Daniel Humbarger, Sacramento bureau chief
Growing up, I owned one (as in singular) Megadeth album: Countdown to Extinction. I had every Metallica record up to the self-titled black album (except Garage Inc., which was nearly impossible to find at the time). After that, the band began to suck for a while and I tuned out (however, Death Magnetic won me back about 15 years later). Plus, I lived in the Seattle area in the ‘90s and grunge was in the full-fledged stages of decapitating everything in rock music that had preceded it (aside from Neil Young, of course). I mention this so that you, the reader, will enter into the fray fully aware of any potential bias I may have in pitting these two epic concoctions of maniacal metal against one another.
Which is why it may come as a surprise when I ultimately declare “Hangar 18” the winner. Oh, whoops…spoiler alert.
Firstly, I feel it appropriate at this time to validate myself after admitting that I only owned one Megadeth album. I missed the boat on their earlier stuff and my bias toward Metallica might have contributed to my careless and dismissive stance toward Dave Mustaine, a former member of Metallica. I was young and didn’t know any better.
But, it’s not like I was an early fan of Metallica, either. I didn’t “get into” Metallica until one of my preschool girlfriends (who I had not seen in years, but was now substantially hotter and gave me one of my earliest cases of the tinglies) played the cassette single of “One” (the full album, And Justice for All, wasn’t out yet). Right before that moment, I played her my cassette single of “Banned in the USA” by the 2 Live Crew. Luckily, my musical tastes were changed forever, along with my taste in chicks.
I’m not saying that if it were not for “One” I would’ve never listened to metal, but I can definitively state that “One” is where it began. Before that, I had been a fan of hard rock, hair metal, AC/DC and other such outfits but, I hadn’t dabbled extensively in “heavy metal.” Also, at the time, I was more interested in Eazy-E, NWA, Too Short… you can see where this is going. But, that changed when I bought And Justice for All after it finally made its way onto shelves… and I rocked out to it steadily. I made bootlegged cassette recordings of Ride the Lightning, Kill ‘Em All, and Master of Puppets. A few years later ushered in the era of “Enter Sandman” and Metallica, of course, would go on to become an insanely huge favorite of rock fans everywhere.
Megadeth? Not so much. They caught the attention of metal fans, naturally, but their commercial success was vastly inferior to the James-and-Lars-led four-man mega band. Thus, Megadeth, it could be said, has always been left to flounder in the shadow of Metallica as an underrated, redheaded-stepchild-type of entity.
Maybe that’s fair and maybe it isn’t. Either way, Megadeth produced some face-melting, ass-kicking tracks. “Hangar 18” is but one of them.
Now, I could provide some objective criteria-based framework for comparing the two tracks. Maybe I could create categories such as “melody” or “transitions” or “lyrical content” or “shredability.” But, it’s much simpler than all that. All I did to reach my conclusion was listen to both tracks back-to-back while I was as high as I’ve ever been on a marijuana edible.
It was late. I was lying in my bed. Headphones cranked.
High. As. Fuck.
“Let’s do this, ‘Hangar 18,’” I said out loud to nobody other than myself.
The song exploded through the ear buds and into my brain, like a bad motherfucker who enters rooms by kicking in doors.
The lyrics were possibly more relevant than ever. Themes of government conspiracies and cover-ups, and “computer banks to rule the world” permeate the track in between ridiculous riffs and unexpected transitions. One line in particular hit especially hard: “Military intelligence — two words combined that can’t make sense.”
Overall, the track excels at capturing the frantic sense of inescapability that one who has seen things the government didn’t mean for them to see would surely experience.
But, the thing that really got me was the sheer magnitude of brain-melting guitar work and musical composition. The song goes from a steady diet of hard, yet melodic rhythms, which provide a platform for Mustaine’s political points, to a white-knuckle, driving force majeure of guitar solos that barely allows you to breathe, and it does it in the blink of an eye. Simply put, it’s the musical equivalent of riding a land-rocket across a dried out lakebed. Hold onto your fucking hat.
Then, it was time for “One” to put up or shut up.
The distant sounds of machine gun fire and men shouting instantly reminded me this track isn’t going to be a Sunday stroll. Next, the familiar, melodic strums of the opening guitar notes washed over my eardrums and shortly after, James Hetfield began singing about life from the point of view of a severely wounded soldier.
Early on, this song has a misleading, sleepy underlying melody to it, interrupted periodically by heavy and distorted guitar notes, which foreshadow what’s to come.
The second half of the track is where the good stuff resides. And by “good stuff,” I mean unfiltered, angry, booming, in-your-face heavy metal.
As the song begins to take on a more menacing tone, Lars Ulrich shanks you with unreal double bass pedal bad-assery. I use the word unreal, because it sounds fucking awesome, and also because apparently while recording in the studio, Lars couldn’t reproduce such rapid beats and had to loop the drum track over itself in order to create and/or sustain the pace of the machine-gun-fast bass strikes.
Basically, he cheated, but it sounds super fucking cool, so who cares?
I do. But, only a little. It’s still the shizznit. Moving on.
This is the part of the song where the lyrics really get to the heart of the matter; war is hell and being trapped inside a prison that used to be your functioning body is infinitely worse. I imagined what that must be like. You wouldn’t know if you were sleeping or awake.
Alive or dead.
Recovering or dying.
Fuck that noise, yo.
The twilight portion of the track allows Kirk Hammett to do his thing with the guitar solo, which is awesome, but missing some of the technicality and shredness that is on full display in “Hangar 18.”
“One” is a journey definitely worth taking. It lulls you into complacency and then picks you up by the scruff of the neck and drop kicks you in the balls.
Conclusion: As an old favorite, I’d be hard pressed to declare that if I were forced to give up listening to one of these two tracks for the rest of my life I’d choose to excise “One” over “Hangar 18.”
Because I’m not in that situation, however, I have the luxury of comparing the two tracks and picking a “winner” based on almost nothing more than whimsy.
However, what helped me make the decision was the fact that while listening to “Hangar 18,” one of my ear buds fell out and I realized that I was lying down and playing air guitar so hard that my entire bed was creaking. My first thought was my roommates probably think I’m in here masturbating furiously. My second thought was, “I’d rather they think I’m in here jerking off like a mad man than know I’m in here playing air guitar so hard my entire fucking bed is shaking.” (Some forms of shame run deeper than others).
That didn’t happen during “One.”
Winner: “Hangar 18”