It’s only been two years since Dave Mustaine issued Endgame, but the Megadeth cofounder was eager to return to his private studio in San Marcos after a successful world tour, historic shows with heavy metal’s “Big 4” (a bill shared with Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax), and the publication of his memoirs (which we reviewed here http://www.theclevelandsound.com/?p=8714 ).
Megadeth’s thirteenth studio effort, the aptly-named Th1rt3en, marks the return of prodigal bassist Dave “Junior” Ellefson, who appears on record for the first time in nearly a decade. That’s a good omen, despite the title—which owes more to Mustaine’s birth date and age at which he picked up the guitar than anything else.
Mustaine’s also had ample time to break in new guitarist Chris Broderick (ex-Jag Panzer, Nevermore), who joined Megadeth in time for Endgame. It’s a match made in heaven—or hell, as the case may be. Broderick is easily Mustaine’s best co-shredder since Marty Friedman, and Th1rt3en is all about staccato riffs and wickedly fast licks. One need look no further than instrumental opening cut “Sudden Death” for a sample of their dynamic, tag-team virtuosity, whose exotic scalar foundations recall the more spine-tingling moments from Rust in Peace.
Where “Sudden Death” celebrates the glistening, musical “murder machine” that is Megadeth, lead-off single “Public Enemy No. 1” taps the mythos of Al Capone while trading on the bandleader’s own longstanding (but recently retooled) bad boy image in the press: I’m invincible…you might say despicable. I’m unbeatable…my mind untreatable. “Whose Life Is It Anyways” is the rugged-rhythm condemnation of cliques and conformity; a serrated smack-down on people given to prejudging others based on superficial criteria. “Have you looked in the mirror?” Mustaine asks.
“We the People” is ready made for these topsy-turvy days of economic upheaval and Occupy-based protest. A male radio voice recites the preamble to the Declaration of Independence as droning guitars swell up against “big bureaucracy,” wherein the “devil’s henchmen wear suits and ties.” String trills and pull-offs anoint Mustaine’s musical charge against crooked politicians and erosion of civil rights as drummer Shawn Drover batters his kick-bass. “New World Order” and “Millennium of the Blind” further examine themes of governmental greed and dystopian disorder wherein apathy is encouraged and everyone goes “down with the ship.”
“Guns, Drugs & Money” finds our narrator drinking “cold cerveza in a boiling hot saloon” just prior to a Mexican standoff. It’s a story ripped from the pages of No Country for Old Men, where any gringo with a briefcase of money is probably going to wind up in a world of hurt—only now the soundtrack packs heavy metal crunch.
Drover’s military snare drum ushers in the chunk-a-chunk rhythm of “Never Dead” (a song originally penned for a PS3 videogame by Konami), but the tempo quickly swirls into a buzzing blitzkrieg where pick-slides pave a “crooked path” to “evil in the dark.” Mustaine and Broderick juxtapose artificial harmonics and bluesy bends on the equally heavy “Fast Lane,” a supersonic ode to rapid transport. Predating the Academy Award-winning Natalie Portman film by several years, “Black Swan” sees Mustaine dodging churchyard shadows in search of another shot of opportunity. “Wrecker” depicts the toxic behavior of femme fatale who poisons men with her venomous demeanor. It’s another fine example of Mustaine and Broderick blending blues riffs with neoclassical figures for maximum effect.
Mustaine drops a few lyrical clichés in his inimitable cartoon-squeal, but hey—Megadeth’s muscular metal has always been consistent in that regard. After all, this is a band that trades as much on the visual coolness of its animated undead mascot (Vic) as its signature tandem guitars. Good thing Mustaine’s technical skills on his instrument remain unassailable; he’s never lacked the ability to back up his narrative bluster with brutal barre chords and blistering leads.
Written during the Youthanasia days, “Deadly Nightshade” demonstrates how Mustaine and company can breathe new life into an old groove. Thirteenth track, “13,” is a ruminative retrospect in which Mustaine traces the number of times he “went to the well” for heavy metal inspiration—and paid with his physical and mental health. Acoustic guitars ease into a melodic look back at almost three decades of fortune, fame—and some regret.
Th1rt3en harkens to Megadeth’s glory days (Peace Sells, Rust in Peace) on many levels, but the disc—produced by Johnny K (Sevendust, Mushroomhead, Staind)—also boasts slick production and modern-rock sheen. So old-schoolers will be delighted and newcomers will discover what they’ve been missing. The guitar riffs, fills and solos on Th1rt3en are as ferocious as anything previously put to tape by the reborn front man and reaffirm that regardless who his coconspirators may be, Dave Mustaine is Megadeth. Broderick is a terrific fret board foil for the ample-maned maestro, and it’s little wonder the Colorado-bred guitarist sounds so athletic. He’s a head-banger who—like George Lynch and John Petrucci—spends his free time bodybuilding. So he sounds as ripped as he looks.