Review Summary: Even after all these years, Mustaine's still angry.
We live in an ever-advancing modern world – a society which is moving so fast that it is often hard to keep track of. With all the changes that our planet faces on a daily basis, it seems only natural that certain questions will arise to keep our progress in check: Are our technological advances having an adverse effect on the environment? Will space travel ever prove relevant to the masses? And, of course, are Megadeth still relevant after all these years?
Well, with regard to the latter of these questions, the answer most certainly is yes. Megadeth's tenth studio offering, 2004's The System Has Failed, not only proves that the band can still pull off a solid album, but that sole songwriter Dave Mustaine is still as pissed off as ever with society.
The System Has Failed was originally intended to be a solo album by Mustaine, but was released under the “Megadeth” banner for contractual reasons. Technically, the band had disbanded two years prior to the recording of the album; what we have here, then, is a collection of songs performed by Mustaine and a group of one-off session musicians. No different to a fair few other Megadeth releases, then. The fact that Chris Poland, who played with the band during their '80s heyday, plays lead guitar on the majority of the songs on offer here is more than welcome, but for the most part this is very much the Dave Mustaine show.
When this album first hit the shelves, Megadeth were at a very important juncture in their career. Having shot to fame during the late '80s and early '90s – hot on the heels of Metallica – with a string of critically acclaimed albums, the band proceeded to alienate a large proportion of their fanbase in the years that followed through a series of misguided stylistic experimentations. Albums such as Risk and Youthanasia took a more laid-back, straightforward approach over the aggressive thrash of yore; while a change in style can often help to keep a band sounding fresh, it quickly became evident that Mustaine lacked the songwriting skills to maintain this new approach.
By the time The System Has Failed emerged in 2004, though, it seemed that Mustaine was much more comfortable with the direction in which the band was heading. Indeed, the album almost seamlessly merges the breakneck thrash on which the band built their reputation – an example being the excellent first single, Kick the Chair – with the more “progressive” songwriting techniques the band would employ later in their career. The Scorpion, for example, features subtle keyboard melodies interwoven with a slow, somewhat creepy guitar line, and an infectious chorus. The direction taken by the band on this album is the culmination of ten years of experimentation, and when the band pulls it off – with the first half of the disc being some of the best material released by the band in years – it's marvellous. Unfortunately, though the album is far from perfect.
At around 50 minutes, this release isn't overly long by any stretch of the imagination, but the fact remains that the album would be a lot more consistent if the band had chosen to cut a few songs. Closing tracks Shadow of Deth and My Kingdom, both of which draw inspiration from Mustaine's newfound religious beliefs, fall flat both musically and lyrically; one can't help but feel that the album ends upon a sour note. Elsewhere, the listener is treated to a strong chorus in Truth Be Told; this, however, is accompanied by a verse so dramatic that it can almost be seen as laughable.
Despite the occasional misstep, though, there is still a lot to enjoy here. Musically, Megadeth are as tight as they've ever been, even without the comfort of a stable lineup: Mustaine's rhythm guitar work is just as hectic as ever, and Chris Poland's solos still sound fresh. While Megadeth will undoubtedly never release anything as technically impressive as Rust in Peace again, the band are certainly on form here.
One of the most impressive aspects with regard to the album is that the band still sounds so passionate, even after all these years. Even having cleaned up his act and converted to Christianity, Mustaine still maintains his mocking, outspoken demeanour, and tries to pick apart the flaws in modern society every chance he gets. Lyrically, the release is very political, – as if you didn't guess from the album's title – with opening number Blackmail the Universe oozing all of the venom and spite present back on 1986's Peace Sells...But Who's Buying? Elsewhere, Mustaine's lyrics are more reflective, with Of Mice and Men chronicling the self-destructive lifestyle he lived throughout his twenties. It appears, then, that while Mustaine is still as socially aware as ever, he's reached a stage in his career where he feels comfortable being more open about himself.
Overall, The System Has Failed stands as the album that Megadeth were attempting to make in the ten years prior to its release. Masterfully combining the heavier elements of their earlier work with the more experimental material released by the band throughout the late '90s, Megadeth finally hit upon a style of their own on this album. While the band don't quite manage it perfectly – indeed, the songs found on the latter half of the album contain more than their fair share of awkward moments – there is still a lot of good to be found here. Megadeth, it seems, are not only still relevant, but are back on form. The success of this album has been built upon in the years since and, as a result, the band appear to have a bright future ahead, even after all these years.
Die Dead Enough
Kick the Chair
Of Mice and Men