Is there some Secret Society of Highly Skilled Metal Musicians somewhere with the express purpose of joining Megadeth? I understand the band's a huge draw with a strong discography behind it, but it just seems like there's this endless carousel spinning around where Dave can summon up the most qualified candidates. This time it's Belgian dynamo Dirk Verbeuren joining on the drums, and though something like this thrash band must seem like a cakewalk for his capabilities, he's yet another guarantee, along with Kiko Loureiro, that Mustaine wants the very best for his recordings and for his fans. Oh yeah, toss in Steve DiGiorgio on bass for this album just for safety's sake, and you know it's all in good hands.
Now, none of these guys are exactly busting the seams on their individual instrumental prowess here, but instead playing to the level of the material, and that's once again competent and wholly aware of the past strengths that got them this far. Like Dystopia before it, The Sick, the Dying... and the Dead! feels like it treads on a sideways path from a Rust in Peace or Countdown to Extinction, not exactly surpassing those recording in songwriting quality, but doing some justice to the speed and finesse the band possessed when breaking those new grounds 30+ years ago. There are riffs flying all over the place, a lot of them (as in "Night Stralkers" or "Killing Time") feeling just a whiff familiar, but putting their own permutations on the pre-existing patterns, spinning them off into a few new melodic hooks here, a decent lead there, and just enough memorable writing to compel a fan to repeated listens without any stinkers to sift through.
Like Dystopia, it's very consistent, with a good degree of variation, a band seemingly still in the prime of their youth. Dave's vocals might not have the exact melodic potential that he used to, but I think he covers that up more here than on the previous album, and if you told me this was him in 1994-1995 I'd buy that. Kiko's beautiful shredding pokes through in places, but never shifting Megadeth back towards his alma mater Angra, while Verbeuren and DiGiorgio make the rest sound easy. The production here is super clean and effective, with a little less punch to the rhythm guitars than some past efforts, but it's all so meticulously balanced, between everything from the cascading leads to an Ice T guest vocal. There's also just so much speed here, I don't know if I can scientifically calculate it across all their albums, but they're performing on average at the most agile clip since those early 90s, and the mainstream slowdown years now just seem like a memory.
At the same time, the songs here don't individually stand out for me as much as albums like Endgame or even Dystopia, so this whole album just feels like checking the stew to see if it's still boiling up correctly, and on target for a fabulous meal. If Megadeth is capable of this in 2022, there's really no limit going forward until Dave is literally having to put together albums from a hospital bed or beneath a headstone. There's a version of this with a cover of Sammy Hagar's "This Planet's On Fire (Burn in Hell)", and they even manage to give that number a swift kick in the ass and make it sound as fiery and thriving as ever. There is nothing sick, dying nor dead about The Sick, the Dying... and the Dead!, and if nothing else, if not a standout against all the hits the band has generated, it's a veritable Fountain of Youth, Vic striding through its dystopian cover landscape as confident as ever, much like the performances here.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10]