Review Summary: The last essential Megadeth release from the '90s. Crushing and catchy.
Dave Mustaine was driven mad after Megadeth's hugely successful and more accessible Countdown to Extinction debuted (and peaked) at Number 2. He wanted that #1 spot badly, as he admits in the liner notes to the Countdown remaster, and I suppose the slower direction taken on Youthanasia reflects this. Yes, in some ways, Youthanasia marks even more of a departure from Megadeth's classic sound than Countdown to Extinction. There isn't a single song here that creeps above the midpaced range in tempo. ***, there are two songs on here featuring harmonica.
With that being said, Youthanasia is still a metal album, not mired in pop-rock experimentation like their last two '90s albums. Instead of thrashing out, though, they groove and pound. Youthanasia is a hard slab of smothering, slow, and straight up heavy metal. It's not some hardcore doom metal or anything like that; Megadeth still continues in a more straightforward, melodic direction, with some of the best hooks in Megadeth's career to be found here. But even so, Megadeth's slowing down doesn't mean they're especially mellowing out; rather, the riffs crunch hard, carrying tons of weight, while often remaining catchy enough to sing to at times.
Just check out Reckoning Day. There's that uber-menacing riff, along with Dave's snarl, which is nastier than ever. His vocals on this album are perhaps the best of his career. But anyways..."I like the way that I make you itch/And all the reasons I give you to bitch". The ever-excellent Nick Menza pounds out some almost tribal rhythms on the toms. When the song gets going, the riffs get less heavy, and later on, acoustic guitars very effectively mesh with Dave and Marty's immense riffage. Then there's Train of Consequences, which features the best of both crushing and more melodic riffs, plus an incredibly infectious chorus. The riff after the second chorus is one of those classic Mustaine riffs. There's a harmonica solo in this song, and both this and the last one feature shakers in the background. These two songs sum up the album pretty well, showcasing the best of melody and lower paced fury with a hint of experimentation.
Addicted to Chaos is one of the album's weaker tracks, and a poor followup to those last few songs, but that's fine, because there are still plenty of other great Megadeth tracks here. A Tout Le Monde is a classic ballad, and one of the band's "hits". Then there's Elysian fields, which might have the greatest of all the choruses here. I'd rank it really high up as one of Megadeth's catchiest songs. "Elyyyysiaan fiiieeelds..." Classic stuff. The Killing Road has two major things going for it. The first is that absolutely killer
riff that opens the song. The second is the chorus, which has catchy vocal lines and riffs. A brief section of this song towards the end is probably the fastest part of the album. Blood of Heroes is probably a weaker track, but the riffage is at least pretty groovy and heavy for a while. The guitar work is the best thing this song has going for it. Family Tree is about incest, and thus the lyrics tie into the themes of "youth being hung out to dry" explored on the cover art and title track. The acoustic lines here are really tasty, and there's yet another infectious chorus. ("Let me show you/How I love you!")
Then there's the title track, which is a mixed bag. All of the riffs here are quite awesome, and you gotta love it when they pick up momentum and start ***ing shredding. But Mustaine has this silly filter put on his voice and it kind of ruins the vocals. Black Curtains is basically built around being crunchingly heavy. Some people think that Youthanasia isn't a good album because it's not heavy enough, just because they slowed down and have catchy choruses. Take a listen to Black Curtains and tell me that there isn't some heavy *** on Youthanasia.
One flaw of the album is sameness. A lot of songs on here run at a similar tempo (I Thought I Knew It All and Black Curtain run at a similar speed and are directly adjacent to one another) and when listening to the whole thing front-to-back, it's not very distinctive. You can definitely pick out your favorites and such, but Youthanasia comes close to being slightly bland at times. Because of this, it's not hard to miss their albums before this, when it was fine to throw in a little speed every now and then. The Killing Road and the title track are exceptions, but most of the songs here just run at the same tempo all the way through, and are around four minutes long with not too many changes in riffs. This is what might lead some to believe Megadeth went for more of a hard rock vibe with this album.
But Youthanasia is unmistakably metal. Much more importantly, most of Youthanasia is also quality stuff. It's still probably their least consistent album in a while, but while there are some less-than-great moments, you just can't throw away songs like A Tout Le Monde, Elysian Fields, and the title track. Despite some inconsistency, the best songs are strong enough to compel me to give this a 4/5.
RECOMMENDED TRACKS/BEST OF:
Train of Consequences
A Tout Le Monde