Review Summary: Cheesy attempt at chart-topping pop rock.
Stagnation is something that all artists, including but not limited to those of the musical variety, would like to avoid. Dave Mustaine (and his bandmates in Megadeth, which at the time comprised of 3/4 of the "classic" lineup) aren't obligated to make metal, right? Sure, they have fans that would like to see them release technical melodic thrash orgasmica, but they have every right to make ventures into other music and take, as the album's title indicates of the record, risks. But is the common folly of closemindedness the true reason that this album gets such a bad rap?
Sorry, but some risks just pan out badly. Such is the case with Megadeth's eighth studio release, Risk. This album is a dramatic departure from anything they'd released prior. Even Cryptic Writings had songs like She-Wolf and Vortex, and while there was certainly stuff on there that didn't work very well, that album featured a big radio rock hit that wasn't
cringeworthy in Trust. Not only is there barely anything here that veers above midpaced territory, the songs are peppered with these weird electronic influences, and the guitar sound is often incredibly...manufactured sounding. In fact, there's barely anything that I would call "riffage" here. Are the songs here good enough to encourage one to leave behind their preconceieved notions of "what Megadeth should sound like" and appreciate this record for what it is? Not for this reviewer. So, so much about this album comes across as incredibly cheesy, dated, and absolutely ridiculous. Risk isn't 100% total crap, but nonetheless falls flat on its face fairly often and stands as perhaps the most poorly regarded Megadeth album, perhaps barring Super Collider.
Dave says in the liner notes for the remastered edition (Which differs in some ways from the original release, namely in that it leaves out some of the worst failed attempts at expanding the album's sound pallette; I'm reviewing the original version here) that he wished to "save the metal element" of the album with the opening track, Insomnia. Such a task can't be accomplished when the guitars and percussion have that ultra-filtered sound to them. Insomnia's really not the worst opener in the world, though. Yeah, there are plenty of moments that remind one of many reasons why this album sucks so hard. The solo here doesn't even compare to the brilliance that we know
Dave is capable of. The layers of annoying, repetitive, and stupidly distorted guitars grate the listener. Whenever they quiet down, there's usually some incredibly ***ing cheesy poppy moment. Even when trying to approach this with an open mind (Despite what my Sputnik ratings might tell you, my tastes are by no means limited to metal, although the kind of territory explored here mostly isn't my forte), this just feels like a weaker track. But the chorus is really catchy, basically the kind of infectious hook that they wanted to write lots of on the album. In addition, I think the violins actually make for a nice touch, and compliment the vibe that they were attempting to create with this track.
Prince of Darkness is far and away the album's best track. It's the album's most aggressive and dark moment, which is probably why I'm biased towards towards it. The riffs manage to be cool while also carrying an edge of accessibility. Dave's speak-snarling (unfortunately, this appears at other spots on the album) is pretty corny, and the guitars and drums still have that processed pop sheen. But the unusually heavy (for this album) riffs make this a gleaming spot of hope in a desolate pit of despair. And the little "symphonic" (bad way of putting it) interlude is really neat, too. After an opener with a few decent elements followed by this track, one might think that this record might actually be redeemable. The silly and simplistic guitar chord driven Enter the Arena doesn't seem too bad...that is, until you hear the song that it's leading up to.
That techno percussion kicks in, along with that disco bassline and some guitar licks that are cheesy as all hell. Dave's incredibly corny snarling only serves to make things much worse, with the moment where he grunts thrice being a particularly cringeworthy moment. Then the song "kicks in", and the listener says "Oh ***ing hell
no." That's right, it's Crush 'Em, and it sucks hard. There's an attempt at a bone headed sing-along chorus here, but it fails quite spectacularly. Although Dave defends the album, even he hates this individual song, and lamented that Megadeth even considered "doing a disco song" in the remastered liner notes. Breadline wouldn't lose anything from trimming off the last minute, but as far as the album's poppier moments go, it's actually not too bad as an individual track. It's perhaps a bit corny--Dave throws in another incredibly stupid grunt at one point--but the for the first couple minutes, it's a catchy, fairly simple little pop tune. About three and a half minutes in comes some really lame soloing that could've been clipped without being missed, but compared to the most of the rest of this album, this song is actually kind of decent. It's certainly much better than the album's other big single, which immediately follows this one.
It's all downhill from there, though. The Doctor Is Calling just flat out sucks. Ultra cheesy chiming bells and choruses try to add a sort of texture to this track, but instead it's just annoying. In addition, there's a lot of goofy voice acting type stuff in this song, complete with snarl-talk from Mustaine. This was alredy cheesy on Countdown to Extinction ("We find the defendent...GUILTY! On allllll counts! For crimes...against allll humanityyy!"), but Captive Honor is such a great song that it was excusable. The Doctor Is Calling...well, isn't. The song that makes me facepalm harder than perhaps everything here, though, is I'll Be There, a corny ballad that's kinda pukeworthy in its cheesy, poppy excesses. ("I'llll beeee theeere fooor you...") I know you're supposed to approach an album like this with an open mind in order to appreciate it, but most Megadeth fans listening to this will no doubt miss the thrashy fun of tracks like Rattlehead, Good Mourning/Black Friday, Hook In Mouth, Take No Prisoners, Ashes In Your Mouth...even if this may sound a bit closeminded, I need a little good old fashioned fury with my Megadeth, and while Breadline is a decent (Though not particularly fantastic or anything)enough song to sustain itself without fulfilling this requirement, most of the tracks here aren't. The Doctor Is Calling and I'll Be There are both prime examples of this.
Wanderlust is another lame attempt at pop rock. Ecstasy does a much better job at this, though, with enough catchy moments and a somewhat psychadelic vibe that can just about carry the song, cheesy warbled guitar moments and all. That lame ass techno beat really ***s up the quiet section about three minutes in, though. Ecstasy is the album's last good song, unfortunately. That's right; next up is a trio of crap! Seven tries to be a standard hard rock song, complete with an attempt at a straight up jammin' second half. Too bad it's boring. Time: The Beginning tries to be kind of psychadelic and mellow (although it takes a different approach than Ecstasy), but comes across as unbelievably cheesy. Time: The End takes the opposite approach, but is just as cheesy, and the thirty or so seconds of dead space summarize the album's crappier tracks; lacking in substance.
Although Dave Mustaine tried his hardest to justify the album in the press, has songwriting credits on every song, and gave a mediocre vocal performance that helps add to the high cheesiness factor, he's not 100% to blame for this, and perhaps he's correct in maintaining that the album would have been much more appreciated had it not been released under the Megadeth banner. Bud Prager (As Dave says in the remastered edition's liner notes, "I've got two words for you...but I didn't say them." Ha!
) and Marty Friedman (who was interested in exploring music other than metal) are responsible for a lot of the lyrics and music here. So maybe people shouldn't have been so ready to crucify Dave. But while some parts of the album are salvagable, and the remastered edition is slightly better thanks to less processed sounding production on certain tracks combined with the removal of lots of the silly techno elements, Risk overall deserves its poor reputation.
Who cares that Prince of Darkness is good poppy metal, Breadline isn't bad if you take it for what it is, and Ecstasy is catchy and has a neat vibe? Almost every other song either completely sucks or only has one or two decent moments at best. And while I'd like to not stoop to the criticism that it's "not metal enough", it really does suck to have heard Megadeth nearly throw away most of their metal cred with this shallow attempt at hitting the charts. Here are these thrash titans, three fourths of which performed on freaking Rust in Peace and two of whom, including the principle songwriter, performed on Peace Sells, stooping to lows like I'll Be There and The Doctor Is calling. The few good tracks don't even begin to redeem the overall suckage and feelings of crushing disappointment contained within this disc, which should be avoided. *** this album. 1.5/5.
RECOMMENDED (used loosely) TRACKS/BEST OF:
Prince of Darkness