Megadeth, just like every other classic band, is victim to their own fame. Having flourished and reached the apex of their careers, relatively early, releasing their classic works in most cases in the 80s, with the odd, really strong album coming on later on (ie “Painkiller” in the case of Priest) and so on. Obviously, Megadeth really peaked in the 90s, delivering their definitive trifecta of awesome in the sort space of four years. Since then, they’ve managed to release some good albums and some pretty divisive ones as well.
And while “Dystopia” seemed to right the all kinds of wrong that “Super Collider” was, “The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead!” coming after a pandemic that afforded everyone plenty of time to focus on whatever they wanted, should be pretty awesome…. Right? Well, let’s see…
The relative “iceberg” that came in the form of the sex scandal, that involved David Ellefson, was circumnavigated by firing him and replacing him in the studio with one Steve Di Giorgio (Death, Sadus and others) and live with James Lomenzo, who fans would recognize from his previous stint with the band. So far, so good (if not a little bittersweet). So, the other issue had to do with Mustaine’s own battle with throat cancer that lasted some 2 years (17-19) and obviously necessitated time for him to heal up.
All these things caused the biggest gap between releases in the history of the band and one might expect that this would cause Megadave to be pretty pissed. And he kind of sounds like it, at least in a way. Vocally, Dave was never a proper singer, but with age and all his health trials and tribulations, his voice now lacks the power and vitriolic tone… sounding blunt. Now more than ever it would be a good time to introduce a tenor singer (and back him up – so as to make it all gel together)… But I doubt that would happen.
“The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead!” begins with the eponymous track, which deals with a pandemic in times past or does it now? It’s more in line with post millennial Megadeth, more rock than metal, although it doesn’t lack that much in bite or atmosphere, ie much better than anything the band has done in that style before. An okay parable, but it’s unclear to what end – and pushing what agenda if any. At least it has a nice solo.
I’d be surprised if some part of “Life in Hell” hasn’t been written with Ellefson in mind, but it talks about addiction. Then again Mustaine himself was an addict, so… who knows. It feels a little like classic 90s deth, only a bit more subdued in terms of fierceness, although it doesn’t lack that much in speed. If not for Dave’s lackluster vocal, it’s probably one of the better tracks on offer.
“Nightstalkers” (feat. Ice-T) sounds like vintage, classic Megadeth, even referencing an exodus title in there and an older Deth riff… but, the guy who wrote songs critical of the military (“Polaris” being ironic as hell and “Hangar 18” – poking fun at the military intelligence) is now pretty much praising – killings … (un)Holy War$ anyone? And waged by whom? And to what end?!
“Dogs of Chernobyl” isn’t all that bad musically, but 36 years too late, it feels more inspired by a TV series, or a video game, than actual concern… and more like some effort to rationalize the fear/hate against the “reds”.
“Sacrifice” has a kick-ass riff and some awesome sort leads as well as a more intricate proper solo… but Dave can’t sing for shit and sounds more like going through the motions, trying to cover up the lack of strength with several overlapping vocals etc.
“Junkie” feels autobiographical and ironically insincere, coming from you know who, although – the reference to himself in there is maybe a way to be absolved of any “sins”… and feel justified… but again, it feels like an angry statement, showing little to no sympathy to people that face ailments. It’s funky, jumpy riff is nice, but doesn’t amount to much else than making the song, listenable. Just that.
“Psychopathy” is a spoken interlude, with some grueling guitars, fighting to be heard underneath. It segues into “Killing Time”, a song that mid-tempo, grave and serious, with some nice guitar undertones… almost as good and 90’s deth, if only for the lack of a proper chorus. I guess the reference here is politicians and with Mustaine’s new found convictions, it’s possible to even guess to whom he refers… funny thing is… well, if you can’t tell, it’s obvious, isn’t it…
“Soldier On!” is actually one of those “lesser” songs – that are not singles or much talked about, but is quite a gem actually. It draws parallels between a musician and a soldier and even a common person, trying to make sense and to find strength to endure the weirdness of this modern world we live in. both the rhythm and lead guitars here are exceptional, making the song, stand out, quite a bit. And the melody in the vocals in the bridge2chorus part, is inspired.
“Célebutante” is Megadeth’s “Moth Into the Flame”, only faster and a little more fun, even if it is a little juvenile, in con-tempting, wanna be stars and celebrities… gosh, there needs to be something to celebrate in anyone you’d call a celebrity… but it is what it is. A play on totem and taboo, regulating people desires.
“Mission to Mars” is unsuccessfully trying to apply “Super Collider’s” aesthetics, to “Rust in Peace”, ideas, resulting in a mid-paced melodic, quasi abomination that’s likable enough, but might have worked better as a bonus, rather than a proper song… and yeah, Dirk Verbeuren can play the drums and the entire band is proficient AF, but this a good track it doesn’t make (to go a little yoda, on ya, space freaks).
“We’ll Be Back” is another cool us, faux-vintage song that musically does justice to its creators, but these war fantasies of Mustaine? Since when was he in the military? True enough he volunteered for selective draft, but he never was drafted and he’s now too old to be drafted… so…
Oh, the “Police Truck” cover by The Dead Kennedy’s feels more like irony or I dunno what, although it’s delivered with sufficient conviction as is, Sammy Hagar’s “This Planet’s on Fire”, which feels like a more apt choice and either has someone perfectly aping Sammy, or could even feature himself, for all I know. Oh Plus some other versions feature a take of “The Conjuring” performed live… which is pretty cool I guess.
Anyhow, “The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead!” is a pretty solid effort by Megadeth, with lots of asterisks however. If this had been a little more inspired, a little smarter lyrically had a bonafide single and was released 25 years ago, it would have been a perfect fit. Now, it manages to one up “Dystopia” and feels like two steps in the right direction and then two steps back. Are Megadeth out of time? Not exactly, but time’s passing as it ever did and every second counts down to extinction…