Sunday, November 6, 2011

Th1rt3en - Megadeth - 2011

Megadeth, never having really gone anywhere, seem to be staging a comeback of sorts. Riding high on the Big Four wave and celebrating the return of Dave Ellefson, Thirteen (I cannot bring myself to use the alphanumeric title more than once) almost demands more attention than more recent additions to the Megadeth catalogue, excellent as they may be. Dave Mustaine has settled all debts, resolving age-old feuds with his Big Four brethren and reconciling with his core bandmate, and Thirteen signals more rebirth than reboot. Vic Rattlehead turns away on the (admittedly less-than-exciting) cover and the reverse shows him laid to rest with bandmembers as pallbearers. Feels - and sounds - like a chapter is closing just as another opens.

In an age of increasingly complex multi-layered metal, Thirteen is a refreshing reminder of lean and simple rock songs. Big production, bigger solos, structured songs: it's still a formula that pays off. The end result sounds almost quaint compared to some of the modern metal masterpieces we've seen in 2011 but, dammit, the degree to which it rocks is still undeniable.

There are moments on Thirteen ("Wrecker," "Guns, Drugs & Money") that recall, for me, the recent "return to form" work of Alice Cooper (Dirty Diamonds and Eyes of Alice Cooper). There's an old-school groove here toward which Mustaine has rarely, if ever, ventured before and it's refreshing to hear that, while much on Thirteen recalls the classics, elements speak to exploration of something new (even if it's old).

On the downside, Mustaine's vocals still remain an acquired taste. Likewise, lyrically the well seems fairly shallow as there are only so many ways to voice anti-establishment dissatisfaction and Dave doesn't stretch any farther than usual in this department. Thirteen is slightly overlong (but, hell, we all know it cannot have ten or twelve tracks) and among its baker's dozen of songs there aren't any immediate standouts that you can imagine on a "must-have" selection of hits alongside the band's past output.

Still, Thirteen remains solid. Big, big riffs, melodic choruses and dizzying solos dominate throughout. Drums are tight and Ellefson lays down a rock-solid foundation, a welcome return, indeed. It's a satisfying listen and even more so when you can reflect and consider the fact that, for 25 years now, we have regularly been blessed with consistently excellent, brand-new thrash records from Megadeth.

It is hard for the experienced mainstream thrash fan to listen to Megadeth without somehow comparing them to lifelong competitors Metallica. While a "very good but not an 'all-time great'" album as a standalone, with Thirteen it really feels as though Mustaine's legacy has been fully developed and defined and offers a picture of forward and upward progression as compared to Metallica's arguably ego-bloated and unfocused, inconsistent missteps over the last few records.  I, for one, find it somehow comforting that Mustaine, after years of angst and anger, finally finds himself at peace and, in doing so, simultaneously finds himself once-and-for-all indisputably, definitively on top.

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