One the most glaring problems with metal’s nostalgia fetish (which I discussed at length here) is that bands’ latest releases are constantly being judged in terms of their legacies/past glories, rather than the actual content of the new offering being evaluated. This is especially true of the genre’s titans, most of whom were blessed/cursed with releasing perfect or damn near perfect albums early on in their careers. Such is the case with Megadeth, who are shouldered with the considerable burden of having released not one but two genre-defining thrash albums in the form of Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? and Rust in Peace.
This is part of a larger problem. Metal doesn’t take kindly to its heroes growing up. Average joe’s like you and me are allowed to change through the years, but our favorite musicians aren’t. I’m not the same person I was twenty years ago, but for some reason Dave Mustaine is expected to remain the same fucked up, angry young man that wrote “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” and “Take No Prisoners”. Um, guys, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but MegaDave is fifty years old, sober, and down with the G-O-D (the latter much to my chagrin). I realize that metal is positively filled with sufferers of “Peter Pan Syndrome” and some metal veterans have admirably held on to their original fire (see Sabbat’s Gezol and Vader’s Piotr Wiwczarek), yet I can’t help but look at things from my own perspective; I’m 32 years old this month, I’m happily married and have a good job… acting like the pissed off teenager who wants to “fuck on the floor and break shit” (to borrow a phrase from Henry Rollins) seems a tad silly. Does this make me a “sellout” or “not metal”? I think metal is in your heart and your soul, not in juvenile, over-the-top antics, or trying to re-write an album you wrote two decades ago, and I think scene godfathers like Mustaine would agree with me. Just because you’ve grown up and are content in life doesn’t mean you’ve lost your passion. Expecting Mustaine (or any other artist for that matter) to be in the same place musically and artistically at fifty as he was in his twenties is just flat out ridiculous. Human beings do not exist in stasis.
Which brings us to Th1rt3en (henceforth referred to as Thirteen because I’m far too lazy to keep spelling it that way), Megadeth’s thirteenth album (duh) and the first to feature long lost bassist David Ellefson since 2001’s The World Needs a Hero. On paper, the hodgepodge nature of the album (two songs written for video games, three that have already appeared as demo/bonus tracks for older Megadeth releases + a handful of brand new songs) seems like a recipe for disaster or a sign of lacking inspiration, but Megadeth manages to rustle up a cohesive album that largely sounds to these ears like a cross between Youthanasia and Cryptic Writings (okay, I know I just griped at length about people making these types of comparisons earlier, but I guess it’s inevitable… shit). Some of you will immediately dismiss the album based on that comparison alone, but as someone who grew up with and also happens to dig that era of Megadeth, I’m all for Mustaine and Co. not taking the obvious route of attempting to create Rust in Peace 2.0.
Of course, with thirteen tracks and almost an hour run-time, Thirteen isn’t without a few clunkers. “Guns, Drugs and Money” “Fast Lane” and “Wrecker” are the obvious filler songs that should’ve remained unfinished in the studio, but even these lesser tracks aren’t completely unlistenable. On the other hand, there are numerous songs that exhibit Megadeth’s patented blend of precision, aggression and technical wizardry to the fullest, such as “Black Swan” “Deadly Nightshade” “Never Dead” and “Sudden Death”. Mustaine and Chris Broderick (ex Jag Panzer, Nevermore) deliver some serious guitar pyrotechnics, with Broderick cementing himself as the best six-string foil for Mustaine since Marty Friedman. Some of these songs might have been around since the nineties, but Megadeth inject them with plenty of energy and modernity, making you wonder why they waited until now to include them on a proper album.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Thirteen is ridiculously catchy front-to-back, probably the most infectious batch of songs Mustaine has put together since the aforementioned Cryptic Writings (damn, I did it again). I’m a sucker for catchy choruses, and make no mistake that this album is rife with them, from the political call to arms that is “We The People” to the nightmarish “Deadly Nightshade”. Megadeth have always been expert craftsmen, but it really feels like this time out they put extra emphasis on creating memorable hooks. I’ll put it this way, I can’t remember any of the choruses off the top of my head from United Abominations or Endgame, but numerous refrains from Thirteen are already well upon their way to committing themselves to the inner workings of the skull beneath my skin for all eternity.
In addition to being brimming with multiple guitargasms and catchier-than-herpes choruses, Thirteen sounds great. There had been some concern regarding Megadeth’s choice of nu metal guru Johnny K to produce, but fear not rattleheads, Thirteen still sounds like a Megadeth album. While K’s production scheme might not be quite as crisp and biting as Andy Sneap’s (producer on United Abominations and Endgame), there’s still plenty of crunch and bottom end, which serves Megadeth well whether they’re channelling Black Sabbath on “Millenium of the Blind”, getting thrashtastic on “Sudden Death” and all points in-between.
Megadeth have put out a killer album with Thirteen. Fans expecting a rehash of the band’s past will be extremely disappointed, but those willing to throw their absurd expectations out the window and listen to the album on its own terms will find much to enjoy. Thirteen is not a perfect album, but it is a damn good album; another impressive addition to Megadeth’s discography that serves to further solidify the band’s position as the most consistent, musical and technically sound member of thrash’s Big 4.