Thursday, August 24, 2006

Megadeth remasters, 2004.

Remaster Hell generally opposes the remixing of albums for the purpose of replacing the originals. Such remixes are welcome so long as they are used as bonus material and the original mixes are left intact.

This is what makes the 2004 Megadeth remasters so maddening. In one sense, it was completely unnecessary. While it is true that some of Megadeth's early albums could have used a fresh remaster with better EQing, Dave Mustaine made a different decision. He remixed all of the albums up to and including 1999's Risk. Yes, you read that right. Not the first three. Not the first four. The first eight!

It all started when Mustaine went in to remix Megadeth's first album, Killing Is My Business...And Business Is Good. Despite Remaster Hell's stated position, Killing Is My Business really needed a new remix. The album had a notoriously low-budget mix and needed a complete facelift. In 2002, the new version was released on the Loud label and the results are positively stunning. The sound is much fuller and more realized. It now sounds as menacing as was intended. The only exception is the addition of "These Boots", which was essentially a cover of "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" with alternate lyrics. Since Mustaine was threatened with legal action for some of the new lyrics being offensive, Mustaine included the track with bleeps in every place where there is an "offensive" word. He shouldn't have bothered to include the track at all as the bleeps are both annoying and distracting. (At least when Queen did it on Live Killers, it was only once and it wasn't in the middle of the damn song.) The three bonus tracks are demos from the album and that's exactly what they sound like. The remaster, also, boasts new cover art which is considerably better than the original, indie cover and more worthy on inclusion in the Megadeth canon.

But, was Mr. Mustaine satisfied that one project? Noooooooo. He was so happy with the results that he decided to give Megadeth's other albums the same treatment. These would be released in 2004.

My knee-jerk reaction to these remix/remasters was that I wanted to hate them and, upon first listen, I was fully prepared to do just that. Nevertheless, my charge here is to present as objective an opinion as possible. After extensive listening and relistening, I must admit that there is more things to like about the new remasters than there is to dislike.

Unlike Frank Zappa, ZZ Top, or Ozzy Osbourne, Dave Mustaine generally did not try to use these remixes as an opportunity to change Megadeth's music, but, rather, to enhance the sound. The approach appeared to be closer to what a fan might do rather than that of a lofty artist trying to change his own work with a different inspiration. The simplest way that I can put it is that he wanted to make his albums more crankworthy. To this end, he seemed to use a basic formula: Jack up the bass, make the vocals clearer, and make the guitars sound wider to fill out the mix.

Using this formula, Peace Sells...But Who's Buying and So Far So Good So What almost sound like completely different albums, although the same basic tracks were used. To those who are familiar with this material, the remixes takes a bit of getting used to. Once acclimated, though, the sound just hits you in the face and doesn't let up. Some of the thinner production that marred such tracks as "The Conjuring", "Bad Omen", and "502" is replaced with a full, ambient sound that brings these tracks to life. On "Wake Up, Dead" and "In My Darkest Hour", some of the nuances that were previously lost in the mix are now audible, enhancing the listener's experience. A brief acoustic guitar intro has been added to "In My Darkest Hour" and it fits the mood of the song nicely.

The one unfortunate dog in all of this is "Peace Sells". While the opening bass line is now more booming, it no longer pops the way it did on the original mix, as if some of the higher frequecies were noise reduced out of it. The reverse is true of the guitar part, which seems now to "float" over the mix rather than slam you upside the head. Those who have never heard the original won't notice, but long-time fans who no longer have a copy of the original mix may want to seek out the original CD or Capitol Punishment, the latter of which contains a 2000 remaster of the original mix. The bonus tracks on these CDs are alternate mixes of selected tracks. They are interesting, but non-essential.

While Peace Sells, and So Far might only sound like different albums, Rust In Peace actually is, though that was not the original intention. During the remixing process, Mustaine could not find the original vocal tracks for "Take No Prisoners", "Lucretia", and "Five Magics". To remedy the situation, Mustaine completely rerecorded the vocals for "Take No Prisoners" and used alternate takes for the other two tracks. What is striking about this remix is that all of the vocals sound different, not just on those three tracks. "Holy Wars..The Punishment Due" now sounds more brutal than ever, but the lead and background vocals now collide rather than blend. On "Hangar 18", Mustaine's formula sadly works against him. By bringing up the bass in the mix, the guitars no longer slice through the air the way they do on the original. As such, the track loses some power in the process. Fortunately, this is the only track where this occurs and the other tracks play much better instrumentally, but the vocals still sound just a bit off. While the overall sound is good, those with an original copy of Rust In Peace are advised to keep it. The bonus tracks include a short little stomper called "My Creation" and three demo tracks that few will listen to more than once.

Considering the challenges presented by Rust In Peace, conventional wisdom would suggest that remixing Countdown To Extinction and Youthanasia would produce inferior results. Interestingly, the opposite is true. On the surface, the new mixes are not much different than the old ones (except for the addition of a guitar intro to "Sweating Bullets"). Further scrutiny shows the Mustaine formula bringing out more nuances and a fuller sound. Again, vocals are clearer, bass is more present in the mix, and an overall wider sound. Less discriminating ears may not even notice the differences while long time fans who want to supplement their original CDs might appreciate the improved sound. The bonus tracks on Countdown To Extinction are "Crown Of Thorns" (a gem previously only available on import singles) and three unremarkable demo tracks. The bonus tracks on Youthanasia are more interesting. They include a previously unreleased track called "Millennium of The Blind", a demo for a song called "New World Order" (previously unreleased in the U.S.), a beautiful instrumental called "Absolution", and a rough demo of "A Tout Le Monde" with slightly different lyrics.

The most bizarre of the Megadeth remasters isn't even a Megadeth album. MD.45's The Craving was a collaboration between Dave Mustaine and Fear vocalist Lee Ving. In the process of remixing this album, Mustaine was unable to locate that tracks that contained Ving's vocals and harmonica. Rather than abandoning the project, he resung all of the vocals himself and filled in the places where Ving's harmonica should have been by playing the same licks on his guitar. It is difficult to understand why Mustaine felt the need to remaster this album in the first place, especially since he did not feel the need to remaster Hidden Treasures (which collects one-offs from soundtracks and other sources). By removing Ving's contributions from the recording entirely, he has, in effect, created yet another Megadeth album and many fans have embraced it as such. Furthermore, the three bonus tracks seem to have nothing to do with the MD.45 project: one is an instrumental, another is actually identified as a Megadeth outtake, and all three were written solely by Mustaine. Despite these changes, Ving's lyrics and vocal melodies are distinctive enough that The Craving might not really sound like a Megadeth album, although some fans would argue that Risk doesn't sound much like a Megadeth album either. Obviously, fans of Lee Ving will hate the changes, but given that The Craving never had much of a punk sound to begin with, it's doubtful that many Ving fans liked the project much to begin with.

(An irony here is that Lee Ving could conceivably get more royalties from the remaster than the original release. While it would be true that Ving gets no performance royalties from the remaster, he would still receive publishing royalties. If the remaster sells considerably more copies than the original due to word-of-mouth among Megadeth fans, the increase in Ving's publishing royalties could be greater than the loss of his performance royalties. A curious situation indeed.)

Mustaine finally hits diminishing returns with the remixes of Cryptic Writings and Risk. Why Mustaine would feel the need to remix albums that are less than ten years old anyway is anyone's guess. At best, the remixes sound no different than the original recordings. In a few cases, the remixes sound inferior to the originals. ("Almost Honest" being one example.) The "Needles And Pins" intro has been removed from "Use The Man" although few fans will miss it. Other than that, the only remotely interesting aspects of these reissues are the new artwork and bonus tracks. Cryptic Writings have two previously unreleased tracks that are neither bad nor essential and alternate versions of "Vortex" and "Trust", the latter of which has the chorus sung in Spanish. The cover art is essentially the same as before except that it is now black instead of grey. On Risk, the bonus mix of "Insomnia" is pretty interesting, but the "Jack Joseph Mix" of "Breadline" doesn't make the song much better while the "Jock Mix" of "Crush'Em" officially turns the track into the disco song it has always wanted to be. The new cover shows a mouse contemplating a piece of cheese in a trap as a cat peeks in. On both CDs, the Megadeth logo has been added to the top to make them consistent with other releases. These remasters are only recommended to completists and fans who like collecting CDs with different cover art.

A Greatest Hits album has, also, been released concurrent to the other remasters. At first glance, this seems odd since Capitol Punishment was released less than four years prior, but given the fact that Greatest Hits is culled from the remixes and has a slightly different track listing, it presents a completely different picture. Those who want to sample the new mixes can pick up Greatest Hits, while those who want a sampler of the original mixes can get Capitol Punishment while it is still available. The only songs on Greatest Hits that have not been remixed "Angry Again", "Dread And The Fugitive Mind", and "Kill The King". The latter two were introduced on Capitol Punishment, so it would not have made sense to remix tracks that were so recent (although, that didn't prevent the remixing of Risk). "Angry Again" was originally released on the Last Action Hero soundtrack and is on the aforementioned Hidden Treasures.

To Dave Mustaine's credit, the official Megadeth website lists these reissues as entirely separate releases from the originals, so he at least acknowledges that they are not the same. That doesn't change the fact that they have now replaced the originals in terms of availability. If this is how Dave Mustaine would like Megadeth's catalog to be presented from this point forward, he is certainly entitled. While Remaster Hell's original position still stands, I must admit that he did a very good job with the remixes.

Older fans have been, and will continue to be, split over these remixes. Some will hate the changes in sound. Some will find it to be an improvement. New fans probably won't know the difference.

The Megadeth discography appears at .