Thursday, October 27, 2011

Megadeth - Thirteen of the Best

I'm just a teensy-weensy bit excited about the new Megadeth album, TH1RT3EN, coming out next week.  A perfect opportunity, therefore, to put together a list of my (current) favourite 13 Megadeth songs.  So here goes, in no particular order. 

1. Hangar 18 (from 1990's Rust in Peace)
Alien conspiracy theories, insane trade-off solos between Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman, and just general all-around awesomeness on what must surely be one of Megadeth's most legendary tracks.  It even inspired a (somewhat inferior) sequel - Return to Hangar.

2. Trust (from 1997's Cryptic Writings)
Right, so Cryptic Writings was not Megadeth's most widely-loved album, but I personally think it's their most under-rated.  Yes, it's a bit slower and more produced, but there are some genuinely well-crafted songs here, and Trust might be the best example - it continues to be a staple of their live set too.  Great main riff and it builds nicely towards the solo at 3:45.

3. Dialectic Chaos / This Day We Fight! (from 2009's Endgame)
Yes, it's probably cheating to count these two as one, but the way they segue together to open what I consider to be one of Megadeth's finest albums makes them somewhat inseparable (incidentally, they've always performed them together live as well).  Dialectic Chaos was the first instrumental Megadeth track since the 1980's, and it's fast-paced shredding is a great way of saying 'here we fucking go!' as an album opener.  Then it's straight into the buzzing main riff of This Day We Fight!, an aggressive, intense, high tempo thrash-metal classic.  But it also features some clever touches - like the way it threatens to descend into a full-on battle march straight after the closing chorus line of 'this day we fight!'.

4. Devil's Island (from 1986's Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?)
The opening tap-solo creates exactly the sort of menace you expect from a song about a prisoner on death row, in this case on the eponymous Devil's Island.  But then in classic old-school Megadeth fashion the mood changes swiftly and dramatically - to a lurching bass riff, and into a punkish main verse and chorus before the words "Final judgment!" introduce a characteristically stand-offish Mustaine guitar solo.  The live version below is particularly manic.

5. Blackmail the Universe (from 2004's The System Has Failed)
This was actually the song that really re-introduced me to Megadeth a few years ago.  I'd dabbled with Rust in Peace previously - but then I heard this track (actually the live version from That One Night) and I was immediately hooked by its stomping, savage intro.  Lyrically the track deals with a hypothetical shooting down of Air Force One by terrorists - which was somewhat topical given the timing - but interestingly the track itself (or at least the musical portion of it) actually dates back to well before 9/11. 

6. Take No Prisoners (from 1990's Rust in Peace)
Sounds exactly like the title suggests.  It never garnered the same degree of attention as the two legendary tracks that precede it on Rust in Peace but it's an incredible unrelenting powerhouse of a track nevertheless.  The highlight is probably a typically sneering Mustaine reversing the famous Kennedy quote: "Don't ask what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you".

7. Peace Sells (from 1986's Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?)
Starts with one of the most distinctive basslines of all-time, and continues with one of Dave's best (and most sarcastic) lyrical efforts.  Given Megadeth's tendency in their early days to aim primarily for all-out shred and aggression, it's a phenomenally catchy and well-constructed song.

8. Sudden Death (from the 2010 video game Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock)
Speaking of all-out shred and aggression... it's obvious from the resoundingly sinister opening chords of this track that we're not in Kansas any more.  A huge personal favourite of mine, mainly because it's so very, very kick-ass - building incredibly well towards an amazing solo section courtesy of messrs. Mustaine and Broderick (surely Megadeth's best guitarist since Marty Friedman, if not better).  It's also due to appear as TH1RT3EN's opening track, albeit apparently with a few changes, so I'll be interested to see how that version turns out.

9. Almost Honest (from 1997's Cryptic Writings)
Another tight, groovy number from Cryptic Writings.  What works really well on this track is the dynamic shift between verse and chorus; it's something Megadeth don't do a lot because the 'plan A' approach often tends to be 'sonic assault for 100% of the song'.  Like Trust, it's catchy, infectious and memorable.

10. Sleepwalker (from 2007's United Abominations)
Another entry in a long series of bonecrushing album openers, Sleepwalker initially threatens to do something different with acoustic guitars and synthesisers, which serves to make the opening riff even more savage when it drops.  Lyrically one of the band's darker numbers, although it's actually the drumming I really enjoy on this song. 

11. Sweating Bullets (from 1992's Countdown to Extinction)
Considering the band had so many well-documented drug issues around this period of time, it shouldn't really come as any surprise that crazy old Dave writing a song about crazy schizophrenics would be such a resounding success.  Seeing this performed live is really something to behold when the whole crowd gets in on the singalong.

12. Dread and the Fugitive Mind (from 2001's The World Needs a Hero)

The World Needs A Hero isn't their strongest album, but Megadeth have consistently shown that even on their weaker albums they'll still produce a few individual gems.  The album as a whole is a bit lost between attempting to shift back to thrash metal or continuing the more hard-rock style of the albums that immediately preceded it.  Dread and the Fugitive Mind is one of the few tracks where they strike a really effective balance - it's got the tight, catchy songwriting of much of Cryptic Writings but balances that with a nice, thrashy bridge section.

13. Holy Wars... The Punishment Due (from 1990's Rust in Peace)
One of Megadeth's bona-fide classics, and justifiably so.  It's more like two songs in one - with Holy Wars inspired by one of the band's trips to Ireland during the late 1980's, and The Punishment Due being inspired by The Punisher, from Marvel Comics.  And in between there is a very cool acoustic section and a bunch of clever tempo and dynamic shifts.  Awesome stuff.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Megadeth TH1RT3EN album preview

So, Megadeth released another track (Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)) off their forthcoming thirteenth album, TH1RT3EN, via their facebook page this morning, available for a limited time only.  Until the album comes out, of course.  And this track has just served to remind me how excited I was getting about this album until I got distracted by Mastodon and Soundwave festival announcements and other such meritorious things.

Anyway, Whose Life has a punkish opening riff that recalls really old-school late 80's 'Deth before locking into a groovy chorus riff, with Shawn Drover's drum work sounding very solid throughout.  Not totally sure I buy Dave doing teen-angst lyrics these days, admittedly, but the bridge section elevates a good song to 'very good' thanks to some nice solo duelling from messrs. Mustaine and Broderick.

Put this alongside the three other tracks that have been previewed so far - Sudden Death, Never Dead and Public Enemy No. 1 - and things are looking pretty damned promising.

Sudden Death was originally written for Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock as the game's grand finale.  I think I previously described it as a facemelting shredfest of a track, and I stand by that.  It's completely insane. 

The one thing I've always found slightly amusing is how the use of the original chorus as an outro (at around 4:30), has this vibe of 'alright guys, we pretty much killed it on that, let's just cruise on out' given the escalating waves of sonic assault leading up to it.  Easily one of my top 5 Megadeth tracks of all time, and a menacing way to open an album.

Never Dead also popped up in a video game trailer (does anyone detect a theme here?) although the full track was subsequently also posted on youtube.

A sinister, eerie intro gives way to... BUZZSAW GUITARS!  And a generous helping of double-kick too.  A brutal, uncompromising track - and also a reminder that whilst Dave Mustaine might not be the most technically-gifted singer, it's impossible to imagine Megadeth with anyone else on vocals.

Whilst Sudden Death and Never Dead are definitely a combination of new-age Megadeth power with old-school Megadeth shredding, Public Enemy No. 1 has more of a Youthanasia-era vibe to it.  It's more accessible, and emphasises the vocals more - which is a nice balance to the crushing guitar heaviness of some of the other tracks.

Although bassist Dave Ellefson has been back with the band since early 2010, this will be his first studio album with 'Deth since 2001's The World Needs A Hero.  Personally I think this will add a lot - as good as recent albums United Abominations and Endgame were, Ellefson is one of metal's premier bassists and I think given his long history with the band he will bring a lot to the creative process as well.

The full tracklisting for the album - to be released 1/11/11 -  is:
1Sudden Death
2Public Enemy No. 1
3Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)
4We the People
5Guns, Drugs & Money
6Never Dead
7New World Order
8Fast Lane
9Black Swan
11Millennium of the Blind
12Deadly Nightshade

Some of the more observant Megadeth fans have noticed that three of these titles (plus Sudden Death, of course) are oddly familiar - Black Swan was a bonus track on some version of United Abominations, whilst demo's of Millennium of the Blind and New World Order were included on the remaster of Youthanasia.

And some of said observant Megadeth fans are getting all uppity about the alleged re-use of old songs.  But perhaps said fans don't realise it's actually not uncommon for songs - or more correctly song ideas - to float around for years before the band actually turns them into a complete, finished product.  Both the Youthanasia-era tracks were never more than demos and it's entirely likely the finished versions will sound quite different.  I'm pretty interested to see how they do turn out.

Anyway, to sate your intrigue until November 1, there's a cool track by track preview with Dave 'Junior' Ellefson here.  And a chat with drummer Shawn Drover here.  And an interview with supremely talented guitarist Chris Broderick here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Soundwave 2012 - the lineup

Right, so here is the full lineup for Soundwave 2012:

Aside from the fact I was totally wrong about Pearl Jam, it's pretty damned impressive.  And that's even bearing in mind that the first band on that list that I'm actually genuinely excited about is the 7th one listed - Machine Head.

System of a Down are a decent enough band, but I don't think they're a top-of-the-bill headliner, at least not in the same vein as Faith No More, Nine Inch Nails and Iron Maiden in recent years.  I'm not a huge Slipknot fan but I won't deny they have a pretty big folllowing.  Then you have Limp Bizkit who have absolutely no business being higher than many of the bands on that list and uh, yeah the less said about that the better.  Continuing the 90's nostalgia trip are Marilyn Manson (admittedly probably worth seeing) and Hole (almost certainly not).

And then you get into the really good stuff... promoter AJ Maddah called it the biggest metal lineup outside the Big 4 and I think that's pretty fair.

Machine Head: a recent and highly worthwhile discovery for me, The Blackening and Unto the Locust are both top albums.

Lamb of God: haven't heard a great deal, but suspect I might investigate them further - I was impressed by them when I saw them open for Metallica last year.

Trivium: same category as Machine Head, minus the opening for Metallica thing.  Friends I trust in relation to these things swear by them, so that has to be worth something.

Alter Bridge: only heard one album but that's enough to know they'll be worth checking out.

And then of the rest, the ones I'm particularly interested in:
Devin Townsend Project: I am totally unfamiliar with but friends who know stuff rate them, so definitely worth a look.

Black Label Society: Should be pretty kickass actually... especially if they play Stillborn, fantastic track.  I expect they're in the category of 'great fun after a few beers', but perhaps not to the same extent as:

Hellyeah: will be insanely good fun after a few beers.  Both their albums are fun, ass-kicking hard rock records - nothing complex, nor do they need to be.  Could be a highlight of the day, actually.

And finally, Mastodon.  I mean, why the FUCK are they so low on the bill.  Fantastic new album and a big fan base from their earlier (also excellent) albums.  This is probably the band I'm most excited to see, and I think they'll go off at Soundwave.  The interesting question is which stage they end up on - main stage (presumably mid-afternoon) or metal stage (presumably later on).  They better not clash with anything else on that list, if they do, the 'anything else' will lose.  There is a long list of songs I'd love to hear these guys play... Blood and Thunder, Spectrelight, Black Tongue, almost anything off Blood Mountain... actually I hope these guys play a sideshow either in Sydney or NZ because I'll be there.

In summary, this is a damned good festival lineup, and a reminder of how shit the Big Day Out has become.  Soundwave is, unashamedly, a metal and punk festival - it knows its identity - and it delivers, every damn year.  Meanwhile the Big Day Out seems pretty lost about what it is actually trying to be... having Kanye West as a headliner is just flat-out bizarre for what was historically an 'alternative rock' festival.  Even worse, he will probably be the main headliner, above Soundgarden.  And who remembers how shit it was when they gave Scribe a decent slot on the main stage (admittedly Kanye's got a bit more star power, but still). 

Anyway, I digress.  As usual Soundwave has done a phenomenal job of bringing together an incredible selection of great bands.  Soundwave is awesome and it looks like I'll be off to Sydney in February again for more madness with McLeish.  Chur bro.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Some rampant speculation about Soundwave...

The full line-up for Soundwave is set to be announced Friday night, Australia time, and given that's not far away it must be time for some indulgent, vaguely-informed speculation about what the final line-up might look like.

A small cross-section of the bands playing have already been announced/leaked through either promoter AJ Maddah (notoriously good at drip-feeding the punters) or the artists themselves.  Full list is here, but suffice to say that even with only around 15 of 60 bands and no headliners announced as yet, it's already looking pretty damned good.

I'm particularly excited for Mastodon - both for their older stuff and The (mighty) Hunter - but I'll be keen to check out Hellyeah and Machine Head too.  And whilst I'm not that familiar with their material, I think I'd also have to investigate Devin Townsend, Trivium, and Coal Chamber (who are reforming exclusively for the festival).  That's always been one of Soundwave's great strengths... rather than end up having to kill time between bands, there are plenty of great bands to check out and often some tough decisions to make. 

Anyway, even without any headliners and only a small proportion of its final lineup, it's still better than a certain other increasingly shit festival that has Soundgarden as its sole redeeming feature.  I'd actually picked Soundgarden to show up at Soundwave - given recent bills have included the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Alice in Chains and Jane's Addiction - but I guess I got that one wrong. 

And this is where I get into said speculation.  I reckon Pearl Jam could be the main headliner.  They have no scheduled dates for 2012 yet and, importantly, Soundgarden have no dates scheduled after Big Day Out, because until someone invents a cloning machine I'm pretty sure Matt Cameron can't play in both bands simultaneously (he's a superhuman drummer, just not THAT superhuman).  The main headliner is, according to AJ, neither metal nor punk, and he has been mysteriously silent when asked if Pearl Jam are coming (which isn't a yes, but he has had no problem telling people which artists AREN'T coming).  And Pearl Jam are currently doing some twenty-year anniversary shows, which sort of ties in with Soundwave's recent successes in booking headliners on "landmark" tours - Nine Inch Nails' farewell tour, Faith No More's reunion tour.  Anyway, here's hoping, and in the meantime, here's a great obscure Pearl Jam song about a cannibal that I'd love to hear them play:

They might seem a little mainstream for what is fundamentally a metal / punk festival, but Soundwave have a very good track record for getting headliners that appeal to their core punters whilst also attracting a wider audience.

Anyway, it's also been claimed that the line-up will be the biggest metal line-up that isn't The Big Four.  There was a bit of speculation about Metallica, but that's been squashed, Slayer came this year (albeit with some illness problems), and I'd love to see Megadeth but I suspect they'll be busy with Gigantour.  Anthrax are possible, but well, they aren't in the league of the other three.

Following the 'big metal' theme, Lamb of God and Slipknot also seem possible, as were Opeth until they announced early December dates in Australia.

Judas Priest also seemed likely - particularly given that they were lined-up for the aborted Soundwave Revolution - but they were nixed via AJ's twitter account.  Which is a shame, and here's why:

Slipknot have been touted, and there were some rumblings today about Marilyn Manson, Offspring and Evanescence.  This was a little interesting because given Hole have already (unfortunately) been confirmed and there's plenty of speculation about Limp Bizkit - all up that's a lot of 90's throwback action, although not (totally) without merit.

Another name mentioned is Duff McKagan's Loaded - I've enjoyed both their albums and would certainly make a point of checking them out.

Truth is though, Soundwave have always done a great job in the past of keeping their aces up their sleeve, sneaking a few good names out there in advance and then exceeding (high) expectations in the full line-up announcement.  There's every chance that there are some great bands coming that haven't yet found their way into the rumour mill (e.g. Deftones).

Pearl Jam would be a highlight though.  They were stunning in 2009 and I'd love to see them again.

Chris Cornell, ASB Theatre, 5/10/11

Last night's Chris Cornell solo acoustic gig was the first concert I've been to in a while, in fact since Kyuss Lives! in May.  And it's fair to say this was a bit different to the average rock gig - a solo, (mostly) acoustic set.  And I was probably doubly looking forward to it on account of how I'll be overseas during Soundgarden's long-awaited return down under in January next year, because they chose to play the crappy festival and not the really good one that I was banking on them playing (hey - given the last few years' at Soundwave have included Nine Inch Nails, Alice in Chains, and Jane's Addiction it seemed a safe enough bet).

Anyway, right, the gig.  Cornell started with some friendly banter, and between this and his entertaining recent appearances in Pearl Jam Twenty, I've come to realise he's a pretty cool guy, even if he was responsible for the "experiment" known as Scream, which is only even worth mentioning because it gave rise to a hilarious parody by Trent Reznor as an April Fools joke a couple of years ago.

What followed was a showcase of Cornell's solo material, various Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave tracks, and some great covers, spanning over two hours - yep, not only is his voice as amazing and unique as it always was, but he can carry a solo show for that long quite comfortably.  Hell, I don't even think the guy barely had a sip of water in that time.

It speaks volumes of the man's talent and charisma that he can almost hypnotise an audience singlehandedly.  It's incredibly easy to get lost in tracks like Finding Forever, Sunshower, and Call Me A Dog.

But I've always had a soft spot for musicians really rocking out an acoustic number, and so I especially enjoyed Mind Riot.  Cornell mentioned at one point how he sometimes hates listening to the show recordings because of some of the silly stuff he says (in his defence, he is very funny and engaging) - wonder if he'll spot the mix-up when he accidentally introduced Mind Riot as being from Louder than Love, and not Badmotorfinger.  And I only mention this because I got all excited thinking he was going to do some totally leftfield acoustic cover version of Gun or Big Dumb Sex.  Anyway, Mind Riot was great.  And so was Hunger Strike, which has always been one of my favourite Cornell tracks, and which sounded thoroughly excellent.

It struck me at one point just how few front men of the current generation of rock bands could actually pull this sort of solo show off in the way Cornell does - he can just take control of an audience with his voice, presence and musical ability.  The only others I can think of that are in the same league are Eddie Vedder and Josh Homme - and they both started in the same era.  Jerry Cantrell and Dave Grohl, possibly, though neither's singing voice is in the same league as Cornell.  Scott Weiland, if he was a bit less aloof.  There are other more fringe candidates like Neil Fallon (Clutch) and John Garcia (Kyuss), who have the ability but wouldn't pull the same crowds.  And those are all examples from bands who formed pre-2000, i.e., front men AREN'T WHAT THEY USED TO BE.

So being able to enjoy an intimate, spontaneous show with a talented guy like this is a pretty rare thing.  And especially when he pulls out some brilliant cover versions - I especially enjoyed A Day In The Life (the Beatles), a very unexpected cover of Pearl Jam's Better Man (spontaneously performed when someone yelled out "Play some Pearl Jam!"), and John Lennon's Imagine.  A few music geeks like me might have noticed that he actually rearranged Imagine into 3/4 time as opposed to Lennon's 4/4 - showing a very deft musical touch.

I was always keener on Audioslave's more rocking material and so it was a surprise to me that some of the night's highlights actually came from quieter, more reflective Audioslave tracks like I Am the Highway, Like A Stone and Doesn't Remind Me (in particular).

But for me personally, Soundgarden material was always going to be the highlight.  The brilliant Superunknown was one of the first albums I ever owned on CD, so I loved every second of Like Suicide, Fell on Black Days and Black Hole Sun.

Overall, it was a captivating show from a uniquely talented musician - who thoroughly deserved the standing ovation that he got.  Well done, that man.

Full setlist here.