When Megadeth released their album “Dystopia” in 2016, many fans were taken aback. The album had a very different sound than their recent opus. It was clear that Dave Mustaine was trying to recapture the sound of their earlier albums, like “Peace Sells” and “Countdown to Extinction,“ to make up for the disaster that was “Super Collider.” There’s no denying their 2016 record was a step in the right direction. It gave the impression of a strong, rejuvenated band. This leaves the question: does Megadeth have the strength and stamina to keep the engine roaring?
Right off the bat, “The Sick, the Dying … and the Dead!” gives fans what they were hoping for. The guitar work is impeccable and features some of the most ferocious riffing the band has recorded in years. Look no further than the already released singles “Soldier On” and “We’ll Be Back” for proof.
The well-coordinated duo of Dave Mustaine and Kiko Loureiro take Dirk Verbeuren head-on. Their nitro-fueled chase along the six-lane highway throughout the record is a great initiation for Verbeuren. With tracks like “Mission to Mars,” one can’t help but band their head like it’s 1990 all over again.
The album is dynamic, making it a fun record to return to. The album is full of key and tempo changes. This is evidenced by the acoustic breakdown in “Night Stalkers” or the smart pacing throughout “Dogs of Chernobyl.” The album is bristling with guitar solos. They are firing off on all cylinders during the vocal lines, between the vocal lines, and anywhere they could fit. Overall, there’s a healthy mix of machine-gun riffing, mid-tempo, groove, and classic heavy metal tunes. You hear influences from different eras of the band, as well as some surprising middle-eastern influences in “Sacrifice.”
Following David Ellefson’s unceremonious dismissal from the band following sensationalistic sex-scandal allegations, legendary Testament and Sadus alum Steve DiGiorgio recorded the bass parts on the album. Quite frankly, having a bassist of this caliber on the record and not giving him enough space to showcase his talent is equal to unplugging Steve Harris during a Maiden gig (or what Metallica did with Jason Newsted). But considering the circumstances, having him as a hired four-string-slinger probably meant working within the confines of the band’s well-established sonic brand.
Even with an envigorated band rounded up by returning James LoMenzo, the album shows age is taking a toll on Mustaine. I can’t help but notice that Dave Mustaine’s vocal seems to be out of rhythm way too often. For example, on the track “We’ll Be Back,” his vocals seem glued to the rest of the song. It sounds as if Mustaine recorded them before he ever heard the instrumental track. Mustaine’s vocals are very specific and don’t appeal to everyone. However, I feel the authenticity of his delivery is fading into uncoherent rambling, and its charm is somewhat diminished.
Is it enough to ruin “The Sick, the Dying … and the Dead!” for me? Probably not. In fact, looking back at the band’s recent output, this may be the best release since “The System Has Failed” nearly two decades ago. However, I still can’t say with certainty whether this will be an album I’ll come back to as often as I do to “Rest In Piece.”