Album Review

ALBUM REVIEW: MEGADETH “TH1RT3EN”

by Ryan Meehan

(Editor’s Note:  Please excuse the delay here, but things have been kind of busy on my end.  This record actually came out on November 1st, which seems like an eternity ago.  My sincerest apologies. – Meehan)

Before we get started, let’s remember a few things about the current state of Megadeth:
 
1.  Dave is Sober

Mustaine is now sober, he lives without that cocktail that made Megadeth so popular.   Not to bag on the guy for kicking, but it’s a whole different horse when you don’t have such a drive like that.  There are parts of this album where freebase Dave would have really went for it and I felt that he was holding back a bit.  His appearance has drastically improved, but with the combination of age (he turned 50 in September) there are a few corners that are going to be rounded.

2.  Very few original members remain

Thankfully, Megadeth doesn’t suffer from this all that much because for the most part Dave tells whoever is in the band at the moment what to do and how to behave.  You’ll notice that in this review that I will say “he” as opposed to “they”, because I think we know that the other band members don’t have a lot of a say.  Dave Ellefson is in the group again, but hasn’t played with the band since 2002.  the other members in this lineup other than Ellefson have about as much of a say in matters as anybody other than Billy who’s ever been in Smashing Pumpkins in the past twenty years.

3.  They are about 16 or 17 years past their prime

Look, they’re never going to be 29 years old again, and I realize that.   But that’s the risk you take when you decide to continue a band like this that has had such rich history.  You have to remember that they were one of the four original American thrash metal bands so they’re lucky to be around especially with all of the bridges they’ve burned.  And that’s a lot of ashes over the past 30 years.  To me, “Peace Sells” and “Countdown to Extinction” will always be their best work, and although the albums that came afterwards were well put together, they were of many casualties of the grunge movement.

Track by Track:  

1.  Sudden Death  8.0/10.0

I always like the Devil’s interval to open up a record.  For the first minute and a half or so, it sounds like this would be one of those solo seminars at one of those NAMM shows.  It’s very lead guitar-heavy.  There’s these pre-verse breakdowns that pan in stereo that I like but it has been done a billion times.  During the bridge I noticed that the drums on this album seem to sounds less tappy and mechanical as they have on some of their other work.  There’s a very thick presence of bass and low mid that make the drums sound larger and tougher.  But yes, there is a lot of soloing on this song.  Probably at least a third of the total track time which is 5:07.

2.  Public Enemy No. 1  9.2/10.0

I like this track a lot.  What I have never been a fan of is Mustaine’s abuse of the idea of growing up an “enemy”, but nonetheless the hook in this track is pretty much untouchable.  He loves to play the victim card but sometimes when he focuses so much of his energy on that the hook isn’t always this great, which it is here…For some reason I keep thinking the chord progression in the chorus sounds like “Empire” by Queensryche.  I went back and checked and as it turns out my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me, it really does sound like that song.  But that’s not necessary a bad thing.  This track has a very steady pace to it that’s somewhere between groove metal and nu-gallop.  The vocal harmonies on this one are great, which is weird because since Mustaine doesn’t always sing, he has to harmonize the notes and the growls when he’s doing both and it sounds badass on this track.  Lot of lead work again.

3.   Who’s Life is it anyway?   5.5/10.0

Hmmm…This is a little annoying.  It’s very punk rock but when you consider that he’s fifty years old and built one of the best heavy metal bands in rock history, you have to wonder who he’s actually bitching to.  And I say bitching because that’s exactly what it is.  Maybe he was on a bus or something and some old woman was looking at him funny because of that ginger mop on his dome.  I like the end of the track, but didn’t stand out as something that…well…stood out.  It reminds me a lot of when they covered “Anarchy in the U.K.”  Shortest song on the disc.

4.  We The People:  6.2/10.0

Kind of your standard “Megadeth complaining about the government” track.  It’s completely understandable, but addresses the same complaints that Dave’s had for years about the lack of respect the government has for everyone else.  And I’m fine with that in metal:  I think it’s good to have it there, but this assumption that bands can put out a song and it’s going to change the opinion of a bunch of assholes that wouldn’t give that song the time of day is completely asinine.  That being said, I do like one issue they brought up:  This one addresses the Social Security problem which I do believe isn’t really getting a lot of attention because it’s not completely on fire yet.  A lot of artists use complicated wording and are all about showing off their vocabulary, but at least it seems believable that he knows what he’s talking about.  I’m just saying, I’m sure if you asked the lead singer of Nickelback what the hell his point is after four beers, he wouldn’t be able to tell you shit.

5.   Guns, Drugs and Money  8.7/10.0

All too true story of a guy that goes down to Mexico to drop some scratch off and gets smoked.  If you are familiar with any of the stories about narcoterrorism that have happened as of late, you likely know how real this situation is down south.  (Watch “Bordertown:  Laredo” and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about)  And here’s a little smuggling tip:  Don’t be a punk and get drunk.  Seriously, just wait until you get home.  Don’t let it throw you off of your game.  Or, just don’t smuggle drugs in the first place.  Just a thought.

Bonus Comment:  There’s this outro thing going on after this track that sounds like some kind of a Mexican funeral march, and it seems a tad out of place.

6.  Never Dead  4.6/10.0

The beginning of this song is boring as hell and very uninteresting.  But then it kicks up the volume with this really cool thrash riff accompanied by some intense double kick stuff.  (Makes you wonder why they didn’t just scrap the intro altogether)  Regardless, this is the point where the record starts to approach stock.  If you’re not a big Megadeth fan you probably wouldn’t sit back and listen to it, it’s one of those mp3s on your iPod that you always skip.  “Never Dead” appeared in a video game of the same title earlier this year.

7.  New World Order  4.2/10.0

As a song title, I can’t fucking stand this term anymore.  It was cool when Ministry used it, but then I think it became a wrestling saying of some sort, pretty much killing any hope of it being cool on any level.  The music itself is actually pretty tough, but as you well know when Mustaine wants the vocals to be the focal point of the song, he gets his wish.  This one was a demo from “Countdown to Extinction” that got scrapped.

8.  Fast Lane  5.0/10.0

When are we going to get the flanger out of every sort of heavy metal?  When I was growing up, someone described it to me as sounding cool, like what I always dreamed that a Phaser sounded like, but I soon found out that it was that swooping disco-airplane noise that was the one thing I couldn’t stand about Van Halen.  I think this song is about driving.  He rhymes “fast lane” with “jet plane”, shortly followed by “insane”.  I can’t tell if this is supposed to be a euphemism for mainlining or not.

9.  Black Swan  5.4/10.0

This track was originally released as a bonus track for members of the band’s fanclub that pre ordered “United Abominations”, therefore has nothing to do with the 2010 film of the same name.  Not a whole lot to write home about here.

10.  Wrecker  8.9/10.0

This song is awesome.  It’s clearly kind of a revenge song about an ex but in this context it sort of saves the bottom half of this album.  Each line ends with “She’ll wreck it”, which might seem corny but trust me it fucking works…I like the idea of the band taking on formats they aren’t particularly used to.  This could be a goddamned country song.

11.  Millenium of the Blind   5.8/10.0

Here again, intro totally unnecessary.  I kept finding myself scrolling back to “Wrecker” on Windows Media Player.  It does show some shades of “Foreclosure of a Dream” at some points, which is awesome because I love that song.  It just never establishes a really decent beat, and sounds kind of broken up.

12.  Deadly Nightshade  4.3/10.0

There’s some laughing girl at the beginning of this song and it ruins the mood for me.  This song was actually written during the “Youthanasia” or “Cryptic Writings” sessions.

13.  Thirteen  7.6/10.0

Very slow moving and definitely not the track that I would have selected for the title track, but Dave has said in interviews that this record is a culmination of the songs that he has worked so hard on throughout his career so I have to trust that he’s really doing what he feels here.  Ellefson also said in an interivew that it “summed up the arc of Megadeth as a band”.

Overall Grades for the Album:

Technical Performance:  A

Anybody that would question the likability of this record would be justified as it’s not “Rust in Peace”, but you’d have to eventually surrender to the fact that the guitar playing on this album is damn near flawless.  I heard an interview with Alice Cooper one time where he said that Megadeth was one of the most well rehearsed metal bands of all time, and he’s right.  They waste no time in getting to the point, and from what I understand even in their substance abuse days they were pretty mistake-free live.  The lesson here is:  Practice makes perfect.

Relative Importance Compared to the rest of the Entertainment Industry:  D+

This is a catch 22, because if he writes something really simplistic that becomes a huge modern rock hit, all of the metalhead purists will throw a fit and call them sellouts.  Then their mothers will get angry and kick all of them out of the basement, then they have to pay all of their own bills, and all hell breaks loose.  Either way, in a country where whatever’s left of Bruce Jenner’s face is considered to be a fucking television personality, Megadeth probably isn’t going to get a whole lot of publicity.

How it compares to other Megadeth Records:   C+

It probably seems like I’m being a dick here but when you’ve put out the legendary albums that they have you’re setting yourself up for a lot of criticism late in your career to keep going.  “Countdown to Extinction” was almost perfect…there weren’t any holes in it at all.  It was airtight in everyway, almost to the point that I had wished they would have loosened it up a little more.  “Thirteen” is no stainer by comparison, but laid next to some of the bullshit metal albums that are out today, it’s still in the upper 90th percentile.

Overall Album Rating:  7.1/10.0 

As this album progressed, I felt that it dipped a little bit in quality.  At about song six or seven, you start to realize there are a few “Kill The King”s on this album.  What I mean by that is there were a few songs that I thought could have made excellent soundtrack fodder but were B-sides at best.  So a C-minus is actually quite a generous rating.  When you think about the fact that several songs towards the end were written during the nineties, it’s easy to see that this could have just been an eight song EP if they hadn’t pushed it.

Summary:

Megadeth is still incredibly talented, but sometimes bands who possess that level of talent try to squeeze blood from a stone that’s been dry for some time.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a very, very good record and is definitely the best since the ’02-’04 hiatus.  And I’m guessing it won’t be the last time we hear from them.

I’ll be back to wrapup week twelve in the NFL on Tuesday, and then Cravens will be my guest for the week thirteen preview, so be ready for that.  In the meantime, once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.

Meehan

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