Review Summary: The intent of Risk was to reach a more mainstream pop audience, and I can tell you in worked in spades for me. If you're feeling open-minded, despite your music tastes, give this one a listen; I fully believe there's something for everyone here.
The tricky thing about the Heavy Metal genre (and all of its many sub-genres), is that for bands who had found their musical niche and gained commercial success in the 1980's, the mid-to-late 1990's proved to be a taxing, uphill battle for these bands--it seemed that, the heavier the band's music, the less relevant it became as the 90's had rolled around.
Dave Mustaine, front-man and mastermind of Megadeth, had always held a grudge against Metallica after being cruelly booted from said band. To make matters worse, they gained success by mostly resting on the laurels of Mustaine's material, not long after his departure. Because of this, Megadeth had always striven to be heavier and faster than Metallica. With the dwindling metal scene of the 1990's, Mustaine was willing to, in his own words, "sell [his] soul to the devil" in order to reach the #1 spot for a Megadeth record. With Cryptic Writings showing a promising trend in terms of success, but not up to snuff to Dave Mustaine's liking, he was willing to completely abandon his own desires and instincts in favor of a mainstream sound: Thus, Risk was born.
The mistake listeners often make about Risk is that they are TOLD it's a "mainstream rock" album, or EXPECT a heavy metal album. But, in reality, what they get is an experimental stroke of brilliance that really exemplifies Dave Mustaine's writing capabilities beyond intense riffs and blistering solos; it really makes you think, listening to the song "Breadline" (track #5 on Risk), reflecting on the earliest of Megadeth's work, especially considering his range and ability vocally on Risk, given his incidental self-appointment of vocalist for the band born out of the surrendering words, "F*** it. I'll just sing."
My frustration and criticism with how the album is often described in sound is born from the very fact that nearly every track from Risk stands on its own--tracks like "Breadline", "The Doctor is Calling" and "Crush 'Em" stand alone in their style and really have no contemporaries. I've yet to hear any song by any band that sounds anything remotely like "Breadline". The chief exemption from this is "Wanderlust", which literally sounds like the lovechild of the songs "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi, "The Chain" and "Gold Dust Woman" by Fleetwood Mac, although it is a good song in its own right.
One thing I've always loved about Megadeth, is the fact that no matter how heavy, the band's songs always maintain a level of melody, rhythm, and beat that stands on its own among mainstream pop acts... this coming from a non-metal listener (save for Megadeth, of course). These are attributes I've yet to find in any other metal band to date.
Perhaps the reason I love Risk rank it my favorite among their albums and consider the label "masterpiece" not too far off is because I'm a more pop-orientated music fan as opposed to the polar-opposite brutality of heavy metal. So, I guess all of you metal-head purists can start calling me names or something.