[Album Review] "The System Has Failed" – Megadeth

The System has Failed - MegadethAlbum Title: The System Has Failed
Artist: Megadeth
Year: 2004
Running Time: 48m 30s

Track listing: 1 Blackmail the Universe; 2 Die Dead Enough; 3 Kick the Chair; 4 The Scorpion; 5 Tears in a Vial; 6 I Know Jack; 7 Back in the Day; 8 Something That I’m Not; 9 Truth Be Told; 10 Of Mice and Men; 11 Shadow of Deth; 12 My Kingdom

When it comes to great career moves in the life and times of Dave Mustaine, there are few fans who would identify 1999s maligned “Risk” as one. However, such was the uproar that accompanied its release, anything that comes in its wake will be seen as a triumph. In 2001 the band, newly signed to Sanctuary, released “The World Needs a Hero”, supposedly a return to their metal roots. But it was a disappointment, marred by uninspiring and weak songwriting. It still gained widespread praise, more because of what it wasn’t than what it was.

The band split the following year, Mustaine needing a year to recover from an operation to treat radial neuropathy, an injury that left him unable to play guitar. During his time off he worked on re-mixing and re-releasing his entire back catalogue, writing new material at the same time. When 2004 rolled round and his record company clamouring for a new album under the Megadth banner, Mustaine put together a “new” Megadeth including guitarist Chris Poland who played on several of the bands 80s releases. “The System Has Failed”, complete with typically biting artwork, was unleashed in September 2004.

The sound of jet fighters flying overhead in ‘Blackmail the Universe’ immediately throw you back to happier Megadeth times, namely the high-quality production-fest that was “Rust in Peace” and “Countdown to Extinction” from the band’s golden era. The track itself does the era justice, a raucous and untamed critique of world politics, perhaps American foreign policy. The newscaster voice-over sets the scene, telling us that ‘Air Force One has been shot down’ and that ‘The presidents whereabouts are presently unknown/And he is presumed missing’. With the nation of DEFCON3, Dave covers his nation’s colours with the line ‘red, white and blew it’ and tells us that ‘Nuclear battlefields (are) energised’ and ‘Cold wars are heating up again’. With a number of super solos from Poland and Mustaine and some of his best lyrics in a long time, this ferocious aural assault is typical Megadeth. Compare to their last album opener, ‘Disconnect’. There is no comparison.

‘Die Dead Enough’ is one of the album’s surprises despite initially fearing the second coming of ‘Blood of Heroes’ or perhaps ‘Promises’ in the early seconds. A definite nod towards the more melodic side of Megadeth it weaves itself around even the most hardened brain with it’s infectious sound. Possibly the words of a man fighting to stay alive, Dave talks about how he ‘can’t stay down enough/can’t take pain enough/can’t bleed fast enough’ and how he ‘can’t die dead enough’. The rhythm section of this song is just magnificent with a double-bass beating savagely in the background.

‘Kick the Chair’ was one of the first songs to be debuted on the Internet and certainly made a splash with fans. Think ‘Take No Prisoners’ but with a slight backward step in songwriting to, say, ‘Devil’s Island’. A damning indictment of the justice system (‘Justice means nothing today/Now that the courts are for sale’), Mustaine is unrepentant in his verbal assault on the legal cogs that turn in the country today – ‘Kick the chair/The rope’s tight … Friend or foe/Ya gotta hang em dead’. While the song is not quite as strong as the previous two, the solos from Mustaine and Poland are outrageously good and show us how “The World Needs a Hero” was actually a false dawn.

There are two pairs of songs that I group together on this record because I’m not entirely sure what to make of them yet – although I’m leaning towards a full-on thumbs-up. ‘The Scorpion’ is an, initially, brooding track that roars in to life for the catchy chorus on the back of a graceful bridge. A song about a human parasite (‘As I climb onto your back, I will promise not to sting/I will tell you what you want to hear and not mean anything’), Dave might indeed be talking about someone close to him – perhaps himself (‘My self I’m centred in…I dream to be left alone’).

Following up in a similar vein is ‘Tears In a Vial’, a bit more akin to mid-90s Megadeth than before. Mustaine has been sentimental in the past (‘I’ll be There’, ‘Promises’), but this seems to be a lament his former bandmates more than a song about lost love. ‘How I could walk away from something so rare’, he starts, ‘But you see it got too demanding/And I just didn’t care’. Perhaps commenting on the division in his band in the 90s, he claims that it ‘sucks to be taken for granted’. But as the track draws to a close, he is either talking about a woman or comparing his former band to one – ‘You were so beautiful to look upon … Until all your good looks betrayed you … Your eyes are empty windows, broken/The body may be here but the soul is gone’. Interesting and ultimately a decent cut.

On ‘Back in the Day’, Dave is in fairly bitchy mood. He asks ‘Where were you when it happened?’ and we soon find out he’s talking about the 80s metal scene (‘Were you at the front of the stage?/Or in the underground?…The world of metal changed forever/Back in the day’). After a brief exchange of solos between Poland and Mustaine the song changes tempo brilliantly as it takes on a more-slowed down army-style beat. Clearly Mustaine is in love with the life he led back then -‘This is our way of life/A life that was born free/To fellow orders how to live/Was never meant to be’. And sticking two fingers up at the new breed: ‘Metal’s king back then/Still to this day/Others imitate or challenge/But it never goes away’. Uplifting brilliance.

‘Something That I’m Not’ chugs along with a decent little riff until Mustaine once again bridges with a fine little solo. The chorus will remain with you, no more so than the indelible title-line: ‘Its something that you are, something that I’m not’. With the great bass work again from Jimmie Lee Sloas and superior drumming from Vinnie Colauita, you’d think they were in the band for 20 years rather than 20 minutes.

In the middle of all that is a cool, but shoulder-shrugging, 40 second ode to Jack Kennedy – ‘I Know Jack’. Let’s just say it provides the buffer in the middle of the record.

‘Truth Be Told’ goes biblical. Mustaine brings us back thousands of years (‘This is the first tale of death in the world/When Cain struck down Abel, a family broken’), right up to modern day (‘There’s no such thing as peace/Till death do us part’). Visually, he creates a chilling image (‘Sin lies at the doorway/Hell’s open for business/The soil cries out for revenge’). The chorus is turbo-charged compared to the more halcyon verse, and the speed metal-esque final minutes once again recall the glory days from the late eighties and early nineties.

‘Of Mice and Men’ has been amongst the least well received of the new tracks but I quite like it. Dave paints us a portrait of his life (‘Back when I was just 17/I thought that I knew everything…I was legal now at 21/I knew the way the world should run…At 25 I was suprised/That I was even half alive/Somehow I managed to survive’), tells us that he’d love to live it again (‘As Gabriel sounds my warning bell/I’d buy your life if you would sell’), and sends a warning shot out (‘So live your life and live it well/Theres not much left of me to tell/I just got back up each time I fell’). It’s maybe the chorus that lets the track down, ‘unconvincing’ perhaps the word that best suits.

‘Shadow of Deth’ recites a prayer to God, dresses it up with a maniacal riff and a searing solo to add that little bit of dressage to the whole chapter. Interesting, and especially so when put in context of the final track.

‘My Kingdom’ is typical album-closing Megadeth (‘Fff’, ‘Victory’, ‘Time: The End’), brought to shore by the wave that was ‘Shadow of Deth’. Strong religious and medieval imagery in the use of the words ‘chalice’, ‘dragons’, ‘sword’, ‘beggars and Kings’ and ‘necromancer’ help to build an identity for what is otherwise a moderate track.

Overall this album is shocking – in a good way. Mustaine has (not literally) come back from the dead with one of the best album’s of his career. It isn’t “Rust in Peace” or “Countdown to Extinction” but it’s less than a notch below them and certainly ahead of well received output like “Cryptic Writings” and “Peace Sells”.



[Movie Review] The Core

The Core Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Bruce Greenwood, Delroy Lindo, DJ Qualls
Director: Jon Amiel
Genre: Sci-Fi
Cert: 12
Released: 2003

If any one of the disasters portrayed in movies actually hit our planet, I wonder how we’d all react. I wonder if the depicted reality would be anything like the event itself. We’ve had nuclear meltdowns, rogue asteroids, extravagant climate changes and alien invasions. Movie makers are nearly out of disasters? but wait a minute? how about if the earth’s core stopped turning!? Brilliant.

And that’s exactly what has happened in ?The Core?. When people with pacemakers dye and pigeons in Trafalgar Square smash uncontrollably in to cars and shop fronts, military chiefs begin to believe that some sort of terrorist weapon is responsible. General Thomas Purcell (Jenkins) summons two scientists, Dr Josh Keyes (Eckhart) and Dr Serge Leveque (TchĂ©ky Karyo), and asks them their opinion. When they suggest that there is probably a scientific reason for the events rather than a terrorist one, he dismisses them.

Further catastrophes prompt Josh to investigate further and he comes to the conclusion that the root of the problem is that the earth’s core has stopped spinning and that humankind has less than a year before the earth loses it’s protective electro-magnetic field and the sun cremates the earth.

In order to get his point across he asks Dr Conrad Zimsky (Tucci) to take a look at his research. Zimsky agrees with him and they present their case to the military, Keyes telling them that reaching the earth’s core is impossible. But Zimsky disagrees and they approach a former colleague of his, Braz (Lindo), who has spent 20 years in the desert developing a space-age device that can bore through rock and metal. Thank God.

With everything in place, and with the addition of two astronauts (Hilary Swank and Bruce Greenwood), the hand-picked team begin their trip to the earth’s core where they intend to let off nuclear weapons in a bid to kick-start the core again.

It sounds ridiculous. And it is.

For these science-fiction/action/disaster movies to succeed they really need to make an impact on most of the following angles.

First of all the special effects need to be convincing. If the characters are traveling to the earth’s core then they have to look like they are traveling to the earth’s core. The problem here is that no one knows what the earth’s core looks like. As Zimsky says in the movie ?it could be made of cheese’. Instead the core is represented by lots of rocks and diamonds, the progress of the team signified back on NASA radar screens by a dot boring it’s way through a large brown circle. ?They’re approaching the mantle,’ says Talma Stickley (Alfre Woodard) back at NASA HQ. You can’t help but grin.

Secondly, (and probably secondarily), the storyline needs to be exciting, original maybe. You’d have to say that a movie about the earth’s core is original anyway, and one about the earth’s core grinding to a halt even more so. One downside of this is that it is possible that such a theme is so absolutely way beyond the comprehension of the average human that the significance of the storyline passes us by.

Related to that, the direction needs to be smart and sharp. Jon Amiel’s (?Entrapment?, ?Copycat?, ?Sommersby?) job is to get across the possible finality of the situation and the vastness of the job at hand. The viewer needs to comprehend that what is going on is unparalleled. It’s not just a case of a group of scientists taking an underground shuttle to trigger an explosion. It’s a task that has never been undertaken in the history of the world.

Lastly, the characters need to be engaging, develop personalities and have issues that can only be resolved by playing a part in the mission. They need to avoid being a stereotype while still being recognizable characters that people can relate to.

The script for ?The Core? is actually not that bad, all things considered. There are some amusing lines – when the military offer Braz a $50 billion dollar cheque to finish building his ship, Keyes says: ?Why not use a credit card? You get miles’.

Yes, Keyes is cool, Zimsky is a piranha, Braz is lovable, Major Rebecca Childs (Swank) is brilliant and determined, Serge is a good family man. It’s typical fair, but the interplay between everyone works surprisingly well. Some of the characters have history such as Braz and Zimsky’s and others have obvious issues that you know will play a part in the storyline as it unfolds.

It’s not throat-grabbing or ground-breaking stuff, but it does connect with the viewer more so than ?Independence Day? or ?Event Horizon? for example. As I said at the beginning, it’s ridiculous, but without ?ridiculous’ we wouldn’t know what normal was. So movies like ?The Core? help us retain our sanity. Sort of.