MEGADETH albums are a lot like ordering a pizza. Sometimes they arrive piping hot and cooked to perfection, and other times freezing cold or burnt to a crisp. And on The Sick, The Dying…And The Dead!, your pizza arrives full of the flavour you’ve come to expect, but there’s uneven slices and double what you ordered.
2016’s Dystopia laid 2013’s late career misstep Super Collider to rest with a fiery return to form. And it’s clear from the rolling guitar riffs and tolling bells of the titular opener that The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead! is the best the thrash legends have sounded in over a decade. Following the dismissal of founding member David Ellefson, TESTAMENT’s Steve Di Giorgio fills in on bass for the album (whilst former bassist James LoMenzo joins the band full-time moving forward). Along with a revitalised rhythm section, Dave Mustaine’s battle with throat cancer has defied all logic – his infamous snarl sounds urgent and vital for the first time in a while, firing out melodic hooks like Life In Hell and Junkie like he’s in the late 80s/early 90s again.
The opening trio of the title track, Life In Hell, and the ICE-T-featuring Night Stalkers are so far, so good… so what? It’s bay area thrash as we’ve come to treasure it; battering ram drums bring the beating, the riffs run around your brain like stars after a knockout, and Mustaine snarls about global paranoia. Sure, these songs sound good, but they’re nothing new in a genre that’s quickly finding new ground thanks to its fresh talent.
Dogs Of Chernobyl’s haunting intro, complete with clanging windchimes, giggling children and static feedback, offers a slice of potential for the thrash legends to push the boat out, before fading off into its formulaic approach. Sacrifice and Junkie follow suit, threatening to tread new ground before returning to routine, and whilst they’re old school thrash metal done good, are Mustaine and co. playing it safe?
Psychopathy disrupts the party and the pace with its bloated drums and wily riffs that don’t fit the picture the album is painting, but the five songs that follow it are the album’s best – and most problematic. Killing Time could easily match the catchiness of any cut from Countdown To Extinction, whilst Célebutante is 2022’s answer to METALLICA’s Hit The Lights, with riffs that feel like riding bucking broncos in a backyard boozer. There’s just one problem – you hate yourself for loving these songs that seem at war with thrash metal’s roots by being so undeniably singable.
Closing duo Mission To Mars and We’ll Be Back are hands down the best two songs MEGADETH have put their name to since anything on 2011’s Thirteen. The former pulsates synthetically, before shooting its rocket out into space with lightspeed solos and a chorus to shake festival crowds – and a subtle nod to their past “let it rust in peace out here” – whilst the latter’s rhythm section is so hench it’ll snap your neck from headbanging.
On the flipside, The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead! is Mustaine delivering a dry-run for his platform for presidency. Never far away from controversy, the outspoken frontman tackles the state of the nation, firing shots at what he believes are its problem areas: social media and vanity – “I’m a disease and I’m addicted to myself”, junkies, and fake news – “It was all just an act, and that’s a fact / When you start moving your lips, I know that you’re lying.”
It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t all cookie cutter clichés and lyrics that lack panache. With lines like “He gets high on dying and then he’s dead anyway” and “it’s killing time, another lesson in violence” throttling at full speed, the world-conquering, eye-opening insights of Holy Wars (The Punishment Due) and witty social commentary of Sweating Bullets are long gone, lost to the past. If The Sick, The Dying…And The Dead! is the pizza you’ve ordered, you won’t be left hungry; but you’ll be disappointed to know it’s not as good as it was before.
The Sick, The Dying…And The Dead! is set for release on September 2nd via UMe.
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