At this point, it seems safe to say that the Gods Of Metal that ruled the 1980’s have completed a successful reclamation project with regards to their legacies. The mid-to-late ‘90s and early into the ‘Naughts saw the reputations of groups like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, and Judas Priest take nosedives as metal’s status in the industry dropped.
To be fair, most of the damage was self-inflicted. No one who listens to records like St. Anger or Risk would argue the point. Metal had grown stagnant; it took another decade before it was cool to be retro/backwards looking. Metallica fought back with last year’s Death Magnetic, and Megadeth has been on the comeback trail for about four to five years. The strengths of those respective records were the focus on what had propelled those groups to stardom; the songs were fast, angry, and oh so very heavy.
Dave Mustaine is a talented man; there is no debating that concept. The fact that his group was born out of a singular desire to play faster and heavier than the group that fired him (Metallica) just defines heavy metal in so many ways. There were the early highs of the ‘80s for Megadeth, culminating in their best work of Rust In Peace. The commercial success of Countdown To Extinction followed, essentially Megadeth’s version of the The Black Album. But much like their counterparts Metallica, Megadeth started to dial back on the speed and replaced it with genuine hooks and more conventional songwriting methods.
Endgame continues Mustaine’s efforts to bring his band back to what they do best, regardless of the lineup at the time. 2007’s United Abominations saw a purposeful focus on attempting to recreate the feel of ‘80s Megadeth: blistering fast solos, purposeful chugging riffs, and a dash of political analysis thrown in for good measure. The result was a decent album with some outstanding moments, but on the whole, it was underwhelming.
Endgame unfortunately offers much of the same as its predecessor. All the elements are present for a classic return-to-form record, but the main problem is that the material itself isn’t terribly compelling. The second half of the album suffers terribly from a rote paint-by-numbers approach to what Megadeth is supposed to sound like. Truth be told, that was always Mustaine And Co.’s weakness; this reviewer would argue they only crafted two albums that were strong from top to bottom.
With that said, there are stretches of vintage Megadeth where Mustaine’s prerelease hype almost seems spot on. The opening one-two punch of “Dialectic Chaos” and “This Day We Fight” functions as a slap in the face; the rage and tenacity with which Megadeth play is refreshing compared to the brand of metal popularized by groups like Disturbed or Avenged Sevenfold. By the same token, the brilliant “Headcrusher” revitalizes the proceedings on the back half of the record, exploding out of the gate with a ferocious performance from Shawn Drover on drums that legitimately reminds me classic metal tracks such as “Painkiller” from Judas Priest.
The problem with latter day Megadeth is a sense of sameness. Were one to remove the best tracks from the albums since 2004’s The System Has Failed, I would be hard-pressed to identify which album most of the songs were from. They tend to blend together with a unifying degree of blandness; you could switch up the track order amongst all the albums and you wouldn’t miss a beat. Say what you will, but Rust In Peace has a completely different feel than Peace Sells…, which doesn’t sound anything like Killing Is My Business.
The Megadeth that exists today doesn’t seem capable or willing to attempt to vary it up. While listening to Endgame and hearing the song “How The Story Ends,” my mind started to ask the question, “where have I heard this song before?” I raced through the discography, trying to place just which track I was thinking of. Turns out, it was “Bodies,” four songs prior to “How The Story Ends.” When that feeling arises while listening to an album, it becomes apparent that there wasn’t exactly a plethora of ideas available to the artist.
From a technical standpoint, Megadeth is a supremely talented group that could outplay most of the metal bands out there. Mustaine is a master, and remains fully capable of writing outstanding material. Endgame shows off that side of his talent while also demonstrating his limits. Megadeth is definitely back, but right now, they are lagging behind their brethren.