Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?

Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? is the second studio album by American heavy metal band Megadeth, released on September 19, 1986, through Capitol Records. The project was originally handled by Combat Records, resulting in the original mix of the album being co-produced by Randy Burns. Capitol Records then bought the rights to the album and hired another producer named Paul Lani to mix it himself. The recording of the album was difficult for the band, because of the ongoing drug issues the members had at the time. Drummer Gar Samuelson and guitarist Chris Poland were fired shortly after the album's promotional tour for drug abuse, making it the last Megadeth album for Samuelson before his death and the last for Poland until he reappeared as a session musician on The System Has Failed. The title track, noted for its politically conscious lyrics, was released as the album's lead single. The album's cover art, featuring the band's mascot Vic Rattlehead in front of a desolated United Nations Headquarters, was created by Ed Repka.

Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?
Megadeth - Peace Sells... But Who's Buying-.jpg
Cover art by Ed Repka
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 19, 1986 (1986-09-19)
RecordedFebruary–March 1986
GenreThrash metal[1][2]
Megadeth chronology
Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good!
Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?
So Far, So Good... So What!
Singles from Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?
  1. "Peace Sells"
    Released: November 1986
  2. "Wake Up Dead"
    Released: December 1987 (UK)

Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? is often regarded as a thrash metal classic and as an album that gave prominence to extreme metal. It has been featured in several publications' best album lists, including Robert Dimery's 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die and Martin Popoff's Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time. The album has been reissued several times over the years. 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 with the exception of the 2004 mixes feature new remastering.

Background and recordingEdit

In an interview for Metal Forces in December 1985, frontman Dave Mustaine revealed that the band had already started writing new material for the second album. He said that two songs ("Black Friday" and "Bad Omen") were finished and described them as a "total blur", being much faster than "Rattlehead" from their debut album, Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good![3] Speaking about the lyrical content of Peace Sells..., 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 unaware of the political situation at the time, and that some of his political beliefs were reflected in the songs.[4] Professional rock critic Steve Huey noted the album's combination of "punkish political awareness with a dark, threatening, typically heavy metal worldview".[5]

During the first two months of 1986, Megadeth commenced a brief tour of the East Coast of the United States. At the shows, which were practically a continuation of the Killing for a Living tour, the band performed a number of songs from its upcoming album.[6] Following the conclusion of the tour, the band intended to start making the record at the Music Grinder studio on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Mustaine lifted the title from an article in Reader's Digest, which was titled "Peace Would Sell But No One Would Buy It".[7] Their label at the time, Combat Records, provided a recording budget of $25,000, which allowed the band to hire a freelance producer, Randy Burns.[8] The recording of the album turned out to be very difficult for the band, because Mustaine and Ellefson were both homeless at the time.[9] Furthermore, guitarist Chris Poland and drummer Gar Samuelson would not show up for hours because of their heroin addiction. Shortly after the band finished the final recordings of the album for Combat, they were approached by Tim Carr, an A&R representative of Capitol Records.[8] After securing a contract with the group, Capitol hired producer Paul Lani to remix the original mixes done by Randy Burns, the previous producer.[10]


Tracks 1–4Edit

"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.[11] Mustaine said that "Wake Up Dead" was written about him cheating on a girl with whom he was living. He 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 on her. He had to leave her because he thought she had intentions to kill him.[12] "The Conjuring", according to author Bob Larson, simulates a Satanic ceremony,[13] and makes references about being the devil's advocate and his salesman.[14] Mustaine explained the song is about black magic and contains instructions for hexes.[15] However, because the subject matter appears incompatible to his conversion to Christianity, the song had not been played live since 2001,[16] until June 12, 2018, when Megadeth performed "The Conjuring" live for the first time in 17 years at the Home Monitoring Aréna in Plzeň, Czech Republic.[17]

"Peace Sells" reflects Mustaine's political and social beliefs.[20] The lyrics are a disapproval of the American way and convey Mustaine's wish for a new social structure.[21] Ellefson has stated that during the tour prior to recording the album, the band could tell then that the song was going to be a hit.[8] The video for the title track became an MTV mainstay and the opening bass line was used as introduction to MTV News.[22] However, Mustaine proclaimed that they received no royalties because the song was excluded shortly before MTV would have to pay them for its use.[23] "Devils Island" is a reference to a former French penal colony off the coast of French Guiana. The lyrics detail the thoughts of a condemned prisoner awaiting execution. He is spared by God, but must spend the rest of his life on the island.[24]

Tracks 5–8Edit

"Good Mourning/Black Friday" is a two-piece song, which begins with an instrumental section called "Good Mourning".[25] Lyrically, Mustaine has described "Black Friday" as being about "a homicidal madman who goes on a killing spree".[15] With an excessive use of gory language and violent imagery, the song chronicles the acts of a serial killer.[26] 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.[27]

"Bad Omen" explores the theme of occultism.[28] 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".[29] Asked whether the band members really believe in the subject matters they write, Mustaine responded: "We're aware of the subjects we write about—witchcraft, Satanic sacrifices and the like—but we're not condoning them."[13] "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.[28] "My Last Words" is about a game of Russian roulette and the fear one goes through when playing the game.[30] 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".[31] Lars Ulrich, founding member of Metallica and former bandmate of Mustaine, has stated that "My Last Words" is his favorite Megadeth song.[32]

Release and promotionEdit

Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? was released on September 19, 1986. The album's artwork was designed by Ed Repka, who would go on to do several other pieces of artwork for the band.[33] The cover art depicts the band's mascot, Vic Rattlehead, in front of a ruined United Nations Headquarters. He is portrayed as a real estate agent, who is selling the devastated remains of the organization's headquarters.[34] Repka considers the art cover to be a "significant milestone" in his career.[35]

The title track was released as a single, for which the band filmed its first video.[36] In 1987, a video was made for the second single, "Wake Up Dead", which exposed the band performing in a steel cage.[37] Soon after the album's release, Megadeth began a tour as a supporting band for Motörhead. The tour took place in California and the southwestern parts of the United States. However, due to disagreements between the managements of the two bands, Megadeth were pulled from the last three shows.[38] Following the short stint with Motörhead, Megadeth were added as the opening act on Alice Cooper's Constrictor tour, which took place at the beginning of 1987.[39] Later in 1987, after the conclusion of the album's promotional tour, Mustaine fired Poland and Samuelson due to their substance abuse issues.[40]

Critical receptionEdit

Contemporary reviewsEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
Encyclopedia of Popular Music     [40]
Kerrang!     [41]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [42]
Martin C. Strong8/10[43]

Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? was well received by contemporary music critics.[44] 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".[45] 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 aspect.[40] Kerrang! deemed Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? as the album that saw the inception of Megadeth's always-distinctive sound.[46] 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.[47]


Professional ratings
Retrospective reviews
Aggregate scores
Review scores
SourceRating     [49]
AllMusic     [5]
Kerrang!     [48]
Pitchfork Media8.7/10[50]
Q     [52]
Record Collector     [53]

In retrospect, Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? has been regarded as a milestone of the American thrash metal movement.[56] 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.[52] AllMusic's Steve Huey recognized the record as a notable achievement in the band's history, and called it a "classic of early thrash".[5] 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.[49] Sputnikmusic's Mike Stagno named the album a "bona-fide masterpiece" and said it was the main reason why Megadeth became one of the leading acts of the underground scene.[55] 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.[53]

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".[50] Adrien Begrand of PopMatters praised the album for making strong impression both musically and visually. Although Begrand acknowledged that this was not 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.[51] Spin magazine's Mike Powell cited the record as an example of "glossy hardcore" with Satanic lyricism.[54] 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.[57]

In addition to being critically acclaimed, the album received numerous accolades since its release. It has been featured in Robert Dimery's book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die,[58] as well as in Martin Popoff's edition of the Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time.[59] 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.[60] In 2017, it was ranked 8th on Rolling Stone's list of "100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time".[61]


In 2003, Capitol Records re-released the album on DVD-Audio, with the original track list, in 96k/24-bit resolution for both surround and stereo mixes, and music videos for "Wake Up Dead" and "Peace Sells". The album was remixed and remastered in 2004 along with the rest of the band's Capitol Records albums. This reissue featured four alternate mixes of the album's songs as bonus tracks.[62]

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.[63] The reissue features liner notes written by Mustaine and Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.[64] The 25th anniversary re-release sold approximately 2,000 units in its first week of release.[65]

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.[66] The 25th anniversary 2 CD edition features the original album on disc one and a previously unreleased 1987 concert on disc two.

Track listingEdit

All songs written and composed by Dave Mustaine, except "I Ain't Superstitious" by Willie Dixon.[67]

Side one
1."Wake Up Dead"3:40
2."The Conjuring"5:04
3."Peace Sells"4:04
4."Devils Island"5:05
Side two
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:36:12
2004 remixed/remastered edition bonus tracks[67]
9."Wake Up Dead" (Randy Burns mix)3:40
10."The Conjuring" (Randy Burns mix)5:01
11."Peace Sells" (Randy Burns mix)4:00
12."Good Mourning/Black Friday" (Randy Burns mix)6:39
Total length:55:32
25th Anniversary 2-CD reissue: Disc two (Live at Phantasy Theater, Cleveland 1987)
2."Wake Up Dead"3:38
3."The Conjuring"5:21
4."Bad Omen"3:49
6."Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good"3:14
7."Looking Down the Cross"4:29
8."My Last Words"4:42
9."Peace Sells"4:27
10."These Boots Were Made for Walkin'" (Lee Hazlewood)4:07
11."Devil's Island"5:18
12."Last Rites/Loved to Deth"5:19
Total length:54:55


Production and performance credits are adapted from the album liner notes.[67]



  • Edward J. Repka – cover illustration and album design
  • Dave Mustaine, Andy Somers – cover concept


  • Dave Mustaine – production
  • Randy Burns – production, engineering
  • Casey McMackin – engineering
  • Paul Lani – mixing
  • Stan Katayama – mixing

2004 remix and remaster

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

25th Anniversary 1987 Live

  • Produced by Dave Mustaine
  • Mixed by Ken Eisennagel and Dave Mustaine. Mar–Apr 2011
  • Assistant Engineering by Zachary Coleman
  • Recorded live at the Phantasy Theatre. Cleveland. OH, 6/3/87
  • Mastered by Evren Gknar, Capitol Mastering, Hollywood, CA. April 2011



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[71] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[72] Silver 60,000^
United States (RIAA)[73] Platinum 1,000,000^

^ 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 Music.[58]

Region Year Publication Accolade Rank
Canada 2004 Martin Popoff Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of all Time[59] 31
2005 Exposure 50 Greatest Albums not to make the Greatest Albums lists 30
Germany 2001 Rock Hard Top 300 Albums 22
United States 2006 Robert Dimery 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die *
2012 Best Thrash Metal Albums[60] 3
2012 Best Heavy Metal Albums Of 1986[74] 3
2014 Revolver 14 Thrash Albums You Need to Own[75] *
United Kingdom 1986 Kerrang! Albums of the Year 6
2000 Terrorizer The 100 Most Important Albums of the 80s *
2001 Classic Rock The 100 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time 86
2006 Classic Rock & Metal Hammer The 200 Greatest Albums of the 80s *
2006 Kerrang! The 100 Greatest Rock Albums 67


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External linksEdit