`Rust In Peace’ is usually hailed as Megadeth’s crowning glory, but there are still a fair number of Thrash fans who prefer the album’s heavier predecessor `So Far, So Good…So What!’.
`So Far, So Good…So What!’ saw Megadeth as a band at it’s most dangerous. Dave Mustaine was hitting the heroin and the booze like they were going out of business. Half the band had been sacked, and the producer replaced. Capitol Records were becoming concerned about the behaviour of the band, and sent them on tour so they couldn’t do any more damage in the studio. They need not have worried, as `So Far, So Good…So What!’ rapidly went platinum on its release.
Despite the obvious success of the album, Dave Mustaine had always been dissatisfied with the way `So Far, So Good…So What!’ turned out, so he went into the studio in 2004 and remixed it, along with much of the rest of Megadeth’s back catalogue. He disliked the sometimes muddy mix, which detracted somewhat from the power of the album. There were also a few small details either hidden or missing from the album. The remixing is like an archaeologist scraping dirt and dust from a prehistoric skeleton. It was always obvious what was there, but once the detritus is cleared, sharp, clean edges are revealed, details unveiled, and it all seems more complete.
The instrumental first track “Into The Lungs Of Hell” is one of the best lead off tracks on any Thrash album anywhere, bettered by Slayer’s “Angel Of Death”, but not by much else. Thrash instrumentals are generally about lead guitarists showing off, and in Mustaine and Jeff Young, Megadeth had talent aplenty to display. The lead guitar throughout the song is sharp, bouncing from one man to the other in what sounds like a frantic guitar duel. There is an undefinable quality to the song, giving it a feel like a reinterpreted Classical composition. The remix added a triumphal brass fanfare to the beginning of the song that was absent on the 1988 release. To be honest, the horns don’t add a hell of a lot to the guitar-fuelled maelstrom, but they made MegaDave happy.
“Set The World Afire” was the first song Mustaine wrote on his departure from Metallica, but he did not use it until he was happy with it. The first riff sounds like it would have fitted onto `Kill `Em All’ quite neatly, but the rest of the song shows Mustaine’s songwriting metamorphosing and developing. The lyrics are suitably cheesy, a song about nuclear war, which it was just about compulsory for every 1980s Thrash band to have at least one of (Metallica’s “Fight Fire With Fire”, Kreator’s “Fatal Energy”, Carnivore’s “World Wars III and IV”, Sodom’s “Nuclear Winter”, Nuclear Assault’s `Game Over’ album etc.).
The cover of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy In The UK” actually features Steve Jones from the Pistols on guitar, but apparently he played so poorly that his guitar work was deliberately buried deep in the mix. Legend has it he turned up drunk, plugged his guitar in and just started playing, without tuning his guitar. Inexplicably, Mustaine messed with the lyrics, swapping the line “I want to destroy the passer by” with “I want to destroy, possibly”, along with a couple of other minor alterations.
“In My Darkest Hour” is far and away the best song on the album, and the remixing adds another layer of vindictive menace to it. Mustaine wrote the lyrics of the song in a single sitting on hearing the news that friend and former Metallica band mate Cliff Burton had been killed. It is his best lyrical effort, bar none. The song uses a building narrative structure with no verses or chorus to detract from the momentum. The rhythm guitar follows a series of relatively simple riffs that swell to an almighty crescendo. The leads hold a certain angle grinder type quality, which only appear on this album.
“Liar” and “Hook In Mouth” follow a similar venomous lyrical streak, which unfortunately Mustaine abandoned after this album in favour of conspiracies, aliens and witches. Oh well… The solos on “Hook In Mouth” in particular are impressive as Mustaine and Jeff Young trade licks perfect for air guitar aficionados to imitate. Surprisingly, Young’s solos are the heavier of the two.
The weaker tracks “Mary Jane” and “502″ and the inclusion of the Sex Pistols cover pad the album out somewhat. None of them are particularly poor songs, but they seem to have been written and recorded like the band was on autopilot. Still, Megadeth circa 1988 on autopilot was still a hell of a lot better than a lot of stuff being palmed off on Metal fans at the time.
As a bonus, four of the tracks originally mixed by producer Paul Lani have been included on the album. Lani struggled in producing the record, and was eventually replaced by Michael Wagener, who was responsible for the final 1988 production job. Even to the untrained ear, a number of problems are immediately obvious. All four songs sound very thin, even compared to the 1988 release. “Into The Lungs Of Hell” still has the horns of the introduction left in the mix, but throughout the song, the guitar lines drift in and out, like they were recorded outside on a windy day. Even a song as powerful as “In My Darkest Hour” sounds flat and a bit gutless.
The original mix of `So Far, So Good…So What!’ suffered somewhat because of limitations on time, budget, technology, and probably substance impaired musical abilities, but it was the best that could be done at the time. Metal production in 1988 was far from the refined science it is now, and the leap in the power and scope of technology between 1988 and 2004 is enormous. `So Far, So Good…So What!’ was hailed as a flawed masterpiece on it’s original release, and has rightly remained a much admired work from a highly influential band.