broad audience is Mustaine's incredible knack for extremely contagious midtempo grooves. Going through the band's steady ascent from 1986 to 1994, and even during the very stale period during the late '90s, the most crucial songs, from a commercial standpoint, were the ones in which Mustaine and his mates eased off on the eccentricity just enough to draw the listener in more, with several such songs serving as major signposts in the band's career, each one of them classic singles. "Peace Sells", from the notorious album of the same name, was a major breakthrough, as a generation of angry teens latched onto the single's surprisingly eloquent take on disaffected youth: "Whaddya mean I can't be the President of the United States of America? / Tell me something, it's still 'We, the People,' right?"

The band played it safe in '88, cover versions of the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" and Alice Cooper's "No More Mr. Nice Guy" sounding faithful, albeit a bit obvious. However, the energy on the tracks, especially the former, is still palpable, even moreso on the demo version featured on Warchest, which segues neatly into a brief rendition of the Pistols' "Problems" before returning to the anarchy at hand. Then 1990's classic Rust in Peace yielded "Hangar 18", which combines a hard-charging melodic section with an astounding, increasingly thunderous coda.

It would be 1992's now-ubiquitous "Symphony of Destruction" that would catapult the band to worldwide stardom and quickly become Megadeth's most famous song, while the underrated "Angry Again", from the excellent soundtrack album to the otherwise forgettable Schwarzenegger vehicle The Last Action Hero, in spite of its blatantly tasteful MOR approach, benefits hugely from Mustaine's charismatic vocal performance and the taut rhythm section of Ellefson and drummer Nick Menza. 1995's "A Tout Le Monde" veers perilously close to (egads!) power ballad territory, but Mustaine keeps things stately instead of melodramatic, while 1997's "Trust" successfully returns to the more insistent formula that made "Angry Again" so appealing four years earlier.

As time wore on, though, Mustaine's penchant towards those more streamlined songs during the latter half of the '90s got the best of him, resulting in the very tired albums Cryptic Writings, Risk, and The World Needs a Hero, an era unflinchingly chronicled on the exhaustive Warchest. The less said about "Duke Nukem", "Insomnia", and "Crush 'Em", the better. Trust me.

* * *

Exactly two minutes into "Wake Up Dead", we enter the fourth movement in this demented little suite, as for one less than 30 seconds, the band settles in and churns out the kind of pure thrash metal we initially expected, but even that's a bit of a red herring. Technically the most flashy of any band of the thrash era, the staccato picking is extremely tight, but Mustaine throws a nasty spanner into the works in the form of a sly time signature hiccup that feels like a slight record skip, leaving us clumsily headbanging an eighth note behind the driving snare beat. Then, after a quick 10-second verse that has our narrator admit to some misdeeds that would certainly warrant an ass-kicking courtesy his significant other ("Will she find out about the other, other lover Diana?"), the song kicks into its astounding finale.

A lurching, ominous death march that allows for an expressive yet fleet-fingered solo by Mustaine, it's not the long-awaited call-and-response chorus that sticks in our head, but that cold, almost mechanical melody of the riff (played on both guitar and bass), and the sharp cadence of Samuelson, highlighted by his hi-hat punctuation and some effective reverse snare effects. Though not as epochal as "Master of Puppets", nor as awe-inspiring as "Angel of Death", in three minutes and 37 seconds, "Wake Up Dead" offered up arguably the most daring, creative take on metal circa 1986, a song that had us wondering what the hell had just steamrolled over us.

* * *

For all the catchy, more straightforward mainstream hit singles, Megadeth has always been at its best while bucking trends, just as "Wake Up Dead" does, and is something that's illustrated especially well on Warchest. Unlike the midtempo groovers, which Mustaine essentially grew into, Megadeth's more peculiar side has been present from the get-go (who could ever forget the insane cover of Lee Hazlewood's "These Boots Are Made For Walking" -- renamed "These Boots"-- on 1985's Killing is My Business?), and has always resulted in the band's finest moments. "In My Darkest Hour, from So Far, So Good, is a masterful exercise in metal song dynamics, shifting from its ornate opening salvos, to an almost goth-inspired, descending, 6/8 riff, to its thrilling, cathartic, careening conclusion.

Countdown to Extinction's deliriously schizophrenic "Sweating Bullets" ranks as the strangest single the band has ever released, but it brilliantly combines clever hooks, progressive metal chops, and especially an overt sense of the theatrical, as Mustaine takes psychodrama to a fascinating new level. Meanwhile, 1994's chugging "Train of Consequences" is ingeniously constructed around a shuffling, muted, rhythmic riff that drives the song more than Menza's drums do.

The coup de grace, however, is Rust in Peace's shattering "Holy Wars…The Punishment Due". Featuring the band's "classic" lineup of Mustaine, Ellefson, Menza, and guitarist Marty Friedman, the song might read like a sloppy combination of political commentary and comic book fantasy (the first half inspired by the conflict in Northern Ireland, the latter half by The Punisher comic), but musically, it's astounding, Mustaine and his mates switching directions and shifting moods with surgical precision, "epic" in every sense of the word.

To its great credit, Warchest serves up three equally rewarding takes on this legendary track. A 1990 demo recording is an intriguing glimpse at the song, which was still in the development stages, performed a half-step slower and with slightly different lyrics, but despite its more raw form, it exudes just as much power as the more polished final version.

The fourth disc features a scorching live set recorded at London's Wembley Stadium in 1990 and mixed by ace producer Andy Sneap, and not only is this the finest live Megadeth recording to ever see official release, but the spectacular performance of "Holy Wars" is the set's highlight, performed impeccably by the foursome. Disc five, a live DVD of another London show recorded two years later, gives us a visual perspective of the performance of the highly complex song, the entire band making it look effortless, when we all know it can be anything but easy.

* * *

With 11 studio albums behind them, including the very good United Abominations this past summer, Megadeth's sound has become so ubiquitous that it's easy to forget just how unique they sounded when they started making waves in the metal scene more than two decades ago, but every time I go back to Peace Sells, I'm reminded of that baffling first listen, starting with the dumbfounding "Wake Up Dead".

No sooner had that weird, weird song ended that we listeners were all hit with attacks from all directions: the occult thrash rager "The Conjuring" (my choice for all-time favourite Megadeth tune), the hit-in-the-making title track, the galloping "Devil's Island", the dark one-two (or is it three?) punch of "Good Mourning/Black Friday" and "Bad Omen", the astonishingly out-of-place cover of "I Ain't Superstitious" (a song that sticks in my craw to this day), and the enthralling, Russian Roulette-themed "My Last Words".

It was all so precise, so varied in approach, and so original that I had no other choice but to turn the cassette tape over and start again. It was new, it was unlike anything I had ever heard, and although it was so difficult to digest at first, I knew I was hearing something special, as I hit 'play' one more time.

That old familiar XDR toneburst, a three-second pause, and…badum-badum-badum-badum-badabada, "I sneak in my own house, it's four in the morning…"


Spawning Ground

David Antrobus

In this ancient place of giant ferns and cedars, it seems the dead outnumber the living; the living fall away too quietly, too easily, taken away by stealth. There is tremendous natural beauty here, but its hold is tenuous, like moss clinging to rotting bark that will ultimately break and sink into the forest floor.

If I were to choose a visual symbol of my adopted home of Mission, an average-size town in the impossibly green western Canadian province of British Columbia, I would probably come up with a rotting carcass in a verdant pasture, a vision of death amid life. If this sounds harsh, hear me out and I'll tell my own truth about this place.

Clinging to the swift-scoured, salmon-haunted northern bank of the mighty Fraser River like an ailing lamprey to the deadly smooth flank of a Great White, this town, situated about 70 kilometers east of Vancouver, owes its entire existence to the water of its rivers and lakes, and to the wood harvested from the dense, surrounding forest. Settled in the mid-19th century, Mission has managed to survive despite two serious floods, a bridge collapse, the ominous early signs of malaise in the natural resource sector (did we really think the salmon and the great conifers were infinitely, magically renewable?), and a general reputation for unfocussed, redneck belligerence.

It all comes down to the Fraser River. The river has brought both food and trade; it provides a thoroughfare upon which the people of Mission (among others) float the great log booms that are the defeated renderings we humans fashion from the vast tracts of coastal rainforest (cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock) in our seemingly inexhaustible compulsion to exploit her resources and bring Mother Nature to her matronly knees — in part because (we believe) we can.

But the details about life in this town — the jeweler murdered in a robbery, the pretty high school graduate killed by a drunk driver, the 14-year-old suicide — in fact, all the jostling narratives crowding like paparazzi, each insisting on exclusive front page drama, bubble and coalesce and ultimately conspire to reveal the hidden Mission. There is a dark vortex lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface; the ominous shadow of something ancient beneath sun-dappled waters. Even the countless apparent banalities playing out on the town's rural borders disguise something deeper, more clandestine: the hobby farmer up in MacConnell Creek bemoaning his exhausted well; the entrepreneur hungry for an investment opportunity, eager to transform the hillsides of quiet, bucolic Silverdale into sudden, lockstep suburbia; the hiker mauled by a black bear in the mountains north of Steelhead. And always, the numerous lives derailed by marijuana grow-op busts. For all the gradual liberalisation of laws at the consumer end of this local economic rival to wood and water, those who supply the celebrated crop usually feel the full force of Canadian justice, anyway. There are times when nothing in Mission seems devoid of some kind of meaning.

A monastery sits above this town, a Benedictine haven of alternating silence and the evocative clatter of Sunday Matins bells. Its tower is phallic and disproportionately defiant, rising above the landscape like a giant darning needle, casting its intrusive shadow over the patchwork quilt of human settlement as if to stitch a final tableaux, symbolically and definitively, of the history of the original inhabitants and their mistreatment at the hands of the white settlers. Said inhabitants were (and are) the Stó:lo people (their language, Halq'eméylem, was an exclusively oral tradition, so the words are spelled phonetically nowadays). Stó:lo territory stretched along the river valley from present-day Vancouver to Yale in the Fraser Canyon, a 170 kilometer swath of virgin, fecund land, teeming with such totemic creatures as salmon, ancient sturgeon, deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, beaver, and wolf.

The Stó:lo, a Native American (or First Nations) people belonging to the larger group of Central Coast Salish, settled this area around 10,000 years ago. Europeans, attracted by rumours of gold, arrived in the 1850s. The resulting clash of cultures did not work out well for the indigenous people, and today they are still recovering from the trickle-down effects of at least one generation having been torn from its extended family. Residential schools, for which the monastery in Mission is a present-day symbol, were sites of a particularly virulent form of cultural genocide. First Nations children across Canada were taken from their homes, often exposed to physical and sexual abuse and occasionally murder, their mouths scoured with soap if they even dared to utter their own languages. St. Mary's in Mission, founded in 1861 and relinquished in 1984, was the last residential school in Canada to close.

There are 82 Indian Reserves in the Fraser Valley. There are eight correctional institutions, two in Mission alone (Aboriginal people represent around four percent of the Canadian population, yet account for 18 percent of the federally incarcerated population). Somebody — something? — really likes to control and segregate people, around here.

This fragmentation is reflected in the odd demographics of the town in general. Leaving their multicultural mark have been, at various times, Italians in Silverdale, Swedes in Silverhill, the French in Durieu, the Japanese in the early years of the fruit industry (as in the US, the Japanese were rewarded for their labours by being sent to internment camps in 1942), and immigrants from India in the early days of the shake and shingle mills. (The Western Red Cedar, with its straight grain, durability, and imperviousness to the incessant rain, while inspiring Native culture with the quixotic grandeur of totem poles, grabbed more prosaic European imaginations in the form of the shake and shingle industry, which provides reliable roofing and siding components for homes.)

In some ways, Mission is a vibrantly conflicted example of Canada's multicultural mosaic. With just over 30,000 residents (of which 3,000 are First Nations) mostly crammed into a relatively small area, bordered by the river to the south and the mountains to the north, mill workers and biker gangs, artists and Mennonites, muscle car boys and summer folkies, soccer moms and Sikh Temple-goers, merchants and pagans, Freemasons and caffeine addicts, street people and Renaissance Faire anachronisms all rub shoulders with varying degrees of friction, occasionally achieving harmony in spite of themselves. Perhaps the relative accord is due to the overall youth of the population (73 percent are under 35-years-old).

Earlier, I mentioned the presence of death. Why? Because it is everywhere here, its proximity eerily palpable. It inhabits the sly rustle of the towering conifers. It taints the air with the swampy pungency of skunk cabbage in springtime. It hums incessantly in the sub-woofer buzz of the hydroelectric dams. It shuffles along in the downcast, scuff-shoed limp of a lone child returning to a chilly home. From a distance, even the monks in their dark cassocks, knit-browed and bound by their vows of silence, seem eerily close to the Reaper caricature. For actual evidence of its pervasiveness, though, one need not go far back in time.

The bodies of three women were dumped between here and neighbouring Agassiz back in '95. Suicides and the furtive aftermath of murder, barely registering in the town at all, have spattered Burma Road, a potholed strip of rocks and dirt skirting the shore of Stave Lake. In 1997, Doug Holtam of Silverdale (a small community west of Mission) bludgeoned his pregnant wife and six-year-old daughter to death with a hammer. Against all odds, his young son Cody survived the attack. In 1995, a drunk driver, leaving in his wake not only the proverbial outpouring of community grief but also a devastated twin sister, killed 18-year-old Cindy Verhulst during the week she and her peers were busy celebrating their high school graduation. There was the little boy who slipped away from his day care centre and drowned in the swollen Fraser River. The 12-year-old boy found hanging from a school washroom towel dispenser. The elderly pilot whose body was discovered in dense forest a full two years after he had gone missing. And there was Dawn-Marie Wesley, a 14-year-old Native girl who took her own life in the basement of her home after enduring relentless bullying at school; barely noticed in life, Oprah material in death.

As disturbing and tragic as these stories are, however, there was little precedent for the breaking news in the summer of 2003. This one will need a little background.

Since the mid-'80s, women have been disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest postal code. Partly due to the initial incompetence of the Vancouver Police Department and jurisdictional issues with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), partly due to the amorphous (read: investigative nightmare) nature of the disappearances, and partly because so few people cared about missing hookers and addicts, more and more women went missing, with nary a ripple in the public consciousness (or conscience). In fact, as of this writing, a horrifying total of 65 individuals are currently on the Missing Women list. For years, law enforcement didn't even refer to their disappearance as crimes, and it wasn't until 1998 that an official task force was even assigned to investigate.

Finally, in February 2002, Robert William Pickton, a pig farmer from the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam (approximately half way between Vancouver and Mission), was charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two of the missing women. More charges followed in the months ahead. Pickton currently faces 15 counts of first-degree murder with seven more expected. DNA samples of 31 women have been linked to his 10-acre farm. In short, potentially the largest serial murder case in Canadian history is now underway just 35 kilometers from Mission.

Given the frequent intrusion of death into the area, I suppose it should have surprised no one when, on 20 July 2003, the missing women's joint task force announced they would be searching an area of wetlands near Mission. Just south of Highway 7 (aka the Lougheed Highway) and the man-made body of water known as Silvermere (itself the subject of a delightfully creepy urban legend or two), the area is basically marshland bisected by a meandering slough. Immediately following the announcement of the search, the site was fenced off with temporary chain link, and the highway's wide shoulders — traditionally home to roadside fruit and flower vendors hawking their locally grown products — were suddenly and unequivocally off-limits.

Driving this formerly innocuous stretch of blacktop, especially under the after-dusk arc lights, with their swirling bug armadas and liquid island oases in the dark, now touched off an indescribably eerie feeling. It was a relief when, on 8 August, the entire ensemble of law enforcement personnel (numerous forensic investigators plus 52 anthropologists) took up their tools again and vanished. They gave no word of what they had uncovered or even whether anything had been found at all, leaving our community to its familiar, fitful dreams once more. Mission's part in this unfolding story, as it relates to the wider world, remains amorphous and indistinct, with its usual chilly glints of barely suppressed horror flickering amid the overall grey.

Here, it seems, empirical proof takes a back seat to rumour and anecdote every time.

Sometimes, while hiking alone in the tree-bejeweled mountains west of Steelhead, east of the dams, I have suddenly felt the fetid breath of graves, a harsh raven-shadow lurking behind the abundant emerald and olive greens of this sodden paradise. Inexplicable noises in the deep tangled brush; distant rending, gnashing. Something skulking and hungry. With all the assured rationality of the white male immigrant, I've been known to smirk at the idea of ghosts, and yet stumbling along a jade-tunnel trail bristling with old man's beard and devil's club, I've occasionally recoiled from something, the skin of my arms prickling with gooseflesh. There are spirits here, all right, something not too far removed from the capricious tricksters who inhabit indigenous myth. Spectres of a kind, nursing some nameless, hollow ache of unrequited need rendered manifest, paradoxically, by a landscape dripping with life.

The closest we Europeans get to perceiving this (however inadvertently) can be heard in the low extended rumble of the nighttime freight trains as they call out in the dark, hunching parallel to Railway Avenue long after most residents are asleep, lonely as a buffalo herd that's somehow seen and almost comprehended its own approaching ruin.

Of course, my telling is by no means the complete, illustrated history of Mission, a town that can barely hold onto its own name (since 1884, take your pick: St. Mary's Mission, Mission Junction, Mission City, Village of Mission, Town of Mission, and currently the District of Mission). Not by a long shot; this lurid splash portrays but a small corner of the canvas. How can any one person paint the full picture of a community, after all? No, despite my perverse zeal to stir the viscous mud below the bright surface, great deeds and happy memories adorn the history of this place, too, adding the sparkle and lustre of life above and hopefully beyond the stillness and silence. And yet, no matter how much joie de vivre this community may exhibit on its special days, like a red-carpet celebrity when the cameras start rolling — whether it be the laughing children with their maple leaf flags and pancake stacks celebrating Canada Day up at Heritage Park, or the benevolently stoned crowd at the annual Folk Festival, or even the choked air and sharp adrenaline at the Raceway — surely one thing cannot go unremarked: nearly half of those missing-presumed-dead women were of Aboriginal descent. This adds one more layer of indifference to a jaded populace apparently caught somewhere between the small town rural cruelties of its past and the uneasy suburban shrugs of its gathering future.

I know this. I worked with the street kid population here for years, witnessed their hardscrabble resilience. Few people ever gave a genuine damn about the plight of these children, even though some of the throwaways had not yet reached puberty. Two-thirds of street-involved youth in Mission are Aboriginal. Many are sexually exploited by family members, neighbors, pimps and selected citizens, but few speak of it. Some of these kids head west to Vancouver for a date with misery, stretching already tenuous community ties to the breaking point. My job as a street worker was to speak for these lost children, to ensure some semblance of the child welfare system would kick in through advocacy with social workers or teachers or families or counselors or probation officers. In a world in which the so-called "bottom line" — money and the politics of money — has become drawn too garishly, these already marginalized youth were, and continue to be, largely abandoned by a system designed to protect them. Sometimes I stand beside the town's failing heart, its run down main drag (1st Avenue), taking in the pawnshops and thrift outlets and dollar stores, and I'm convinced I truly hate this place... but only because I've loved it so deeply. In life: death. In death: life. The great inscrutable cycle.

In this way, the perennially troubled summer Pow Wow, always skirting the edge of ruin (corrupt, inept politics and sporadic funding, take a bow), yet often prevailing regardless, seems to me a far more accurate symbol of the clutching, ragged breaths that secretly haunt the sleep of this community. The fleeting vibrant colours of traditional dancers whirling in bright regalia — poignant as the plumage of endangered birds, flying amongst the high wailing melismas of the Northern-style singing and the vital, aorta-punching drums of the circles — somehow speaks more of an unavenged wound in time and place, set amid the cruelty that underlies so much beauty, than anything else this conflicted human settlement seems capable of offering.

An absurd contrast, really — this vibrant gathering and the judgmental silence of all those surrounding stories of the dead — the whole place holding its breath waiting for these mortal sorrows to purge themselves before the pristine lawns and asphalt and vinyl sidings are allowed to spread and eventually suffocate every fucking thing that ever felt like something here.

For here, tenacious as the town itself alongside relentless churning waters, the living will no doubt cling to hope and the perpetual dream of life until the muscled river — unnoticed, stealthy, taken for granted — wrestles away everything (horror, joy, splintered wood and the final word) at long last, sending it all tumbling toward the planet's dark and pitiless seas for good.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

69. Arcade Fire - "Creature Comfort"

This is a big, bold statement of intent from Arcade Fire. There is a clear and admirable desire for the band not to spend too long in the same space and to mine their DNA to reinvigorate themselves. The big synths and angular new wave of early '80s the Cure sound fresh and like nothing the band has done before. Despite the retro stylings, the subject matter is refreshingly current as the group deal with the quest for personal validation from family, friends, and strangers, the anxieties of negative body image and the relentless pursuit of fame at the expense of everything else. The band cleverly offer a metaphorical panacea for all of these ills in the form of "Creature Comfort". Something to numb the pain. This is a song that leaves you anything but anesthetized. - Paul Carr

68. Alt-J - "In Cold Blood"

As far as songs about murders at pool parties go, "In Cold Blood" is actually pretty heady. In true alt-J fashion, it's hard to tell what's a red herring and what's actually relevant to the song, but as with the best songs, it doesn't particularly matter when it's this catchy. The random snippets of binary code, the allusion to C.S. Lewis' Caspian, the extended coda of "La la la"s, these are diversions from the subject at hand, perhaps because the gravity of the matter would make for too heavy a song, perhaps because alt-J delights in being obtuse. Still, with imagery as vivid as "Hair the way the sun really wants it to be" and "Lifeless back slaps the surface of the pool", it is still appropriately shocking, and yet morbidly catchy, particularly once the horns kick in. It makes you feel guilty for enjoying it, which is probably just perfect as far as alt-J is concerned. - Mike Schiller

67. The Mynabirds - "Golden Age"

The transition from 2016 to 2017 needed an elegy, an understated anthem of disillusionment and sorrow, and this is it. With its staid piano melody and Laura Burhenn's velvet vocals, the song taps into the sucker-punch trauma of feeling like social progress's trajectory was a bait-and-switch that made the eventual collapse that more crushing. The lyrics read as a litany of topical grief — the deaths of Leonard Cohen and David Bowie, worsening climate change, rampant police brutality, the severing of family ties amid political lines, and, presciently considering when it was written, the emboldening of American Nazism by Donald Trump's presidential election. Dour stuff, to be sure, yet Burhenn isn't ready to seal the mausoleum. Rather, "Golden Age" is the sound of an ideal beaten but unbroken, its swollen eye still focused on the future. It's a rail against complacency and surrender and offers needed comfort and warmth, while still being goosebumps-inducing in its call to arms. It might be a lofty comparison, but "Golden Age" is a spiritual successor to Lennon's "Imagine" in the current climate. - Cole Waterman

66. Sir Sly - "High"

The premise isn't too groundbreaking: a group of young indie poppers with hip haircuts singing about getting high. What sets Sir Sly's take on getting high apart from many others is how current it is. Sir Sly's "High" nails the mindset of many a millennial as the group sings about "wondering what peace would be like" - drugs as a means of escape from this very specific wave of global turmoil. On top of that, the chorus is mind-blowingly catchy, the beats enticing. This is a social statement you can dance to, an escapist earworm and a party anthem for our times. - Adriane Pontecorvo

65. Taylor Swift - "...Ready For It?"

The essence of pop music is saying the same things over and over again in slightly different ways. This is how life works too. We settle into routines and measure our lives by the degree to which those routines shift or are disrupted over time. Most of Taylor Swift's songs are about what happens when you think about romance the way songs and movies tell us to, but she never seems to run out of new ways to frame that experience.

Usually, it's a matter of melodies or words, but sometimes, it's also a matter of sound, of putting her compositions in an environment that's a little unstable. She does this on "...Ready for It?," which is the most sonically mischievous and audacious song she's released. Over a harsh, sneering rhythm track, Swift covers familiar ground--the rush of new love, the relationship between reality and fantasy--but it doesn't feel that way because the song has a few clever ideas it gets just right: a trio of distorted bass notes that begin and repeat throughout the song; and low-pitched, synthetic brass notes that hit during the pre-chorus. Both signal that something is different, that no matter how many times we fall in love, it will always feel new. - Mark Matousek

64. Carly Rae Jepsen - "Cut to the Feeling"

Nobody has cornered the effervescent side of North American pop music quite like Carly Rae Jepsen has in the past couple years. Arriving on the heels of 2015's triumphant Emotion, "Cut to the Feeling" continues that soaring momentum. Not a whit of the song is particularly groundbreaking; instead it is a classic formula executed to perfection, building from tense verses to a chorus that explodes like fireworks. Nolan Lambroza's production is shimmering and radiant, the perfect backdrop for Ms. Jepsen, who conveys the song's feeling of euphoria with her trademark charisma. It's the type of pop music that puts a smile on your face. - Adrien Begrand

63. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile - "Continental Breakfast"

At one point in "Continental Breakfast", Courtney holds up a video of "Kurt and Courtney", the chronicling of the relationship of lead singers Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, two of rock's greatest misfits. The synergy between Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett is less fraught; it's downright amicable. It's not difficult to fall in love with both songwriters as they bounce around their domestic lives, interacting with babies, children, and elders alike, with smiles the whole way through. If you don't find this video endearing, you probably don't have a soul. - Tristan Kneschke

62. Animal Collective - "Kinda Bonkers"

Animal Collective follow up last year's Painting With album with more of the same on new EP The Painters. Like much of their best work, "Kinda Bonkers" is bursting with ideas. Built on tabla percussion, see-saw keyboards and parallel vocals that bounce, ping and collide, the band throw everything they can in to see what cooks. All of these different ingredients are whipped up into a customary, trippy, psychedelic sponge. The whole thing is as irrepressible and energetic as you would expect, but it somehow feels more rounded. More straightforward and undemanding, never feeling like it might collapse under the weight of the hooks and melodies the band has crammed on every tier. - Paul Carr

61. ANOHNI - "Paradise"

ANOHNI's inimitable vocals are like a fixed quantity in her music, ensuring that most anything she sings retains an element of pained, graceful beauty no matter how harrowing or grisly the topic. "Paradise", another collaboration with Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never following last year's HOPELESSNESS, pushes this principle to its limit. The track is a tortured dirge barely disguised as bass-heavy synthpop, a veil disintegrating at the seams. ANOHNI sings as one caught between global concerns and her own personal, particular pain, lamenting the solipsistic confines of being but a single "point of consciousness". Perhaps the paradise she evokes, a "world without end", is one where the boundaries of the self are dissolved altogether, opening the way for empathy. And yet any clear vision of that utopia is clouded amid the wailing electronics, making it clear that we'll have to contend with our own kaleidoscopes of pain for some time to come. - Andrew Dorsett

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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