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Where Have the Apostles Gone? - 85%

Twisted_Psychology, November 10th, 2012

Originally published at http://suite101.com

Before we talk about Megadeth’s thirteenth studio album, let’s get one thing straight: this is not a comeback. Those who are keeping score will know that the band had their biggest return to form with 2009’s Endgame, a release that just might be their most enjoyable since the early 90s. This album appears to have a different mindset than the last few though, unlike their friends in Metallica, the band doesn’t seem to be in any sort of identity crisis. There have been some significant changes in the band’s dynamic as longtime bassist David Ellefson has returned to the fold, no longer making Dave Mustaine the only original member, and Chris Broderick has become the first lead guitarist to stay on for more than one album since Marty Friedman left in ‘99. On the other hand, Johnny K, a man best known for his extensive work with Disturbed, was the one that ended up producing this album and even co-wrote a few songs on it…

While Endgame was mostly presented as a thrash metal affair with some hard rock influenced songs thrown in, this album appears to have an opposite effect going on. The band has been quick to compare this release to the classic Countdown To Extinction though a careful ear will also find references to past albums such as Youthanasia, Cryptic Writings, and United Abominations. But while the album’s noticeable emphasis on choruses and accessible structures may lead some to wonder if Mustaine is trying too hard to reach the Billboard’s number one spot again, there is still a lot of ground covered here in terms of style. The technical thrash still comes up on the Guitar Hero-friendly “Sudden Death,” but the release also shows off a slew of more foreboding numbers, mid-tempo rockers, upbeat traditional metal on “Public Enemy No. 1,” and some borderline punk on the rather angsty “Whose Life (Is It Anyway?).”

Through it all, the band manages to sound pretty good though there are some changes that have been made to accommodate the material at hand. With a few exceptions, the guitars seem to be a bit more restrained in terms of soloing and Mustaine’s voice still has its trademark sneer though it also seems to be more melodic than usual. Fortunately there is still a good amount of grit so listeners shouldn’t be too disappointed with how things are. However, one thing that is somewhat disappointing is the bass playing’s stance in the mix. While Ellefson gives solid backing on tracks like “New World Order” and even gets a brief moment to shine on “Deadly Nightshade,” it doesn’t seem like he’s as prominent as he used to be. This is thankfully more of a mixing issue than his performance, so one can hope for a remedy if the band is releasing a follow-up anytime soon…

While the songwriting itself isn’t too atypical for Megadeth, what really makes this album weird is the number of older songs that were included just so the band could have thirteen songs on their thirteenth studio album. In addition to two songs previously used for video games and a single song available on the Japanese edition of United Abominations, “New World Order” and “Millennium Of The Blind” both have compositional roots in the early 90s with their original demos being included on the 2004 Youthanasia remaster. Some listeners have complained about the excessive amount of recycling, but I don’t think that it is necessarily a bad practice. Sure it’s hard to justify the placement of a rather recent bonus track on here but it is great to see some of the older tracks come to light and show their full potential. Jon Oliva’s newest band has been using old Savatage outtakes to fantastic effect and I’ve personally wanted them to put out developed studio versions of “New World Order” and “Millennium Of The Blind” for years…

And for what it’s worth, these songs do manage to sound pretty good. “New World Order” is a fun track with some rarely encountered gang vocals shouted out during the chorus, “Millennium Of The Blind” is stretched out and turned into a dark ballad, and “Black Swan” is a rocking track that makes one wonder why the rather artificial remake of “A Tout Le Monde” couldn’t have been the Japanese bonus track instead…

But even the newer compositions have a few tropes that are quick to remind one of past moments. The galloping riff on “Public Enemy No. 1” isn’t too far off from the one found on “Tears In A Vial,” “Deadly Nightshade” feels like a darker version of “Almost Honest,” and the closing “13” is a somber retrospection in the vein of “This Was My Life” or “Of Mice And Men.” With all this in mind, is the resurrection of old unfinished songs really such a crime?

Overall, this release ends up more or less being a “typical” modern Megadeth album. It’s certainly not a low quality effort and has a lot of good songs for the sheer quantity that it is trying to push, but there’s not too many moments that truly make it worthy of a classic status. It could make a nice accessible release for newer listeners but an album like Countdown To Extinction would be a better fulfillment for that kind of job. If you’d like to hear modern Megadeth at their best, give Endgame a listen. If you’d like to hear an amazing album released in 2011 by an old thrash band, feel free to see what their old pals in Anthrax are up to. But whatever you do, just make sure you don’t spend too much time dwelling on this album’s god-awful title…

Current Highlights:
“Public Enemy No. 1”
"Never Dead"
“New World Order”
“Millennium Of The Blind”
“Deadly Nightshade”