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I made 2 obvious mistakes at the end of my review for ‘United abominations’. The first was the naivety of assuming a bit of new stability in the Megadeth line-up, which was dashed pretty quickly by Glen Drover’s departure. The 2nd was the rating I gave it. While I stand by the notion that, a flat vocal performance and the butchering of ‘A tout le monde’ aside, there wasn’t a genuinely bad song on there, the fact that I have barely revisited the CD since then tells its own story. It was a safe, moderated and ultimately flavourless release that offered very little beyond proficient musicianship.
After 2 years of that CD sinking in, expectations were low for ‘Endgame’, which made it all the more surprising just how strong a release it actually is. First and foremost, it’s great to hear a Megadeth CD with some honest to God speed/thrash metal on it for the first time in however many years. Though not a full-on thrash CD, the presence of a handful of undiluted thrash metal tunes is undeniable and a very welcome surprise. Dave Mustaine also seems to have gotten a bit of fire back in his belly, and the old snarl sounds better than it has in some time. To go along with this, ‘Endgame’ is also the first Megadeth CD in a long while to possess a near endless supply of blazing, OTT guitar solos.
Excellent a guitarist though he was, Drover’s decision to step down has actually been a bit of a blessing. For whatever reason, it seems to have taken the arrival of Chris Broderick for Mustaine to realise that half the charm of Megadeth in the old days was the promise of lashings of blistering lead guitar. Since Marty Friedman’s departure, even when returning to a more metallic style, both the amount of solos and the ferocity of those that were actually played had been reduced and tamed somewhat – with 3 excellent players in Al Pitrelli, Chris Poland and finally Drover coming and going in the interim there can’t have been any real reason for this beyond the boss not really feeling up for it.
The opening pair of songs almost had my jaw hanging on the first listen – “Dialectic chaos” is the first instrumental to open a Megadeth CD in 21 years and a clearer statement of intent could not have been provided by the giant solo battle Mustaine and Broderick engage in over the galloping riffs. With no pause for breath, “This day we fight!” takes over and proves to be the purest, heaviest speed/thrash song Mustaine has written in many years. By the time it has finished no less than 14 guitar solos have been played in less than 6 breathtaking minutes, and it would take a spectacular fall from grace for ‘Endgame’ not to end up a roaring success after such a furious opening.
The other good news is that, the songs that aren’t thrash are mostly all very good as well. My heart sunk a little on first listen to “44 minutes” (soundbites on a Megadeth CD are enough to send shivers down my spine) as the thrashing intensity of the first 2 songs was cast away already, but a few listens reveal an excellent melodic metal song with a solo from Broderick that appears with neck-snapping suddenness. “1320’” immediately gets things up to top speed again with a riff the likes of which hasn’t been heard from the band since ‘So far, so good... so what!'. In fact, I’m convinced the title and lyrics (a nicely unserious affair about car racing) come from the similarity the opening riff bears to that of “502”.
Another of the non-thrash songs that had me worried on the first go but went on to more than prove itself is the Broderick co-authored half-acoustic half-ballad “The hardest part of letting go... sealed with a kiss”. The soft acoustic opening passages are soon intensified by an unanticipated symphonic keyboard arrangement that leads to a heavier mid-section, revealing the lyrics to be a good deal less sappy than they initially seemed. Drummer Shawn Drover also puts in a tasty display on the “Sealed with a kiss” section of the song, his rolling fills adding extra texture and proving what a fine acquisition he has turned out to be.
Just like “44 minutes”, it is followed by an old-school thrashing beast in the form of the short, sharp “Head crusher”, more proof of Drover’s all-round usefulness as a great deal of the song comes from his pen. Placing a song like his so far into the tracklist is indicative of the pacing of the CD, which is very well handled; the fast and heavy songs are usually saved for the moments when a little injection of pace is needed.
The CD maybe peters out a little on the last couple of songs, but a couple of very small missteps aside it is a model of consistency, and unlike its predecessor the lesser songs are at the very least quite diverting. “Bite the hand that feeds” jumps between a successful fast riff and slower one I’m still not 100% sure about, but on the whole sits quite well despite the rather trite political lyrics. Mustaine thankfully keeps his whacked-out opinions on the way of the world a little more to himself this time around, but almost threatens to derail the title track with his gibbering. The song begins with Talky Dave making his only unwelcome appearance on the CD, ruining a rather doomy opening section, but is saved from being another soapbox rant when he gets back to actually singing and all things considered is another good addition.
The great songs are enough to lift the ones that flounder a little, but even these lesser songs are an improvement in nearly every way over those on the predecessor. At the conclusion to my previous ‘deth review, I called ‘United abominations’ their best CD since ‘Youthanasia’, but this was a bit of a back-handed compliment. The same is definitely true of ‘Endgame’ (which may even be the best since ‘Countdown to extinction’), but this time it is a praise actually earned for itself rather than achieved by default. Surprise of the year without doubt, Mustaine and his cohorts have shown us all there is life in the old dog yet. It’s not a classic, but at this stage in their career it is a stunning turnaround.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)