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Cryptic Writings

Capitol (1997)
Rating: 7/10

Oddly, Megadeth’s seventh studio album begins with a bubbly bass reminiscent of an old Cure song, but I’m still thankful I’m with Dave Mustaine and company rather than drowning in the watery depths of Metallica post-…And Justice For All (1988). Even so, Megadeth in the late-90s is a timid affair, a cold harsh jab of progressive metal that leaves me yearning for the mesmerising days of Rust In Peace (1990).

Cryptic Writings confirms that Megadeth are no longer a thrash band, now that Dave Mustaine (vocals / guitar), Mary Friedman (guitar), David Ellefson (bass) and Nick Menza (drums) are bereft of venom, and their weaponry refuses to harm. Instead, we’re treated to 12 rather tepid tracks which rarely promote the typical Mustaine sneer.

Tracks such as ‘Almost Honest’ see the band wallowing in the depths of standard rock, rarely driving beyond a whisper, and while we can never question the talent of the band members present, Cryptic Writings even pales in comparison to the previous Youthanasia (1994) opus.

Megadeth fans may disagree and claim that Cryptic Writings is an ambitious opus, but for me it is an album that confirms the death of the so-called Big Four, with Slayer in some type of conflicting limbo, Metallica selling out years ago, and Anthrax opting for a more layered approach.

At times, Megadeth resort to an almost middle of the road style of progressive rock. For example, ‘Mastermind’ with its groove-based guitar is watery despite its thrash-styled lyrics, while ‘Sin’ trundles along as a sleaze-tinged rocker.

Cryptic Writings is not a bad record, but it is the symbol of a band squatting in no man’s land, playing a style of power metal that has been done far better by acts such as Metal Church on their spectacular 1989 opus Blessing In Disguise. Megadeth in 1997 have no real edge, no complexity and no power, with only the atrociously titled ‘Have Cool, Will Travel’, complete with fleeting harmonica, and the jarring chuggernaut that is ‘She-Wolf’ hinting at former glories. My favourite track here has to be uptempo rocker ‘Vortex’, though, which features some of the album’s best guitar work.

Maybe I’m wrong to compare Megadeth albums, but when you’ve grown up being battered and bombarded by tracks such as ‘Wake Up Dead’ (from Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?, 1986), ‘Hangar 18’ (Rust In Peace) and ‘Foreclosure Of A Dream’ (Countdown To Extinction, 1992) it’s hard to not be cynical. I dunno, maybe I expect too much from Megadeth? However, if Cryptic Writings was a football team, it would be Liverpool, the team I have supported all my life, the team who at times show a flicker of their former glory but are unable to bring those times back.

Neil Arnold

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