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The hype around the release of United Abominations has been quite astounding. There has been enough press about 'Megadeth's return to thrash' that it almost had me disenfranchised me towards this release. Megadeth are my favorite band and quite frankly I haven't really been disappointed with some of their releases - whether they are thrash metal or not is another case - but I have enjoyed their catalog nonetheless. I was cautious about United Abominations.
To say the least United Abominations is not all that I was hoping for. A modern Rust in Peace it is not. It is however a definite return to a thrashier form for Megadeth. I would argue that sound is a definite mix of Youthanasia and Rust in Peace. For those of you that are new to the Megadeth scene let me explain all the elements for you.
The guitar work on United Abominations definitely thrash. It also has retained much of the melody that later Megadeth albums attained. The riffs are complex as hell and the trade offs between Mustaine and Drover are quite flawless. The speed is quick through most of the album and the leads show that Dave Mustaine has not lost his place as one of the best guitar writers/players in the world. There is still quite a bit of groove element to it (hence the Youthanasia element). The solos are back with a vengeance with both Mustaine and Drover giving back to back amazing performances. The chemistry between the guitars is stunning on the album - I didn't realize that Drover would fit in so quickly. To top it all off - I think what makes this thrash album so damn good guitar wise is the clean sound of the guitars. Most modern thrash bands try to retain a good deal of technicality but a lot can be lost in the crunch. United Abominations is heavy but still clean and technical sounding.
The bass work is still lacking on United Abominations - even though Lomenzo does a fine job - the bass has lacked a good character since Dave Ellefson left. There is a good foundation that is established by the bass work and that seems to be enough for the guitars to flourish over. Really the bass is second string to the guitar work.
Shawn Drover is the best drummer to be in Megadeth since Nick Menza. (There hasn't been that many...) His style on United Abominations is quite reminiscent of old-school thrash. There is a good deal of variety in the drum work - Drover can easily move from groove to speed to complexity very quickly. The Drover brothers a very talented duo that are a great addition to the Megadeth line-up.
Dave's vocals are still the same. Basically. He doesn't do quite as much high pitched material anymore (age does do that). But his lower vocals were always a preference of mine anyway. He does do quite a bit of spoken parts on this album (United Abominations and Amerikhastan in particular). There is much debate whether or not his voice is even good - but as far as I'm concerned, he is the voice of Megadeth and had it changed much then I would have been upset.
Lyrically, United Abominations has been under some heavy fire. The lyrics (although politically and socially inspired once more) are not near as subtle in its application. The lyrics are pretty straight forward if one looks at them as such. One of the beautiful things about this album is the debates I have read online on whether the album is right or left winged propaganda. The fact that people have long debates over the meaning of the lyrics probably mean that the depth of them is more than just surface value. Topics including the UN, war, death, love, and drugs are all covered. Also, the lyrics at times don't fit quite with the rhythm of the music - like Dave's trying to fit in more words than the music allows. Its not often on the album but I caught it every once in a while.
Megadeth are really upping the ante on United Abominations. Although I loved The System Has Failed - United Abominations tops it. The album is thrashier, angrier, and overall more complex musical writing. The lyrics leave a little to be worked on - but they do sound a bit more emotional. Best work Megadeth has done since Countdown to Extinction.
Songs to check out: Sleepwalker, Washington is Next!, Play for Blood.