You know those bands that for one reason or another are forever endearing to you? The band whose transparent and stark decline you deny with frightening vehemence in conversation? The band whose albums you allot twice as much time as others to deem anything less than providential? That band for me is Megadeth. I got Youthanasia at the tender, if not questionably premature, age of eight, and I credit them for my interest in heavy music. But their newest record, United Abominations, is where I draw the line. For the third straight album Megadeth have compressed a handful of memorable, intensely crafted songs with uninspired, aurally-exact incarnations of the concept of mediocrity.
Perhaps even more concerning to me is the drastic fall of my hero Mustaine into political conservatism and thoughtless libertarianism. I’m just as angered as the next guy about the ineffectiveness of the United Nations, trust me, but blaming them for not joining the failed U.S.-led invasion of Iraq is a little too far right for my liking. Which leads to another concern. Mustaine’s once caustic wit and thoughtful political commentary have deteriorated into hackneyed Biblical retellings, eighth-grader political analyses, and ridiculous Sean Hannity-isms (“They attack the church dynamic and attack the family“). The things that once made Megadeth distinct from their metal contemporaries now make them exactly alike.
But I’d be lying if I said I listened to Megadeth mostly for the lyrics. Their jaw-dropping, but tasteful technicality and innovation in the thrash and speed metal genres made Rust in Peace and Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? two of my favorite records of all time. The majority of these tracks seem to be mathematically devised to appeal to the common Megadeth fan – Cryptic Writings-era melodies with an occasional Rust in Peace-like brutal riff. But where those albums were the convincing works of an inspired artist, this album is the work of a very bromidic man.
The album does have a handful of genuinely interesting tracks though. “Sleepwalker,” sounds a bit like “Good Mourning…Black Friday” (1986), with an eerie chorused guitar that kicks into a brutal, and speedy chromatic riff a la “Blackmail the Universe” (2005). The chorus is the most immediate melody on the record. “Washington is Next” is the obvious choice for the album’s single. It begins with an Iron-Maiden like riff and a descending bass counterpoint – the sort of attention to detail that could be found in their ’80s records. “Gears of War,” apart from being commissioned for a video game, is the album’s most unique track with a haunting chorus melody where Dave sings, “Smart bombs, precision guided armament / A more sophisticated way to end up dead / Until we search and invent such intelligent weapons – the gears of war.” The whole album benefits from the crisp engineering of Andy Sneap and the services of new members Shawn and Glen Drover and James LoMenzo. It is undoubtedly the best-recorded Megadeth album since Youthanasia.
But, who am I to expect brilliance out of the twelfth LP from a 23-year-old band anyways? I mean Neil Young arguably hasn’t given his fans a great record in 25 years. I guess it’s just the bands that are so endearing to one that makes expectations absurdly high. But at least I got another handful of memorable tracks from my favorite mainstream metal band. And yes, like any good ‘Deth fan, I still think this smokes Metallica’s entire existence.
Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath
Opeth – Ghost Reveries
Metallica – …And Justice For All