Review Summary: With "Countdown", Megadeth strike the perfect balance between radio appeal and true-roots street cred.
Megadeth are a peculiar band. What started out as basically a revenge fantasy from the ever-childish Dave Mustaine after being booted from Metallica (“nyah-nyah, see!? I can have my own band too!”) turned out to be one of the modelling forces of the Bay Area thrash movement, alongside, ironically, Metallica themselves. The group’s second and fourth albums helped establish their street cred, and by the time the 90’s rolled around, Megadeth were already one of the top five names in thrash metal, behind only Slayer, Anthrax, Testament and Metallica themselves in terms of importance.
However, the arrival of grunge, in the following decade’s early years, forced most of these bands into a stylistic re-thinking. The accomplishment of grunge’s main goal – wiping out the LA glam-metal posers – had taken a toll on non-poser metal bands as well, and even the bigger names had to think up some strategy to stay relevant. For Metallica, it was a turn for the commercial, with 1991’s self-titled “Black Album”; Dave Mustaine apparently thought this was a good idea, since he latched onto it the following year. Hence Countdown To Extinction
, an album which sees Megadeth increase their melody levels and chorus catchiness without losing the essence of what made them Megadeth (much like Metallica had done in the 1991 self-titled). The result is perhaps the group’s most consistent result, and deservedly their most successful.
Now, at this point, some people must have jumped up clamoring for Rust In Peace
; and, to a certain extent, they have a point. Rust
was a very strong album, and most of its tracks are fan favorites to this day. But it was with Countdown
that the band struck the perfect balance between radio appeal and true-roots street cred, a situation largely helped by the fact that Mustaine was accompanied by his best formation to date, with lead guitarist Marty Friedman (still far from cartoon pandas), drummer Nick Menza and trusted lackey Dave Ellefson on bass. Together, the four concocted an album which deserves to sit up there with the best in the genre.
Which isn’t to say that everything about this album is perfect. There are some questionable stylistic choices throughout, chief among them the “roleplaying” in Captive Honour
, with Mustaine himself being the worst offender. Some of the lyrics are childish (comic-book heroes, Dave? Seriously?), others a little clunky (”anagram for liars is ‘lairs’”
!?!?!), and at least a couple of the songs – including Captive Honour
itself and re-release bonus track Crown Of Thorns
- are unremarkable and forgettable. Furthermore, Dave continues to display an annoying tendency to try and upstage his former friends in Metallica by copying their writing style. Sometimes, it’s just thrash tropes which Metallica happen to use (the lead at the beginning of the title track), but often it’s blatant, like on Foreclosure Of A Dream
, which might as well have been called Fade To The Unforgiven Sanitarium
But when this album is at its best…whoo boy, are those flaws ever forgiven! During the best portions of Countdown
, Megadeth whale like the best of them, producing some extremely attractive choruses in the process. Mustaine’s famed croaky, half-spoken vocals lead the hostilities, well back by Friedman’s proficient soloing and Ellefson’s jaw-dropping bass lines, which at time approach the level of shredding usually associated to a guitar. And while those in the know will be aware that Mustaine wrote most of this – including, according to him, most of Ellefson’s bass lines – the result is undoubtedly impressive.
Highlights in this album are plentiful, and do not restrict themselves solely to Megadeth’s greatest hit Symphony of Destruction
. That and Sweating Bullets
are, in fact, among the most likely-sounding tracks on the album, appropriating the “spoken word backed by bassline” pattern established on Peace Sells…
and reused ever since. Despite that fact, however, both are highlights, as is the title track, which couples great (and actually serious) lyrics with a very nice chorus and good lead guitar work. Once again, the painfully bad “reporter” voiceover was perfectly unnecessary, but the song shines nonetheless.
Our highlight reel is completed with Skin O’My Teeth, Architecture Of Aggression
, three “regular” but helplessly infectious and fun thrash songs. The remaining songs veer between the groan-inducing attempts at “complexity” of Captive Honour
, the utter blandness of Ashes In My Mouth
and some actually nice songs like High Speed Dirt
(great hilbilly guitar solo!) and Foreclosure Of A Dream
. The remastered version also adds an unreleased song, as well as a few demos, all of them worse than the album version, contributing very little to the end result.
didn’t really need that help, as it stands on its own two legs. Sure, it’s far from perfect, and at times treads the line of decency; but most of the times, it fires on all cylinders, mantaining a very high overall level. If you’re into thrash or traditional heavy metal and you don’t have this album yet, then by all means, make your collection richer and more dignified by getting it.
Skin O’My Teeth
Symphony Of Destruction
Countdown To Extinction