33. Megadeth, 'Countdown to Extinction' (1992)
By the Nineties, thrash bands were straying from breakneck, double-time tempos and experimenting more with radio-friendly riffs that grooved like hard rock, but with a harder bite. Although the shadow of Metallica's game-changing Black Album loomed over the entire genre after that LP's 1991 release, Dave Mustaine and Megadeth streamlined their sound without coming across as imitators. Balancing accessibility and thrash street cred with dazzling skill, Countdown to Extinction was less complex than their previous LP, the virtuosic Rust in Peace, yet it feels like a natural progression from that record. The smash "Symphony of Destruction" remains the wickedest hook frontman Mustaine has written, a well-earned crossover success, but Megadeth's trademark blend of lurching riffs, nimble solos and precisely executed rhythms dominates the bulk of the record. As illustrated by the manic psychodrama of "Sweating Bullets," the tense "Skin O' My Teeth" and the ornate title track, Countdown was a perfect blend of mainstream-ready hooks and metal cred, and it scored the band a Number Two album on Billboard. The success led Mustaine to dabble more with writing accessible rock, something he'd later regret after making concessions on 1999's misstep Risk. "Countdown came in at Number Two on the Billboard chart, so we thought, 'Wow, this feels great,'" Mustaine once said. "'Now we're starting to get some direction. This is how you'll be great. You listen to [music-industry] people who have some credibility.' And we did, but it didn't work. And you don't realize that people that have credibility aren't always right." A.B.