Formed by guitarist Dave Mustaine after he was forced out of Metallica, Megadeth long represented the dark and nasty side of American thrash. Between the manic precision of Mustaine's riffage, which unlike most thrash bands locked perfectly with the machine-gun pulse of the kick drum, and the inspired cynicism of his songwriting, Megadeth perfectly captured the mood of those metal fans who thought the world was going to hell, and frankly didn't give a shit. From Killing Is My Business to So Far, So Good, the albums are largely interchangeable, right down to the ellipses in the titles. Rust in Peace upped the ante with "Hangar 18," an impressively expansive conspiracy number, and Countdown to Extinction showed unexpected pop savvy with "Symphony of Destruction" and "Sweating Bullets." By Youthanasia, the band even managed to deliver credible ballads — well, slow and mostly sensitive songs, anyway — but it's Cryptic Writings that marks the band's zenith. Not only has the band broadened its palette to include synths and electronic treatments, but the powerful, confessional "Use the Man" gives the band a single as strong as any in the Metallica songbook. (In between Youthanasia and Cryptic Writings, Mustaine also released an album under the name MD.45, with punk legend Lee Ving of Fear.) Risk, unfortunately, doesn't quite maintain that momentum (although it has its moments), while the sluggish, retrograde The World Needs a Hero actually seems a step back for the band.
As it turned out, the album was nearly Megadeth's last hurrah. Mustaine injured his arm a year after Hero's release, and killed Megadeth. Sanctuary did its best to keep the name alive in lieu of new material, releasing Rude Awakening, a live recap of that album and the bulk of the Megadeth catalogue that shows off most of the band's strengths, and Still Alive, a shameless attempt to cash in on fans' desire for leftovers. Fortunately, Mustaine eventually recovered from his injury, re-formed Megadeth, and remastered the band's Capitol albums.
Those seeking an overview will find Capitol Punishment to be a perfunctory best-of with two previously-unreleased tracks serving as an alleged bonus; Hidden Treasures is a compendium of nonalbum tracks that's worth hearing only for "99 Ways to Die."
This album guide originally appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).
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