Review Summary: Successfully achieves accessibility without sacrificing integrity
By releasing the ridiculously good Rust in Peace
in 1990, Megadeth had achieved the pinnacle of songwriting that the thrash subgenre allowed for. With it, the band proved capable of interweaving stellar instrumental work within complex arrangements, resulting in a sophisticated product that was nonetheless very catchy and memorable. At that point in time, metal was on the verge of breaking into the mainstream, with Metallica releasing their famed self-titled album in 1991. And rivalry-fueled Dave Mustaine, ever-eager to outdo his competitors, decided that the only logical path for his band to take was to also expand their sound into a more accessible format. The result was Countdown to Extinction
Countdown to Extinction had its eyes on the grand prize of radio airplay and fame. As a result, the band has sacrificed most of the complexity that had accompanied Rust in Peace in favor of a more streamlined and polished sound. The songs are primarily straightforward four-minute rockers, sporting an emphasis on catchy guitar hooks, vocal lines and choruses. Despite this sharp turn in style and simplification of sound, however, the album's attitude still screams "Megadeth!". Mustaine's snarl hasn't lost its edge, and neither have the instrumental capabilities of Ellefson, Friedman and Menza who don't waste the opportunity to show off their prowess every now and then. The solo in Symphony of Destruction
is still among the finest the band ever put out, whereas the tasteful opening bassline to the title track
and the drum solo in closer Ashes in Your Mouth
are successful as well. Even ridiculous-yet-cool design decisions such as the "Hello me, meet the real me!" monologue in Sweating Bullets
don't take away from the fun factor that this release possesses. In addition, a high degree of consistency is achieved throughout the record's eleven songs, which successfully prevent this from being a singles album.
The band hasn't entirely lost touch with its past self, as there are a few moments which remind us of older Megadeth. Architecture of Aggression
and Ashes in your Mouth
are heavier, more complex and more aggressive than the rest of the songs, even sporting some off-time 2/4 and 7/8 riffs here and there. Captive Honour
, on the other hand, features a pretty complicated riff that almost sounds like a lead. If there are songs I'd criticise, one would be Psychotron
, which simply doesn't manage to be interesting. Also, High Speed Dirt
, despite being decidedly catchy and upbeat, is about the quite dull and un-metal subject of skydiving.
's crowning achievement is that it successfully breaks into radio-play territory without sacrificing the integral ingredients that make the music Megadeth
and not some other band. Do listen.
*2012 marked the 20-th anniversary of the record. The band released a special concert DVD featuring the album played in its entirety, including songs that haven't been played before. It's an interesting listen, so make sure to watch it.
*There's a demo version of the title track floating around the web, featuring a heavier, more accentuated drum rhythm plus an additional riff. It adds a whole new, more thrashy feel to the song, which provides insight on the various design decisions that the band was going through during the recording process.
*Anyone remember how Mustaine has writing credits for Metallica's Phantom Lord off their debut LP? If you're looking for the Megadeth song that features his contribution, it's in This Was My Life. Compare the 2:34 segment in Phantom Lord to the 2:58 one in This Was My Life. It's the same thing!
*The bonus track Crown of Worms is a pretty awesome stab at NWOBHM.