Megadeth is one of the greatest heavy metal bands, part of The Big Four of Thrash, and a vehicle for Dave Mustaine. The band has defied the odds. They’ve remained active and relevant in the metal community for decades. Many of their albums are ranked as classics of the genre.
But few would’ve expected this to happen back when the band was started. Megadeth was, initially, merely a way for Mustaine to exert retribution on his former Metallica band members that had ousted him unceremoniously.
And while comparisons between Metallica and Megadeth remain an inescapable curse for Mustaine, he’s done well for himself. He’s earned commercial success, critical recognition, as well vocal detractors of the guitarist’s outspokenness.
What are the best and the worst Megadeth albums?
“Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?” is, in my opinion, the greatest Megadeth album release. It does, however, face stiff competition at the top. By my estimates, the worst Megadeth album is 2001’s “The World Needs a Hero.” Am I off my rocker? Read more to see how I defend my choices.
I’ve always enjoyed Megadeth better than most metal bands. I have a particular fondness for their early 90s releases. With this in mind, I’m running through the band’s extensive discography, digging up my Vic Rattlehead t-shirt, and ranking Megadeth’s albums from worst to best.
Megadeth Albums Ranked
17. “The World Needs a Hero” (2001)
By the new millennium, Dave Mustaine was looking to regroup after the failure of “Risk.” However, 2001’s “The World Needs a Hero” isn’t quite a return to form just yet.
Megadeth had folded before after a failure. To their credit, they’ve always got up just before the ref had time to count to 10.
On “The World Needs a Hero,” Mustaine is again forced to change the line-up and record label. Jimmy DeGrasso joins on drums and Al Pitrelli on guitar. Sanctuary Records, not Capitol, release the new Megadeth album.
Mustaine makes only one promise. Megadeth was going back to its thrash metal roots. He doesn’t quite keep that promise. This is still a pop-metal hybrid. The songs, however, are even less imaginative than in the previous two efforts.
“Moto Psycho” and “Dread and the Fugitive Mind” might be called highlights. However, “The World Needs a Hero” isn’t a well-remembered record. And the album’s title, a crack on Guns n’ Roses’ Axl Rose, has aged about as well as the music.
It’s doubtful that you own a copy of “The World Needs a Hero.” Don’t worry. Your favorite Megadeth albums ranked highly on the list.
16. “Rude Awakening” (2002)
“Rude Awakening” is a small step in the right direction for Megadeth. But it also meant that Megadeth was now in the business of releasing clone versions of their older material.
This is, however, a commercial necessity. This live record allows the band to go to the hits and compete with Capitol Records’ Greatest Hits compilation.
There’s even artwork designed by the legendary Storm Thorgerson, the man behind the famous Pink Floyd album sleeves. But few artists were living up to their potential. It looks terrible.
Megadeth stood to lose a lot if they didn’t start making this kind of music. The band was still a live draw. Their previous modern pop-rock records had failed commercially.
The performances aren’t exactly great, though. It’s a shame. At their best, Megadeth has been a terrific live band.
15. “Cryptic Writings” (1997)
“Cryptic Writings” further entertains the idea of Megadeth as a metal and pop hybrid. The results aren’t compelling this time.
This is not because of the sound itself. They’re more than competent players. And Marty Friedman proves he has musical chops that extend far beyond heavy metal.
But as far as pop songs go, most here are not very memorable.
There are exceptions, however. “Almost Honest” and “Use the Man” are entertaining, and “Trust” is one of the best songs recorded by Megadeth during the 1990s. However, in attempting to run the same race as some of the trendier rock bands, Megadeth’s musicians were doing themselves a disservice.
14. “Risk” (1999)
It’s unfair to call Megadeth sellouts for making “Risk.” However, it’s also hard to praise its merits.
Dave Mustaine had always kept an eye on the competition. By the late 1990s, Metallica and alternative-rock bands had achieved chart success with poppier, less aggressive material.
Megadeth had achieved similar results on “Tout Le Monde.” On “Risk,” as the name suggests, they jump further into the pop-rock world.
But they don’t venture headfirst. Regardless of its reputation, “Risk” is not a straight-ahead pop album. For example, the single “Crush ‘Em” is an attempt at industrial metal. “Prince of Darkness” sounds like a softened version of “Peace Sells.”
Conservative rock songs like “Breadline” and “I’ll Be There” are not terrible. Just not very distinctive.
Megadeth’s audience turned on the band because of what “Risk” represented. No, it wasn’t a great record, but not a poor one either. Yes, Mustaine had looked to gain rock radio’s acceptance, but many of his contemporaries were trying the same.
13. “Super Collider” (2013)
“Super Collider” presents Dave Mustaine as distrustful of the world as ever. And while the band delivers a familiar sound, for the most part, the songs miss are a bit too predictable.
There are exceptions, sure. “Kingmaker” and the title track are alright singles.
“The Blackest Crow” might be one of the most ridiculously titled Megadeth songs, but the dark blues seems to fit Mustaine’s vocals. And the band’s cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Cold Sweat” is a nice way to close out the “Super Collider” album.
12. “So Far, So Good… So What!” (1988)
The big thrash bands have always exuded aggressive confidence. None of them was as angry as Mustaine’s Megadeth. However, “So Far, So Good…So What!” doesn’t deliver in terms of songwriting.
Megadeth had established their sound with “Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?” Just as importantly, their lyrics and Dave Mustaine’s nasal vocals made them distinctive from other metal bands.
On “So Far, So Good…So What!” the singer-guitarist returns to the ideas he approached in “Peace Sells.” The results are just not as good. “Set The World Afire,” “Hook in Mouth”, and their cover of Sex Pistols‘ “Anarchy in the U.K.” allow Mustaine to pick a fight with authority figures.
But apart from “The Conjuring,” the songs are just not as good.
Part of the reason for this can be explained by what Mustaine calls in “502”, the love of “breaking laws ’cause there’s nothing to do.”
11. “Th1rt3en” (2011)
Dave Mustaine had realized that few bands could do what Megadeth had done. On “Th1rt3en”, he opts to take advantage of this alongside a lineup that includes the return of Dave Ellefson.
Governments and corporations are, again, the subject of Mustaine’s angry lyrics. And the musical approach echoes the past just as much.
“Public Enemy No. 1” and “We The People” sound like tracks written during Megadeth’s 1980s run. Other highlights include “Sudden Death” and “Never Dead”, which tread similar territory.
Megadeth’s group members are as technically proficient as they have ever been. And since “The System Has Failed,” Mustaine has made sure not to stray too far from the things that had made him successful to begin with.
10. “Endgame” (2009)
There aren’t a lot of musical surprises on “Endgame.” But maybe that’s the point. Megadeth was being consistent where their frequent rivals hadn’t.
For the most part, “Endgame” is a tribute to the thrash-metal guitar parts but avoids becoming a riff salad. Mustaine drafts another fine lead player in Nevermore’s Chris Broderick.
The instrumental parts are highly technical, and the songs are nasty and angry. “Head Crusher” is an obvious highlight. The Tolkien-inspired “Today we Fight!” is silly but works. And it’s unbelievable that Mustaine just got to pen “The Write to Go Insane” in 2009.
9. “Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good!” (1985)
If there’s one thing that Dave Mustaine has never lacked, it’s drive. “Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good!” finds him creating the template for Megadeth’s entire career.
The band’s sound can be defined straightforwardly: It’s meant to be faster, angrier and more technically precise than Metallica.
Mustaine’s former band had been known for its extreme approach to playing metal. In these respects, Megadeth, which in 1985 includes Chris Poland, Gar Samuelson and David Ellefson, succeeds in out-pacing James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich.
The songwriting isn’t yet up to par with the band’s ambition. “Mechanix” allows Mustaine to take one of his songs back from Metallica. “Last Rites/Loved to Death” zooms in on the band’s love for complex playing, and their cover of “These Boots Are Made for Walking” is hilarious.
8. “United Abominations” (2007)
“United Abominations” finds Mustaine and Megadeth more than confident that they’ve been in a long time. The results, for the most part, do enough to please old fans.
“Washington Is Next!” and “Amerikhastan” find Dave delivering complaints about the sort of world news you’d expect to upset him.
And the line-up, consisting now of James LoMenzo and Glen and Shawn Drover, do a very good job of recreating classic thrash metal for the modern era.
There’s also a duet between Mustaine and Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia on the radio-bait re-recording of “Tout Le Monde.”
However, overall “United Abominations” is a good record and a sound that metal fans didn’t think they’d get to hear again.
7. “Dystopia” (2016)
Dave Mustaine stopped taking musical chances some time ago. But what he lacks in originality, he makes up in refining the band’s modern-thrash sound.
There’s another change in the band’s line-up. But this doesn’t affect Megadeth’s direction other than injecting a bit more enthusiasm into the music.
Chris Adler, drummer for Lamb of God, and Kiko Loureiro, guitarist for Angra, sound more than capable of playing in the style of the 1980s thrash version of Megadeth.
The song collection is also better than in recent years. Mustaine’s lyrics are as enraged as ever. But there’s a more significant twist of paranoia this time around.
“The Threat is Real,” “Post American World,” and “Dystopia” are good songs and paint a stark picture of the world in which Mustaine believes he is living.
6. “The Sick, the Dying…and the Dead” (2022)
Megadeth returned after a six-year break with a good collection of songs. Anew, the band focuses on its strengths, leaving any extraneous experimentation aside.
This doesn’t mean that longtime fans will be disappointed. Mustaine’s genuine anger makes lyrics to songs like “Dogs of Chernobyl,” “Celebutante,” and “Psychopathy” entertaining. The man’s miserly nature has never been clearer.
But even by Megadeth’s standards, a lot had happened since the release of “Dystopia.” Mustaine had overcome another serious medical issue. He had publically identified himself as a Christian. And he had fired long-time sideman Dave Ellefson following the bassist’s sex scandal.
Loureiro’s technical guitar playing greatly boosts songs like “The Sick, the Dying…and the Dead” and “Night Stalkers.” The latter features a somewhat bizarre verse courtesy of rapper Ice-T.
And overall, the band sounds better than they have in years. It’s not a comeback story. Megadeth hasn’t strayed from its original thrash-metal sound for nearly 20 years. It’s been a wise decision. All these albums have been Top 20 hits.
5. “Youthanasia” (1994)
“Youthanasia” is the closest Megadeth’s group members get to being genuine pop stars. And they’re enjoying it, despite the metal community’s outcry.
There exists an old myth about Metallica and Megadeth. It argues that the former achieved global success while the other band remained bitter about not doing the same. This is not quite true.
Megadeth had sold millions of copies of their last two albums. And “Youthanasia” was platinum-certified as well. Mustaine’s bitterness wasn’t justified by the lack of success.
Their presence on radio and MTV was only amplified by the brooding power ballad, “A Tout Le Monde.” “Train of Consequences” was also a moderate hit.
For the most part, making their music more accessible works for Megadeth, such as on “Elysian Fields” and “Reckoning Day.”
But using the same format in the future would prove a dead end. However, in 1994, Megadeth reached the zenith of their popularity, becoming an arena-selling heavy-metal band.
4. “Countdown to Extinction” (1992)
“Countdown to Extinction” is the first time Megadeth is no longer the underdog and the premier moment it lives up to the pressure of expectation.
Predictably, Metallica’s rise to the top of the charts had not gone unnoticed. “Countdown to Extinction” doesn’t quiet Megadeth’s thrash sound as much as Metallica had done on “The Black Album.” However, the songs are designed to be potential singles.
“Sweating Bullets” and “Skin O’ My Teeth” allow Mustaine to sermonize on the dangers of substance abuse.
“Countdown to Extinction” is a more straightforward metal record. It helped Megadeth’s profile rise even higher. And, sensing an opportunity, Mustaine would take a similar approach for future releases.
3. “The System Has Failed” (2004)
Personal drama has always fueled Dave Mustaine’s music. “The System Has Failed” is a return to form.
It was a project that seemed unlikely from the start. Famously, Dave Mustaine had sustained an injury on his arm. This threatened his guitar-playing ability.
In fact, for “The System Has Failed,” Mustaine is forced to relearn the intricate guitar techniques that had made him famous. But it’s hard to tell just by listening to it.
“Blackmail the Universe” and “Die Dead Enough” ring out with a renewed sense of purpose for Megadeth.
“The System Has Failed” helped the band return from a tremendous slump. Mustaine had made yet another comeback, and few could deny the man’s persistence.
2. “Rust in Peace” (1990)
“Rust in Peace” is a superb return to form by a band written off only two years prior. It pairs the band’s technically proficient playing with some of their best songs.
Many expected Megadeth to implode after “So far, So good.” It was a poor album. And it vividly revealed the individual band’s members’ issues, especially those related to chemical dependency.
On “Rust in Peace,” Mustaine makes the first of many line-up changes. Drummer Nick Menza’s reliability is added to the fold, as well as the experience of former Cacophony virtuoso the great Marty Friedman.
As for Mustaine … well, he’s letting his short temper guide him toward writing good songs once more. Megadeth’s popularity had increased.
Drug issues had prevented them from sharing a stage with the likes of Guns n’ Roses, Iron Maiden or Kiss at Donnington’s Monster of Rock. But it had helped light a fire under Mustaine.
“Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” and “Hangar 18” are mini speed metal symphonies and two of Megadeth’s best songs.
“Lucretia” and “Tornado of Souls” balance Friedman’s technical proficiency and Mustaine’s growing songwriting skills.
Overall, “Rust in Peace” is a great record and one of many Megadeth comebacks.
1. “Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?” (1986)
Contrary to popular belief, a few great things have been born out of the need for revenge. The Magna Carta, the fall of the Berlin Wall and “Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?”
Dave Mustaine had dubbed the music his new was playing “speed metal.” It’s an apt description. And it does the trick of separating his band from rivals like Metallica and Anthrax.
Megadeth is at its most energy-fueled, angry and cynical here. But “Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?” needed to be great. It was released the same year as “Master of Puppets” and Slayer’s “Reign in Blood.”
Energy aside, the songwriting is far better here. Songs like “Wake Up Dead” or “The Conjuring” are quick, direct, and well-structured.
Meanwhile, with “Peace Sells,” Megadeth has its first classic single. Mustaine’s snotty vocal approach is turned into one of the band’s trademarks. And, in an era of flashy guitar virtuosos, Chris Poland delivers a beautifully chaotic jazz-metal solo.