[Book review] Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir

Title: Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir

Authors: Dave Mustaine and Joe Layden

Published: 2010

After almost 30 years of bickering, therapy, and lyrical jabs, the feud between Megadeth founder Dave Mustaine and his former band mates in Metallica had reached that point where it almost become theater.

In reality the barbs and general ire usually came from the direction of Mustaine, still bitter at the way he was booted from the band just before their first record “Kill ‘Em All” was released in 1983.  On the back of the sacking he formed his own heavy metal monster, Megadeth, who in spite of selling tens of millions of albums worldwide, were still dwarfed by the unique arena metal appeal of his former band.

To Mustaine’s credit he goes in to fairly forthright detail about this anger and animosity in his auto-biography, “Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir”, even though the vulnerability he projects is in stark contrast to the confidence and cool emanating throughout the rest of his story.  It’s a subject that in itself he could have written an entire book about but thankfully he finds time to cover his childhood, family life, recording career and many (many) other feuds in the 368 pages.

Despite that, there’s still a merry-go-round feeling about the narrative.  Mustaine’s revolving-door relationship with rehab (“seventeen times, give or take”) is surpassed only by the number of musicians that have been members of his Grammy-nominated four-piece (until a few months ago he was the only founding member left in the band – bassist Dave “Junior” Ellefson recently rejoined despite having attempted to sue Mustaine).

Mustaine pulls no punches with the fact that he was not (is not?) a very nice person, was an alcoholic and drug-abuser, and tended to need very little encouragement to get in to a fight.  Because of his (admitted) arrogance, sociopathic behaviour and monster ego, Mustaine often attributes blame for his behaviour on others.  And when he does accept the blame for events that went down it’s usually with a caveat.  That’s the nature of the man.

Putting aside the feuds and fallouts, I was probably more interested in reading about the music.  Mustaine is the musical brains behind some of the great heavy metal songs of the 80s and 90s such as “Peace Sells”, “In My Darkest Hour”, “Holy Wars” and “Symphony of Destruction”.  Even in recent years Megadeth records have been above average long after Mustaine’s career was supposed to be over after suffering a compressed nerve in his bicep while in rehab.

But if you are looking for an in-depth look at how he conceived some of his great songs then you’re going to be disappointed.  He does talk amusingly about how he was denied a #1 record in 1992 when “Countdown to Extinction” was kept off the top of the Billboard charts by Billy Ray Cyrus and laments his weakness when he allowed his management to talk him in to developing a radio friendly sound on their final two records of the nineties (one miscalculation he does more or less take the blame for).

But we don’t hear about his songwriting technique, we don’t hear much about how he chose which songs to include on his records or much detail about shooting videos and choosing directors (with the exception of early work with Penelope Spheeris).

He also delves in to his conversion to Christianity, reaffirming his belief in God (contrary to the misconception that he leaned more towards Satanism than God-fearing) and detailing how he accepted Jesus as his saviour when at his lowest ebb.   Whatever works for you, buddy.

Overall “Mustaine” is an entertaining read for anyone remotely interested in heavy metal.  No doubt Metallica fans will pour scorn on the elements of the book that belittle the band (“Without my songs and my solos — without my energy — I don’t know that Metallica ever would have become the band that it was.”) or demonise Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.  But in light of the news that the Megadeth/Metallica feud seems to be over for now, maybe everyone will down their weapons and listen to what Mustaine has to say.  Given the number of people he’s upset over the years I’m sure there will be some interesting counter-strikes.

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[Album review] "United Abominations" – Megadeth

What’s in a name?
I guess the band name “Megadeth” is onomatopoeic in a sense, instilling fear in the minds of those who hear it while they scurry away covering their ears. However many of these same people will perk up when they hear the band name “Metallica”, fondly recalling the driving power chords of “Enter Sandman”. Yes, that one song is the difference between the two metal icons. That song is one of the major reasons why Metallica play to 20,000 people a night while Megadeth play to 2,000.

The early days
Megadeth is Dave Mustaine, essentially. The former Metallica guitarist, who was fired from the band in 1983, formed Megadeth the same year in an act of revenge on his former bandmates. “After getting fired from Metallica, all I remember is that I wanted blood. Theirs. I wanted to be faster, and heavier than them,” he said. Mustaine auditioned for a vocalist but, unable to find one he was happy with, decided to take up the dual role of guitars and vocals himself.

In the 24 years that have passed, Megadeth have had numerous line-ups with the only constant being Mustaine.

From underground to overground (1983-1989)

Their debut album “Killing is My Business…And Business is Good!” came out in 1985 with a line-up of Mustaine (vocals/guitars), Chris Poland (guitars), Dave Ellefson (bass), Gar Samuelson (drums). They had to produce the album themselves after spending half their $8000 budget on drugs and booze and were left unable to afford their producer. They moved to a major label (Capitol) for their 1986 follow-up “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying”. The album was a critical and commercial success, selling over 1m copies in the US alone. Samuelson and Poland were fired from the band after long-time substance abuse problems became too much for the band to handle. Samuelson died in 1999 from liver failure.

Their third album “So Far So Good…So What!” saw Chuck Behler (drums) and Jeff Young (guitars) replace the departed duo but the album, while going platinum, was not well received. It did feature the classic “In My Darkest Hour”, a song inspired by the untimely accidental death of Metallica bass player Cliff Burton.

The classic years (1990-1994)

The band re-grouped in 1990, but without Young and Behler who were both fired. This is when the “classic” 90s line up of Mustaine, Dave Ellefson, Marty Friedman (guitars) and Nick Menza (drums) was established. Few could have predicted Megadeth would find the success they did but for them to achieve it with a complex, pure heavy metal record like “Rust in Peace” shocked many analysts. The album was highly political, written and released with the first Gulf War as a backdrop.

“Countdown to Extinction”, released in 1992, was an even bigger hit, debuting at #2 in the Billboard album charts and going on to sell over 2m copies. It featured less complex, more radio-friendly arrangements but still was identifiably metal. They went on to tour with Metallica as Mustaine temporarily buried the hatchet with his former bandmates and, later, Aerosmith, although they were kicked off that tour for derogatory remarks made about the headliners.

The golden era ended in 1994 when the slower, softer “Youthanasia” was released. Although it went gold in 30 minutes in Canada and was the band’s fastest-selling US album, it seemed that they were slipping further and further away from their metal roots. “Reckoning Day”, “Train of Consequences” and “Black Curtains” were thunderous tracks but undermined by the concentration on the tight, melodic production and arrangement.

On the wane (1995-1999)

A telling quote from Dave Mustaine on this whole period was in reaction to their new “creative manager” Bud Prager who suggested numerous musical and lyrical changes to the band’s work. Mustaine often acquiesced: “I figured maybe this guy could help me get that intangible ‘Number One’ record I so badly wanted” (“Countdown to Extinction” was kept off the top by Billy Ray Cyrus of all people). “Cryptic Writings” (1997) was certified gold and was quite well received. But the fact it produced four top 20 mainstream rock hits is an indication of how radio-orientated it was.

The “classic” line up started to fall apart dramatically at this point. Menza was fired after being accused by Mustaine of lying about having cancer and Friedman would later quit during a tour with Iron Maiden in 1999. The reason for Mustaine’s fall out with Friedman was over the band’s musical direction. Their eighth studio album in 1999, “Risk”, was their most commercial with elements of industrial, disco and funk employed on tracks like “Insomnia”, “Crush Em” and “Seven” (possibly one of the worst songs they’ve ever recorded). The album received mixed reviews and low sales.

The “new” Megadeth (2000-2001)

Mustaine hired Al Pitrelli to replace Friedman and Jimmy DeGrasso replaced Menza as the band attempted to return to their former sound with new record label, Sanctuary. The result was the sub-par “The World Needs a Hero” (2001) which Mustaine described as the first major turn of a huge ship at sea, trying to right itself and get back on course. It’s an apt analogy as the record is shockingly unfocused and inconsistent.

The End (2002-2003)
Mustaine disbanded Megadeth in 2002 after contracting a radial nerve condition known colloquially as Saturday Night Palsy which left him unable to make a fist with his left hand. Effectively retiring from playing music it was thought that he was set for a career in the production booth. But undeterred he underwent a year of recovery (which included physical and electric shock therapy!) after which he begun to remix and remaster Megadeth’s back catalogue. But with a more positive prognosis on his left arm, Mustaine taught himself how to play guitar again and prepared the release of his first solo album.

The Comeback (2004-)

When Sanctuary informed him that contractural obligations meant he had to release the album under the Megadeth banner, Mustaine brought back Chris Poland (guitars) and hired session musicians Jimmy Sloas (bass), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) to record “The System Has Failed”. Mustaine decided that the record and tour would be Megadeth’s last and he decided to bury the hatchet with Friedman and Menza, inviting them to re-join the band. While Menza signed on, Friedman and Ellefson both failed to agree terms with Mustaine. Menza himself didn’t last long and was fired five days before the tour. Mustaine hired Shawn Drover in his place and Shawn’s brother Glen as the new guitarist. Bassist James MacDonough made up the foursome.

The album was a huge success, winning favour with fans and critics and becoming their sixth consecutive top 20 Billboard hit record. Reinvigorated by the critical respect that the band had re-attained and the momentum they regained, Mustaine announced that Megadeth would continue to tour and record. While the Drovers are part of that future, James MacDonough made way for James Lomenzo and it’s this line-up that have recorded Megadeth’s eleventh studio album, “United Abominations”, on new label Roadrunner Records.

United Abominations (2007)
If the foundations were laid with the excellent “The System Has Failed“, Megadeth have made a full-on return to the top of the tree with their eleventh album release. Blowing away the memory of years of melodic metal-lite, “United Abominations” has wall-to-wall solos, double bass drumming to beat the band and the trademark gravelly vocals you expect from Dave Mustaine.

Referring to an earlier analogy where the vocalist compared the laboured and unfocused “The World Needs a Hero” as the first major turn of a huge ship at sea, trying to right itself and get back on course, it’s safe to say that this ship is now sailing full steam ahead and probably heading for the UN Headquarters in Manhattan.

“United Abominations” starts with lone guitar chords over what sounds like a desolate wasteland – possibly the aftermath of a terrorist nuclear attack – before a spoken lyric damns the UN over a building instrumentation (born to prevent wars, it froze in the face of disaster and/stood silent while terrorisation took hostage the world). The chugging riff continues the attack (held hostage by oil-for-food…there’s no blood on their hands…it’s payback time at the United Abominations) and the song fades out with a list of the UN crimes including taking no action in Yugoslavia, Afghanastan and Iraq.

Of course we could say Dave is being very selective here and the UN may write their own version that includes references to how the US found no WMD in Iraq or doesn’t seem too concerned about the non-oil producing region of Darfour but we’ll let it go.

I hoped that “Amerikhastan” (from New Yorqatar to Califarabia) was keeping with Mustaine’s cynical view of war and power (“Symphony of Destruction”/”Holy Wars”) and that he hadn’t gone all right-wing on us. His description of the “ill-fated…uneducated, bankrupt souls” who have a “lust for revenge” could be a classic, contemptuous view of modern America but then he talks about how “desperation provides fertile ground for religious extremism” and “glorious brainwashing where prejudice lies/like a crouching tiger“. However, with his description of how the Statue of Liberty is “property of the USA/a subsidiary of Hailliburton” (an energy company who profited from the Iraq war and have high level ties to the US Government) he let’s us all in on the joke.

The riff on “Play for Blood” is not a million miles from the one on “Amerikhastan” but at least they changed the melody. Lyrically the song struggles and comes across as an ambiguous attempt to create a “last man standing” scenario (inside the abattoir/the cover charge is somebody’s gotta die) but whether this is a fist-fight to the death or the whole thing is a metaphor for the devil himself (I don’t play for keeps/I don’t play for your soul) is unclear.

“Washington is Next!” is a strange choice for a single as it is probably one of the least radio friendly songs on the disc – indeed it could have been lifted from any Megadeth record from their heaviest period in the late 80s/early 90s. It deals with the “quiet war” that’s being fought with “silent weapons” and asks “how can there be any logic in biological war?“. Musically it’s not as furious as something like “The Conjuring”, “Hangar 18” or even 2004’s “Kick the Chair” but it’s not a bad cut.

“Sleepwalker” – the best album opener since “Holy Wars” – is probably in fact the best song on the album. The intriguing premise is that of a man who can dish out punishment in his sleep (no one is safe when I close my eyes/I’ve come to take you alive) and takes great pleasure in the damage he does (did I give you concrete shoes/and throw you off of a bridge). While it pounds relentlessly through the verse and chorus, the song’s best moments are when Drover and Mustaine exchange classic mid-track solos.

The only track not fully credited to Dave Mustaine is “Never Walk Alone…A Call to Arms” which was co-written with Glen Drover. A more personal song, it falls down in the chorus (it’s time to reap what I have sown/never, ever let you walk alone/i know your enemy, it once was me) but the solo work from Mustaine and Drover lifts it above mediocrity. Similarly “You’re Dead” is a heavy song with promise that suffers from an insufferable chorus (till then, till when I exact my revenge/I’ll tell them ‘you’re dead to me’) but there’s enough quality musicianship on show here to keep the interest.

Album closer “Burnt Ice” is a song that is hard to make your mind up over. In one sense its unusual vocal arrangement keeps you guessing but in another sense it sounds a little awkward. The story – a re-hash of 1999s “Breadline” (sniffing up the white lines/he’s dancing on the breadline) – deals with the man who said “he’d try just a little bit” because “he didn’t want to end up like them” and how far he’d go for what he wanted (anything for a hit/any sin to pay for it).

I like “Blessed are the Dead”, Dave’s token biblical/mythological track (a white horse on the clouds of death/a red warhorse to end all wars/a pale horse and pestilence led/by a black horse with famine and scales). I like the lyrical twists in this one; “the doctrine of hatred” that creates wars and leads soldiers to wish for death (wash me in blood and let me be the first born of the dead…I hold fast to what I believe/until I see my name in stone).

One of the first tracks released on the web was “Gears of War”, a song inspired by the Xbox game of the same name. The lyrics might lean slightly to the right of metal cliché but I like the idea of the latest weapons being “a more sophisticated way to end up dead“. The mid-tempo riff throbs in that foot-tapping, head-nodding way that recalls “Symphony of Destruction” and “Psychotron”.

Leaving the best to last – and probably the biggest talking point of the album – the re-recording of the 1994 track “A Tout Le Monde”. The original track (from the album “Youthanasia”), considered one of Megadeth’s best songs, struggled to get noticed on the back of a blanket ban by MTV for what they described as a “pro-suicide song”. Mustaine decided to get the song out the way he always wanted it to be – in a duet (with Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil), faster and with a different guitar solo. And frankly it’s as amazing a song as it ever was. As to whether it was necessary or not? Well cynics would suggest that Mustaine figured it would be a good way to get a song on the radio but if you’ve written a song this good and you feel it didn’t get a fair crack of the whip then you’d probably take the opportunity too.

It’s been an upward trend since “The World Needs a Hero”. That’s mainly because Mustaine has found his focus again and realised that success is not about the #1 record. Well written, musically superior and (as always) excellently produced.

Track listing
01. Sleepwalker *****
02. Washington is Next! ***
03. Never Walk Alone…A Call to Arms ***
04. United Abominations *****
05. Gears of War ****
06. Blessed are the Dead ****
07. Play for Blood ****
08. A Tout le Monde (Set Me Free) *****
09. Amerikhastan ****
10. You’re Dead ***
11. Burnt Ice ***

4star

A Tout le Monde

After my last unsuccessful foray in to blogging about football I think I’m playing with fire once again by discussing metal music. But I beg your indulgence for just a minute or two.

In 1994 Megadeth released the track “A Tout Le Monde” from their album, “Youthanasia”. While Megadeth are one of the “big four” metal bands with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax, they had by this time diluted themselves in to a mainstream metal act, playing slower more commercial-sounding music. The fact that they released a track with a French language chorus was bizarre enough – surely this was a hit in the making?

Well it would have been but MTV – happy these days to purvey increasingly sexually gratuitous videos – interpreted the song and video as being about suicide and subsequently banned the $300,000 clip. The single was shelved as radio followed MTV’s lead and a beautiful song remained known to only fans of the band.

Last September the track showed up on the radar once more as Kimveer GIll, responsible for the Dawson College shooting in Montreal, proclaimed it as his favourite song. He killed one student, injured nineteen others and turned the gun on himself.

Megadeth lead singer Dave Mustaine, somewhat superfluously, said: “The song doesn’t belong to the killer. The song belongs to the people of Montreal. If anything, it belongs to me and it was my gift to them. It was never meant to be misinterpreted like that.”

Mustaine, a founding member of Metallica before he was fired in 1983 for alcoholism and cocaine abuse, has always claimed that the song is not about suicide but was inspired by the sudden death of his mother. That’s a difficult assertion to prove as as analysis of the lyrics shows.

Don’t remember where I was
I realised life was a game
The more seriously I took things
The harder the rules became

In the context of the song this seems to indicate the person concerned is having a hard time dealing with the realities in life. If you were to take the song as being about suicide then this is possibly the breaking point, the moment the singer realised that it wasn’t worth going on anymore.

I had no idea what it’d cost
My life passed before my eyes
I found out how little I accomplished
All my plans denied

This is the next stage, the person has attempted suicide and reached the point where it is said “your life flashes before your eyes” just prior to death. The lines I found out how little I accomplished/all my plans denied seem to vindicate the singer’s decision (in his eyes) to end it all.

So as you read this know my friends
I’d love to stay with you all
Please smile when you think of me
My body’s gone that’s all

This is where things get confusing and has given Mustaine a platform to argue that the song is not about suicide at all. The words as you read this indicate a suicide note but the line I’d love to stay with you all, he says, indicates that the speaker doesn’t want to die at all therefore how can it be about suicide? It’s a fair argument but it is not inconceivable that the singer merely realises as they slip away that they will miss those they are leaving behind.

The chorus:
A tout le monde (To everyone)
A tous mes amis (To all my friends)
Je vous aime (I love you)
Je dois partir (I have to leave)
These are the last words
I’ll ever speak
They’ll set me free

The use of French seems to be merely a songwriting tool rather than have any specific context in the song – I like it though and it was certainly a very bold move from the band at the time. The meaning is clear and again builds on the confusing nature of the previous verse. Is this the passing of someone of natural causes or are they the words of a tormented person who has taken their own life?

The second verse
If my heart was still alive
I know it would surely break
And my memories left with you
There’s nothing more to say

For me the first two lines are one of the most powerful couplets from my music collection. I loved the overwrought imagery of how this now-dead person was broken at leaving but there was nothing they could do. If anything the line is inspiring and again calls in to question how it could be about suicide.

Moving on is a simple thing
What it leaves behind is hard
You know the sleeping feel no more pain
And the living are scarred

The division of feelings between the dead and the living was highlighted effectively in both couplets.

So “A Tout le Monde” could be a song about suicide – it could be a song, as Dave claims, about a sudden death. One theory is that the first verse is about Dave’s own attempts at suicide (also touched on in the song “Skin O’ My Teeth”) but then it segues in to a song about his mother or just someone who has died suddenly. But that explanation doesn’t really make sense and I think it’s unlikely.

Regardless of whether or not the song is about suicide is hardly here nor there for me. It’s not as if it encourages or romanticises it for a start. I heard this song when I was 20 and in something of a down period myself. I was never suicidial but this song was very special to me and encouraged me to try and get myself together. I found solace in the beauty of the music and the meaningfulness of the lyrics.

I found further solace in it in 2004 when I adapted part of the verse in the eulogy I delivered at my grandfather’s funeral (“As you sit there, know my friends/I’d love to stay with you all/Smile when you think about me/My body’s gone that’s all”). For my grandfather the words felt appropriate. The fact that the words came from a heavy metal band was an irony that made me smile a little.

The reason I’m blogging about this is that the band have teamed up with Christina Scabbia of Italian goth-rockers Lacuna Coil on a re-recording of “A Tout Le Monde”. Mustaine – under fire from fans for the move – has been scrambling around to justify the decision musically. He has talked about doing a duet on the song for years but most fans expected a b-side or a live album version. He’s talking about it being on their new album (“United Abominations”) and being the lead single.

Criticism has also been directed with regard to the timing of the move. One of the injured students from Montreal, Hayder Kadhim, debatably stated that the song “triggered Kimveer Gill’s actions”. The media will lap up this sort of thing as the release gets closer.

So what’s the right thing to do?

Unless a work gratuitously promotes hate or tasteless acts, I don’t believe that art should be held responsible for the actions of individuals whose thought processes are not like yours or mine. Millions of people have probably heard that song (“Youthanasia” sold over a million copies in the USA alone) and as far as I’m aware it did not spark a world-wide murdering spree.

So is it approrpiate to put this song out there again?

[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”.

4star

[Album Review] "The World Needs a Hero" – Megadeth

The World Needs a Hero - MegadethAlbum Title: The World Needs a Hero
Artist: Megadeth
Year: 2001
Running Time: 57m 54s

Track listing: 1 Disconnect; 2 The World Needs a Hero; 3 Moto Psycho; 4 1000 Times Goodbye; 5 Burning Bridges; 6 Promises; 7 Recipe For Hate…Warhorse; 8 Losing My Senses; 9 Dread and the Fugitive Mind; 10 Silent Scorn; 11 Return to Hangar; 12 When

I was introduced to heavy metal in the late eighties by Metallica and Megadeth. It is a testament (no pun intended) to these bands that in the 21st century, they are still going extremely strong.  In recent years both bands have attracted immense criticism from long-time fans who have seen them trail away from metal path and more down a “pop-metal” avenue.  It differed from the hard-rock scene of Whitesnake, Aerosmith and Motley Crue as it still carried a certain amount of menace behind the more melodic riffs but was still unacceptable to headbangers around the world.

Megadeth for their part scored big with the metal classic “Rust in Peace” (1990), and followed it up with the hugely successful “Countdown to Extinction” (1992).  But they veered away from pure metal for their 1994 release, “Youthanasia”, which featured a marvellous, but out-of-character ballad, called ‘A Tout Le Monde’.  After the decent “Cryptic Writings” (1997), 1999 release “Risk” was hammered by most fans for it’s pop style despite the fact it contained numerous quality cuts.

Popular lead guitarist, Marty Friedman, left the band in early 2000 and lead singer Dave Mustaine promised a return to the days of old on their next album. Consisting of bass player and other original member, David Ellefson, drummer Jimmy DeGrasso and Marty’s replacement, Al Pitrelli, Megadeth dragged their metal carcass kicking and screaming into 2001, the trust of thousands of fans there to be recaptured.

It only takes seconds to realise that the band have returned to the more rigorous metal style of yore.  Opening number ‘Disconnect’ is heavy but devoid of a good hook.  Mustaine spares a few minutes for those who don’t fit in (turn off your conscience/leave the world outside/nothing at all can ever make you feel/that anything’s real so you just … disconnect) but the song is saved only by Al Pitrelli’s spunky solo. In fact for the first time in ages, a Megadeth album is worth listening to primarily for the solos rather than the songs.

The title track is a total disappointment – an intermittent ‘Sweating Bullets’-style riff and thumping drum beat lead this mediocre tune into the slightly better ‘Moto Psycho’, but at this point ideas still seem thin on the ground. It improves slightly with ‘Burning Bridges’, something that would have fitted in nicely on “Countdown to Extinction”.

But arguably, the cut of the album is the sombre ‘1000 Times Goodbye’. Dave’s woman is a total bitch – she’s met someone else you see, and over the metal furore, their phone conversation carries out as we hear her explain why she is leaving. You could be forgiven for humming Metallica’s ‘No Remorse’ as the main riff bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1983 classic. The song is probably worth it alone to hear Dave respond to his ex’s excuses with the line: ‘you know what…YOU SUCK!’. Brilliant.

In ‘Recipe for Hate…Warhorse’, Dave grunts his way through the classically-structured track – a song that recalls the spirit of “Rust in Peace” – ‘each day my shortcomings pick my pockets/my faults were letters carved in stone’ crows Mustaine in the albums best Biblical reference! The second half of the track, ‘…Warhorse’, is exceptional. Fast and obnoxious, packed with solos and agression, it really is classic Megadeth. Pity the album does not have more of this on it.

The 9 minute album closer, ‘When’, is also worthy of the band’s heavier days. A bitter tale of revenge, Dave recites an opening monologue about someone who has done him wrong (i trusted you and i loved you/and you spit back in my face/how could you do this to me/when will you stop trying to hurt me?) before pronouncing that payback is coming (when no words are spoken and pleas are ignored/your tears go unnoticed, will you say enough?). The slightly distored vocals manage to make this sound like it was lifted from “Killing is My Business…”. And that’s good enough for me.

Emotive ballad, ‘Promises’, somehow fits in nicely here despite the Beatles-esque string arrangment that accompanies it. And here it is – the much anticipated ‘Return to Hangar’ – a sequel to the Megadeth classic, ‘Hangar 18’. Thankfully it is superbly executed with vocals, lyrics and solos that recall, but respect, the original – (all the guilty paid the price/suspended by their broken necks/no one survived to tell the story/when foreign life forms ressurect). Even the classic ‘military intelligence’ lyric returns, and it doesn’t sound desperate!

The problem with this album though is that amongst the throngs of mediocrity, the few diamonds are surrounded by some coarse rocks like probable “Risk” left-over (and inferior to just about every song on “Risk”) ‘Losing my Senses’, the unimaginative ‘Dread and the Fugitive Mind’ and dull, trumpet-tinged instrumental ‘Silent Scorn’.

Part of me thinks that Megadeth returned to practically full blown metal without really being ready – almost like they ‘did metal’ for the sake of it. This is simply not as good an album as “Risk”, an album castigated for it’s more ‘pop’ approach, and certainly not as good as “Rust in Peace” or “Countdown to Extinction”, the two albums it has been most compared to. It’s just about worth buying for the few high quality tunes, but it’s inconsistent and disappointing frankly.
1halfstar

[Album Review] "Risk" – Megadeth

Risk - MegadethAlbum Title: Risk
Artist: Megadeth
Year: 1999
Running Time: 51m 36s

Track listing: 1 Insomnia; 2 Prince of Darkness; 3 Enter the Arena; 4 Crush ‘Em; 5 Breadline; 6 The Doctor is Calling; 7 I’ll be There; 8 Wanderlust; 9 Ecstasy; 10 Seven; 11 Time: The Beginning; 12 Time: The End

Is ‘Risk’ a very misunderstood album?

Chances were that this record would get slated, and that’s exactly what’s happened. It’s a far cry from the power and anarchy of “Rust in Peace” or even the more measured angst of “Cryptic Writings”.

We start off very promisingly with an interesting slice of pseudo-industrial metal with an orchestral tinge – “Insomnia”. Any Megadeth bashers I play that track to are quite impressed. “Prince of Darkness” is a decent throwback to the Dave’s ‘dark side’, but still ends up sounding a little bit like a parody of Megadeth’s earlier work. Lyrically though it’s rather entertaining, and a little thought provoking, although not in the same vein of RIP or “Countdown to Exctinction”. The stadium anthem “Crush Em” is a fun rocker that suffers from it’s tight arrangement, but the thundering chrorus and babbling mid-section excels.

My favourite track on the album is probably the power-ballad “Breadline”. Never has a song sounded so little like Megadeth (up till now anyway!). Not much in the way of groundbreaking guitar or lyrical work here, but it’s a top notch radio-friendly track about a man who is about to lose everything. In one way it’s embarrasing to think about the band performing this on stage after “Holy Wars” or “Wake Up Dead”, but it ranks up there with their best music I think. I’d be interested to hear what the band think of the track.

“The Doctor is Calling” is a really lame and laborious 80s-esque rocker that has few redeeming features. “I’ll be There” is incredibly much worse – Dave gets a bit ‘Europe’ on us. Those two should have been left on the cutting room floor. A couple of, shall we say, ‘interesting’ cuts follow.

I actually like “Wanderlust”. A low-key build up leads us to the mid-tempo chorus which rocks pretty well. A touch of The Eagles for “Ecstasy”. Dave natters over an easy-listening riff, before the band go full pelt for the chorus – ‘the sin I bring called ecstasy’ – and then we’re back to the rather pleasant rhythm section again. Not bad.

“Seven” is just awful. The Black Crowes and Aerosmith would be shamed to record something like this. A terribly pointless jam with horrendus solo.

“Time: the Beginning” is another power ballad, but without the vivre of “Breadline”. Anaemic. “Time: the End” turns things up a bit. At least there are some riffs to speak of. This is a sound akin to “Cryptic Writings” or even “Countdown to Extinction”. Good way to end the record.

And there you have it. 3 complete abominations (“Seven”, “I’ll be There”, “The Doctor is Calling”), 3 rather good songs (“Insomnia”, “Crush Em”, “Breadline”), 2 worthy, interesting tracks (“Wanderlust”, “Ecstasy”) and the rest just sitting somewhere in the middle.

To answer my initial question, I do think “Risk” has suffered from some over-reaction. Certainly die-hard metal fans won’t like it, but this is a good record which deserves it’s place in Megadeth history like any other. I do hope the final record for Capitol though is a return to roots.

3star

[Album Review] "Cryptic Writings" – Megadeth

Cryptic Writings - MegadethAlbum Title: Cryptic Writings
Artist: Megadeth
Year: 1997
Running Time: 46m 49s

Track listing: 1 Trust; 2 Almost Honest; 3 Use the Man; 4 Mastermind; 5 The Disintegrators; 6 I’ll Get Even; 7 Sin; 8 A Secret Place; 9 Have Cool Will Travel; 10 She-Wolf; 11 Vortex; 12 Fff

The fall of one of the worlds biggest metal bands has been rather disturbing. Never as popular as rivals Metallica, Megadeth have always managed to keep their head above water despite some barren years. Reviews of their previous two studio albums have been fairly poor and sales have been even worse. However, they are back with an album people are already calling, erm, “Cryptic Writings”.

Thankfully, there are several signs of recovery here as the band seem to have found a niche that sits nicely between the commercial and metal markets. How do you know when Megadeth have got it right though?

Finding tracks where lead singer Dave Mustaine spits out words like ‘holocaust’, ‘encrypted’, ‘heinous’, ‘meltdown’ and ‘anoymous existence’ are always a good start. That would be ‘Mastermind’ then – a riff-tastic rocker featuring Mustaine at his most antagonistic for years.

Next up would be a steroid-enhanced speed-metal effort complete with tales of woe and anarchy. Hmmm, ‘The Distintegrators’ maybe? More great vocals from Mustaine. How about a rhythmic rocker with an irrepresable chorus and Mustaine pointing the finger at everyone? ‘Sin’. And probably the most retro sounding song on the album is ‘Vortex’ which takes another trip to the sinister side of Mustaine’s mind.

In addition to that, there is the excellent harmonica-drenched ‘Have Cool Will Travel’ which is expertly done – not the type of song you would expect from Megadeth, ‘Fff’ [Fight For Freedom] which is the direct descendent of ‘Victory’ from “Youthanasia” and the bizarre ‘Use the Man’ which kicks off with 30 seconds of the sixties pop song by The Searchers, ‘Needles and Pins’. That might not sit well with fans but the track then trudges menacingly into a deadly warning to all addicts; ‘I’ve seen the man use the needle, seen the needle use the man; I’ve seen them crawl from the cradle to the coffin on their knees’; before spiralling to a grand up tempo climax.

The debut single, ‘Trust’, is not the best song ever written but it does mark the return of the long missing Megadeth sound complete with a solo that changes the direction and pace half way through before exploding again for the finale. Arguably the best solo since ‘Holy Wars’

Most of the rest are competently written; ‘Almost Honest’ and ‘I’ll Get Even’ would probably have suited “Youthanasia” fairly well if that is any indication.

This is a very strong record and hopefully Megadeth can come back even stronger again. The majority of the world might not care in the slightest but the fans do and I think most of them will be happy with this.

3halfstar