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'United abominations' has been described in some quarters as the thrashiest Megadeth CD since 'Rust in peace', and while that may be true, it's a bit of a misleading sentiment. There are certainly a few breaks here and there that approach the Megadeth style of old, but there is no way 'United abominations' could be looked on as a thrash CD. Being no less than their 3rd release in a row to be described with that old 'return-to-the-roots' adage, its refreshing to see that, while it certainly isn't entirely true, Dave Mustaine has at least written a collection of songs that are unmistakably metal from start to finish for the first time in over a decade.
Along with his new colleagues, guitarist Glen Drover, his drummer brother Shawn (both from the Canadian band Eidolon), and former Black Label Society bass player James Lomenzo, Mustaine has turned out a very consistent selection of songs that while hardly world-beating, are mostly enjoyable enough if taken in their own right. It may seem like setting expectations a little low, but a bit of realism is needed when awaiting a new Megadeth CD. Following their total abandonment of their thrash roots for 1994's power metallish 'Youthanasia', Megadeth's decline was almost terminal. The 2 separate comeback CDs – one from the pop-rock nonsense that was 'Risk' and the other from a self-imposed exile, were both fair efforts, but were hamstrung by some weak songs and a simple lack of inspiration.
'United abominations' is certainly an improvement on its 2 predecessors, 'The system has failed' and 'The world needs a hero', but at times also sounds quite unimaginative and lifeless, without ever becoming offensive to the ears. Songs like "Gears of war" just seem to plod along without really going anywhere, whereas others such as "Blood on ice" are in fact really quite good. Definitely the best aspect of the recording, as you would perhaps expect, is the lead playing – Mustaine and Drover turn out some brilliant solos that liven up plenty of the songs and lift a few from mediocrity to something a little more impressive. The closest comparison that could be made to a previous Megadeth CD is probably 'Youthanasia', with most of the songs staying in midtempo and keeping to the same traditional metal sound.
Unfortunately, those infernal spoken vocals that plagued the 2 previous CDs are still hanging around like a bad smell. While thankfully not reaching the cringeworthy levels of the soundbites on the 2 preceding CDs, Mustaine's insistence of shoehorning in the things he wanted to say in the song but couldn't force into the lyrics, particularly at the start of the title track come across as needless and pretty self-serving.
This brings us to the lyrics themselves. Mustaine has never been a stranger to political content in his songs, but for the most part he has never come across as being too overbearing and indeed confused sounding as he does here. With the title track decrying the United Nations and backing the foreign policy of the U.S. administration to the hilt, its then baffling to hear his government being described in the same terms as the Roman Empire in "Washington is next!". Lyrical content is rarely a big distraction for me when it comes to metal, but when they are this muddled and, in the case of "Sleepwalker" and a few others, just plain stupid, it grates severely. Not only this, but it seems as though a great deal of the lyrics were written with little thought to how they would fit into the songs – often they don't rhyme, or simply don't flow well with the music at all. Often it just sounds like Mustaine is just muttering a speech he has written over the riffs.
In simplest terms, 'United abominations' is merely a solid heavy metal record that excels in as many places as it drags. Based on the overall improvement over the last 2 Megadeth records (in my opinion, this is in fact their best in 13 years, but that's hardly saying much) and an apparent steadiness in the line-up that has been missing for some time now, it depends on your level of optimism as to what the future holds for the new-look version of the band. Will they continue to build on the progress shown here and perhaps deliver that final classic CD? Or will they continue coasting along turning out slightly above average efforts? I'd bet on the latter, but at least with CDs like this one, no further harm is being done to the band's legacy.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)