Friday, February 21, 2014

The Ugliest Bridesmaid

COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION
7/6/92


Roll call! 

Dave Mustaine--vocals, guitar
Marty Friedman--guitar
Dave Ellefson--bass
Nick Menza--drums

Two straight albums with the same lineup.  I just blue-screened.

You think Davey baby felt any pressure after Metallica went supernova?  You think any thought ran through his head other than:  THAT SHOULD BE ME…THAT WILL BE ME.

In order to insure his rancorous genius received commensurate reward, Mustaine took it up three notches, then down two more:  easing up on the time signature shifts, dolloping on melody, smoothing out the roughest edges.  All while maintaining a high-level of craftsmanship.  Not quite thrash, but still metal.  Instead of dark magic, aliens and ghosts, the guys wrote more explicitly political tunes to go alongside the usual meditations on addiction and war.

No way does such a plan go awry.

"Skin O' My Teeth"--Old-school Megadeth meets the new boss.  Yet again Dave is on about the less-glamorous aspects of drug addiction, in this case, the suicidal thoughts it regularly engenders in the mind. Don't fret, fans--potential eloquence is thwarted at every turn.

Even if I weren't a Spiritualist, I would never kill myself.  I couldn't; I'd fuck it up.  Jump off a building, land on my feet--now I'm a quadriplegic instead of dead meat.  Guzzle absinthe and pills, end up a vegetable.  I'm terrified of guns, so I guarantee I'd flinch at the moment of truth and spend the remainder of my days with half a face.  Yeah…it's fun being too afraid to live and too afraid to die.

"Symphony of Destruction"--One of what Dave calls Megadeth's "Fab Four" (along with "Holy Wars," "Peace Sells" and "A Tout le Monde").  There's really no debating that it's one of their best-known tracks and also no quibbling as to why--that riff.  Dumb enough for Beavis and Butthead, yet smart enough for Daria.  And sure enough, it was all over MTV during the summer of 1992. 

Simple, digestible, just a baby-hair shy of classic status.  Me and my best friend in high school weren't the only ones who used to sing recipes to this, were we?  "You take a single egg/And break it in a bowl…"

"Architecture of Aggression"--'Bout as intimidating as a Lego Pentagon. 

The biggest sin here is a tedious structure, which should not be confused with a tenuous structure.  Instead of being on the verge of imminent collapse, it leaves all who gaze upon it or walk inside it with that antsy feeling that they should be somewhere else. 

"Foreclosure of a Dream"--Of.  Of .  Of. 

Don't know how many of you remember the farm crisis of the 80s, but the other Dave in Megadeth certainly does, seeing as how his family lost their land in Minnesota when the agricultural recession began devastating hard-working citizens.  Almost twenty years later, another foreclosure fiasco hit America hard, leaving individuals and families out in the streets, victims of their own dreams coming true.  No matter when or where, the why is consistent:  the American government's failure to look out for the best interests of its people.

This sad fact of life helps "Foreclosure of a Dream" maintain relevance.  When someone says, "The American dream," I instantly think of home ownership.  (This is the second thing I think of.)  Almost everyone has been asked at least once in their lives, "What would you do if you won big in the lottery?" and since the age of 23 my answer has been, "Own my own home."  It represents comfort.  It represents independence.  It represents shelves filled with Snoopy collectibles spread across several individual rooms.

Just because the song hits square in the gut doesn't mean it isn't clunky as shit, though.

"Sweating Bullets"--Any time I see this song being slammed, all I can manage is an empathic nod.  "Sweating Bullets" is one of most terrifyingly noisome songs to ever eke past a Big 4 racket-gang's screening process.  It's the Pipkins doing metal.  Fox News levels of sustained annoyance.  Those vocals, I swear, I wanted to treat my acne with a cheese grater listening to Dave do his impression of Dick Dastardly, paranoid schizophrenic.  I guess the chorus is somewhat bop-worthy, but guess what?  Just like "Sad But True," I never make it there.

If it wasn't for Dimebag Darrell taking the lyric "black tooth grin" as the name for his favorite alcoholic pick-me-up, this one would be utterly without value.

"This Was My Life"--Dave used to have a woman, and she did him real bad.  He's got a new woman now, but it's still way more fun to talk about the woman what did him real bad. 

Blessed are the past-90-seconds-makers.  People who think Countdown To Extinction is better than the Black Album, I just love your pea-pickin' hearts.  I'm not giving Mustaine passes, nope, not at this stage of the game.  You have a limited vocal range, son--work within the parameters.  Sheer musicianship can take you a long way, but not all the way.  That's why the only DragonForce song the average music fan has possibly heard of is "that really fast one from Guitar Hero."

Keep your ears peeled for an appearance by the Phantom Lord.  He's kinda like the leopard seal from "Pingu's Nightmare"!

"Countdown To Extinction"--My favorite song here, easily.  As trite and embarrassing as "Sweating Bullets" is, that's how novel and enjoyable this is. 

Metallica had "Of Wolf and Man," which celebrated the kinship of man and animal and stressed the need for the party who's evolved enough to hold a weapon to kill the other party so that the magnificent cycle might never be unbroken.  Here, Megadeth call out participants in canned hunts for their small cocks and large role in depriving the planet of precious species.    Dave settles his voice into a lower register to reflect the gravity of the topic, and it works very well.   This one will appeal to those who love and sanctify all life, and also to those people who adore animals so much that they'd step on a homeless person just to help a stray cat.

Winner of the "Doris Day Music Award" at the Genesis Awards ceremony held by the U.S. Humane Society.  Take that, every other metal band ever. 

"High Speed Dirt"--The members of Megadeth loved them some skydiving.  Except Marty.*  So he got his kicks indulging his inner hillbilly. 

"Psychotron"
--Fresh.  Exciting.  Each of those words have plentiful antonyms, and all of them apply to "Psychotron."  Comic book super-villainy undersold so severely that what had the potential to be a dumb-fun anthem for a grand and terrific bionic killer is about as enthralling as a song about the Dakotas. 

Psychotron…wasn't that the thing on the cover of Defenders of the Faith?  Some second-rate Orgasmatron, pfft. 

"Captive Honour"--I see what you did there.

This was written to be a bare-bones, uncompromising look inside the bleak, overcrowded prison system.   Instead it is the funniest Megadeth song yet recorded.  Dave's vocal delivery during the initial verse is Simpsons Season 8-caliber comedy.  I dunno if he's trying to scare somebody straight with all the hyper-enunciation, and biting the air at the end of every sentence, but it's endlessly giggle-inducing.  I really wish iTunes would keep count of how many times I've played the "You're a murderer" part. 

Later in the track he uses the word "manpussy."  Amazing.  The precise moment when the snowball is rolled down the hill.

"Ashes In Your Mouth"--Cluster migraines are not always unwelcome intruders.  Sometimes I wanna lay down and stay down.  For awhile.  Until the discontented rest of my body senses creeping atrophy and propels me up and at them. 

At least the band have the decency to end on a high note, so I don't regret opening my eyes and walking around.  A hearty hearken back, a real swinger with knives clutched in fists. 



So, was Countdown To Extinction a success on par with Metallica?  Take a walk in the park…shit no.  Yes, it went double platinum in the States, and earned numerous other certifications from other countries.  It earned the band their third Grammy nomination and made "Megadeth" a known and respected name in MTV households. 

But.  Metallica debuted at number one and stayed there for a month.  It sold in the tens of millions.  Countdown To Extinction debuted at number two behind Billy Ray Cyrus' Some Gave All and never saw the top thanks to all the muscles and mullet action.  Metallica won the goddamn Grammy.  They were the metal gods.  Uncontested and unbeatable. 

Still, Mustaine fancied himself the Great Usurper.  And it was this hubris that helped kickstart his band's artistic decline.



*Until this album was certified platinum, at least, and he had to honor the bet he'd made with his mates. 

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