Monday, November 7, 2011

Metal Monday: Megadeth's Th1rt3en

Despite their (rightful) place among thrash's Big Four, Dave Mustaine and Megadeth have always struck me as outsiders. Obviously, simply liking or playing metal makes one an outsider in most cultures, but even within that relatively small circle, Mustaine has always appeared to me to not quite fit in.

Maybe it's because so many of Mustaine's song and album titles seem like bad jokes -- Killing Is My Business ... And Business Is Good, Peace Sells ... But Who's Buying? My caricature of Mustaine has always been of the unpopular kid who, in an attempt to impress the cool kids, comes up with an elaborate joke for the sole purpose of unveiling an underwhelming punchline -- then immediately breaks into an explanation of the joke to the nonplussed audience. For this reason, I've internally referred to Megadeth as "nerd" metal. I don't have a better explanation for it than that -- in my mind, it just fits.

All of this is to say that I had to roll my eyes a little bit when I saw that the stylized title of the band's latest release included a couple characters of Leet-speak.

The thing is, as we've learned from fairy tales and countless forgettable cookie-cutter movies, you can't judge a book by its cover. And behind some of the groan-inducing album titles, songs, and lyrics over the last two and a half decades, Megadeth has consistently put out some of the best, most blistering thrash metal available.

Th1rt3en is no exception. The band's thirteenth studio release features -- yep -- 13 tracks of its brand of its solo-heavy, headbanging speed.

There isn't a bad song on the album, truthfully, though at the same time, few stand out. The band streamed "Black Swan" in the days leading up to the album's release, and the first single is "Public Enemy No. 1" which the band played as guests on Jimmy Kimmel Live -- while dressed in Halloween costumes:

My favorite track on the album is "Whose Life (Is It Anyways)?" -- and not just because I'm a sucker for song titles that contain parentheses:

Musically, I like this track because it takes a brutal drumbeat (more characteristic of death metal than anything I've ever heard from them) and overlays it with their signature guitar work. Lyrically, thematically, I love it because it puts into words what Mustaine's actions have said for years: "I don't care what you think of me." Or, to quote the man directly from the lyrics: "Hey!/Just whose life is this anyway/You tell me how to live but who asked you anyway"

That message is really what I consider to be Megadeth's lasting legacy, and Dave Mustaine's. In an era where Metallica is collaborating with Lou Reed and no one is consistently releasing true thrash, Megadeth is still here -- just as they have been for years.

How long they'll be here is an open question. The band has certainly been prolific, releasing Endgame in 2009, touring, playing the Big Four shows, and now this release. But Th1rt3en's final track -- the thirteenth -- titled (you guessed it) "13" at least hints that the end is nigh:

It begins autobiographically: "Thirteen times I went to the well/To draw my thoughts I'll gather and tell/Like bricks I've laid to build my life/Those that crumbled only caused me strife."

In the next verse, there's an indication that perhaps the well is running dry: "Like a severed arm washed up on the shore/I just don't think I can give anymore." (By the way, Dave, this severed arm bit is exactly what I was talking about when I referenced your bad jokes.)

One the one hand, it would be very Mustaine-like to "say goodbye" in this fashion, this song a five minute, fifty second explanation of yet another caper. On the other hand, the song's final words seem to indicate that this isn't the end: "I can't get out; I can't jump out/Too much to face; I can't erase."

I hope I'm reading too much into the song, the same way I would have read too much into the album title if I was reviewing Endgame two years ago. (The name is apparently an homage to a documentary film). But if I'm not, and this actually turns out to be it -- then it's a wholly appropriate ending.

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