Album Title: The Sick, The Dying…And The Dead!
Label: Universal Music Group
Date of Release: 2 September 2022
For countless reasons, Megadeth have always been at the very top of my thrash metal list. I discovered the band with their 1994 album, ‘Youthanasia’, and it was love at first listen. I’d been reticent to dive into the band initially, having heard about the fact that mastermind Dave Mustaine was the wild child of Metallica, kicked out for his excesses and attitude. Tabloid hyperbole and sensationalism much of this may have been, but nevertheless it meant that I wondered for a while whether his musical output might also be too wild for me. For context, this was early in my heavy metal exploration days when I knew very little. But not a bit of it. ‘Youthanasia’, further enhanced by the excellently entertaining ‘Revolver’ film, remains a constant companion and, whilst I appreciate the greater technical prowess and aggression of other records, this album sits proudly alongside ‘Countdown To Extinction’, ‘Rust In Peace’, and ‘Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying’ as a personal favourite to this day.
Over the years, the road has been a rocky one with the untimely death of drummer Nick Menza, a revolving door of musicians including the recent departure of long-time bassist Dave Ellefson under some controversy, and even a dalliance with cancer for Mustaine himself. However, such is the intensity, belief, and ‘screw you’ attitude of the main man, he has again returned against the odds with yet another studio album, ‘The Sick, The Dying…And The Dead’ the sixteenth under the Megadeth banner.
It’s fair to say that, in my opinion at least, that some of the output since the mid-90s has been a bit hit and miss, so I’ve approached new material somewhat warily over the years. However, something just felt a bit different in the build up to the release of this album, underlined by artwork and a title that unashamedly and deliberately harks back to the early days.
I’m late in bringing this review to you, as the release coincided with a period of much needed rest in order to avoid burnout. However, the positive by-product of this is that I have been able to delve rather deeply into ‘The Sick, The Dying…And The Dead’, not worrying about the looming deadline of release day.
Joining Mustaine on this album is guitarist Kiko Loureiro (ex-Angra), bassist Steve DiGeorgio, and drummer Dirk Verbeuren (ex-Soilwork), and from the outset, I’m excited. ‘Bring out your dead’, is the chillingly matter-of-fact lone call from the days of the Plague, alongside a howling wind and a mournful tolling bell. Together, they introduce the the title track of ‘The Sick, The Dying…And The Dead’. A lone guitar in no way lifts the gloom as it plays out an equally sombre tune, before the song finally lurches forth with maximum force. The riff is melodic, catchy, and the swagger is undeniable. Mustaine sounds just like he always has, with his sneer-infused lead vocals adding some typical Megadeth attitude to the composition. The pace isn’t lightning fast, and there’s even a momentary quiet lull as Mustaine almost whispers above an acoustic guitar and atmospheric sounds from elsewhere within the band. But the track is a cracking opener, full of intent, energy, and memorability, especially in terms of the lead guitar work, which does come close to rivalling the band’s best efforts.
‘Life In Hell’ is a much faster track, with another cracking central riff, blazing leads, galloping drumming, and meaty bass work to underpin and add gravitas, particularly when the atmospherics are dialled up alongside a slowing of pace in the central portion of the song. Most importantly though, this track, alongside a scattering of others along the way on this record prove that Megadeth still have the fire, hunger, and aggression to be a more than relevant force to be reckoned with in 2022.
One of my favourite tracks is entitled ‘Night Stalkers’, and it enjoys this billing for a number of reasons. There is an argument to suggest that the guest appearance from rapper Ice-T is a little unnecessary and cheesy, as he essentially delivers a spoken-word piece that could have come from a Hollywood blockbuster. But in actual fact, I rather like it, and the intense attitude that it brings to an already powerful song that blends speedy riffs, vibrant rhythms, and a catchy-as-hell chorus. The whole song, including the symphonic/acoustic interlude with rumbling lead bass line is pure thrash metal theatre and it’s a huge amount of fun from beginning to end.
Other highlights include ‘Dogs Of Chernobyl’, even if its finest moment occurs in the opening sequence, namely courtesy of the killer, thunderous heavy guitar notes that erupts after another unsettling, atmospheric intro featuring the sounds of children laughing, dark dystopian sounds and lamenting acoustic guitars. Nevertheless, aside from being a touch too long, it’s another powerful song in the armoury, as is ‘Junkie’, another ‘proper’ attitude-laden thrash metal track.
I also like the duo of ‘Soldier On!’ and ‘Mission To Mars’. The former skips along at a muscular mid-tempo, before launching into one of the most immediate choruses on the record, nodding towards the ‘Risk’ era, but with more metallic authority. The latter simply oozes atmosphere, starting with the bass and electronic-led intro that’s then built upon with guitars, drums and even more electronics until it pushes all of my buttons in the best way. It is, undeniably, one of the most straight forward, ‘commercial’ songs on ‘The Sick, The Dying…and The Dead’, but it is utterly infectious. It even manages to move me a little when it cuts to sound clips of astronauts clearly facing their impending doom, enhanced by the inclusion of a fast, punishing riff, that is accentuated by Verbeuren’s dextrous drumming.
There are a few weaker moments where my mind wanders, but in spite of this, I have to declare that ‘The Sick, The Dying…And The Dead’ is a success. Is it their best? No, not at all. But, in my humble opinion, it is quite possibly their best outing since ‘Youthanasia’. I like the way that it incorporates ideas from the vast majority of their back catalogue, including a nod to ‘Rust In Peace’ in the spoken word section of ‘Mission To Mars’. I like the energy, I like plenty of the riffs that find their way into the music, and I like the fact that, whatever is thrown at Mustaine and co., they refuse to give up or slink off quietly into the night. Kudos.
The Score of Much Metal: 88%