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Fun - 78%

gasmask_colostomy, December 7th, 2015

Something that you never seem to hear about Megadeth is just how fun they are. There was always something a little unhinged about Dave Mustaine's personality that suggested you shouldn't take your eyes off him, but at about the point where he stopped taking himself so seriously and ceased to be a total dick (a few people are still waiting, right Kerry King?), he actually became more interesting and actually kind of fun. His vocal personality, his errant soapbox lyrics and interviews, and the riff- and lead-happy tendencies of most Megadeth albums make this a hell of a lot more diverting for me than half of the "classic" thrash that spilled out of the 80s and has no personality and no apparent purpose. '13' is manifestly not Megadeth's finest album, not even Megadeth's finest 21st century album (I think I'm going with the populace and saying it's 'Endgame', though 'United Abominations' is no slouch), but what happens here is a sheer cavalcade of catchy, memorable songs that work well at high volume, with a beverage in your hand, and 'Rust in Peace' far from your mind.

Megadeth's sound isn't terribly thrash-oriented anymore, so there shouldn't be any expectation that Dave & co are going to play fast. We only get speed on a few mildly aggressive numbers like 'Never Dead' and 'Fast Lane', though the successes on '13' come about more as a result of songwriting economy, hooks, and a talent for impact that goes right back to the beautiful construction of songs on 'Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?'. The lack of speed and aggression in the musical style doesn't make trouble in the way that might be imagined, because Mustaine has always been good at injecting snottiness and looseness in the vocal department, which counters the big production job that combined the talents of Mustaine, Andy Sneap, and Johnny K of Biomechanical fame. Guitars are bold and robust, with treble mainly saved for the leads, while the drums are muscular, precise, and never over-complicated. There isn't much in the way of experimentation either, the musicians generally preferring to get on with business in as punctual a fashion as possible. Just two songs top 5 minutes and most of the numbers here march through a verse, a chorus, repeat the trick, shred for 30 seconds, and then exit via another chorus. As a formula, it looks basic, but that's what makes everything work so well - it doesn't leave room for bad decisions.

Since the focus is so heavily on songs, '13' builds no consistent atmosphere, yet the cocky strut of 'Guns, Drugs, & Money' perfectly suits its gangster subject matter, 'Deadly Nightshade' has an appropriately dangerous main riff, and there are some creepy moments in 'We the People' and 'Millenium of the Blind' that are mildly affecting. The first of these examples is a good measure of why this is such a fun experience. The ideas are big and dumb and the execution is larger than life, yet the confidence with which the band power through the song is captivating and turns this underdog song set into a combination that you'll root for. Plus, at the start of the second verse (1:34 if we're being precise), the guitars drop out for the vocal to come back in and something catches in Dave's throat that sounds just like a pistol being cocked. Fuck me, that's cool! If I'm counting songs that I consider to have those kind of large musical testicles, I get onto a second hand, so that's about half the album that sounds great.

Another thing that should attract old and new Megadeth fans is the blistering leads that flash out of most songs here. Though not quite as inspired as those on 'Endgame' Mustaine and Chris Broderick are on strong form, playing speedy leads that up both the tempo and the technicality of the songs, lending a shot of adrenaline to a mid-paced album. The recurring lead of 'Black Swan' is pretty cool, though that's one of the few songs where the vocals actually steal the show, using some great slower lines on the "My angel's left me, sorrows are my own" section, while the chorus is also executed impressively. At faster tempos, the material for both riffs and solos are slightly more generic, but mid-paced Megadeth is immensely productive on '13'.

You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned the slower songs, and that's largely because they suck quite a lot. The title track has a vaguely pleasant nostalgic tone to it, but certainly doesn't justify its running time, whereas 'Millenium of the Blind' fares worse, having only about a minute of worthwhile soloing to mark its passing. The reworked 'New World Order' also ranks among the disappointments, trying to scrape bland stock riffs under the carpet of the vocal-dominated verses, and only picking up after the halfway mark for a decent bridge section. Picking holes in the other songs is in fact fairly easy: perhaps one could complain about the overly percussive verse of 'Sudden Death', though the surge of movement in the chorus redeems it totally; maybe those simple chords in 'Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)' are just too direct, but the great hooky licks and the ridiculousness of the 50 year old Mustaine singing "You hate the way I wear my clothes/You hate my friends and where we go" makes up for it; certainly, 'Fast Lane' is such a cliché subject for this band and the riffs are only so-so, yet, again, the song is difficult to resist once it gets going. That's the same for most of the album - no outstanding musical quality, but a hell of a good time.

As I have already said, '13' isn't the best Megadeth album by a long shot, though there's actually an outside chance that it might be my favourite to listen to. It shows that music needn't be brilliant, cutting-edge, or too serious in order to attract an audience. This may well have been another bid for commercial acceptance from the ill-fated Mustaine, but I don't care. This is fun as fuck.