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This album is held in high regard in the metal community as one of the best thrash/speed metal albums of all time, and it's very easy to see why. This record is similar to their last three in terms of complexity and musicianship, yet it remains an entity of it's own. This album is a gem of progressive/technical thrash metal.
The production on this album is very crisp and allows the musicians to show off their skill, yet it isn't too clear to the point that it makes the record sound overtly mainstream. Like some of the previous reviews have stated, the production give this album a bit of an epic feel, almost giving it a slight power metal edge. The guitars definately stand out the most, but they don't overpower the other instruments. The bass is actually pretty audiable in the mix. The drumming doesn't drown everything out, which is usually a problem with some metal records, yet it is strong enough to make its presence on the record. Overall, a very good production job is done here.
As far as the instrumentation goes, this album is flawless. Some people are put off by Dave Mustaine's vocals, and I really don't see why. Whether he's churning out a wretched snarl, or unleashing a more emotional croon, his powerful singing style is very underrated, and it just wouldn't be Megadeth without his vocals. The guitarwork. Oh yes, the guitarwork. This is THE standout element of this album. Dave Mustaine's guitarwork is as great as it ever was here, but the addition of virtuoso guitarist Marty Friedman is the most noteable change here. Chris Poland's great guitar style was more jazz-influenced, and was technical enough, but Marty Friedman completely shatters barriers with his classical shredding. Put him alongside Dave, and you have twin technical guitar virtuosity that was almost unparalleled in the field of thrash metal. The sheer amount of technical riffs to be found here are nothing short of amazing, and the soloing. Oh god the soloing. This album is chocked FULL of guitar solos, and not just to take up space either. These solos convey emotion, as Dave's monstrous shredding intertwines with Marty's virtuostic, classical soloing that conveys a sense of melody yet still maintains speed. The guitarwork doesn't completely overshadow the other instruments, despite being the main focus. Dave Ellefson proves to be a very underrated bass guitarist. His basslines aren't just root notes that follow the guitars. He doesn't go all crazy and start slapping, in fact, he's a pick bassist, which is hard to believe, but he manages to accentuate both himself and the intricate guitarwork. The drumming of Nick Menza is kickass too. He throws in the double bass only when appropriate, and his role is more important than you think. With all the complex guitarwork, his drumming provides a stable backbone to keep Dave and Marty under control.
Dave proves to be an excellent songwriter as well. While the music here is very technical and progressive, he also manages to make the songs catchy and memorable at the same time. The lyrics vary, from politics to fantasy to more emotional topics. As far as the songs themselves go, the three best songs on here would have to be "Holy Wars", which is full of technical riffs and carries some excellent soloing, the trade off guitar solo duel between Dave and Marty on "Hangar 18", and the fan favorite "Tornado of Souls", which contains the best guitar solo on the entire album. However, that doesn't mean the other track are worthless. "Five Magics" has some nice guitar trade-offs and is very memorable, and the title track is so fucking catchy that you almost feel guilty that you didn't hit the repeat button to hear the second half of the song over again. "Lucretia" is the most melodic song on the album, you'd swear it was power metal. By contrast, "Take No Prisoners" is the heaviest song on the album. This track shows that the two guitar wizards aren't completely running the show, as Ellefson and Menza get their chance to show off their talents, including a short bass solo by Ellefson. "Poison Was The Cure" is the most straightforward song on here, but it's still a very fun track to listen to. Even the filler track, "Dawn Patrol", will kick your ass (I can't help but love the groove that this track has too). Every track on this album holds a special place and isn't there to take up space (yes, that DOES include Dawn Patrol).
Megadeth have outdone themselves with this record. This, along with Necrophagist's "Epitaph" and Death's "Symbolic" are the only albums that have earned a perfect score so far, if that tells you anything. Metallica may have the record sales, but Megadeth still have the talent to make kickass metal, and this album is living proof.