Megadeth's recent albums have bucked the general trend for 80's metal bands to increasingly suck as time goes on. In fact, Megadeth's career in general has - despite the countless well-documented dramas of both the band and Dave Mustaine - been remarkably consistent. Across their 12 albums up to this point, I personally count only one dud and one mediocre effort. And even on those two albums (Risk and The World Needs a Hero, respectively), there are still some genuinely decent moments. As for the rest, well it ranges from good (Countdown to Extinction) to outstanding (Rust in Peace, Endgame).
In contrast to their Big 4 contemporaries, this streak is practically unmatched. There's no St. Anger, no Stomp 442, no Undisputed Attitude. There's certainly no Lulu (and unfortunately, the less said about that, the better). Even if one widens the net to include the great NWOBHM bands like Iron Maiden, well the 'Deth certainly never had a Blaze Bayley phase.
And the good news is that album number 13, entitled TH1RT3EN, certainly holds its own amongst the wider Megadeth discography. In fact, one of TH1RT3EN's most notable traits is that it borrows tricks from Megadeth's earlier work while still pushing bravely ahead at times.
The instant, hooky catchiness of Public Enemy No. 1 is strongly reminiscent of some of the Countdown-era material (most notably Symphony of Destruction), whilst the punkish energy of Whose Life (Is It Anyways?) feels even more old-school - we're talking Peace Sells here, people. But this shouldn't in any way be taken as a suggestion the 'Deth are reliving past glories because both tracks sound distinctly 2011.
Admittedly some of the tracks recall certain eras because they are actually from said eras. Millenium of the Blind and New World Order both trace their origins back to the 1990's. There has been some criticism (admittedly mostly on internet forums) of the band for recycling these tracks but personally I have no issue with it. It's not uncommon for songs - or more correctly song ideas - to be floating around for indeterminate periods of time before finally being finished. Both these songs were demoed but never got to anything resembling a final product. Maybe they don't normally float around for quite that long, but still, it's no big deal. And a time signature geek like me is never going to get annoyed at a track like New World Order which dips into 7/4 time in the verse.
As good as some of these tracks are, the highlights for me personally are Sudden Death and Never Dead. Both are brilliant examples of the urgent, unrelenting power and aggression and refined technicality (dueling guitar solos ftw!) that has characterised some of Megadeth's best recent tracks (think Blackmail the Universe and Sleepwalker). And both also showcase the ability of the current Megadeth line-up, which in my opinion is probably one of the best, if not the best, in the band's history. Shawn Drover is an absolute powerhouse and core to the current 'Deth sound, whilst Chris Broderick provides a phenomenal dual guitar attack with Mustaine. Not to mention that having long-time bassist Dave Ellefson back in the fold is a huge advantage - the man is one of metal's great bassists.
There's one minor factor that holds me back from rating this album in the same league as latter-day gems like Endgame. The album was put together in a pretty short window between tours and in places it feels a little rushed; it doesn't have quite the same end-to-end consistency as Megadeth's very best work, and loses a little focus towards the end of the album. It just nags at me a bit that given a little more time, this album could have been genuine 5-star material.
But perhaps that's a small and unfair quibble. Overall, TH1RT3EN has a lot of very good moments and some genuinely excellent ones. Title track 13 is a gem of a closer - clearly an honest and candid contemplation from a somewhat weary-sounding Mustaine of the band's challenges over 13 albums and almost 30 years, and whether he feels up to continuing given recent label issues with Roadrunner and his own back and neck problems.
Let's hope he does. TH1RT3EN continues a fantastic run for Megadeth - like the three albums before it, it's easily in the running for most ass-kicking metal album of the year. It shouldn't take much more than the few opening bars of Sudden Death to convince any listener that there's still plenty of gas in Megadeth's tank. Long live the 'Deth!