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]

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