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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Underappreciated Slabs Saturday: Megadeth's The System Has Failed

Welcome to a new Metal Minute feature, Underappreciated Slabs Saturday! Let's face it, metal fans are the biggest bunch of narcissistic primadonna know-it-alls (yours truly probably being the Rex Reed of metal in that regard) and we'll all fight tooth and nail in defense of our favorite bands and albums as if the point of it all is more important than the actual opinions. You just don't see fans of Britney Spears or Beyonce jawing with spit flinging out of their mouths like mad dogs in defense of album superiority. The music is so plain and everyday there's just no sense in getting riled up over it, particularly when the gossip of those performers' non-musical lives is far more interesting than the corporate slush they create.

In metal and punk, it's a far different story, naturally. Best friends will let the embers burn inside themselves to belittle one another if even the slightest difference of opinion emerges between them. Only in the underground will you hear a fan of Behemoth put down a fan of Judas Priest, never mind both are legends of their particular strain of heavy metal. Even worse are the holier-than-thou (or perhaps blacker-than-thou) who think no one but Darkthrone means squat to the scene. This unforgivable elitism means that a lot of fucking great music is going unheard and that just reduces the quality of life, as far as I'm concerned. I preach it until my ribs hurt that there's great music to be found in multiple corners, even if a particular genre may be insufferable. After all, Jurassic 5 and The Roots are respectable rap acts who haven't fallen under the corporate squash that has turned rap into a cash cow. That's just one example of many, because we live in a musically evolved society, one that cultivates something for all tastes, and if we're to say we've lived well as music lovers, then we should openly embrace, or at least keep an open channel to all that's out there.

In the quest for supremist point taking in metal and punk, I've seen a lot of damned good albums fall through the cracks in light of common adverse opinion or a simple lack of exposure. Often a good band's catalog is so large and eclectic only the most successful stand out, while others tend to go unnoticed and most especially underappreciated, which is the purpose of this function. While this feature to The Metal Minute is just as subjective and opinionated as hanging out in a record store with John Cusack and Jack Black arguing the merits of The Minutemen, Avail, Possessed or Fates Warning to pointless end, I nonetheless feel compelled to share. Perhaps you'll find worth in these selections I'll bring out in this section, so much you too will find the same secretive joy that'll make you feel like you're more in the know than your fellow headbangers--or, you might say 'That Van Horn's a real dweeb!' No worries; the praise or the scorn is not my objective...it's the music that's important here and if I can turn you on to something you might've missed out on, then that's job satisfaction to me.

With that being said, let's get it on with a Megadeth selection I believe could use a little more respect, The System Has Failed...



Honestly, Dave Mustaine has really benefited from the metal revival as much as anyone, if not more so. Even though he's lost his core pal David Ellefson and even to this day there's been personnel changes galore in Megadeth, no one's going to crap on Mustaine because at last the truth has come out--regardless of your preference for the two bands--which is Megadeth has proven to be the more metal band between itself and Mustaine's long-time rivals Metallica. Megadeth may never lurk in the Grand Poobah tier of famous rock bands as Metallica has achieved by appealing to a wider demographic over the years, but there's no denying that Mustaine has stayed truer to the metal cause, even though many were worried where he was going on the appropriately-titled Risk album.

By the time The System Has Failed came out in 2004, Dave Mustaine had reportedly given up on music, even having auctioned off a large chunk of his guitar artillery. With a short layoff and devoid of the focused bass rhythm of David Ellefson, who many (correctly) cite as having the talent equal to Mustaine to sustain Megadeth over the years, the odds for an effective comeback was decidedly against Mustaine. 2001's The World Needs a Hero is a pretty solid album that at least told the metal world that Mustaine still had his heart in the right place, but neverthless, old-time Megadeth fans were slowly trickling away, convinced that they'd never hear anything of progressive magnificence such as Megadeth's thrash opus Rust in Peace or at least their rocksteady and infectious Cryptic Writings.

Who in their right mind could've predicted that The System Has Failed would not only be as terrific as it turned out, but also feature the mentality of both Rust and Cryptic Writings? As most fans had come to expect a guessing game with each new Megadeth album (though most of us are finally coming to terms with Youthanasia, another underappreciated slab), Dave Mustaine delivered the goods in 2004, and how...

Hearing the thrash breakaway in the final stanza of "Truth Be Told" alone is enough to put the pride back into your chest if you wore Vic Rattlehead on your denim-clad back (as I did once), but even before that, Dave Mustaine, with a set of floater musicians (including his early years shotgun rider Chris Poland) puts together a stamping crush ode "Blackmail the Universe" that is simply jacked up and by this point, The System Has Failed is established upon contact, complete with the political sarcasm of the lyrics and on the album's cover with our boy Vic sentencing Emperor W and Washington bureaucrats to exile for flushing the government down the toilet. It might as well have been 1986 all over again...

Depending on who you ask, some people trip on the album's first single "Die Dead Enough," while some scoff at it for being melodic and indicative of Megadeth's mid-nineties work. My stance is that Dave Mustaine found a proper vehicle with which to propel that sound and "Die Dead Enough" is a wonderfully addictive song with a thumping beat, a heavy coating on top, and a beautifully forlorn chorus that speaks of frustration and regret in a way I personally jive with. No, I can't kick high enough and I can't stay down enough, nor can I bleed fast enough, and yeah, I want to run from it all just like Mustaine's muse, but in turn, I keep fighting like we all must, and that's the point of the song, finding your nerve to carry on against adversity.

"Kick the Chair" is another one of The System Has Failed's standout tracks, complete with mosh tempos, brutal double kicks, massive riffing and terrific guitar solos that makes it one of Megadeth's most titanic songs of the past ten years. Afterwards, the songs that most people forget to address are of equal worth, such as the menacing melody of "The Scorpion," that is luxuriated with synths put to noble use, a harrowing clock tick and soundbytes of news bits that collectively ushers us to a hypothetical holocaust the more we ignore the scorpion swiping at our obtuse heels, as Mustaine warns.

"Back in the Day" is a shout-out to the old school that sustained Megadeth in the eighties and Mustaine's choice to use a familiar metal/punk tempo for the verses is slick enough, but then he stylishly switches the pace to a Manowar and Saxon-like power metal groove to give us a varied and harmonious into glory ride soar that is a loud and proud look back at the glory days for all of us.

While "Something That I'm Not" comes off like a Zeppelin cut with its Page-esque riff, Dave Mustaine keeps this thing humming with a rock-minded focus that makes the best of its core melody and never loses stride. While he's in a classic metal mind, keep a close ear out for a sneaky spot ode to Sabbath in a cleverly-disguised note sweep from the song "Black Sabbath" on "The Scorpion."

The thing with The System Has Failed that almost everyone fails to notice is that Dave Mustaine finally publicly beat his old bandmates with this album in comparison to Metallica's universally-rejected St. Anger released the same year. As I've historically pulled for Mustaine and Megadeth over the years in comparison to Metallica, there's not too many out there you can convince of Megadeth's superiority. At least on this album, Mustaine demolishes Metallica and though the feud appears well over (if you've watched Metallica's Some Kind of Monster), there's no denying Mustaine has found a reversal of fortune in street cred against Metallica. Megadeth's latest album United Abominations has been a large success and perhaps Mustaine now commands the respect elusive to him over the years with his return to the scene, as well as his well-attended Gigantour festivals the past couple years.

Nevertheless, I'm not feeling as much love for The System Has Failed from people as it deserves. In my opinion, it actually supersedes United Abominations, though the latter album was recorded with a regular Megadeth lineup instead of the unique way The System Has Failed was executed. Regardless, System is one hell of an album, and most certainly one of 2004's biggest surprises. Let the truth be told...

7 comments:

Ben said...

Well said, and absolutely right. 'The System Has Failed' is one of my favorite Megadeth albums, and also one of the best metal records of the decade. That and Anthrax's 'We've Come for You All' really don't get the respect that they deserve.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Thanks for the comment, Ben. WCFYA is definitely on the list of upcoming albums for this particular section, and System is certainly within my top 5 favorite 'deth albums too...cheers!

DPTH International said...

Great post. I've enjoyed Megadeth's resurgance and have enjoyed his last couple of releases.

Your comments on the missing out of great music due to feuding opinions is spot on. Their is a tonne of great music that gets terrible reviews and comments because someone doesn't want to listen outside the box.

Well spoken!

Ben said...

Don't know if you've seen this, but it's one of my favorite Megadeth moments from the 'System' era...

http://youtube.com/watch?v=TwNIABdqBxY

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Appreciate the vote of confidence, dpth! I try not to get too wrapped up in the feuding aspect of it all, because it's just human nature when it comes to outsider music; it's ironic that arguments go up against members of a fringe culture when we should all just let it ride, whether we enjoy it or not...for the heavy music that I don't like, yeah, I'll be honest with my opinion, but the minute someone stands up for that band, I'm all for it, so long as it doesn't get mouthy or abusive...as long as we all keep the bonds that keeps the underground together, that's what'll keep it flowing...that, and paying attention to what's going on and giving things a chance instead of dismissal upon sight...it's sometimes a hard task, but sometimes things that rub you wrongly at first have a way of coming into your favor later on

Ben, thanks for the link, I'll check 'er out

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