ALBUM OF THE DAY: MEGADETH’S COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION
This is the first of at least three Megadeth stories we’re going to run today, and the reason we’re spending so much time talking about Megadeth is this: Dave Mustaine is a BIG DEAL. His part in the creation of Metallica alone assures his place in the history books (that’s why we all know who Ron McGovney is even though no one knows what the hell he did after he parted ways with ‘Tallica). But it’s not like he went off and formed Papa Wheelie when Metallica fired him. He formed FUCKING Megadeth; hell, he more than formed them, he is them. Every brilliant and shitty note of music they’ve ever recorded has been a direct result of his brain, and calling it a formidable body of work would be underselling it more than somewhat.
And, hey, here’s the thing about these other Megarticles we’re gonna run today: at least one of them says some not very nice things about Dave, and the other one, I’m assuming, will also have some words which are less than flattering. That’s because Mustaine has said some, uh, controversial things during the act of promoting and selling Megadeth, thus making those opinions part of the conversation.
So, before we starting talking about what an embarrassing moron Mustaine has become, I thought it might be fun to take a moment to remember why we even care that he’s become an embarrassing moron. And the best way I know to do that is to celebrate Countdown to Extinction, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary on July 14. (Sorry for the tardy b-day party. I think I was busy that day.)
Let’s begin with this potentially rage-inducing assertion: Rust in Peace is the best Megadeth album, but Countdown to Extinction is the most fun. I have no idea whether or not Mustaine was taking notes on the Black Album, but it’s hard for me to believe he wasn’t; the songs on Countdown are, simply put, the catchiest, tastiest he ever wrote or co-wrote. The album is remembered for its singles — most notably “Symphony of Destruction,” which is surely the band’s biggest hit (or their ahem “Enter Sandman”) — but given how good every song on the album is, the selection of those singles seems borderline arbitrary. There is definitely an alternate universe in which “Ashes in Your Mouth” and “This Was My Life” are as well-known as “Foreclosure of a Dream” and “Sweating Bullets.”
And the performances are, as Vince might put it, just a pleasure for the ears. I don’t think calling Mustaine, Marty Friedman, Nick Menza, and Dave Ellefson the definitive Megadeth line-up is an unpopular opinion, and there’s a reason for that. Mustaine only shares a songwriting credit or credits on four of the album’s eleven tracks, but even if the other three dudes in the band were just adding their own interpretation or flavor to Mustaine’s material, well… bra-FUCKING-vo, gentleman. You really outdid yourselves here. I mean, check out this footage of these cats playing “Ashes” the year Countdown came out. HOLY SHIT, y’know?! If watching Marty Friedman’s fingers dance across the fret board doesn’t make you sexually aroused, then… I dunno but something really judgmental and mean is true about you.
Thing is, on top of writing all these great songs and being these absolutely incredible musicians, this version of Megadeth managed to side-step all the snags the Black Album hits. I say this as an unabashed fan of the Black Album: it only just barely sounds like Metallica. In making the transition from full-on I’M GONNA KILL YOU WITH MY COCK metal to I HATE YOU MOM AND DAD! metal, Metallica sacrificed a lot of their personality. Listening to it now, it’s not hard to hear the band that’s just six years away from “Unforgiven II,” while it’s almost impossible to hear the band that made “Blackened” just three years prior. But Countdown is as distinct and colorful as any other Megadeth album; you cannot listen to it (or even
Countdown II Youthanasia for that matter) and hear the path to Cryptic Writings (which is still better than Load) or Risk (which is a whole different kind of hilariously awful from St. Anger).
And I don’t think it’s irrelevant that Countdown and Youthanasia are the band’s only collaborations with Max Norman, who also produced Ozzy’s Blizzard of Ozz, Diary of a Madman, and Bark at the Moon, Death Angel’s Act III, Y&T’s Black Tiger, Lizzy Borden’s Visual Lies, and a ton of other shit that probably even your mom has heard of. Norman was kinda-sorta their Bob Rock in that he gave them a somewhat more welcoming sound, but Dann Huff is really their Bob Rock in that he had previously worked with Paula Abdul, Michael Bolton, and Amy Grant, produced their most embarrassing releases, and had a stupid fucking name.
It just goes to show ya — you can write catchy shit and not be some mainstream meathead band. Everyone talks about how much shorter the songs on The Black Album are than the songs on earlier Metallica albums; no one seems to point out that the songs on Countdown are actually longer than than the songs on Rust (speaking generally, of course). If fitting easily into the K104 Power Hour is the only measuring stick of what makes something “palatable” or not, than Countdown shouldn’t be so much more palatable than Rust. It’s as though Megadeth became sleeker and more muscular. That’s a feat to which all metal bands should aspire.
If you have Spotify, you can listen to the 2004 remaster of Countdown to Extinction (which sounds pretty damn great) here. Otherwise, you can buy it on Amazon for five dollars (which I think is like a third of what I paid for it in 1992, sad soggy older timer face) here. But OH MY GOD I can’t believe if you don’t already own this album in some form. Go slam your dick in a doorway.