It’s been a rough past decade for Megadeth. In addition to the usual member turnover, the metal lifers faced leader Dave Mustaine‘s cancer scare, a public dismissal of their bass player following allegations of child grooming and the rerecording of parts of their 16th album, The Sick, the Dying … and the Dead! On top of that, there was a global pandemic and political restlessness everywhere. They all find their way, one way or another, onto this new record.
The last time Megadeth made an album, with 2016’s Dystopia, there was a conscious effort to return to the band’s mid-’80s and early-’90s heyday. The Sick, the Dying … and the Dead! doesn’t stray far from that entry point; it’s close enough to milestone works like Peace Sells … but Who’s Buying? and Rust in Peace to satisfy old fans. There are few concessions to modern-day genre conventions, as Mustaine and company forge forward while trying not to repeat themselves.
It’s a half-successful update. There’s no shortage of lightning-fast riffs and chest-heaving thrash on The Sick, the Dying … and the Dead! The album’s bookends of the title song and “We’ll Be Back” are among the most vicious tracks Megadeth has released in years, but the nearly hourlong length and occasional sameness in the music can be wearying at times. Plus, the political vagueness of the lyrics is frustrating for anyone searching for something deeper.
Otherwise, Mustaine and the band are pretty straightforward as they steamroll ahead with their timeless metal –- at times cinematic, other times a bit silly: Spoken-word sections in “Life in Hell” and “Psychopathy” aim for gravity but land closer to parody, and “Dogs of Chernobyl” takes a specific topic (the hundreds of stray dogs roaming the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster) and turns it into something more personal (“You left me behind like one of the dogs of Chernobyl / Where did you go?“).
When it connects – “The Sick, the Dying … and the Dead!,” “Night Stalkers” (featuring rapper and Body Count vet Ice-T), “Celebutante,” “We’ll Be Back” – The Sick, the Dying … and the Dead! presents a revitalized Megadeth overcoming recent hardships with signature force. Lyrically, it can be eye-rollingly obvious (guess what “Junkie” is about), but new drummer Dirk Verbeuren provides an additional kick to the established musical blitzkrieg. Nobody listens to Megadeth for nuance. Almost 40 years after their formation, they’re not going to change your mind.
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