Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?(Capitol - 1986)
Their second release and still with the original lineup. If you compare them to Metallica, Megadeth always focused more on precision, technical riffing and composition rather than on energy and emotion. But of course they both had all these elements present in their music. Here we have an angry album packed with riffs and thrash, the sound a lot more unpolished than their later releases, but still trying very hard to be precise and interesting. The guitar playing is superb in the rhythm department, good but not virtuoso during the solos, and weak in the couple of acoustic sections. Mustaine sings here in his inimitable style, a strained, slightly throaty and youthful yell. The speed and power of the music changes often as does the composition. Overall, this is a good album but with varying brilliant and lackluster moments.
Rust in Peace(Capitol - 1990)
A third lineup change and a very successful one at that. Nick Menza joins them on drums, contributing some energetic and interesting percussion. And Marty Friedman takes his place with some powerful and virtuous guitar playing. The music is much fuller this time and more developed, as well as being angrier. The riffing is again precise, speedy and technical and changes very often. Top marks for the work put into the composition, the only question is whether you prefer dynamic, technical power or the sweep-you-off-your-feet, emotional power demonstrated by their peers: Metallica. The bass is usually audible and played well and Mustaine's slightly high and strained yells haven't changed much. The undeniable strong points here are the guitars, very dynamic and full, the solos now extremely good thanks to Friedman. Considered by most to be their best and undeniably their best speed metal release.
Countdown to Extinction(Capitol - 1992)
An explosion of drums, heavy and gritty guitars follow, and this album locks onto a surprisingly different groove and warm, mature sound unheard of until now from Megadeth. A shocking change with commercial, melodic and softer tinges that turned off the hardcore fans but earned them plenty of new ones. It is my opinion however, that with this release they finally found something they truly excel in, and for once, going softer actually has improved a metal band. The much enhanced production had a lot to do with the sound as well, lending warmth and richness to the songs. Plenty of melody this time around, tight compositions, groove, and again, lots of dynamics and variety. The album is all heavy and immensely enjoyable ear candy. No fast and furious riffs this time, only weight and crunch with lots of starts and stops. Mustaine's vocals are now throatier and have a much warmer sound with a rumbling quality. The guitar playing is superb, with more of Friedman's beautiful solos and precise riffing, as is the drumming and everything about this release. Extremely recommended.
Youthanasia(Capitol - 1994)
Here they continued with the newly discovered sound from the previous album and even improved on it. More hard work was put into the composition to keep it tight, interesting and catchy. Slightly more melody and richness, superb interplay by all the instruments and vocals and plenty of ultimately enjoyable tracks. The vocals may have gotten a tad deeper, the drumming - more powerful and talented. All in all, the changes are slight since the previous release, but this is even more solid and mature and therefore even more recommended perhaps. It is purely a matter of subjective preference and I myself have a hard time deciding sometimes, but this one is tighter with less variety and dynamics. These albums are probably the best commercial metal ever played and a joy to the senses.
Cryptic Writings(Capitol - 1997)
Megadeth is one band that in my opinion gets better with every album and their softer sound is actually an improvement (as opposed to another band we know *ahem*). I know there are thousands of people right now that would lynch me for that statement while declaring that Rust in Peace is obviously their best. To these people I say: Oh grow up. Heavier isn't always better and Megadeth have a perfect sound at the moment that is a joy to the ears. Melodic, tight, catchy and simply great music - all the songs are winners. The approach to songwriting has changed slightly here, easing up on the constant heavy guitars somewhat and letting the melody and other elements through more. So while this is a softer album, the songs vary and some are almost throwbacks to their earlier speed metal era (e.g. The Disintregators and She-Wolf). In general however, this is much more melodic with increased use of acoustic guitar, harmonic vocals and guitars, and new sounds and experimentation (e.g. a harmonica on one track). Everything fits in perfectly though. Again, only slight changes here and it is hard to choose which of the last three albums are the best, but I must say I am happy they are making changes so as to avoid being repetitive, even if it means getting softer. They are also showing that you don't have to cut your hair, wear makeup and write boring music in order to turn radio-friendly. All you rabid anti-commercial fanatics can kiss my ass.