As part of Thrash Metal’s big four Megadeth has been one of the most influential bands in Metal since their formation back in 1983. Metallica might have had documentaries made about them blubbing to psychotherapists, but Megadeth’s backstory is, if anything, more fascinating. Drug addiction, career threatening injury, multitudes of ex-band members, that fierce rivalry with Metallica, court cases, rehab stints, and Mustaine recently becoming a born again Christian; Megadeth’s career has been nothing if not eventful.
Through it all they’ve endured, and Th1rt3en (their 13th album to date, clearly the title took a lot of consideration) shows just how resilient they are, and what a phenomenal band they can be when they’re on form. The key to Th1rt3en’s success is Mustaine sticking to what he does best. There’s no experimenting à la Risk or messing about with dour, past-it New York rock legends here, just old fashioned riffing and lightning fast guitar solos.
Sudden Death’s cascading trade off solos and galloping rhythms establish that the band has lost none of its focus or technical approach. So far so good then, and with Public Enemy No. 1 things get better. The first single from the album, it possesses a pleasing incessant chug, a thunderous chorus and pop hook, and in that respect it’s not too far away from Hangar 18 one of their earlier hits.
There are times when Th1rt3en takes stock of Megadeth’s past. New World Order, originally written in 1991 by the Megadeth line up from the Rust In Peace/Youthanaisa era has all the hallmarks of the band from that period. Thundering double-kick drums and a breakdown that serves as an allusion to Take No Prisoners should please fans of the band that perhaps correctly remember the early ’90s as providing the band’s finest moments. Never Dead pulls off a similar trick by evoking the lightning riffing of Tornado Of Souls, while We The People looks further afield and appears to borrow a melody or two from Suicidal Tendencies‘ How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today.
Th1rt3en is not merely an exercise revisionism, there are nods to the past certainly, but it stands on its own merits perfectly well. Fast Lane might recall 502 from So Far, So Good, So What but immersion in its precision riffing and driving drumming provides an exhilarating rush. Who’s Life (Is It Anyways?) keeps things at a slightly more sedate tempo but unleashes Mustaine’s gurgling harmonies perfectly, showcasing his ability to write choruses and massive hooks that insist on the horns being thrown high in the air. If there’s a downside then it’s the occasionally clunky and simplistic lyrics to be found on the likes Guns, Drugs and Money. Yet they get away with it by diverting the attention towards the brutal drumming and outstanding guitar gymnastics.
13 wraps up the album in some style. Essentially a biography of the band and Mustaine himself, it’s the closest they get to a ballad here which itself is something a rarity for Megadeth. Naturally there’s still plenty of fine guitar interplay on show here (and the insertion of a riff from Metallica’s Seek And Destroy is a nice touch) but the introspective nature of the song shows there’s more to Megadeth than sheer technical ability and bombast.
Th1rt3en might just be Megadeth’s finest album since their glory years back in the early ’90s. It is something of a slow burner, and familiarity with their back catalogue will certainly add depth to the whole experience, but those who come to it cold will find the immediacy and vigour of the likes of Public Enemy No. 1 irresistible.