Monday, February 23, 2015

Make 'Em Laugh, Megadeth

When I first heard Megadeth's seminal 1992 album Countdown to Extinction, I couldn't help but laugh. The record so dearly wanted to be dark and gritty and nightmarish (heck, just look at the cover), but many of its best efforts struck me as being more comical than scary. Take Sweating Bullets, for example:

I'm sorry, but I practically spat with laughter the first time I heard, "Hello me, meet the REAL me!" And this is just the tip of the iceberg; elsewhere on Countdown to Extinction, there are songs about killer robots (Psychotron), OTT orchestral intros (Symphony of Destruction) and, on Captive Honour, this exceptionally hammy spoken word section:

"I hereby sentence you to be incarcerated with no possibility of parole, for life."

"'Life'? Whaddaya mean, 'life'?! I ain't got a life!"

"Boy, your soul better belong to Jesus...'cause your ass belongs to me!"

This is the sort of thing you'd expect from Disturbed (they of Down with the Sickness fame), not from one of the world's leading thrash metal bands.

However, I've been revisiting Countdown for Extinction over the past week or so, and just as Batman's Joker - who sounds like a pretty naff baddie on paper - is one of the most iconically twisted villains in all of fiction, I've come to realise that Countdown to Extinction is actually all the more effective for those moments of seeming silliness.

Countdown to Extinction is a litany of reasons why mankind is doomed: war, greed, bloodlust, power-lust, and so on. This would make a for a pretty grim listen if it were presented straight, but when it's delivered with that "black-toothed grin", it becomes even more disturbing. As it turns out, trying to make humanity's eventual extinction sound funny actually has the opposite effect when the listener is paying close enough attention.

Let's come back to Sweating Bullets, because that's a prime example. It's a song about insanity; Dave Mustaine is confronted by a vision of his future self, who is almost completely unhinged, and told that, one day, he will know that same pain. As I say, this would be pretty nasty stuff in any light, but Mustaine's crazed metre - somewhere between hysteria and apoplexy - makes it positively nightmarish.

Mind you, I still find Psychotron a bit of an oddity. I guess it's maybe a comment on how our ever-accelerating obsession with technology may eventually be our undoing, but it's still bizarrely childish compared to the rest of the album, which - regardless of lyrical content - rocks far harder than I remember, too. I'm particularly infatuated with the title track right now:

Dem guitar licks!

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