The other great thrash band that fell into suckdom from the US (Megadeth), used to be a great name in metal. Rust In Peace is considered a classic of the thrash genre (and for good reason), and Peace Sells But Who's Buying? (which I found to be rather bland), is also hailed as a great album that represents the genre. But after Rust In Peace, Megadeth slowly but gradually started to abandon their old thrash roots to veer to a more heavy metal route.
On this album, however, a huge part of the thrash influence is still present, although the tempos are slightly slower and muddier than usual. Where R.I.P. was the thrashfest of all thrashfests, this album sees things slowed down a little, with the likes of Captive Honour and Symphony of Destruction being the main songs that elicit this tempo change. Both songs, surprisingly, also take the cake for being the highlights of this album (along with the awesome Sweating Bullets). Captive Honour features this ass-kicking spoken passage, with the incredible line "Life, what do you mean life... I ain't got a life!" by Nick Menza. I think that that has to be one of the most classic lines in metal history.
Symphony of Destruction is a Megadeth classic in my opiniong, dealing with the rise of military dictators to power, and the people dancing to his feet as he destroys the world singlehandedly. Megadeth had a lot of things to say on the political and military side of things with their albums, and this song is again, the prime example of the social and political undertones to Mustaine's music. Whether you agree or not with Mustaine, however, is really the main point here: while Mustaine makes his points, there may be people who disagree and ditch the album for its message.
Of course, if music is your main reason to love Megadeth, you're in decent luck, musically Megadeth is better than lyrically on this record. The guitar riffs and solos that Marty delivers here are standard classic 'Deth, and the bass lines in some places are really awesome: Architecture of Aggression, anyone? The drums aren't really anything special, but they keep the beat, so Nick Menza does his job, as you might say. However, my problem with Megadeth has always been Mustaine. While Mustaine is the main man in this band, which I know, he also takes the lead role vocally and on the guitar. While his guitar solos are usually appropriate (despite sometimes going into wank territory, but you always get that with solos), what really annoys me is that Mustaine, after all these years, has still not learnt that he cannot sing.
First of all, Mustaine has a terrible singing voice. His voice sounds like helium, especially on the quicker tracks where he just screams things out. On the slower songs though, he does get the notes right, and his voice isn't that bad. But then we get to the second point: the only way I ever know what Megadeth lyrics are about, is by actually reading them through a million times, because Dave keeps swallowing random syllables, I can't understand a word of what he is saying sometimes. (This may have something to do with the fact that I'm Dutch, but still, I can get most lyrics, especially those sung cleanly by a native speaker.) However, Dave IS a native speaker of English, and he is still absolutely incomprehensible. Now, on the album, that doesn't matter really. You can read along with the lyrics booklet if you have the time. But if you and sing out of tune, and swallow syllables, it becomes really hard for me to like the album as a whole. It's that the rest of the music is very good, and saves a lot of songs on here, but god, does Mustaine get on my nerves, I really keep skipping tracks because of that.
(The aftermath of irony tells me that Mustaine hasn't learnt that still, as he's still singing, and especially on the live album Rude Awakening, he gives off an abysmal performance.)
However, some songs, like the aforementioned Captive Honour, Sweating Bullets (Mustaine uses a kickass growl here), and Symphony of Destruction are still metal classics in my opinion. I have really mixed feelings about Megadeth, and their later albums became progressively more *** in my opinion, but on this album the band delivers a decent slab of thrash metal. Countdown to Extinction will never be your favourite 'Deth record if you're sane. But it's good metal, and a decent album to expand a growing musical collection. At the end of the day, however, even though this was the best-selling album the band ever released, I will remember these guys for Rust In Peace and not this. Musically, Megadeth may be pioneers of a new genre, but I still think that Mustaine has never been able to achieve the level of greatness he could have had with Metallica, and Megadeth will always be the "second best" band of the thrash genre. This album is exemplary of that, it's a good record, but it will always stand in the shadow of Rust In Peace.