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Megadeth has released a lot of good material over the years. Cryptic Writings isn't quite as bad as everyone claims it to be, although it still isn't anything near to an amazing album. The fact of the matter is that Cryptic Writings is a little too diverse to really be a solid album. Too much variation of the formula led to discrepancies in writing and, in the end, product.
Cryptic Writings still has some good moments. But overall as an album it is still one of the weakest Megadeth has produced. There are some catchy tunes and even some good thrashers on it but the good qualities couldn't override mediocrity.
The guitar work is well played. Both Mustaine and Friedman are amazing guitar players and writers but their love for other genres of music has allowed this album to stray a little too far from safety. Even Friedman's Oriental music influence comes into play on the song "A Secret Place". The album does have amazing variety. Some bombastic riffs, melodic intersections, acoustic breaks, and firework solos all grace this album but the way in which they are put together is a little frantic and it feels unfinished at times. Some of the songs are pretty simple guitar structures for two guitar gods (Almost Honest, although catchy, is pretty damn simple). Much of this album is pretty disappointing in the guitar area because listeners have come to expect so much more from the two that this album seems very pop influenced in comparison. The likening to hard rock rather than metal is apparent at points on the album too.
The bass work is also pretty simplified for a great bassist as Ellefson. Although there are still some very awesome bass lines on the album - its simplicity once again seems to pale in their previous shadow and in the end I felt like there could have been a lot more depth.
The same problem resides in the drum writing on this album too. The diversity is good in the drum area but the overall simplicity and poor song structure create too many flaws for performance to overcome. Menza is a lot more technical and better than what Cryptic Writings shows for the band.
Dave Mustaine's vocals are too layered. Too many layers are present (and obviously present) on Cryptic Writings. I love that he is willing to try a little more singing and variation on his vocals but when there is heavy computer distortion added at times it diverted my attention from the song. It was too distracting from the music at times. He does some pretty good material and his lyrical writing is still very clever despite its change in direction to a more personal aspect.
Cryptic Writings will appeal to those just getting into Megadeth because of its catchy riffs and rhythms but fans of earlier material are going to roll their eyes at most of the material. Songs like Mastermind are going to make some fans cringe and others are going to really dig its groove. Personally, I felt that the album was too eclectic to be truly an amazing album.
Songs to check out: Trust, She-Wolf, FFF.