"Th1rt3en." Yes, the thirteenth album by Big 4 thrashers Megadeth is called "Th1rt3en." Notice the "1" replacing the "i" and the "3" replacing the first "e". How could you miss it? Dave Mustaine and company, along with classic era member David Ellefson, return for another go. After the widely criticized "Endgame" ended a two album run that found Megadeth back at the top of the thrash mountain, many thought it was time to hang up the strings, and ride off into the sunset. But Mustaine has never been one to listen to his critics. This time, he should have thought it through.
The opening riffs of "Sudden Death" are classic Megadeth, without a doubt. But as the vocals enter, something seems off. Mustaine sounds fine, but the lyrics seem off-putting, in a way that steals so much attention from the music itself. There are moments where he seems to struggle for certain notes, but all is forgiven with dueling solos and some old school fret work. I would venture to say that this song plays like a five minute instrumental with an unfortunate vocal track tacked on. "Public Enemy No. 1," suffers from a similar ailment, with some impressive thrash guitars buried in a sea of mediocrity. "I'm unbeatable, my mind is untreatable." This is just a taste of the lyrical wordsmanship that awaits you. Granted, Megadeth has never been heralded for the power of their words, but the message is lost in this drivel. Even 2007's "United Abominations" writer Mustaine would be disappointed in this current output. Every piece of music is tight, with each note played to perfection. He hasn't lost a step, in that sense.
Speaking of lyrical abominations, "Whose Life (Is It Anyway?)," must have been a joke that simply went too far. The pity is that the instrumental itself is above average, especially for this stage of their career. But this might possibly be the worst song written under the Megadeth name. "You don't like the way I wear my clothes." The collective faces of all the fans in the world cringe together each time that line comes through. Mustaine redeems his lost vocal skill with solo after solo, setting his guitar ablaze with fast fingers and brilliant pick work. The song that manages to stick out from the rest, "We The People" could be a lost recording from the "United Abominations" session. It isn't on par from the quality standpoint, as the vocal track is a throwaway, but the deeper meaning finally finds a home. The breakdown portion is refreshing, with a tremendous display of drumming shining through what is otherwise a muddled mess.
There are a few bright spots as the album progresses. The chugging riffs on "Guns, Drugs & Money" hold some weight, the first sign of a real groove on the album. The vocals? At this point, it seems better to just ignore them. Mustaine tries to recapture the glory of his previous work, but he falls flat with each verse. This is a theme that continues throughout most of the rest of the album, save for the next track, "Never Dead." This one is the closest you are going to come to the Megadeth you know and love. The music is a thrashing, headbanging affair, with insane riffs paired with great fills. Ellefson's trademark bass sound comes through time and again, giving us a taste of what we've been missing out on for all these years. The opening to "New World Order" may have your hopes rising, but as the first verse kicks in, those hopes are quickly dashed to bits. Mustaine truly sounds like a shell of his former self. Where there were once dynamic, powerful vocals, there is a struggling, fading voice. The drumming is the real breakout star in this one, with crazy double kicks drowning out the weaker instrumentals. A great guitar solo takes the cake, almost wiping your mind of the nonsense you just heard.
Airy effects on a guitar intro is not what most fans of this band would come to expect. But the Van Halen style "drill" sounds are even farther from what you want here. The standards just continue to drop, with songs like "Fast Lane" accomplishing nothing, and "Black Swan" sounding like a second rate version of a classic Megadeth track. Both feel uninspired, lacking any sort of edge or quality control. Sure, the musicianship is good, but that shouldn't be good enough. The vocals are wasted, and drag the rest of the sound down with them. "Wrecker" is more of the same. Some great riffs, backed with a great bass line. The drums are, once again, top notch. Shawn Drover manages to impress, time and time again. But again, Musatine's subject matter and lyrics simply don't fit. Songs about homewreckers and whores should be left to the R&B and pop divas who do it so well.
For a brief period, thanks to the solo on "Millenium Of The Blind," we can sit back and enjoy. Then, as before, the vocals ruin it all. The lyrics are particularly sour, but the delivery is even moreso. The production doesn't even come across as clean, which is a disaster for a band of this caliber. Mustaine and company meander through the final two tracks, beginning with "Deadly Nightshade," which could easily be mistaken for the Weezer song "Hash Pipe." This contains, arguably, the best solo on the album, with some very catchy riff consuming you in the breakdown. The thirteenth track to the thirteenth album, simply titled "13" is a ballad. Yes. A ballad. Acoustic tones and softly sung lyrics take the lead, breaking into some more daring guitar work in the latter half. "I've stood here 13 times, and I'm still alive." Puzzling end to a confusing album.
Nothing could ever tarnish the legacy that Dave Mustaine and Megadeth have built over the course of two decades. As a man, he has withstood injuries, alcoholism, and an army of critics saying that he couldn't survive in metal. He has proven everybody wrong to this point. Reunited with David Ellefson, it felt as though Megadeth was primed for a return to the glory days. But, no matter how much we long for the past, our heroes can never go back. And "Th1rtEen" is reality, slapping all of us in the face.
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