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Youthanasia II? - 79%

DethFanatic, November 19th, 2011

I love when a new Megadeth CD is released. It's not even because I'm a huge fan of the band. It's because the reviews are always so polarized. The negative ones are often hilarious in their use of verbiage to explain why nobody should like the CD, particularly Megadeth fans. The same stock arguments always appear: it's not another Rust in Peace, and it's not fast enough. Gah. You'd think that by now people would 1) realize that Megadeth, after all the credit they gave Endgame, is pretty damn good with styles other than balls-out thrash, and 2) stop buying shit they are apparently predestined not to like. I mean, the amount of dumbassery involved with buying a CD you're not going to like just to review it and then copy-and-paste the review to a bunch of websites (apart from this Holy Shrine of Awesomeness, of course) is worthy of a philosophy Master's thesis. There has to be some seriously inflated self-worth involved; that, or some sort of immunity to how Congress is continuously managing to not fix the economy. Either point clearly bears investigation.

Fortunately for me, I subscribe to the Schwarzenegger school of thought, which states "If it bleeds, we can kill it." This is commonly interpreted as per the performing arts as "If it rocks, we can mosh to it." Besides, I already know that I have a hugely inflated opinion of myself, so I'm perfectly fine spending my time writing music reviews because, clearly, people need to know the shit that's inside my head. Seriously. OK, there was supposed to be a review in here somewhere...

Oh yeah, Megadeth. New CD and crap.

Personally, I had mixed hopes for Th1rt3en. Th1rt3en. I have to think twice when typing so it doesn't come out as Thirteen. In fact, let's start there with Th1rt3en. And thirteen, actually (that one wasn't a typo). Me, I got why Mustaine chose Th1rt3en for the title. It's a significant number in Megadeth. It's their thirteenth studio album, he started playing guitar at thirteen, and so on. Oh and holy crap I just realized that there are actually thirteen songs. Th1rt3en! It's a title, give the guy a break. And when you think about it, it's a pretty insightful title, even. Plenty of releases have WTF titles, yet awesome music. It's like nobody has seen a pre-Heartwork Carcass CD, which is almost blasphemous in its own right. Besides, Mustaine earned the permanent right to use whatever collection of letters and/or numbers to title his CDs when he came up with...Capitol Punishment!

Back to my mixed hopes for the CD. See, as an admittedly huge Megadeth fan, I used to buy singles, EPs, and imports back when they actually meant something, as in they had b-sides you couldn't get otherwise. I wanted all the songs, dammit. Hell, I even bought four copies of Cryptic Writings, so I could have the normal release, the black covered release, the two-disc Japanese release with Live Trax II, and the Japanese release with One Thing. As a result, my bank card emits a weird noise I can only assume is a cry for help when a new Megadeth release comes along. It's OK dude, they're doing BS live cuts of stuff we already have at this point, relax. What this all means is that when the track listing came out, I did a double-take. New World Order? Millenium of the Blind? Black Swan? Hold on a minute here, I've already got those, Dave. Has the economy also launched a blitzkrieg on your bank statement? I can relate. There was Sudden Death-already released, Public Enemy No. 1-already played to death on my Zune as the first single release, and Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)-played slightly less as he second single release. So I was really only thinking I'd get seven brand-new songs. So with a chunk of the CD already old news, I was a bit skeptical as to the effort they'd go to get the rest of it out. It seemed to me like they were just going through the motions to get away from Roadrunner. There's also the fact that I really enjoyed Endgame, and was hoping for something spectacular as a follow-up, particularly with Ellefson back on the bass.

OK, mostly, it turns out that I wasn't disappointed. Let's get the easy stuff out of the way first: the production. This might be the best-produced Megadeth CD yet. Everything is crystal clear, the mix is solid, and even played through crappy earbuds you can hear each instrument playing its part. A lot of times the bass guitar gets lost behind the wall of distortion provided by the guitarists, or the drums get mixed too far to the front confusing everything. This certainly isn't the case here. My only gripe is that you can hear EVERYTHING. Let me explain. Listen to, say, the first verse in We The People. Johhny K must not know just what Pro Tools can accomplish. Every time Mustaine sings a line, there's the obligatory fraction of a second where you hear him inhale. Because the production is just that clear, it's so obvious that it's almost a distraction. Dude, K, you couldn't have Pro Tool'ed out those second fractions? Admittedly, however, that is a really small gripe to have, and one that isn't obvious in every track, either.

Great, so it sounds awesome. But does it have awesome sounds? Short answer: yes. Now for the long answer. Th1rt3en plays like a sequel to Youthanasia. It's built more on mid-paced songs, vocal melodies, and relatively benign structures. Yeah, that means it still isn't Rust in Peace II, but so what. There are some speedier, thrashier bits, but for the most part the album seems to rely on what has rapidly become Megadeth's real strength nowadays, especially after Endgame: kick-ass, mid-tempo awesomeness.

It all starts with Public Enemy No. 1 (the mid-tempo stuff, not the album). A few triplets in the verse riff provide the perception that things are moving along a bit faster than they really are, but that just helps to set the beat. The chorus is pretty damn catchy and definitely a foot tapper. Oh, and no, that's not quite Hangar 18 you hear, either. That specific chord progression comes out of something with Mustaine's name on it, but that you won't find on a Megadeth release. Clearly, not enough people remember The Call of Ktulu. Oh well, LuLu does that, I guess. Moving forward a bit, we arrive at the best song on the CD, and probably my favorite Megadeth song since the aforementioned Youthanasia album: We The People. Seriously, Mustaine needs to just set his mind to writing a purely politically-themed album. The chorus to this one is flat-out insane. Hell, the whole song is insane. The worst thing I can say about it is that it's over too soon! Guns, Drugs, & Money follows We The People, and the ascending verse riff is a nice buildup leading into the well-executed vocal layers found in the chorus. Wrecker...ok, this is where we have to remember that Dave does have a sense of humor. Sure, it's a silly as hell song. But it's hilarious! This is probably my favorite "pay less attention, because we're not serious" moment since Bullprick. Deadly Nightshade, stuck back towards the end of the CD, may feature the best vocal performance by Mustaine on the entire CD. You can tell he was really getting into the chorus, and once again the layered vocals are a huge plus here.

For those looking for something with a bit more speed, we interestingly need to delve into the video game stuff. Sudden Death gets a little bit of a pass, seeing as how it was written for Guitar Hero. The reworked version found here is still basically a box of leads packaged into a song, but hey, who else can manage to fit the word lithospheres into a metal song? Never Dead, written for another video game, has a pretty balls-out verse riff complemented by a simpler chorus accentuating Mustaine's vocal delivery. At the end of the day, though, you get the impression that the speedy stuff just isn't where they're at these days. Hence why the thrashier tunes weren't specifically written for the album.

Oh, with all of this video game talk, I find it obligatory to mention that the lack of Megadeth's version of the theme song in Duke Nukem Forever was a criminal omission. Moving on.

What about the three reworked older tunes? Pretty solid efforts, actually. The re-recorded New World Order retains all of the attitude and riff work of the original, with the major change coming right at the end of the track. I loved the original two versions, and this one is just as good. Fits in well as a complement to We The People as well, now that I think about it. Oh, and sorry guys, this is probably the only way to get the words Marty and Friedman into the liner notes these days. Minor win? Black Swan sounds more like a remix than a "finished" version. Actually it seems like it followed the same formula as The Active Mix of Breadline: take a song that started out pretty simply, and throw a meatier riff from the inner workings of the song at the front to change things up. Then stick some lead bits on top of it, and move on. It's not a bad track, I just prefer the original arrangement. Millenium of the Blind also isn't bad, it just didn't do much for me either. I'm not sure what I really expected here, but I'm relatively sure this wasn't it. Most of that stems from the fact that it's trying to be two songs, the new stuff and then the old lyrics stuck in there at the end.

That pretty much leaves the song 13. This is where things get a bit weird. The song itself is very much badass. When Mustaine writes about his life and his experiences with Megadeth, like Liar or Of Mice And Men, the results are pretty much guaranteed to be gold. But then you wonder why this one got stuck at the end of the CD (yes I can count, it's the thirteenth track, shut up and listen for a minute). We get a band whose latest album has a bunch of already released or re-hashed songs. And then we get this line: "I just don't think I can give any more". And just about then, we notice the liner notes for the CD (see, it pays to still buy real CDs), and see Vic in a coffin, and funeral imagery all over the place. Remember The Funeral Album by Sentenced? Looking at the total package you can see how this just might be the end of the road; if not done intentionally (Gigantour 2012 is on the books, after all, and he says he's feeling reloaded after neck surgery) then at least you get the impression that Mustaine might at least be open to the possibility that the future is no longer guaranteed. Or, I could be reading way too much into this crap. But one should remember that they are now without a label, and anything can happen.

Despite all of the highs, the album as a whole isn't quite the obliterating follow-up to Endgame that I'd hoped for. Fast Lane is another hilarious song, but doesn't quite work. The lyrics, the riffs, the vocal work...nothing stands out as "wrong", but it just seems like this track was crying out to be done at a much higher tempo. C'mon, it's Fast Lane! How is this not about 50 bpm faster, at least? Then, there's the guitar solos. This is the first time that the lead work just hasn't really stuck in my head. The soloing by both Mustaine and Broderick is technically precise (Mustaine), suitably but not overly embellished (Broderick), and executed well (both of 'em), but it just doesn't seem to be overly inspired. Well, maybe inspired isn't quite the word I'm looking for. Sue me, I'm not a thesaurus. Suffice to say that the lead work is not a detraction, but it's not really a high point, either. Maybe this is a side effect of the abbreviated recording process. They've clearly still "got it", as evidenced by Endgame, but for some reason this time they just don't blow your socks off.

So what's the score here? It has to be pretty damn high, right, with all of the sonic badassery? Not so fast. To start with, Dave's breath sounds are getting a point deducted. Then I'm knocking ten points off for putting a bunch of stuff better suited for a Hidden Treasures II type compilation (or the next greatest hits album, which at the rate they turn those out these days has to be coming) onto the CD. Yeah, the songs were good to great, but at the end of the day they deprived us of three more all-new tracks on the album. Finally, ten points off for the fact that I just didn't feel the lead work this time around. That leaves us with 79 out of 100. This is probably one of those cases where the score doesn't really indicate how much I like the album, either. And in my case, at least, I also hope it doesn't mark the end of the road for one of my favorite metal bands of all time. Me, I actually like this album as a whole better than Endgame, and yet I gave that one an 85. But it is what it is.

Besides, if this crap was an exact science, some jackoff with the RIAA would've patented it by now and shut down all of these sites, right?