Saturday, August 31, 2013

Megadeth, "Sweating Bullets"

What a weird, weird song.

A lot of metal press this month has been dedicated to the fact that Megadeth are now downtuning their songs to accomodate Dave Mustaine's deteriorating vocals. This isn't a new practice in music, or one that's exclusive to metal. But many are taking it as an opportunity to haw about how Mustaine can't sing anymore, which is true, or about how he never could sing anyway, which is not true.

Even Mustaine, in rare moments of humility, has said that singing is not his strong suit. While his chops (1983-present) and songcraft (1983-1997, 2004 and 2009) are without question the qualities that earned him his metal god status*, I'd argue that his vocals were a close third. In Megadeth, Mustaine was the first metal vocalist to talk-sing his way into people's minds, breaking down as many barriers for what a vocalist could do in metal as Bob Dylan did in rock n' roll. He doesn't have Tom Araya's range or James Hetfield's force, but neither of those singers--or almost anyone else, really--could handle a song like "Sweating Bullets" without being laughed off. For decades, talented singers have been embarrassing themselves by trying to talk their way through a song (Bono in the middle of The Joshua Tree comes to mind). But somehow when Mustaine starts talking, he turns "Sweating Bullets" into one of Megadeth's biggest hits.

Maybe it's that he's convincingly insane. We didn't know how far off the deep end he'd go until he became a born again Christian, but when he starts talking to himself ("Hello me, meet the real me...Hello me, it's me again...Well me, it's nice talking to myself!") it doesn't sound like he's faking it. That main riff, which more than one reviewer has compared to the comic rimshot, is underplayed by Megadeth standards, emphasizing that the leader might actually have lost his mind. But this song is all about the unforgettable vocal performance from Mustaine, back when he was vocally gifted and likably crazy. He'd never be asked to join  Yngwie Malmsteen's band, but that's not the kind of singer Megadeth needed anyway.

*Non-fans would probably say his hair.

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