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Megadeth The System Has Failed

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Tuesday, September 14, 2004 @ 3:12 PM


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Who in the hell wants therapists in metal?

Who wants well-adjusted rock stars that care more about their stock portfolios than their lyrics?

Who wants to hear grown men discuss their fucking personal relationships and declare with teary-eyed sentiment that they miss their little Danish friends?

It’s all a bit too much disclosure and a bit too revelatory for my tastes. In any case, it is about time Megadeth put out an album so that some metal music can actually be at the heart of a discussion rather that having it just be centered around issues such as who is pissed at who and who is suing what musical entity. For those of you who aren’t aware, bassist Dave Ellefson isn’t to be found on The System Has Failed, and if the news reports are correct, he is now suing Mustaine for fifteen million…yeah, good luck with that with that one. I wonder how much somebody could get for taking Kevin Dubrow to court? A Snickers bar and some belly button lint? Oh yeah, I think Mustaine is suing Ellefson, too. Then there is the whole Metallica hurt feelings deal where a bunch of grown men bitch and moan about what happened twenty years ago. Fuck their inner children already. Here is a tip for all concerned: spend less time dealing in dirty laundry and play some damn music, and NO—St. Anger doesn’t count—that album is a disgrace to all that is fine and metallic on this planet. If Kirk Hammett had any self respect, he would have ran like hell out of that band right alongside Jason Newsted rather than allowing himself to just stand around looking about as necessary as the guitarist from Limp Bizkit. If thought from the beginning that if Dave Mustaine is half as intelligent as I suspect he is, that there should be axe-work a plenty on the new Megadeth offering. Enlisting Chris Poland to help with the duties was obviously a step in the right direction. Now, anybody got a trashcan so we can have some drums?

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The introductory song, “Blackmail the Universe,” starts out with a female newscaster declaring in almost B movie apocalyptic fashion:

“This is breaking news. It appears that Air Force One was shot down somewhere over the Middle East this morning by a sleeper cell of rogue terrorists, firing a Stinger Missile. The pilot and all passengers are unaccounted for—the President’s whereabouts are presently unknown, and he is presumed missing. The Vice President, Secretary of State, and principles of the military are assembling. Our nation stands at DEFCON 3.”

Hmm—lemme get this straight—Air Force One was shot down… uh, can’t find the President… so he’s presumed MISSING. Wow, that makes sense. Good thing for Mustaine and company that what follows are trademark vocals almost reminiscent of “Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying?” with Mustaine declaring that “I red, white and blew it.” The solo work on this tune is supremely fast and the tempo is quick and an unrepentant attitude flows through the song like pus on a herpe blister. The Poland/Mustaine interplay on this tune alone might be worth the price of admission. There is also grittiness to this track that makes it appealing to fans of the old days who didn’t necessarily appreciate their life long faves recently getting the studio redo.

This mayhem is followed by “Die Dead Enough,” which is the selection currently receiving the most attention by radio. On the surface, this is the most outwardly accessible effort, yet it is also doubtlessly the one any metal fan would tire of most quickly. It is probably a bit too polished in many ways, but that isn’t to say that the chorus isn’t catchy or that it isn’t better than much of the metal being produced today. It is a quality song—no doubt—it just says a lot about the quality of this album that this would be one of the weaker tracks. The “I-E-I-E-I” chorus part is absolutely hilarious in a Krokus meets Autograph kind of way.

Politics are again alluded to on the third offering “Kick the Chair,” which is essentially an indictment against both the nation’s courts as well as a press that always appears willing to publicize the next big controversy in an effort to satiate a public that demands a bludgeoned head each day on the ten o’clock news.

“Justice means nothing today
Now that the jury’s for sale
Guilty or not, the verdict’s a lie
You’re going to jail
The system has failed.”

Lyrics such as this are accompanied by the most frenzied instrumentation on the disc. If this tune doesn’t put you on audio recall circa Killing is My Business, then you aren’t listening close enough. If heavy, fast tunes are what is required, this one fits the bill most nicely.

“The Scorpion” details the parasitic relationship certain people enter in with individuals looking only to further themselves at the expense of their host. When Mustaine sings, ”As I climb onto your back, I will promise not to sting. I will tell you what you want to hear, and not mean anything.” The listener has to wonder whether or not this is in any way directed at former bassist Dave Ellefson who in the eyes of many is nearly inseparable in image from Mustaine as being the face of Megadeth. Yeah, Dave has always been the main man, but Ellefson has always been seen by the public as the devoted, talented sideman--you know legend has it that Metallica wanted him before they hired Jason Newsted, Dave remained steadfast in the band he helped found. Regardless of the partial motivation for this lament, the musicality of this song is amazing. It takes the commercial side of “Die Dead Enough” and molds it into a track that could easily satisfy steadfast metalheads and casual Black Album era Metallica fans as well.

“Tears In A Vial” is another selection that isn’t designed to rip your head off, yet the lyrics and arrangements are satisfying if not breaknecking. It is reminiscent in tone and sentiment to “In My Darkest Hour,” and with lines like “I saved my tears for you in a vial. From every wicked thing that you did, that you said to send away, buried with your love. So many tears in a vial, no that you’re gone, and now that you’re dead,” you know there will be many heartbroken who can identify. So, if your inflatable doll just got punctured, put it on track six, and shed a tear or two. This is followed by a quality instrumental solo by Mustaine entitled, “I Know Jack.” As the classic statement made by Lloyd Bensen to Dan Quale is uttered in the background, the guitar work on this has to be deemed stellar. In the end, the only problem with this may concern the length of the offering. It seems as if it is over too quickly—in fact, it logs in at a paltry forty seconds.

Track number seven is entitled “Back In The Day” and it encapsulates the feelings many metal fans have towards those who consistently disrespect or belittle those who created true metal in the classic era of the 1980’s. When Dave screams, “that was back in the day, and if you weren’t there, it doesn’t matter anyway. You wouldn’t understand.” It verbalizes the resentment many older fans have towards those who either don’t value metal at all or who envision the only relevant hard music having been that which was released since 1992. The music backs up the vigor as the incorporated solos are just as vital as any produced during the days of Aquanet and spandex. If there was any doubt about the motivating force behind “The Scorpion,” there isn’t much suspense in the vitriolic declaration of “Something That I’m Not.” With lyrics of “It makes me sick to hear you say you ‘love me.’ I know you only love what I can do for you,” there is little doubt that a total Megadeth reunion is quite a ways from ever happening.

“Truth Be Told” has a Biblical theme that is conveyed along with instrumentation (yes, more quality guitar work) that leaves the listener actually wishing the Bible was longer so there might be more axe-grinding pleasure. If telling a story as epic in scope as the Holy Bible isn’t enough, Mustaine has also taken on the task of relating his own story in the doubtlessly autobiographical “Of Mice and Men.” No, there isn’t any retarded Lenny guy in this one. You probably aren’t interested anymore, right? Well, too bad if you’re not because this is one of the top two or three selections on this disc even though… gasp, Dave discloses that he used to “abuse alcohol” and the possibility exists that he maybe even “ingested illegal substances” on occasion. I realize this is really groundbreaking lyrical territory, yet at the same time, it completely works here on a surface level.

“Shadow of Deth” is actually another Biblical song which essentially consists of the 23rd Psalm being chanted as Mustaine’s guitar creates a different kind of atmosphere. The rendition of Biblical lyric can at times be a bit disconcerting, but by this time Dave has continuously proven willing to splice all types of audio quotes and effects into this work, so it’s presence at this point of the disc shouldn’t come as any surprise. When the record finally concludes with the quest for strength and wisdom that is “My Kingdom Come,” it should become apparent to the listener that the exclamation point has just been placed on what is without a doubt the band’s best work since Rust In Peace.

The System Has Failed is a record that is better than it probably has a right to be considering the circumstances. It is imperfect, especially in regard to the fake news audio and Charlton Heston-Moses type religious proclamations, but in a way, that is exactly what makes this album worthy of consideration. It is unabashedly metal…warts and all. Sure, it’s not as fast as earlier discs, and it’s sort of scattered in regard to focus, but…the guitar work, the attitude—it’s Dave Mustaine. Could the work have benefited by the presence of Dave? Who knows? Jimmie Lee Sloas does a workmanlike job here on bass and the drum kit is aptly manned by Vinnie Colaiuta. If this record turns out to be more of a beginning than an ending, even the staunchest critics would have to admit that this release coupled with Mustaine’s recent work on the reissues must have amounted to an enormous personal undertaking for the guitarist. What’s more is that the quality and diversity of this record seems to suggest that Mustaine is rested and ready for a new era of Megadeth. If it was always Dave’s desire to one-up his old band mates in Metallica, it is finally an undisputed fact that he did. While his boys turned their back on their roots in an infinitely abysmal fashion, this jettisoned axeman has continued to display his desire to play his own brand of rock in the same timeless way longtime Megadeth fans have come to expect.

This is without a doubt an early contender for metal album of the year… and just think, it was down without a trashcan… or his little Danish friend.

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