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]

No comments: