Review Summary: The album has won
The half-decade predating the release of The System Has Failed
was a tough one for Megadeth, and that's understating it. It was a time period which saw the band losing an integral member of its line-up (Nick Menza), releasing an album which was not their sincere self (Risk), losing another core member (Marty Friedman), then releasing another unimpressive album (The World Needs a Hero). Then there was the fallout between Dave and Dave - the duo that had always defined the band. Then Mustaine's arm injury, which prevented him from playing guitar.
By all looks, Megadeth, one of heavy metal's main spearhead bands had run its course.
Or had it?
Sometimes fate works in mysterious ways. Mustaine somehow found the inspiration, the spirit, the faith, the ANGER, rolled up his sleeves, assembled a new team, and made this. I don't know how he did it, I can't know how he did it, and probably few people do. But he did it.
It's like one of those "Rocky Returns" stories, except that they are for real.
Anyway, off to the songs.
Starting off, we have Blackmail the Universe
, whose heavy palm-muted triplet-utilizing intro riff seems like a throw-back to something old like Set The World Afire. But it's fresh, and doesn't sound rehashed. Some spoken recording from a news report is thrown in, which may raise many listeners' eyebrows, but who gives a *** -- it fits, and it works, and it's ***ing Megadeth making a comeback, so shut the *** up.
The song then proceeds to kick ass, making use of numerous tempos, riffs, solos, and yet more added sound effects, but SMARTLY, and with purpose - it's not just a random snatch of ideas tossed in a cauldron and then stirred with some twig. No, it feels well-crafted, well-prepared, you can tell there was a recipe at work underneath.
The riff at 1:24 is one you should pay close attention to (yeah, right, as if one could miss it...). Because this is a riff that very well manages to encapsulate the essence of Megadeth - it's a riff that strikes you, punches you, bludgeons you, and you feel good about it. See, Megadeth's formula to making hard-hitting music has never been about playing sixteenth notes at 2443 bpm like some other less-successful thrash bands, or endlessly rehashing idiotic generic grooves like some less-successful ... "groove metal" bands. There is
groove in this riff. But it's a right groove, a precise groove, done with touch, with style, with finesse
. And you find yourself unable to not headbang. Dave Mustaine was always a classy guy, and this specific riff is not only the announcement of the band's glorious rise from the ashes, but also a crass rebuttal to all those who ever doubted him, doubted Megadeth.
At any rate, it's time for the next song I think. This is Die Dead Enough
. The instrumentation takes a backseat in this song, as it is mostly a vocal-driven and quite melodic (but not cheesy!) piece, that makes use of interesting vocal layerings + some added string (probably synthesised) sound effects. Overall, it's catchy, meaningful and it works. So even if it's not what one would have expected, it's a good song. Besides, the riffs ARE there, if you listen closely. And there's the classing Mustaine pissed-off snarl, here and in other songs.
Kick the Chair
is the third song and it's a total thrashterpiece. Lots of neck-breaking riffs, lots of busy instrumentation, barely time to take a breath! Really the highlight of the album. But just when you think that it can't really get any better, in comes a ***ing jaw-dropping semi-classical TOCCATTA SOLO SECTION, which then gets HARMONISED by ***ing CHRIS POLAND (did I mention he's on the album??), proceeding to a bluesy finish. That's one of those songs that just can't get any perfecter.
By this point in the album you've realised that there is drool dripping from your gaping jaw, so Mustaine & co. decide to play it cool and introduce a softer-paced song to give you time to wipe it off. The Scorpion
is a song that's very middle ground - you can't really really love it, but you can't dislike it either. It just feels in-place and can't really be a subject of complaints.
The album's midpoint sees another highlight, namely Tears in a Vial
. Now, some people will say I'm blaspheming here, but if you ever felt like In My Darkest Hour
needed a spiritual successor, then this song is it. Everything -- the emotional power of the lyrics and music, the soloing, the build-up, the resolution... Powerful. By the way Poland's solo in this song is his personal Tornado of Souls
moment for the band. Hopefully you get what I mean. I'll pray for you if you don't.
I Know Jack
is useless filler, but might as well have it for ***s and giggles. In case anyone doesn't know, the audio sample is taken from Lloyd Bentsen's famous owning of Dan Quayle.
Following that is a spree of four songs which there's not much to say about, except that they're good. Except that I can't for the life of me figure out who's the subject of Something I'm Not
. Of Mice and Man
is Mustaine's heartfelt "story of my life" piece - quite melodramatic, but with a solid riff that effortlessly chugs along and gives drive to the song.
Shadow of Deth
is another weird song, but a bit less filler-y than I Know Jack. Here Mustaine proclaims his love for his newfound faith by reciting Psalm 23 from the book of David. It's cheesy as ***, and made hilarious by Dave's goofy approximation of a British accent. However, abstracting myself from that, I totally dig the melodic midsection, as it makes the song not completely worthless.
Lastly, there's My Kingdom
which AGAIN is a song composed entirely of recited material. (the movie Excalibur
being the source) And again, it's goofy and awkward, with not much saving grace, except for some admittedly cool lines. But then again, they're stolen. Its one success is that it manages to close the album nicely, even if on a weird note.
Overall, The System Has Failed
is a great album with great songs and a great thematic centre which keeps them together in a concentrated unit of force. But what makes this album superb is its context in Megadeth's history and discography. After all, this was a band everyone had written off. But Mustaine came back, and he came back as a rabid dog. And Megadeth is at its best when Dave Mustaine is a rabid dog.