Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?

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Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?
Studio album by Megadeth
Released October 1986 (1986-10)
Recorded October 1985, February 15 – March 20, 1986 at Music Grinder Studios, Track Records and Rock Steady Studios in Los Angeles; Maddog Studios in Venice, Los Angeles
Genre Thrash metal
Length 36:12
Label Capitol
Producer Dave Mustaine, Randy Burns
Megadeth chronology
  • Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?
  • (1986)
Singles from Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?
  1. "Wake Up Dead"
    Released: 1986
  2. "Peace Sells"
    Released: 1986

Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? is the second studio album by American thrash metal band Megadeth, released in October 1986. The project was originally handled by Combat Records, resulting in the first mix of the album by co-producer Randy Burns. Capitol Records then bought the rights to the album and another producer, Paul Lani, was hired to mix it himself. In 2004 the album was remixed and remastered by Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine, with extensive liner notes detailing the album's background. In 2011 the three different versions were reissued as part of the album's 25th anniversary celebration. All of them, besides the 2004 mixes, feature new remastering.

Peace Sells... has been listed as one of the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die and is highly regarded as a thrash metal classic. It is the last album to feature Gar Samuelson on drums, and the last until The System Has Failed to feature Chris Poland on lead guitar.

Background and recording[edit]

In an interview for Metal Forces in December 1985, frontman Dave Mustaine revealed that the band had already started writing new material for their second album. He said that two songs ("Black Friday" and "Bad Omen") were finished and described them as "a total blur", being much faster that "Rattlehead".[1] Professional rock critic Steve Huey noted the album's combination of "punkish political awareness with a dark, threatening, typically heavy metal worldview".[2] Speaking about the lyrical content of the album, vocalist Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson stated that they wanted to change the public perception of heavy metal by writing songs that contained socially aware lyrics. Mustaine further noted that the band was not immune at the political situation at the time and that some of his political beliefs were reflected in the songs.[3]

For instance, the album's cover makes an ironic statement about the Cold War. On the backdrop of a red and orange sky, it shows the UN General Assembly building soon after a nuclear attack. In the foreground is the band's mascot, Vic Rattlehead, who is leaning against a sign reading "For Sale" ("Vic Realtors" appearing on the bottom of the sign on some editions), implying that the United Nations Organization is for sale. The cover and title suggest that while peace is a popular theme, it has become commodified. These themes carry into the title track, with its strong themes of youth disillusionment. Dave Mustaine lifted the title from a Reader's Digest article, which was titled "Peace Would Sell But No One Would Buy It".

The recording of the album was very difficult for the band, as guitarist Chris Poland and drummer Gar Samuelson would not show up for hours because of their extreme heroin addictions. Shortly after the band finished the final recordings of the album for Combat Records, they were approached by an A&R person Tim Carr of Capitol Records. After securing the contract, the label hired producer Paul Lani to remix the original mixes done by Randy Burns, the previous producer.


Tracks 1–4[edit]

"Wake Up Dead" features lyrics which describe a man who has been cheating on his wife or girlfriend and is sneaking into his house, knowing that if his wife finds out about his other lover, she will kill him.[4] Dave Mustaine said that "Wake up Dead" was written about him cheating on a girl he was living with. Mustaine stayed with her because he was homeless at the time and needed a place to stay. Unfortunately, he was in love with another girl and thought the one he lived with would be mad because he was "cheating" her. He had to leave her because he thought she had intentions to kill him."[5]

According to author Bob Larson, "The Conjuring" apparently simulates a Satanic ceremony.[6] It also makes references about being the devil's advocate and his salesman.[7] Mustaine stated the song is about black magic and contains instructions for hexes.[8] However, due to his conversion to Christianity, the song has not been played live ever since 2001.[9]

"Peace Sells" reflects Mustaine's political and social beliefs.[10] Ellefson has stated that during the tour prior to recording the album, that the band "could tell then that the song "Peace Sells" was a going to be a hit".[11] The video for the title track became an MTV mainstay and the opening bass line was used as introduction to MTV News.[12] However, Mustaine has stated that they received no royalties because the song is cut a second before MTV would have to pay them for its use.[13]

"Devils Island" expresses the thoughts of a prisoner about to be executed in the notorious former French penal colony on Devil's Island. In the song, the prisoner's life is spared by God right before he is about to be killed, but he is condemned to spend the rest of his life on Devil's Island.[14]

Tracks 5–8[edit]

"Good Mourning/Black Friday" is a two-piece song, which begins with an instrumental part called "Good Mourning".[15] Lyrically, Mustaine has described "Black Friday" as being about "a homicidal madman who goes on a killing spree".[8] With excessive use of gory language, the song chronicles the acts of a serial killer.[16] It was inspired by Dijon Carruthers, who was briefly the band's drummer prior to the hiring of Gar Samuelson. According to Mustaine, Carruthers was hanging out with people who were practicing occultism, and they inspired him to write songs based on spiritual themes.[15]

"Bad Omen" explores the theme of occultism.[17] Dave Mustaine described "Bad Omen" like "two happy campers who have stumbled onto a satanic orgy in the middle of the woods" and then "they see these fools waiting around for Satan's blessing".[18] Asked whether the band members really believe in the subject matters they write, Mustaine responded: "We're aware of the subject we write about— witchcraft, satanic sacrifices and the like— but we're not condoning them."[6]

"I Ain't Superstitious" was written by Willie Dixon and originally recorded by Howlin' Wolf in 1961. However, Megadeth's version is vastly different from the original.[17]

"My Last Words" is about a game of Russian roulette and the fear one goes through when playing the game.[19] David Ellefson revealed that the song was written before Megadeth released their debut album. Despite being one of the lesser known tracks on the record, music journalist Martin Popoff said that the song was an example of the band's "fast thrashers" and an evidence why Megadeth were dubbed as the "fearless speed progenitors".[5]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 3/5 stars[20]
Kerrang! 3/5 stars[21]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 3/5 stars[22]
Martin C. Strong 8/10[23]

Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? was well received by contemporary music critics.[24] Billboard's critic Fred Goodman facetiously remarked that the album is an "array of impressive tracks" that he does not recommend for "the weak-hearted".[25] Colin Larkin, writing in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, viewed the album as a vast improvement over their previous record, from both technical and musical aspects.[20] Kerrang! deemed Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? as the album that saw the inception of Megadeth's always-distinctive sound.[26]

Writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide, author Nathan Brackett said that Megadeth were representing "the dark and nasty side of American thrash" throughout the 1980s. However, he considered the album to be almost identical to the rest of their discography from this period.[27]


Professional ratings
Retrospective reviews
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 83/100[28]
Review scores
Source Rating 5/5 stars[29]
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[2]
Kerrang! 4/5 stars[28]
Pitchfork Media 8.7/10[30]
PopMatters 6/10[31]
Q 4/5 stars[32]
Record Collector 4/5 stars[33]
Spin 8/10[34]
Sputnikmusic 4.5/5[35]

In retrospect, Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? has been regarded as a milestone of the thrash metal movement.[36] Along with Metallica's Master of Puppets and Slayer's Reign in Blood, which were also released in 1986, Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? is considered pivotal in giving prominence to extreme metal.[32] Allmusic's Steve Huey recognized the record as a notable achievement in the band's history, and called it a "classic of early thrash".[2] Similarly, Chad Bowar of said that the album captured Megadeth in their prime, and recommended it as a "mandatory" recording for the fans of this genre.[29] Sputnikmusic's Mike Stagno named the album a "bona-fide thrash metal masterpiece" and said it was the main reason why Megadeth became one of the leading acts of the thrash scene.[35] Joel McIver, writing in Record Collector, said that the album's main strength was its fluidity, with all songs moving in a continuous, steady stream. According to him, the album was "flip the bird" to the critics who were hostile to this type of music at the time.[33]

Pitchfork Media's Jess Harvell said that thanks to this album, Megadeth developed a strong cult following. He viewed the record as a resistance against the glam metal acts from the day, because bands like Megadeth were more appealing to the "dead-end kids".[30] Adrien Begrand of Popmatters praised the album for making strong impression both musically and visually. Although Begrand acknowledged that this wasn't Megadeth's most technically proficient album, he explained that the unique combination of "the extreme and the accessible" is why this album remained a fan-favorite.[31] Spin magazine's Mike Powell cited the record as an example of "glossy hardcore" with satanic lyricism.[34] Jeff Treppel from Decibel noted that the album exhibits a distinctive sound, which set Megadeth apart from their contemporaries: "Peace Sells was a leaner, nastier predator. Megadeth preferred to kill with speed and precision instead of size and power." According to him, the album influenced countless heavy metal bands that followed, from Arch Enemy to Dragonforce.[37]

In addition to being critically acclaimed, the album received numerous accolades since it was released. It has been featured in Robert Dimery's book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die,[38] as well as in Martin Popoff's edition of the Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time.[39] ranked it third on their list of "Essential Thrash Metal Albums", commenting that more than two decades after its release, the record holds a status as an undisputed classic.[40]


In 2003, Capitol Records re-released the album on DVD-Audio, with the original tracklist, in 96k/24-bit resolution for both surround and stereo mixes, and music videos for "Wake Up Dead" and "Peace Sells". On July 12, 2011, the band re-released the album in both a 2-Disc reissue and a special 5-Disc + 3-LP box set, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the album.[41] The re-release contains liner notes written by Mustaine and Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.[42] The 25th anniversary re-release sold just under 2000 units in its first week of release.[43]

The 25th Anniversary edition box set features five discs. Discs 1–3 all feature the original album, with disc 1 having the original mix (remastered version from 2011), disc 2 featuring the 2004 remix, and disc 3 featuring the Randy Burns mixes (several examples of which appear as bonus tracks on the album's 2004 release). Disc 4 features the same 1987 show available on the 2-disc set. Disc five contains both the original album (again, remastered version from 2011), and the above listed 1987 show in hi-resolution audio.[44] The 25th anniversary 2 CD edition features the original album on disc one and a previously unreleased 1987 concert on disc two.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Dave Mustaine, except "I Ain't Superstitious" by Willie Dixon.[45]

No. Title Length
1. "Wake Up Dead"   3:40
2. "The Conjuring"   5:04
3. "Peace Sells"   4:04
4. "Devils Island"   5:05
5. "Good Mourning/Black Friday"   6:41
6. "Bad Omen"   4:05
7. "I Ain't Superstitious"   2:46
8. "My Last Words"   4:57
Total length:


Production and performance credits are adapted from the album liner notes.[45]

2004 remix and remaster
  • Dave Mustaine – production, mixing
  • Ralph Patlan – engineering, mixing
  • Lance Dean – engineering, editing
  • Scott "Sarge" Harrison – editing
  • Tom Baker – mastering


Chart (1986) Peak
Japanese Albums Chart[46] 182
US Billboard 200[47] 76


Region Certification Sales/shipments
Canada (Music Canada)[48] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[49] Silver 60,000^
United States (RIAA)[50] Platinum 1,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


Except where otherwise cited, all listed accolades attributed to Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? are adapted from Acclaimed[38]

Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Exposure Canada 50 Greatest Albums not to make the Greatest Albums lists 2005 30
Martin Popoff Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of all Time[39] 2004 31 United States Best Thrash Metal Albums[40] 2012 3
Best Heavy Metal Albums Of 1986[51] 2012 3
Robert Dimery 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die 2006 *
Classic Rock & Metal Hammer United Kingdom The 200 Greatest Albums of the 80s 2006 *
Classic Rock The 100 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time 2001 86
Kerrang! Albums of the Year 1986 6
The 100 Greatest Rock Albums 2006 67
Terrorizer The 100 Most Important Albums of the 80s 2000 *
Rock Hard Germany Top 300 Albums 2001 22


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External links[edit]