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The Most Disappointing Release Since Risk - 25%

JohnHoxton, November 6th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2011, CD, Roadrunner Records

This was the first Megadeth album release of the new decade and in my opinion the most disappointing since 1999's Risk which was an awful album. Thirteen's circumstances some what mirror the Risk disaster due to the fact that prior to both of these releases the band had produced several very good albums. Risk was a major low point from a musical perspective and the same can be said for Thirteen which is stylized as Th1rt3en but for the purpose of this review I'll just use the former term. I should also mention another lineup change; both Chris Broderick and Shaun Drover remain but James LoMenzo departed and was replaced by former bassist David Ellefson after nearly a ten year absence. 

The albums in the last decade which preceded Thirteen were in chronological order The World Needs a Hero which was a massive improvement over Risk. Then followed The System Has Failed which can be loosely described as a fusion between Rust in Peace and Countdown to Extinction without ever emulating either album. Next came the accomplished United Abominations followed by the mediocre/overrated Endgame. Therefore prior to this release Megadeth fans must have been optimistic. Perhaps the more general opinion was that Mustaine was back on the right musical course and that they would go on to produce an album which could match United Abominations if not better it. For the very optimistic fans among us an album which would emulate Rust in Peace. Unfortunately Thirteen is extremely average and in one respect much worse than Risk for the simple fact that at least the material on that album was original, all be it original and mostly bad.

The first complaint I have about this album is its title; Thirteen is a really inadequate name for a Megadeth album. The previous couple of releases had interesting titles as well as a content which had some kind of cohesion; Thirteen has neither. The title clearly means that it's Megadeth's 13th studio album and it possesses, you guessed it, 13 tracks. It may also indicate the age at which Mustaine first became interested in heavy metal and there is some reference to this in the title track, also called "13." Now the terrible title doesn't necessarily make it bad; what contributes to this is the fact that it's conceptually incoherent. The best material on this album are the recycled/reworked 1990's material and a United Abominations pre-order bonus track. One of these early recycled songs is "New World Order" which has its written roots starting in 1991. A demo version was recorded for Countdown to Extinction but David Ellefson has since stated that "it didn't fit on that album" so it "sat on the shelf." Then there was also a completed version of "Millennium of the Blind" which didn't make it onto Youthanasia but fortunately enough both of them were added to the 2004 Youthanasia remastered version. Incidentally the United Abominations version of "Black Swan" is very good and the re-recorded version is of equal quality. The new version has a really good distinctive opening riff also accompanied by an excellent rhythmic solo but to my dismay it is one of the few standout moments on this album. It's actually one of the songs which compelled me to invest my time and money in this album and one of the very few tracks which still captures my interest even after hearing a plethora of monotonous rubbish. In one respect an appropriate name for this album could be "Thirteen; ill-conceived" but I think it should be more appropriately titled "Thirteen; contrived."

This leads me on to another issue I have with this album which is its content and the song structures. The album begins with the first track called "Sudden Death" which is the first of 3 promotional single releases and incidentally this is a song which had already appeared on a video game called Guitar Hero: Warrior of Rock so it's not new; it's recycled! It has a good opening rhythmic solo which initially gave me the impression that this album would meet with my high expectations but there's a lack of creativity in the guitar riffing patterns. In general the pace and style is notably more moderate than the previous album Endgame thus making it more rock orientated. The issue here is that Megadeth are not very good at "moderate" and "rock orientated." They are renowned for their speed or thrash metal and this album is extremely underwhelming in comparison. Many tracks rarely lead anywhere good and if they do it's usually too late due to the fact that the first half of a song is very monotonous. In this respect tracks like "Sudden Death" maybe entertaining for Guitar Hero users but its not exactly a grand opener like Rust in Peace's "Holy Wars" or Countdown's "Skin 'O My Teeth." In addition to "Sudden death" the next official promotional track off the album is a nod to gangster Al Capone and is lyrically compelling. It's also technically proficient as we might expect but it's nothing more than a generic hard rock track which is very tedious. The last of the promotional songs is by far the worst of the three, especially as it uses the expression "Ooh!" on more than one occasion and that is an exclamation which should never be heard on a Megadeth album. There are other songs like "Fast Lane" and "Wrecker" that are truly dreadful. The main chorus line of Fast Lane begins "Addicted to the Fast lane, like a jet plane" which is pretty awful and there are several other themes and inadequate anthems which are exasperating.

As we labour on through the album it becomes clear that other tracks were not necessarily created specifically to support any album concept. Evidently one was written and produced specifically for a video game of the same title and therefore the song lyrics conceptually match the game genre but again it is better suited for its original purpose. Just to emphasis this point an album such as United Abominations generally has common themes which range from war, politics, revenge, addiction and death. There is very little other material which has subject comparability to the reworkings and anything which does just plays out without much effect. Looking back again at the last couple of albums for a comparison every single one of them ends strongly i.e. "Burnt Ice" on United Abominations and "The Right to go Insane" on Endgame but the end of Thirteen is just weaker than the first part of the album. We are subjected to Mustaine's personal perceptions and reflections which are delivered in such a fashion that it makes it totally uninteresting unlike "Of Mice and Men" from The System Has Failed. What makes it worse is that at the end of the album the title track has a riff straight out of "Sweating Bullets" and when I first recognized this pattern I came to the conclusion that I wouldn't want to play to this album again preferring to listen to the aforementioned classic from Countdown to Extinction.

This leads me onto the subject of guitar solos where there's a continuing collaboration between Mustaine and Broderick which worked so well on the last album Endgame and this is another one of the few positives on this album. The fact is is that great guitar solos don't automatically make a great heavy metal album. Mustaine has often stated that riffs and rhythm are the most important aspects of heavy metal. He has cited both Brian Tattler of Diamond Head and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin as great exponents of rhythm, but with regards to this album he hasn't heeded his own words. Lead guitarist Broderick will always be compared to previous guitarists, most notably Marty Friedman and perhaps he [Friedman] contributed more than just his technical expertise; he added his own unique style which during his tenure always enhanced Megadeth albums. In my opinion Broderick doesn't succeed in that respect.

The components which made United Abominations and even the mediocre Endgame work put Mustaine closer to the top of his game but this album lacks any of their qualities. The album is musically disjointed and too rocked orientated. I cannot state with any certainty exactly why Mustaine reverted back to a more simplified style; I can only speculate that he and the record label tried to capitalize too quickly on the critical success of Endgame and it feels like a purely commercial venture thus lacking any sincerity. Another possibility was that producer Johnny K had too much influence over the writing and song structures. A combination of the two and you have the recipe for disaster. It sounds very harsh to say this but I feel as though I've been conned! The only standout tracks are the reworkings of "Black Swan" and "New World Order" so I wouldn't recommend this album to anyone, not even to those diehard fans. Instead I'd recommend buying the individual tracks online. If this material had been cut down to 8 tracks and released as an E.P. like Hidden Treasures which featured non-album tracks originally recorded for a number of other projects then I think that this would have been a more acceptable contribution. As it stands and as I first stated at the beginning of my review this is the most disappointing release since Risk.