[15 September 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
While Metallica carefully takes baby steps toward recapturing their classic form of 21 years ago, Slayer continues to reliably churn out predictable but enjoyable music, and Anthrax’s recent lead singer problems have reduced them to a laughingstock, the other band that comprises the legendary “Big Four” of American thrash metal has quietly clawed their way back to respectability after an extended creative nadir. Interestingly, Megadeth has done so not by continually trying to redefine itself with each new record, but by following the example of other solid thrash veterans like Testament and Kreator, simply sticking to what the band does best, keeping things simple, and never overreaching. As a result, not only has Megadeth’s studio output vastly outnumbered that of their three rivals over the last five years, but creatively it’s eclipsed them as well.
Of course, when it comes to Megadeth, it’s all dependent on whether MegaDave is “on” or not. As singer/guitarist/songwriter/coffee magnate (for a brief time, anyway) Dave Mustaine proved on 2004’s welcome return to form The System Has Failed, he could load up an album full of ringers and anonymous studio musicians and still make it sound like a Megadeth record, but since then, he’s formed a band of supporting musicians who a) ably deliver the taut thrash metal he demands, and b) are fully aware of their role. 2007’s United Abominations benefited immensely from the newfound chemistry between Mustaine, guitarist Glen Drover, bassist James Lomenzo, and drummer Shawn Drover, but with ace shredder Chris Broderick stepping in after Glen Drover’s amicable departure two years ago, it feels like the final piece Mustaine needed to complete the rebirth of Megadeth is in place.
It’s a given that Megadeth will never equal their great first five albums, but what’s so surprising about Endgame is just how close it comes. And again, it’s all due to Mustaine sticking to his strengths, and with the extraordinarily talented Broderick as his new wingman, the record positively scorches with an intensity we haven’t heard since Rust in Peace. With its furious back-and-forth solos, opening instrumental “Dialectic Chaos” wastes no time in showcasing that dynamic between Mustaine and Broderick, and combined with the pure speed of “This Day We Fight”, longtime fans will be instantly reminded of the bracing “Into the Lungs of Hell”/“Set the World Afire” one-two punch that kicks of 1988’s great So Far So Good…So What!. Although the lyrics leave a lot to be desired, lead single “Head Crusher” is nevertheless inspired, Drover propelling the fast choruses and then launching the song into a wicked groove that doesn’t feel far removed from ‘86’s “Wake Up Dead”. Similarly, “1,320’” is an old-school thrasher, with Mustaine’s trademark twisting riffs leading the way as Drover takes a more pummeling approach similar to Motörhead.
Lyrically speaking, we get the usual eclectic Mustaine fare, with subject matter that runs the gamut from bank heists (“44 Minutes”), funny car racing (“1,320’”), twisted love songs (“The Hardest Part of Letting Go…Sealed With a Kiss”), his usual “I’m slowly going nuts” shtick (“The Right to Go Insane”), and even the overdone Lord of the Rings saga (“How the Story Ends”). However, where Mustaine is always at his best is when he’s spitting venom towards his political and bureaucratic subjects: Wall Street takes one on the chin on “Bite the Hand” (“The erosion of the peoples’ trust / Of what will come to be an FDIC-assisted suicide”), while the title track gives former president George W. Bush a satirical parting shot.
With nary a throwaway track, not a moment is wasted on Endgame, with even such mid-paced breathers like “Bodies”, “How the Story Ends”, and “44 Minutes” holding their own quite well amidst the more ferocious fare. In addition, Andy Sneap bring the kind of crisp production he’s become known for, which is a perfect fit for the technicality of Mustaine’s compositions. Most importantly, though, this current incarnation of Megadeth (Megadeth Mk. 18 for those keeping score) has Mustaine sounding his most comfortable in ages, thanks in large part to his very strong supporting cast. We can only hope the foursome stays intact for a while, because after a horrible dry spell and years of clawing his way back, Megadeth could really be on to something special here.