Review Summary: Cryptic Writings is actually pretty straightforward
Megadeth is one of the biggest metal bands off all time, no question about it. Albums like Rust in Peace, Peace sells…But Who’s Buying? And Youthanasia are all undeniably great albums. Megadeth is all about Dave Mustaine. He’s the main lyrical force, the lead guitarist and vocalist. There have been overall 22 different members who at different moments were a part of Megadeth, and although a few have left quite a mark (Marty Friedman), as long as Dave Mustaine is the front man Megadeth will go on.
During the 90s, Megadeth had already built quite a fan base but they had failed to really reach a mainstream audience. Songs like ‘A Tout Le Monde’ and ‘Sweating Bullets’ had paved the way for them to follow Metallica and became music juggernauts, and this desire to reach those heights is reflected in the band’s music for the late 90s. Cryptic Writings was released on July 17th 1997.
Cryptic Writings was a fairly successful album, debuting at number 10 on the Billboard 200 and also going platinum. It continues the bands evolution to a more mid-tempo melodic hard rock style, although some songs are a throw back to their thrash metal days.
Mustaine has always been a vivid and good lyricist, even though at times he can become a bit to self-indulgent. Relationships (‘Trust’), drug addiction (‘Use the Man’), school violence (‘Have Cool, Will Travel’) and rebellion (‘FFF’) are all chosen as a subject matter for a song or two. Filled to the brim with good riffs and solos, although more melodic and restrained than their 80s and early 90s stuff, Cryptic Writings has all the qualities of a great Megadeth album…but it doesn’t quite reach that height as often as it should.
‘Trust’ opens the album, and it’s one of the best songs on the album. The opening drum solo is just brilliance, and the listener can feel themselves getting excited as Mustaine’s melodic riff starts to gain momentum and then it erupts, and we are taken into hard rock heaven. It’s not a particularly fast riff, but it’s still one of the best on the album. The song has a slow mid-section which has a beautiful melodic solo before gaining momentum again.
‘Almost Honest’ is similar to ‘Trust’, covering the same subject matter and having a similar tempo and beat, but it’s definitely inferior to the opening track. The riff is good, the chorus is also catchy, but it falls a bit flat.
‘Use the Man’ is an acoustic number. The lyrics are dark and haunting, following the story of a man who died after his first shot of heroin. It’s not your typical Megadeth song, and it’s often passed over for being an acoustic number, but it’s one of the best songs on the album.
‘The Disintegrators’, ‘She-Wolf’, ‘Vortex’ and ‘FFF’ are all throw backs to the bands thrash era. Fast riffs, aggressive lyrics and furious solos. ‘She-Wolf’ and ‘Vortex’ are similar to older songs like ‘Five Magics’ as they deal with the supernatural and dark fantasy.
‘Have Cool, Will Travel’ is a great number dealing with School Violence. The band also shows some variety by adding a harmonica to the song. It’s a fast number, with numerous of breakdowns and a good solo. Mustaine sounds just okay here as he does for the majority of this release. ‘A Secret Place’ is a mid-tempo rocker, with a number of different guitars being used. It’s a good song, with introspective lyrics about getting lost in your own mind.
Cryptic Writings is a constantly good album, but other than ‘Trust’ and maybe ‘Use the Man’, none of the album is really brilliant. It’s better than its follow up, no question about it.