Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Megadeth - Th1rt3en (2011)

Oh, my God. I get it. I GET IT guys! The number '13' is in the title Thirteen. How ingenious is that? In hindsight, I'm astonished that Dave Mustaine and Megadeth have made it this far. With all the drug problems, the emotional discord, the lineup shifting, and the conspiracy theories, I'm amazed that Dave hasn't simply dropped out of civilization and started a commune somewhere. Curiously enough, his last full-length outing Endgame was rather good, a return to the songwriting aesthetics of the 1986-1990 era, but as anything this band will likely every produce post-Rust in Peace, it met with a very mixed reaction. The lyrics were admittedly a mixed bag of stupidity and acceptable camp, but at least when I was listening through it I experienced nostalgia for exactly what I liked about Megadeth in the first place: the snide, anti-authoritarian attitude and the blazing, killer riffs and leads. Endgame was in my opinion their best release since Youthanasia 15 years earlier.

And a reference to Youthanasia is no accident, since three of the Th1rt3en tracks were originally included on the remastered version of that album. Here they have been reworked, and yet the very presence of tunes penned in the early 90s shows that Mustaine seems committed to this mid-life crisis of wanting to return to the band's earlier rocket to popularity. Granted, none of this triad is all that great, and I can see why they weren't included with either Countdown to Extinction or Youthanasia, as their choruses are pretty meek and frankly they almost entirely lack for the compelling riffs so important to the Megadeth sound. "Millenium of the Blind" is a boring, forward rolling ballad which opens in cleans and graduates to dull crunching patterns; "Black Swan" has some nice leads for a mid-paced rocker, but it's never very catchy; and "New World Order", while better than the other two, is not even at the level of something like "99 Ways to Die" from the Beavis & Butthead soundtrack...

So that leaves us with the newer crop of 10 songs to leave an impact, and those few times it does succeed do indeed rest on the shoulders of cuts like "Never Dead", which builds from a moody string intro through bland chugging and into a pretty killer hook. The verses are exceedingly simple, just a speed metal muted anchor with groovy fills, but Mustaine's vocals really work on this tune and it's the one I've gone back to revisit more than any other here. "Guns, Drugs & Money" also relies a lot on stock grooves and a few mediocre chugs, but at least I felt that the song built a steady, compelling momentum and offered enough bluesy wailing leads to flesh out its Mexican cartel encroachment subject matter. A few of the later tunes like "Wrecker" and "Deadly Nightshade" were also decent, but again the riffs offer a very simple architecture that seeks to excel on its production and vocal/guitar balance rather than the steps of innovation the band were once taking on their 80s efforts.

As for the rest of this, I can't say that it feels very well ordered or written. Songs like "Public Enemy No. 1" and "Sudden Death" seek nothing more than to capitalize on the fan's nostalgia for "Hangar 18" or "In My Darkest Hour", and you'll feel that comparison through their chord progressions. Both of those are right up front in the track list. "Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)" feels too rock & roll, almost like an escapee from the pathetic Risk or Cryptic Writing sessions, and it's worthless outside of the bits of shredding. "Fast Lane" sticks with a simple low end thrash groove like a "Symphony of Destruction", but nothing interesting ever happens. "13" and "We the People" straddle between decent hooks and dull melodic escalations, slower paced tunes that strive for a money shot but leave the listener in a softcore labyrinth.

I will say that Dave's voice sounds quite good throughout the album. Clearly with the right level of production his snarling and melodic sensibilities are intact, and he's all over this thing. The leads are in general well written if not exactly memorable, and feel snug as a bug as a contrast to the simplified composition of many tracks. The bass is punchy and thick, yet I never feel like Ellefson ever pulls off anything interesting, and the drums are pretty much rock standard, no more complex or impressive than what you heard on Youthanasia or Cryptic Writings. All of this is mixed quite cleanly, but I almost feel as if it's 'too' clean, targeted for major radio exposure but not suiting the band as much as a grimier finish might. If Mustaine is so serious about getting back to the roots, I think it would be more compelling if he gave it a dirty sheen like the first two albums. Th1rt3en is loud and clear, but comes off too poppy, sparkly and polished.

Ultimately, this is one of those 'meh' Megadeth recordings with 1-2 songs you might add to a highlight reel, but no degree of consistency. Like The World Needs a Hero, or The System Has Failed. Catchy choruses are few and far between, and the riffs always seem played out and derivative, even in "Never Dead" which I tend to enjoy. The lyrics are half-on, half-off, but even where they're better scripted, they seem derivative of subjects the Dave has already explored previously, numerous times ("Fast Lane" feels like another "502" or "1,320" for example). It's not a terrible listen, but neither is it pushing the boundaries of what can be done within the medium like the band's past opuses Peace Sells... or Rust in Peace. It's more of a flat tire than an engine breakdown, but nonetheless is unlikely to standout to Megadeth fans past the next few exit signs.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10] (you still want me to bleed)


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