I was tempted to throw this one out as a Golden Oldie article, but it doesn’t really read like one – it’s definitely a review rather than a look back to the halcyon days of fledgling thrash metal. I also want to clarify one thing – I really didn’t like the last re-issue of this album (and others) which came out a few years back. I love the original, I love how raw and under-produced it was and, on a basic level, I’m used to it. Given that it was recorded for around $5000 and the band ended up doing a lot of the work themselves as the producer was fired, I think it came out just dandy.
When I heard the remastered version from 2002, it just didn’t sit well with me. In fairness, Killing… wasn’t the worst of the bunch released at the time. The remastered Rust In Peace was, frankly, fucking awful with such jarring changes throughout that I barely managed to listen to it once. One worried at that time that Dave Mustaine was on some kind of George Lucas style trip to “improve” on perfect originals, buggering them up in the process. Thankfully, the original Megadeth albums are a lot easier to get hold of than non-ruined copies of the original Star Wars trilogy.
So what’s different with this new The Final Kill release? Well, again, Mustaine has had a hand in the work though the mix has been overseen by Mark Lewis (Trivium, Death Angel, Devildriver, Whitechapel) and re-mastered by Ted Jensen. A drum solo has been dropped in somewhere, recovered from the original tapes, and the sound has been cleaned up so individual notes can be heard where previously they were just part of an overall (pleasing) blur. I’m not faulting these changes. While I found it a little… “uncomfortable” at first listening to rhythms and solos that suddenly were more complex than I was used to, when I compared them to the original release CD I could appreciate the extra depth. This is never going to replace the original for me, but it didn’t ruin my listening pleasure.
What got me were a couple of changes that threw the tempo of songs out, and seemed to do so for no apparent reason. If you’ve not heard the original, they’d not even be noticeable, but let me give you an example, right at the beginning of the album. To me, “Last Rites” crashes into “Loved to Death”. As one fades, the other builds up – there’s overlap. There has been since 1985. However on this version, the former runs for an extra 15 seconds and fades completely out before the latter kicks in. Why? All it does is make it sound like two separate tracks rather than the hybrid it has been for thirty-some years.
The vocals have changed a little as well. I noticed this the most on “Chosen Ones” where the old industry staple of putting a ton of echo on has been all but removed. In fairness, this brings Mustaine’s vocals a little further to the front and could be classed as an improvement… though it still just sounds odd to me, having heard the original so many times!
“These Boots” has been shifted from track four to track eight, and the lyrics are the censored version. Megadeth removed the track from the album in 1995 after original artist Lee Hazlewood complained about the “perversion” he reckoned this cover/parody to be. There’s no original recording to back this up – you’re left with the gelded version which just doesn’t hold up to the “proper” song. It’s a huge omission in my book, especially as the band managed to include a lyrically “correct” live version on an anniversary re-release of Peace Sells about a decade ago.
What else do we have? The three-track demo (“Last Rites / Loved To Death”, “The Skull Beneath The Skin”, “Mechanix”) that got them the financing for the album in the first place. These are noisy, messy, un-retouched – as any good demo should be – and as raw as a hunk of beef sat steaming in front of the very confused cow you just carved it from. Just listen to the awful editing that mushes together the “Last Rites / Loved to Death”. Here we have the idea that made it onto the 1985 release, just very poorly realised, before being fixed for the 1985 release and spoiled again for the remix as described earlier. However, these tracks were also on the 2002 re-release, so if you already have that then they’re not a selling point.
The new material comes in the shape of seven live tracks culled from VHS tapes that MegaDave found in his loft – basically the whole album minus “Boots”. Like the demo, these are wonderfully messy. The quality varies, though the majority are very trebly, very rough and wonderfully historic as a result. Most of the recordings are from 1986/7 with only “Skull” being from 1990 (and much poorer quality – it sounds like a bootleg). Although old and likely having only received the lightest of retouches, you don’t have to listen too closely to make out the backing vocals (I’m assuming Dave Ellefson’s) on “Killing”, for instance.
From a historical perspective, I’m thinking the 1986/87 recordings will feature Gar Samuelson and Chris Poland while 1990 will have an early appearance from the sadly missed Nick Menza on drums with Marty Friedman recently added on guitars – Rust in Peace was released that year.
So there we have it – the latest incarnation of Megadeth’s first album. Is it any good? Well… yes and no. As I said, as a lover of the original there’s a lot of change that I just find unnecessary and irritating, but there are also little touches that I appreciate. The backing down on “Boots” is a continued disappointment, but I have my original release for that. If you’re new to the band then it’s an essential addition to the collection and, honestly, if you’re not that familiar with the original then this is absolutely fine. For those who have it, it’s down to a desire to own the additional material. The live stuff is so wonderfully old, muffled and crackly that it’s like a proper trip down memory lane and while not worth the cost alone could certainly sway it for some.
Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good: The Final Kill is out on June 8th