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The System Has Failed

Sanctuary (2004)
Rating: 8/10

After a two-year hiatus the mighty Megadeth return to the fray with an album that suggests the band have become tired of wading in lukewarm waters, and instead prefer hotter lagoons.

This time round there’s no sign of David Ellefson (bass), Jimmy DeGrasso (drums) or Al Pitrelli (guitar) from 2001’s The World Needs A Hero as Dave Mustaine dives in solo, accompanied by an army of session musicians, including former Megadeth axe-master Chris Poland.

Twelve tracks, 49 minutes, and an album cover (by Mike Learn) that nods to the 80s style of graphics. Album opener is the thrash-tinged ‘Blackmail The Universe’, a shredder’s dream featuring some staggering guitar work courtesy of messrs Mustaine and Poland, and immediately we’re thrown into a time machine that sweeps us back to the late 80s. ‘Blackmail The Universe’ is the sort of track we’ve prayed for since Countdown To Extinction (1992), featuring that distinctive Mustaine sneer which is packed with more attitude in the first few minutes than the last three Megadeth albums put together.

‘Die Dead Enough’ is a dark stomper of a track, although possibly one of the album’s weakest. But just when we think we’re sinking back to Megadeth mediocrity, we’re submitted to the shred-fest that is ‘Kick The Chair’ with its shattering dynamics and structures, made all the more threatening by the drum machine that is Vinnie Colaiuta, a staggering journeyman of a drummer who deserves to be in a stable band playing arenas. The same must also be said for bassist Jimmy Sloas, best known for his session work with numerous country music artists.

Who’d have thought that such an unlikely line-up could propel Megadeth back to those dizzying heights of thrash mania? ‘Kick The Chair’ probably features more solos, jarring riffs and intricacies than most songs could handle. And it doesn’t stop there, as the tick-tock melody of ‘The Scorpion’ provides us with the album’s most melodic track, but an infectious one at that, featuring some great drug-related and folkloric lyrics and Colaiuta’s mind-blowing drums.

‘Tears In A Vial’ is equally epic, featuring some of Poland’s best solo work, and while ‘I Know Jack’ is merely a fleeting interlude, we’re treated to the stunning ‘Back In The Day’ which sees Mustaine in reflective mood. The initial solo takes us right back to the mid-to-late 80s, and lyrically what may seem naïve is in fact a nod to the thrash scene of all those years ago as Mustaine sneers, “In denim and leather, we are all part of one force, knocked rock ’n’ roll on its ass, and put metal on the course”… absolutely brilliant! This track wouldn’t have seemed out of place on the superb Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? (1986) with that killer guitar sound.

The same could also be said for the blistering chug of ‘Something That I’m Not’, which could easily have been aimed at Dave Mustaine’s former Metallica buddies with the lyrics, “Everything about you has been one big charade, what will you do now that the well’s run dry?”. I’m guessing this could be aimed at any one of Mustaine’s enemies. Even so, it’s a sneering, wildebeest of a number which melts into the progressive swirls of ‘Truth Be Told’, which shows how the band can explore subtle realms without sounding meek. Again the guitars jar the ears, as the killer, chanted chorus steps in.

The album finishes strongly too. ‘Of Mice And Men’ trudges out of the speakers as Mustaine reflects on his youth, spouting: “Back when I was just seventeen, I thought that I knew everything, I could make it in this scene, To be a rising star that only gleamed, but all the answers disagreed, with the questions held for me” … superb stuff, once again. And then there’s the pounding march of the brief yet battering ram that is known as ‘Shadow Of Deth’ which melts into album closer ‘My Kingdom’, complete with cutting riff and bone breaking drum.

The System Has Failed is, in my opinion, Megadeth back on track, heading back to those thrashy frontiers and making us realise just how much we missed them.

Neil Arnold

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