Over their careers, many big bands change the style of music they play. Metallica, once the biggest thrash metal band in the world, softened up their sound to a more accessible, mainstream style of metal. Judas Priest changed their sound many, many times; with styles ranging from classic metal, to a more hard rock sound, as well as speed metal, and even a stint in hair metal. Even Gothenburg Metallers, In Flames, have experimented with new sounds.
Megadeth, one of the "Big Four" bands of thrash metal also changed up their music. The band had released four excellent thrash albums, with two of them being considered thrash masterpieces, Rust in Peace in 1990 and Peace Sells…But Who's Buying in 1988. In 1992, the band opted for a more accessible release, entered the studio, and came out with Countdown to Extinction
, the band's most successful album to date. Countdown to Extinction reached #2 in the American charts. In the long run, this was probably the worst thing that could have happened to the band. According to the album's linear notes, Megadeth's main man, Dave Mustaine, was very upset that the album didn't hit the coveted #1 spot in the charts. The band wanted to reach #1 so much that they got progressively poppier until their 1999 album, Risk. None of the albums coming after Countdown – Youthanasia, Cryptic Writings, and Risk – ever reached #1, and none of them sold as well as Countdown to Extinction either.
Just like when Metallica released the famous Black Album, detractors of Megadeth screamed "sellout" after the release of the album. But there is none of that here. With Countdown to Extinction, Megadeth still produced some excellent metal. This time, rather than recording a heavy, technical riff-fest like they did on Rust in Peace, Dave and Co. played simpler, more melodic tunes that will appeal more to the average listener. Songs such as Captive Honour
, Countdown to Extinction
, and This Was My Life
, displayed this more melodic approach to metal, particularly the title track, with its fantastic bridges and interludes. But the album still showcases a heavier side to Megadeth. Songs such as Architecture of Aggression
, Ashes in Your Mouth
, and Megadeth's biggest hit, Symphony of Destruction
, prove to listeners that the band still retains its heaviness. Also remaining on Countdown are Marty Friedman's amazing guitar solos. While he doesn’t shred like he does on Hangar 18 or Holy Wars…The Punishment Due, he has some exciting moments on the album such as the solo in Symphony of Destruction
, or Ashes in Your Mouth
Countdown to Extinction is home to some of Megadeth's strangest moments and songs. The first is one of the singles, Sweating Bullets
. The song starts off with a simple, yet eerie guitar riff, which is followed by a long spoken section in which Dave talks to himself. The spoken section is bitter and sarcastic, mocking Dave and how he lives. The spoken part represents the split personalities and voices that may or may not have actually been inside Dave's head at the time. The album contains several of these spoken sections, and at times the can be pretty entertaining. "Well me, it's been nice talking to myself"… The band would explore this technique again in a later song titled, Dread and the Fugitive Mind. Another slightly odd part of Countdown to Extinction shows up on the tenth song, Captive Honour
. The song contains an amusing dialogue between the band members with the scene depicting an on going trial at a courthouse. The dialogue fits into the song's themes, and reminds me of all those short tracks in between songs in a concept album that are there merely to move the story along (See Blind Guardian's Nightfall in Middle Earth, it’s got a dozen of them).
I like Dave's vocals on Countdown to Extinction a lot more than on any other album. Dave Mustaine's singing style is a love it or hate it kind of thing. Those who enjoy listening to Dave belt out the his lyrics in Rust in Peace or Peace Sells will love his singing in Countdown, while those who dislike them will have to look for some other redeeming quality in the music, as Megadeth relies on Dave's singing quite a lot. In my opinion, his vocals are at their best, especially on the title track, Architecture of Aggression
, and Captive Honour
. Dave's voice sounds really great with the melodic style of music found on this album, and are as catchy as they will ever be. I think his vocals are more suited to the lighter sound of Countdown, Youthanasia, and Cryptic Writings, rather than the gritty, harsher vocals needed for an album like Killing is My Business.
Countdown to Extinction was Megadeth's first step into the world of mainstream music. Despite softening up the sound, the music still remains enjoyable and the band still maintains its identity, something that the band lacked in albums like Risk. Though the band opted for a lighter album (and it isn't exactly light to begin with) traces of the bands former thrash metal sound can still be found on songs such as Architecture of Aggression or Ashes in Your Mouth. Countdown to Extinction is no Rust in Peace, but it is a very enjoyable ride that anybody can enjoy.
Ashes in Your Mouth
Architecture of Aggression
Symphony of Destruction