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MEGADETH continues the trend begun with COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION, though this album shows more creativity and experimental work than their last two efforts, YOUTHANASIA and CRYPTIC WRITINGS.
This is particularly the case on the second track, "Prince of Darkness." Ghostly guitar wails of various lengths and pitch and the occasional background moan are placed throughout the song at various points. The lyrics are appropriately dark given the title character, and musically there is more variety than the typical repeated chords and bridges. Easily one of the better tracks on the disc.
Another great song is "Crush 'Em," the first single to hit the radio. A solid adrenaline-pumper with an arena of fans screaming "Crush! Crush 'em!" as the chorus, I found this one to be a great song to put the pedal down to (unfortunately, it's construction season in Illinois . . . grrr . . . ).
The album is full of some great instrumental work and solid songs, and probably some of the best actual playing that they've released. However, I think they need to step back a few albums and get back to some better songwriting. While I liked the majority of the songs, the only really great ones were those named above.
Founder/frontman and guitarist/vocalist Dave Mustaine is, as usual, involved with the writing of every song. He wrote a few himself, though the majority were co-written by Mustaine and guitarist Marty Friedman or Mustaine, Friedman and one of the band's managers, Bud Prager. While Mustaine and co-founder/bassist Dave Ellefson collaborated on many of the band's songs in the past, they only worked together once this time around on a song called "Seven."
The somewhat new direction for the band can be explained in the computer-enhanced portion of the CD. The enhanced programming features video of the band talking candidly about the making of the album during studio recording. Also featured is the album's producer, Dann Huff.
Mustaine essentially sums it up in one quote: "Where most metal bands are shifting to the death and black metal and singing like this [growls into mike], and sounding like Cookie Monster is their front man, we're going more the heavy metal/hard rock route."
According to Huff, the band spent a lot of time listening to classic rock albums that they normally wouldn't, hoping to find some new directions to take their music. Unlike most bands, the MEGADETH boys were willing to try new things and experiment. Again, I think it worked as far as the music, but I feel Mustaine's written some far better songs.
The interviews are intercut with some cool video footage of a mouse wandering between a baited mousetrap and a hairless cat (all related to the album cover art). "Crush 'Em" is heard during most of those video segments. The interviews are interesting, but my only gripe is you can't skip ahead by segments. You can only fast-forward or reverse, making the speakers sound like chipmunks or Satan-worshipers respectively. Funny at first, but quickly annoying when you want to pick up at a point you may have left off.
Finally, last year MEGADETH cut ties with drummer Nick Menza after four albums (if you count Hidden Treasures, their b-side and soundtrack collection). Menza reportedly hurt his knee in a softball game last year, and the band felt he just wasn't able to keep up any longer. Well I feel it was a pretty shitty thing to do to someone that's been part of the band for so long (especially after initial reports saying Menza's job would NOT be in jeopardy), I guess that's part of the business. Menza is replaced by Jimmy DeGrasso who, from the sound of it, has a great style that meshes with the rest of the band. Unfortunate circumstances, but DeGrasso's good.
I regret I'll be missing out on the chance to catch the band live this year and perform some of their newer songs. I caught them in March of '98, when they were touring for CRYPTIC WRITINGS, and they were simply outstanding. They played a wide range of songs from PEACE SELLS, BUT WHO'S BUYING? all the way to the present, and every band member took a second in the spotlight to play some terrific solo work. Definitely worth the bucks, especially if you can catch them in a small venue like Chicago's Aragon Ballroom (locally known as the "Brawl Room" for its crazy pits).
If you like the way things have been going since COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION, I think you'll be pleased with this album. While I do miss some of the blistering guitar work from RUST IN PEACE, they really take the time to show their musical talents. It would be a great metal play in the background while working on something or driving. I would give it five skulls, but I have to knock it back a peg for the subpar songwriting (when compared to their past work, that is).
This review copyright 1999 E.C.McMullen Jr.