Megadeth – Thirteen (2011)

Posted: November 4, 2011 in Music

Any one that even vaguely follows the heavy metal scene knows all about Megadeth. They know all about Dave Mustaine – his firing from Metallica, his over-the-top alcoholism, his aggressive nature, his comments on homosexuality, etc. Any one worth their salt will tell you that the band is one of the most important, iconic bands of the American heavy metal movement over the last twenty eight years. Sure, there are tons of Metallica die-hards that have thrashed Mustaine since his departure from that “other band”, but after 12 albums, countless tours, and over 30 million record sales worldwide, you can’t deny the success Megadeth has had over their career.

In fact, I would go as far as to say they have had the most illustrious run of any of the “Big Four” bands (which also includes Metallica, Anthrax, and Slayer). Yes, I know Hetfield and Ulrich sold more albums, but they have had some absolutely horrible releases (St. Anger, anyone?) that have left a few scars on their career. You really can’t say that about Megadeth. Critically, all twelve of their past releases have had varying levels of acclaim – some of course more than others – and Mustaine has stayed true to form as one of the more educated, politically-charged writers in metal.

Granted, the albums have slowed down a bit from one to the next – but as the explosiveness has quelled, the levels of songwriting and musicianship have more than made up for it. Not to say the band has “lost a step” or anything – Mustaine still flashes his razor-sharp grin and shreds away on his guitar. The modern-day version of Megadeth is smarter, more refined, and – dare I say – better than ever.

What has the band at the apex of their career is the fact that Mustaine has adopted a “devil in the details” attitude with the writing, performance and production of the last few albums. They are clean, perfectly polished songs that stand in a class all their own.

When the band’s latest release Thirteen landed on my desk, the world stood still for a minute. I, like most, was eager to hear the next chapter in the storied legacy of Megadeth. As an added bonus, Thirteen marks the return of original bassist David Ellefson (after a ten year hiatus from the band), and it seems all the pieces are back in place. What better time than now for one of the most socio-political antagonists in music to sink his teeth into the state of the world and spew forth his observations in the form of neck-breaking heavy metal.

The album opens with “Sudden Death,” a signature track that has all the elements you would expect. It kicks the door open with heavy drumming, galloping riffs and Mustaine’s trademark snarl. While the production is pristine, it still knocks your teeth down your throat with its heaviness. Mustaine’s guitar skills have always been under-rated, and it seems apparent he is viciously attempting to change people’s opinion. The assault of guitars here (which are shared with Chris Broderick) are dynamic, and the solos are meshed in perfectly along the way.

“Public Enemy No. 1” is the first released single, and with its catchy chorus and easy-to-swallow message of strength and perseverance should find its way to radio quickly. Mustaine is no stranger to writing accessible metal songs for the airwaves. With an unheralded eighteen Top 40 Mainstream Rock singles already in his pocket, a few more are bound to find their way with this release.

Megadeth has always been known to experiment a little here and there, and that trend continues with “Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)”. The track carries more of a straightforward ‘rock and roll’ approach, but Dave peppers it with enough solos and growls to keep it legitimately heavy. The drumming from Shawn Drover drives the track at full speed, and while not necessarily a ‘thrash metal’ song, it is definitely Megadeth through and through.

A spoken news report (which seems to pop up on almost every Megadeth album) opens “We The People”, leading into a killer song, with a surprisingly funky feel. It is the most politically charged track on the album, and the riff almost reminded me of a Rage Against The Machine jam, which was very unexpected. The acoustic outro was well constructed and helps set up the next track…

“Guns, Drugs, & Money” had all the cards stacked up for a great statement song, but instead spins an unenergetic tale of a Mexican gunman in the wild west. It seemed a little tame and a little ‘dumbed-down’ for a Mustaine track, but he seemed to be having fun with it along the way, so que sera, sera.

If there is one track that stands out above the rest, it is easily “Never Dead”. The intro starts at a whisper, and progressively grows into an all-out head-banging anthem. It reminded me a lot of their last album, Endgame, but it was definitely no leftover. The track shows a rejuvenated side of both Mustaine and Ellefson, and may just be one of the better tracks the two have ever taken part in.

“New World Order” takes about half of the song to get on track, but once it does, look out. Forget about the swirling tempo and disorganization that starts the track – just wait it out until the breakdown midway and enjoy it from there on out. Thrash excellence – once they got around to it.

Driving fast and living faster is the theme behind “Fast Lane”, and while it has some great musical moments, the lyrics fall well short of Megadeth standards. Deep inside, I hope that it’s some kind of parody of Metallica’s equally juvenile “Fuel”. Maybe Mustaine wanted to let the San Francisco boys know that he can right a stupid song about going fast as well as they could. That would be the only excuse for having this track on the album. The guitars were great, but I couldn’t get over how remedial the lyrics were…

Another standout track is present in “Black Swan”. The lyrics here are strong – very strong. This is the type of Megadeth song that you have come to know and love. Everything is delivered perfectly, the tempo is dedicated, and the performance is polished. You could throw this song on any Megadeth album and it would fit right into place. Not to mention, the chorus is catchy as hell.

“Wrecker” finds the band returning to more of a style found on “Countdown to Extinction”, which is just fine by me. It’s a bit more rough and raw around the edges, but delivers a stinging blow that definitely leaves its mark. The guitars shift back and forth seamlessly, and – all things considered – might be the most aggressive song on Thirteen.

Mustaine slows things down for a bit with “Millennium Of The Blind,” which allows him the perfect opportunity to get political again on us. I’ve always found my views to not be too distant from Mustaine’s, so I welcome every opportunity to get his take on the state of the union. Hell, I’d probably vote the guy into public office if given the chance. That said, if you are Republican and a tight-ass, you’d be best skipping this one. Ironically, this track was originally penned during the Youthanasia era. Funny how some things never change…

“Deadly Nightshade” is about a deadly ivy by the same name, and Mustaine describes the symptoms of touching this plant in this song. Subliminal messages are for your own interpretation, but far more easy to decipher is Ellefson’s bass line on this track. Not only does he get his own bass solo (of sorts) in the middle of the song, but it feels like they turned him up on the mixing as well. It’s not overbearing bass, but it definitely jumps up and gets in your face.

Closing things out is the thirteenth track on the thirteenth album aptly titled – you guessed it – “13”. At well over five minutes, it is easily the longest track on the record, and perhaps the most interesting. It’s a very personal effort, with Mustaine telling a condensed version of his life story up to the present day. It eerily sounds like a farewell of sorts (is there something we should know, Dave?), and has such an epic build that you just can’t stop listening. The guitars from the three-minute mark on will melt your face off your skull, which is a fitting way to finish up business.

As far as all this “end of an era” stuff, I’m not buying it. Not one bit. Megadeth continues to rewrite the metal archives with quality release after quality release – and there is no reason to think the end is anywhere close. Granted, Mustaine is 50 now, and there are only so many riffs and lyrics in even the best of them, but my opinion is that the well is far from dry. If this album would have been uninspired and forgettable, I might buy into that theory, but Thirteen is anything BUT that. It will remain to be seen if this release ends up being the band’s biggest triumph or not, but no matter – it’s Megadeth at its finest, and that’s all you really need to know.

8.75/10

Tracklist:
01. Sudden Death
02. Public Enemy #1
03. Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)
04. We The People
05. Guns, Drugs, Money
06. Never Dead
07. New World Order
08. Fast Lane
09. Black Swan
10. Wrecker
11. Millennium of the Blind
12. Deadly Nightshade
13. 13

Buy at: Amazon

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