Thursday, February 22, 2024

Megadeth - The Sick, the Dying... and the Dead! (2022)

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]

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Megadeth - Dystopia (2016)

I have at least two friends that consider Dystopia to be one of the best albums Megadeth has ever written, and while I can't go anywhere near that far, it certainly could be heard as heralding a second resurgence, a 'third wind' for the band after 2011's middling Th1rt3en and lamentable Super Collider from 2013. The band really gets back to some thrashing basics here, with a small bump in energy and inspiration from the adding of Angra's Kiko Loureiro to the lineup, a master who would bring both an elevated level to the lead guitars as well as the rhythm/songwriting, which he does contribute to this album. Despite the delicate, intricate touches of his alma mater though, make no mistake, this might just be the heaviest Megadeth record, armed with a lot of two-fisted, chugging thrash, intense session drumming from the beast Chris Adler, and Mustaine's desperate sociopolitical lyrics, which all certainly help the album live up to its name.

Sadly, this is the sort of modern thrash that often enters through one ear and immediately exits the other. Everything about it functions on a surface level, and the rhythmic, palm-muted bombardment has a few new tricks up its sleeve like in "Foreign Policy" or the quick lurching grooves of "Fatal Illusion", and they're all slathered in the sorts of seasoned leads that Mustaine and Loureiro can provide, with some breaks towards classic Megadeth speed (like the end of "Fatal Illusion" which recalled "Five Magics"). It's not even that the tunes are catchy in the moment, but perhaps it's just that the band had already created such an elaborate lexicon that few of these really stand about the shoulders of their elder siblings. The performances are off the chart, with Ellefson's bass lines giving the frightening guitar talents a run for their money, and Adler's power unquestionable as it drives the tunes harder than anyone has ever done before him. Mustaine's voice certainly feels its age, and he often sticks with a more mid-pitch grumble, but on a few tunes he'll flex that upper range and it still sounds melodic and effective, just with a bit more gravel to it.

The backing vocal arrangements are also quite nice here, like the counterpoints on "Death from Within" and the smooth descending harmonies on "Poisonous Shadows", a track that probably best exhibits Kiko's neo-classical input into its structure. But a few 'perk-up' moments aside, like the rhythmic groove in the bridge of "The Emperor", one of my fave tracks here, so much of the riffing just feels as if I've heard it all before, and it doesn't always congeal into songs that are going to stick around in the brain like they once did in the 80s. Dystopia is clearly a proficient, effective return to form after the miserable record that preceded it, and has enough going for it to fire up an entire next generation of Megadeth fans who hopefully would go back and check out the classic era, while also letting the old heads breathe sighs of relief that Dave still has his finger on the pulse of what makes his band so great, but it's rarely blowing me away like it could have with the teamwork of these four players.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Megadeth - United Abominations (2007)

United Abominations ushers in the 'Drover' era of the band, with Dave picking up brothers Glen and Shawn from the consistent Canadian power/thrashers Eidolon, about as perfect a fit that he was going to find from that scene north of the border outside of drafting Jeff Waters of Annihilator into the fold (which I still think should happen). The duo lends an instant seriousness and edge to the material which catapults this record right back to what might have been a follow-up for Rust in Peace, not that the riffs ever reach that same level of immortal, blazing catchiness, but this is clearly the product of much more effort than almost anything in the 15 years before it, with any cobwebs shaken out of the joints and the band sounding, I daresay it, 'young' again.

That's not to say it's the 'best' material in that timespan, but it joins the records sandwiching it as a sort of 'second wind' for Megadeth. Dave's vocal soar over the opener "Sleepwalker", as he shifts between a melody and more of his snarling, sneery attitude through the verses, with a busy lattice of thrash riffing and lead-work below that holds your attention, occasionally giving me a "Take No Prisoners" vibe. And it doesn't really apply the breaks, ever, I mean there's plenty of variation in tempo, but like its predecessor The System Has Failed, there's no real wimping out to honor some midlife crisis or emotional side of the creator's ego. A few tracks here don't work for me, like the title track on which the chorus of the title sounds a little obvious, repetitive and lame. Or "Amerikhastan" which also had some cheesy sounding vocals and political raving, not that I necessarily disagree with all his points but it just comes off in that cringeworthy "Sweating Bullets" intonation at some points.

The decision to revisit "A tout le monde" is also a strange one, though comparing this with the original from Youthanasia, it's got more pep and energy, lacking that version's darker, drearier mood. But both of them do fit within their surrounding track-list and production style, even though I don't need the guest vocals from Christina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil, and I'm half-wondering if that affected the decision to re-record it, because they needed a tune she should contribute to? Probably not. However, I'd rather have included the cover of Zeppelin's "Out on the Tiles", a bonus track from other releases of the disc, which is pretty well-rendered, although not as kinetic as the version Toxik did on their 1989 masterwork Think This. If there's one other complaint, I still don't think the bass playing is where it needs to be, because it lacks Dave Ellefson. James LoMenzo joins in here, coming over from various Zakk Wylde projects, and he's certainly a decent presence, but he just lacks that strength in his lines which could complement and even rival Mustaine in places; he's just a solid support.

For me, United Abominations is probably the weakest of the 'trilogy' in this particular Megadeth surge, since I thought the tunes on the glorified solo album The System Has Failed were catchier, and Endgame triggers all the Rust in Peace nostalgia in all the right ways. That said, it's still largely a quality album, and the one of the three that most feels like it could have had an original release in the 90s after Rust and Countdown. There are definitely some subtle callbacks, when you're listening to a tune her and remembering enough, for instance some of the low end in "You're Dead" brought back thoughts of the thrash/groove in "Architecture of Aggression", or the other I mentioned earlier, but no real direct rip-offs. It's a decent one, the Drover brothers were definitely the right guys for the job, and that would become even more apparent two years later.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Monday, February 19, 2024

Megadeth - The System Has Failed (2004)

The System Has Failed has an immediate punching weight to it that grabs your attention, which is all the more refreshing after a decade of doddering, listless albums that might not all have sucked, but could never cross the finish line. Even more compelling is that it's effectively a Dave Mustaine solo album with the Megadeth brand slapped onto it, a slew of guests joining in to fill out necessary roles like keyboards and the 'character' voices that lend some intensity to the subjects through the roles of newscasters, politicians, etc. In retrospect, what would really have been the difference? It sounds a hell of a lot like it could have been a natural successor to Youthanasia, and if I'm putting together a playlist for this band sometimes I pretend it's exactly that.

This one sets up by repeatedly clubbing you over the head with tasty riffs, often on a similar ballistic arc to the 'heavier' bits of Youthanasia, but it also hasn't abandoned some of the poppier sensibilities the band had started to explore 10 years before it. Thankfully, this manifests in some symphonic flirtations which complement a few of the tracks rather than obfuscating the metallic elements, or some smooth vocal harmonies that lend an eeriness to tracks like "Die Dead Enough" or "The Scorpion". The album is never peppered with a bunch of ballads or country nonsense, something you might expect from a Mustaine solo project after he'd previously dabbled with it. No, all the tunes here are varying shades of rock, from the more aggressive cuts reflective of the band's history, to something like "Something That I'm Not" that launches with a Zeppelin-like rhythm, or the moody, narrative "Shadow of Deth" with its melancholic, slow leads and strictly spoken word vocal inclusions.

Few of the tracks can even hope to rival the top tier Megadeth hits of the past, but with the exception of the aimless political ditty "I Know Jack", whose riffs would have been better spent elsewhere, this is one I can sit through in its entirety without much regret. The production is quite polished, but doesn't leech away from the grooves or intensity of the riffs. I actually liked how the synths presented here in tunes like "Back in the Day", they feel like you're sitting at a ball game and the organ/keys erupt and thus amplify the material rather than trying to consistently take over. The leads also sound really great throughout, and I know Chris Poland popped in to contribute which is fun, not only because of his skills, but because you know on some level there was some reconciliation, even if he's serving as more of a mercenary for the recording. The session drums and bass are adequate, though Dave Ellefson's presence is clearly missed, and will stay missed for several more albums.

Regardless of whatever it's original purpose was, The System Has Failed brought a little faith back to me that Dave Mustaine could pen a coherent set of tunes which I could keep coming back for. Don't get me wrong, I am almost never choosing this over the first six, but if I'm willing to reach for something a little fresher from the bench, this one can join the rotation, and it also spurred off a little Renaissance in the quality of the full-length Megadeth studio efforts.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Friday, February 16, 2024

Megadeth - Rude Awakening (2002)

By the time this album arrived, I had already seen Megadeth a couple times in the live setting, so there wasn't any real sense of anticipation to hear how it would come off on the stage. When I watched Sabbat's The End of the Beginning VHS tape, for instance, that was a band I had longed for and thus became more satisfied for all its flaws to at least get the chance to see them. Here on Rude Awakening, two whole discs of live material (and to their credit, they gave it almost two decades before dumping this sort of release onto their fandom), it feels competent but slightly dialed in, probably with some studio overdubs, and not all that high energy despite a considerable two hours and 24 tracks that cover the good chunk of their career. Still, The World Needs a Hero lineup manages not to cock up the classics, and that means something.

Right away I can tell you that I'm not interested in the inclusion of material from the three studio LPs before this, but it was inevitable since that is what they were touring on. I loved hearing "Angry Again" here, but I would have much rather had "Go to Hell" or "99 Ways to Die" on the track list above "Trust" and "Almost Honest". Still, they unleash a nice trio of "Symphony of Destruction", "Peace Sells" and "Holy Wars" at the end of the double-album which is probably what any crowd would want, and you get some of my favorites like "Tornado of Souls", "Hook in Mouth", "Devils' Island" and "Wake Up Dead" among the choices, so the bulk of this is rock fucking solid. Dave sounds pretty great, you get some of the flaws or imperfections in his pitch, but they only add to the personality. Considering that you have Dave and Al Pitrelli, I think the guitars sounds a little on the wimpy side, like when a lead breaks out there doesn't feel like the rhythm guitar offers much support. The drums are steady and I can make out the bass well enough, but even though I like the general 'airiness' of the recording, I think a little more punch and power to the instruments would have improved my rating.

Overall, though, if you had been waiting almost two decades to wander down to your record store and buy a proper Megadeth live offering, I don't think this one would disappoint you much, they sound tight enough and offer you a robust selection of tracks from their whole history, leaving only a few noted obscurities behind and 3-4 awesome Rust in Peace tunes that would have been better than anything off the more contemporary studio material for the time. This one doesn't approach the timeless annals of a Live After Death, No Sleep 'til Hammersmith or Unleashed in the East, but it's professional enough not to totally waste your money. As for the cover art, a fun image, but I feel like it would have been better on an actual studio outing...say you switch the random person for Vic Rattlehead, include the logo along the opposing building, here it feels thrown away, and I don't get the point. There's nothing rude or offensive or even explosive about how this sounds, instead it's practiced and rigid.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Megadeth - The World Needs a Hero (2001)

The World Needs a Hero is certainly not among the stronger albums Megadeth have released these last 40 years, but it's at least a step back towards a more decidedly metal direction, and kicks the shit out of its predecessor. To me, the production and songwriting here seems like a shift towards Countdown to Extinction, with perhaps a bit of the more accessible flourishes of Youthanasia, but at the same time there are riffs and structures here that feel fresher for the canon, grooves and ideas that were relatively well-developed. Jimmy DeGrasso had joined on drums for the previous album, but this was Al Pitrelli's debut in the lineup, and though I'm not ever going to be sure of the level of his input here, he brings a slightly different feel playing alongside Dave. It's also his only studio full-length in the fold, the rest of his tenure was live albums and compilations, so it's not like you're going to get a chance to settle in with his contributions.

This one is mixed slickly, reminding me a of a mix of Cryptic Writings and Countdown to Extinction, very mainstream and poppy but also a little digitized in the crunch of the rhythm guitars. There are also a few tracks which I found embarrassing, like the acoustic country/folk track "Coming Home" which goes all in on its rustic persuasions, and is honestly probably not bad for that style, but I'm just not into it, whether it's Bon Jovi or Dave Mustaine crossing genres. "Promises" is likewise akward, this is just not a ballad band, I'm sorry. "Moto Psycho" might be the real nadir here, though, an extremely goofy tune driven by mediocre riffs and really lame chorus; I remember this was one of the singles off the album, the first I heard and couldn't even believe how dumb it was, even just the title. The other acoustic stuff here is a mixed bag, like the setup in "Recipe for Hate...Warhorse", and his spoken word vocals made me cringe a little, but at least it has some good bass lines. The rest of the tracks are passable if not terribly exciting, slightly stronger than Cryptic Writings on a one-for-one basis, realizing that is not saying much. The truly blazing and unforgettable speed/thrash riffs are still evading this material, though there is clearly a sense that the band wants to ramp back up to that.

This even comes through on their own self-nostalgia so we get a "Return to Hangar", which is not even a fraction as memorable as the original off Rust in Peace, but thematically and stylistically it at least consistent, though it does sink so low as to ape lyrics and such, a pretty shallow way to handle a sequel, like trying to sell us an Expendables movie in which Arnold Schwarzenegger just rehashes his old one liners instead of coming up with new ones. That could never happen, could it? Well yeah, and it doesn't really come off any better here than it does on those songs where veteran bands just list previous song titles in the lyrics. On the flipside, the opening duo of "Disconnect" and the title track were at least solid enough to reassert my relationship to their style, and the lengthy closer "When" is probably my favorite with the acoustics, an atmospheric mid-pacer which might sound eerily familiar to "Am I Evil?", sans being a proper cover like Dave's alma mater put out in their early years.

Ultimately, this one suffers from the inconsistent quality of the tracks, and still has a few lingering olive branches it's trying to make with a more mainstream realm, which are totally unnecessary as they always have been, but in some cases aren't executed too poorly. There's a chunk of material I could live without, but still around 30-40 of passable mid-tier Megadeth which if nothing else shows a slight determination to get back on the bull, just a mechanical bull at the bar, on a low setting, with one or two friends raising a beer bottle to you, rather than a bucking wild animal in front of a crazed live audience. The cover art is also real shitty, Vic the Chestburster must have looked better on paper than in execution

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Megadeth - Cryptic Writings (1997)

Cryptic Writings was hardly the abrupt faceplant many of our favorite bands had experienced across the decades, but it was nonetheless a massive disappointment for me, and almost immediately cut off my interest in whatever was going on in the Mustaine camp. Even today, as I put this thing back on to cover it, I could barely remember any of the individual tracks, despite numerous attempts through the years. By 1997, there was a lot more going on with metal music, it was starting to 'pick up' again with the progress of death and black metal, power metal was also starting to gather some momentum internationally, and though thrash wouldn't see it's proper resurgence for another decade, a few of the acts were still hanging on where they could.

So an album that largely consists of lukewarm offerings in the Youthanasia style wasn't going to cut it, especially since they were just nowhere near as catchy as on that underrated work. I will say that this album is really well produced, they'd largely cemented themselves into this mid-paced rock style and everything is presented clean and potent. The bass grooves, the acoustics, the rhythm tone, the drums all sound as slick and bacteria-free as whatever pop plastic you were pumping into your CD player at the time. Mustaine's vocals are restrained here, and he's starting to bark out lines that feel like repetitions off previous albums, especially the last two, but he still sounds good, and there's only a little bit of cringe here, his more manic lines like the counter-vocals in "Mastermind" are actually well implemented, and in the goofy backyard barbeque rocker "Have Cool, Will Travel" he actually soars. I'll also say that whenever this record picks up the intensity, like the later-Coroner grooves of that very track, or the flightier fits of speed metal in "The Disintegrators", "Vortex" or "She-Wolf", it gets a lot more fun to experience, but even then they rarely have a chorus payoff that can contend with their greats.

Yes, there's more velocity in places than Youthanasia, so the band doesn't seem entirely committed to phoning in the performances of their limbs, but there are single tracks on Hidden Treasures that are better than anything throughout this whole playtime. They threaten a few power ballads, but always throw in a few heavier hooks to balance them out. Unfortunately this still ends up with some dull tunes like "Use the Man", which has a semi-Western vibe to it but never really hits you with a cross hook of surprise catchiness. "I'll Get Even" fares a little better, but it might as well be a Phil Collins song if you didn't hear Dave's distinct voice. They may have taken the watered down approach a little far here, but also seem to have a little identity crisis as they head back in earlier directions, just lacking the same level of songwriting quality or finesse. It's not a total dud, and pleasant enough to throw on in the background since Mustaine's melodic sneer still demands a modicum of attention...

Hell, compared to the shit show that would follow it two years after, this could be deemed a masterpiece. But Cryptic Writings is clearly, at least to me, the point at which the levee had broken and the flood of mediocrity had started to enter the band's trajectory. It would also be Nick Menza's last with the band, not a high note to end that best known lineup with.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Megadeth - Hidden Treasures (1995)

Hidden Treasures was the last 'cool' Megadeth release before a steady decline in quality of their output for around 14-15 years. Yes, they held out longer than Metallica, whose ascent into vast commercial success came at the cost of creative bankruptcy, and to me they even outlived Slayer, who cease to be relevant for me after 1990 with the exception of popular live performances and an adequate track or two. Is that revenge enough for Dave, who was once thrown from the ranks of what would become the biggest metal band ever? I think on some level, it must be. Granted, this is not a proper studio album, but a collection of odds and ends from soundtracks and tributes that I appreciate because they're not all readily available without bailing out loads of extra cash. Industry: this is how you do a fan compilation correctly!

And I won't lie, even if it's not a 'proper' full-length, I enjoy Hidden Treasures more than any of the albums they have release since, with the exception of Endgame. Though it's not all recorded at the same time, a lot of the material here is quite consistent with the production and songwriting level on Rust in Peace, Countdown to Extinction, and Youthanasia. It's also a lot more ferocious than the album before it, with Dave sounding a lot nastier, the instruments flexing their muscles more, and as much as I did enjoy Youthanasia, this presented a nice snapback, even though I'd already heard most of the songs...hell, these days I think I've even got all of these films on Blu-Ray or DVD, including the crappy old Super Mario Bros. flick which my sons demanded for the collection. So you could say I was in the 'target' audience to experience a lot of these on the big screen, from the cheesy slasher Shocker to Last Action Hero to the Beavis & Butthead Experience. In some cases, the Megadeth tracks were the best parts of the movies, and while the cover choices here are hardly obscure, something like "No More Mr. Nice Guy" is the perfect vehicle for Dave Mustaine to capture his attitude like a fly to the amber of his influences.

But the originals are where this really shines..."99 Ways to Die" is a song I fell in love with the first time I heard it, with the amazing riffs in the verse and the acoustic bridge that leads to one of their most memorable chorus riff/vocal tag-teams ever. "Breakpoint" feels like an exercise in the groovy speed thrash of their Rust in Peace era, "Angry Again" is a cruise control thrasher which wouldn't have felt out of place on their 1992-1994 releases, and "Go to Hell" also has its moments. The one exception for me is the closer "Problems", the previously unheard track which channels a lot of shitty hard rock or blues vibes into a slightly more crunchy thrash riff or two, with a lame punk-like chorus. Both the Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper covers are decent, though, so I just have to end my listens to this about four minutes 'early' so that the experience stays consistent. You can't win 'em all, but I still hold Hidden Treasures as a sort of precipice beyond which there is a rather steep plummet to oblivion. Will they fall straight off the edge to their doom, or maybe grab a lifeline to halt their descent?

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Monday, February 12, 2024

Megadeth - Youthanasia (1994)

Megadeth was clearly one of those 'too big to fail' sort of metal bands that had established enough of a presence by the 90s that they weren't going to necessarily be ended by all the grunge, nu metal and alternative rock exploding in popularity, but that doesn't mean they weren't going to undergo some sort of shift with the times. Like their peers, they sought a simplification and safety net, a more mainstream presence without the abandonment of their genre, and Youthanasia sounds exactly like that: a streamlining of Countdown to Extinction with a lot of that same sort of processed sound, less riffs per track, and a huge focus on standard rock song structure and choruses. This was clearly The Black Album or The Ritual for Mustaine and crew, only a couple years later, and I'm sure it was a jumping off point for a lot of disenchanted 'first four' purists.

Remarkably, Youthanasia works, and it works really damn well, Megadeth more than capable of strapping themselves into this simpler style and writing songs that still matter. There are still a good number of catchy, heavy riffs, as in opener "Reckoning Day" or "Black Curtains", it's just that the band is no longer focused on maintaining the dizzying velocity or complexity of a Rust in Peace. The hooks are just as big, but they're steadily treading towards the glorious, heartfelt chorus sections in tunes like "Addicted to Chaos" or one of my favorites, "Blood of Heroes" (no relation to the underrated Rutger Hauer dystopian combat sport flick, I'm afraid). There are still a few moments that flirt with the up-tempo, as in the palm muted sprints of "Train of Consequences", but this is really just 50 minutes of controlled momentum, cool leads, and riffs with more pent up power than finesse. Dave's vocals manage not to irritate me anywhere here like they did on "Sweating Bullets", and it's clear he is incorporating as much melody to his pitch as possible, though it's just not in his nature to lose that sneering, lip-curling edge.

Acoustic guitars return, like the atmospheric intro to "Blood of Heroes" or "A Tout le Monde", which is probably the closest thing to a proper power ballad the band had released by this point, but still relies mostly on rock chords. Ellefson, Menza and Friedman might feel underused throughout this selection, because the minimalized structure of the songs doesn't require much of them, yet the bass tone still sounds pretty strong throughout, the drumming suits the more commercial/hard rock vibe, and Marty will make almost anything sound good, from a cartoon jingle to a metal lead. In fact, though I'm sure it took some effort to craft tracks this catchy, Youthanasia must have felt like a vacation on the band's appendages, it's never dialed in but it's certainly not taxing upon the anatomy. Production-wise, this sounds like a slightly slicker Countdown to Extinction, the rhythm guitars are smoother in tone and lack much of the bite other than the few harder hitting tracks I mentioned above. All the instruments are balanced well and allow Dave's pipes, the most taxed body part on this album, the shine...and they do.

No real stinkers here, so you might argue that this is the most consistent Megadeth album outside of Rust in Peace, even if it's consistent on a more subdued level. The riffs don't often dazzle me, but they are all pretty memorable in how they service their respective tracks, even "I Thought I Knew It All", in which the slowly pumping verse reminds me a lot of something off The Black Album. Ironically, while this album didn't move a fraction of what Metallica did with their colossal, catchy sellout, this album holds up more for me, there's nothing which has been overkilled to the point that I no longer want to hear it ("Enter Sandman", "The Unforgiven", etc). I still think I like The Ritual the most of these sorts of West Coast watering-downs, but I realize I am alone in that opinion, and that's not to take away from how timeless and rock-solid Youthanasia remains. Hell, I even like this and return to it more than a few of their 80s efforts, but at the same time, this is also the end of the Golden Age of Megadeth for me, with one small exception.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Friday, February 9, 2024

Megadeth - Countdown to Extinction (1992)

Rust in Peace is not an album you can really 'follow up', but since that had secured Megadeth on such an upward trajectory of popularity, they were certainly going to try, and I credit Countdown to Extinction for not only achieving the highest level of commercial success the band would experience, but also for not entirely cocking up the evolution that led to its creation, and not dishonoring its predecessors. It's not immediately evident with the first track that this is going to be a more accessible, polished and radio-friendly effort, but by the time it's over, I was left with that impression. Thankfully, most of the songwriting here is strong enough that I couldn't care, because there are still plenty of catchy tracks that would end up on any career playlist I could assemble.

The first three tracks are actually kick-ass, with "Skin 'O My Teeth" really tapping into the band's frenetic speed metal roots. "Symphony of Destruction" might come off painfully simple compared to Rust in Peace, but it's understandable why this became one of their biggest radio singles, and how it would actually foreshadow the following album Youthanasia with the mid pacing crunch, vocal effects, and focus on an excellent chorus. "Architecture of Aggression" is perhaps the highlight of the album for me, one of my favorite Megadeth songs, with some really amazing thrash breakdowns and leads, especially at the 2 minute mark, and a vibe that definitely could have placed it on the Rust in Peace roster. It's after this point where the results become a little more mixed. The band tries some acoustics on "Foreclosure of a Dream" and "Captive Honour", the former carrying a country vibe, but both do result in some solid metal riffing and emotional payoffs in the vocals. The closer, "Ashes in Your Mouth", is another personal favorite because it gives me a bit of a "Five Magics" vibe, at any rate it would also not have been out of place on either of the two albums before it.

There is some cheese present, however, in particular "Sweating Bullets", a song in which Dave's more conversational vocals really sound cringe and goofy despite the song having a solid, bluesy shuffle behind it. I just can't listen to this one and not feel uncomfortable, and there are a few lines elsewhere on the album ("Psychotron", "Captive Honour") that continue this trend. I thought the ship really sailed on this silly style after the title track to Peace Sells, so I tend to skip it as I'm listening through. Other than these few things, though, it's a pretty tight record. The instruments are reined in due to the more commercial nature of the material, but there are still quality leads throughout, and I wouldn't call any of it 'dumbed down' since there is still the potential to explode lurking around many of the corners of the album. Dave's voice is still pretty confident, but there are just those moments where he is getting a little too comfy with the crumb-sucking and lip-curling sneers and they sound kind of stupid against the more machine-like persistence of the music.

Production also feels more punchy, processed and digital, lacking the grace and packed power of Rust in Peace, and I question why they went this route when they clearly must have had the budget to replicate that one. But again, I'm outnumbered here, because this record sold gangbusters and for a lot of folks might have been their first exposure. Many compare to The Black Album, but I think I'd save that for Youthanasia, or Testament's underrated The Ritual, both of which strive more towards those heavy metal basics, that minimalism which might presumably reach a broader audience, for better or worse. There is still plenty of finesse here, and I listen to it as often or more than the debut or So Far, So Good, So What!; just a few songs that slack behind others, a production that seems a step below where they had been, and a handful of awkward vocal lines that could have been cut from the finished product.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]