Megadeth – Countdown to Extinction

‘This is it’

To say that Metallica completely changed the playing field when it came to metal and more specifically, commercially successful metal is an understatement. Its influence on future heavy music aside, it opened the floodgates for multiple genre mainstays and their imitators to release albums that were a drastic change in direction. Following its 1991 release Anthrax went grunge, Sepultura went groove, and Megadeth, in all of Dave Mustaine’s wide-eyed envy, took a similar approach to Metallica for this release. The two explore a lot of the same sonic territory, this came soon after Metallica and at an analogous point in Megadeth’s career, and the two share a lot of the same flaws. And since the two are so similar, I’ll get this out of the way – since people are so hasty to point out Metallica sold out and give the band crap, Megadeth did too. I don’t know what makes people give this album or the band more of a pass for the same sin, as Dave sold out hard here and the music suffered for it.

Like Metallica, this is a drastically simplified and scaled back album from the technical excellence, songwriting prowess and undiluted aggression displayed on this album’s 4 predecessors. Most of the material here is written in a fairly melodic heavy metal/hard rock style, though there are some speedier holdovers. Virtually every song here is simpler in every respect compared to before, being built around a verse-chorus structure with little deviation in that formula, and the songs are more focused on catchy choruses and the vocals than ever. Dave does a lot more melodic and clean singing here and his snarling, nasally voice sounds at odds with the accessible direction the band is going in, mainly as he hadn’t gotten used to singing in a more conventional and melodic fashion yet. He doesn’t really emote much outside of aggression and when shooting for a less aggressive feel he sounds like a fish out of water; not bad but certainly odd and awkward. It’s not a voice that is easy to get used to though once that happens he’s not so bothersome. The drumming and riffs meanwhile are more minimal, simplistic, and less aggressive than before, with the riffs taking on a heavy/groove metal character. The shorter songs means the solos are shorter too, though technically they still are up to scratch as they have a great deal of flash and taste to them. The change in style here isn’t a problem inherently, and unlike Metallica the band certainly don’t extend their songs to the point of tedium on this one. The problem here is another one that dogged that album though – the music reeks of wasted potential as many of the songs here simply aren’t that impressive and don’t serve up much to interest the listener or commit the songs to memory, perhaps caused by deliberate restraint on the band’s part and not being comfortable writing in a more accessible heavy metal style.

Much of the material here doesn’t pan out so well, mostly due to not having interesting instrumentation or vocals – these tracks aren’t bad or even that boring, just very plain and bland. There are a couple of quiet verse/loud chorus hard rock/heavy metal ballads (the title track, ‘Foreclosure of a Dream’) that progress in a very predictable fashion and don’t bring much to the table instrumentally or vocally beyond catchy choruses, which are admittedly some of the best on the album. On the heavier side of things, ‘This Was My Life’ and ‘Captive Honour’ go in one ear and out the other (beyond the latter’s stupid extended intro dialogue.) The band is obviously going for more hook-driven numbers but they don’t bring the riffs, energy or choruses to make the songs stick, and so they aren’t even catchy like the ballads. On the other hand, ‘Architecture of Aggression’ and ‘Psychotron’ clearly had more work put into them, featuring much stronger riffs that are more groove and thrash influenced. This stronger backbone the songs are built upon gives the songs and the choruses the energy and drive needed to stick. ‘Skin ‘O My Teeth’ and ‘High Speed Dirt’ are a pair of uptempo numbers here that take speed/thrash riffing and aggression and inject them into a condensed and hook-centric verse-chorus formula. ‘High Speed Dirt’ feels a tad unnecessary as it covers a lot of the same ground ‘Skin ‘O My Teeth’ did at the start of the album, but by virtue of having more energy, speed and aggression than a lot of the songs here it still remains a highlight.

To highlight how inconsistent the album gets, it manages to feature two of Megadeth’s best songs and one of their worst. ‘Symphony of Destruction’ is an amazing single, combining a beautifully simple, hard-edged heavy/groove metal riff that is impossible to forget with snarled verses and one of the best sung passages on the album in the form of its catchy chorus and an always welcome set of leads. It’s the best example of the condensed and commercial heavy/groove metal style on the album, and beats out nearly everything else in its field at the time. ‘Ashes in Your Mouth’ pretty much bucks every stylistic change seen here, being an amazing thrash epic that combines this album’s more melodic, hook-driven formula with the aggression and technicality found on the albums that came before it. It’s a very catchy song with an equally memorable and groovy main riff that has multiple phases to its construction, including a set of extended solos that form its bridge. It alone makes this more than worthy of any Megadeth fan’s collection and would not be out of place on Rust in Peace. However, there’s also the laughable and silly ‘Sweating Bullets’ which is inexplicably a popular song for the band. It’s truly a stain on the band’s catalogue; there’s nothing enjoyable about its crappy and tedious stop-start riff, the corny spoken word narration that form the verses or the descending melody that forms its irritating hook.

Ultimately like the album Dave wanted to replicate so badly, this winds up being a perfectly decent if inconsistent foray into commercial waters, and a waste of potential given what had come before it. It contains some of the band’s best and most iconic tracks but has a lot of filler to go with the killer, though even some of the weaker songs here are catchy and pleasant enough to work as mindless entertainment, and outside of ‘Sweating Bullets’ nothing here is skip-worthy. This is definitely essential for any Megadeth fan due to its highlights and place in history of the band and metal as a whole, but be prepared for a less than stellar effort.

Rating: 68%

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