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For Risk, the title can’t get anymore fitting unless it was a paragraph blatantly explaining the story behind the title and the risks involved. Megadeth’s poppiest songs since Youthanasia appear here, but those were damn good while this one is half and half. It’s not as bad as people make it out to be if you really dig catchy, groovy rock songs, but if you’re expecting any of the early material (or the latest, for that matter), then you best stay away from this one. For the record, this is a hard rock album (expecting heavy metal isn't unfounded, though). I can appreciate some of these songs because they’re catchy, have a groovy rhythm, or contain some great atmosphere and melodies. Marty Friedman’s input I couldn’t give two more shits about, but Dave and David are the ones making it work for the songs that don't bomb. I've always especially loved the bass in Megadeth – so clear, blubbery, booming, and delectable. Ellefson nails the lower end better than the drum bass, which itself is chalky and backed by a polished kit. The production on the album is top-notch, but not digital or very loud; Dave’s vocals are at the very front while everything else clamors right behind him.
The album goes up and down in terms of quality all the damn time. Dave’s vocals aren’t even that big of an issue for me – those nasally, high, not-nearly-speaking lines (which he does a lot of) have a charm that goes along with the album’s meandering tone. To me, I can sing along with them and am easily susceptible to their shit-eating appeal – it’s a guilty pleasure that I can’t help but latch onto. Odd how I can stand Dave’s attempt to be melodic here while almost everything he does on United Abominations makes me want to puke in a cat’s litter box. As far as I’m concerned, even the songs with an ounce of melody in them like “The Doctor Is Calling” and the last three tracks are all horrible incarnations that should have remained locked away in Dave’s born-again drug-waste of a mind. The formula is incredibly simplistic, as are the riffs in most of the songs. There’s hardly any risk-taking aside from dumbing the songs down and making them poppier, but that’s probably what Lars of Metallica was getting at anyway when he used that word on Dave.
Even the songs that fall in-between like “Insomnia,” “Breadline,” and “Enter The Arena / Crush ‘Em” all contain annoying moments that make me cringe in my seat. The album is so polished and every instrument sounds wonderful in tonality and quality, but sometimes Dave gets carried away with singing in a way that his voice really can’t reach. Other moments just sound pompous and pretty stupid in a tough-guy way (“Crush ‘Em” is all over that), but they spoil the song itself rather than the whole album. The riffs for these middle-road songs and the shittier ones are both effortless and memorable, which helps in the long run. Their power makes them ring well, but often you’ll feel like this album heads into country / hard rock territory rather than becoming nu-metal or some alternative metal bullshit.
The songs that really keep this one in my library are “Prince Of Darkness,” the “Wanderlust” / “Ecstasy” duo, and my favorite track on the album, “I’ll Be There.” I’ve never really considered Dave’s vocals to be very good at all, but he really shines on these tracks. “Prince Of Darkness” builds up into a twisted, dark song with an infectious rhythm and a very likable chorus that kills almost everything else on the album. It hits you so early, making you think this album won’t be all that bad. Compared to “I’ll Be There,” “Prince Of Darkness” is nothing – this track, for all Dave’s vocals are worth – is the shining moment of Risk and Mustaine knows it. The tone for this song couldn’t get anymore depressing and haunting – he had a particular audience in mind when writing it, and you can hear him pouring his heart out into it. No matter what I could think of them, I find my getting into the song more than any other during this era of Megadeth – the chorus, the slick leads, and that bouncy drum beat that could cater to just about every dance club in the world. It pisses me off that such a beautiful song is stuck on such a mediocre album, especially with that two-minute outro that has me wailing with Dave. Hell, I’d call it the best song of that era hands down – Megadeth’s best song from 1996-2002. So catchy, fun, and heartbreaking – going above and beyond anything this album can offer.
That song can’t save this entire album, but god damn it stands out. Hard to believe that the skill of Mustaine and Friedman, two more than capable guitarists, had to be wasted on such simple songwriting and dry riffs overall, though. The mood is there (compared to the unexciting Cryptic Writings) and the groove gets you in that mood, but you can’t buy me over with a few good songs and a whole bunch of dead ones. Whether you give into this album’s negative hype or not, there are some songs on here that aren’t all that bad. Go for Megadeth’s other albums, sure, but if there are any risks you should take, it might as well be this one.