Mustaine and company moved into the grunge-infested mid-90s with an album bereft of Vic Rattlehead from its cover, and more so, with a sound that could be categorised as melodic metal rather than thrash.
It has been argued that Youthanasia – the band’s sixth record – was the last true Megadeth opus before the mid-to-late 90s slump. While it pales in comparison to the classic Megadeth records such as Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? (1986) and Rust In Peace (1990), Youthanasia is still a solid ball of polished rock featuring that distinctive Dave Mustaine sneer and the superb guitar work of Marty Friedman. Dave Ellefson provides that sturdy bass while Nick Menza is the spine of this machine which, in my opinion, left rivals Metallica in its wake a long time ago.
Album opener is the distinctive chugger ‘Reckoning Day’, with its typical Megadeth dynamics from that clinical riff and soaring mid-section. But where the band have developed is with the melodies, showcasing a sleazier edge with the groove-based and almost funky ‘Train Of Consequences’ that jars in its rhythm section and yet remains rockier rather than thrashy in that chorus, where Mustaine is more Axl Rose (dare I say it!) than 80s thrash king. Even so, it’s a fine track bolstered by a killer solo and catchy chorus.
Megadeth evolved into a more progressive machine by the mid-90s. It’s just a shame that on albums such as 1999’s Risk that they couldn’t keep the ball rolling. But anyway, Youthanasia continues its melodic approach with the slow trudge of ‘Addicted To Chaos’ which rarely expresses itself beyond a yawn, except on the devastating solo.
But where the band really find their feet is on semi-ballad ‘A Tout Le Monde’, a wistful rocker that plods along effortlessly without ever reaching a flash point, and it pretty much sums up Megadeth at this time, a band who seemed to have left their cutting, speedier edge behind in search of something more “modern”. And for the 90s this seemed to be the approach of many bands that had once wallowed in bloodier waters.
However, this new approach doesn’t suddenly make Megadeth a bad band, far from it. ‘Elysian Fields’ describes a world of mythology amid an effective bass judder and almost Alice In Chains-style chant of “Ah-ah-ah-ah”, which lead us to the almost timid, yet progressive chorus.
Strangely, Youthanasia sees Megadeth in their element; their sound now caresses the ears rather than damages. But the 80s fires are reignited with the sturdier chug of ‘The Killing Road’, although it feels to me as if we are constantly waiting for the band to step up a gear, but it never comes despite all the complex arrangements and suggestive riffs.
‘Family Tree’ with its incestuous connotations rides in on Ellefson’s almost rainy bass tumble, but again, despite the suggestive darkness there’s no shift in weight even with Mustaine’s sneer of “Let me show you, how I love, you, but keep it in the family”. The title track follows the same mid-tempo vein except for that sterling, although predictable solo. And the same could be said for most of the tracks on offer, because although Youthanasia is a solid record, it’s nothing more I’m afraid.
Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? and especially Rust In Peace really set the bar high and it’s as if Dave Mustaine, for the next few albums, had cowered under their presence, opting instead to play a relatively safe game in constructing what can only be described as very playable, yet comfortable records.
Youthanasia lacks the arrogance of previous offerings, and the rather cheesy album closer ‘Victory’ with its nod to various previous Megadeth song titles, seems to suggest a band lacking ideas? This would be confirmed with the rather placid follow-up Cryptic Writings (1997), and even more so on the already mentioned Risk.
Megadeth in the mid-to-late 90s just isn’t a rewarding experience for me.
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