Remember back in 2016 when we all cheered when it seemed like Megadeth were back and supercharged? Dystopia felt like Mustaine revitalized: bringing in killer players like Kiko Loureiro of Angra and Chris Adler of Lamb of God to back up the twin Daves…and then it all kinda got washed away again. Adler left (and left Lamb of God, to boot), Mustaine got cancer, and Ellefson got caught doing, well…we know what he got caught doing. So it’s understandable that it took years to get The Sick, the Dying…and the Dead! to the masses. Early singles revealed a heaviness fans have been waiting for seemingly forever – was this the “return” we’ve truly been waiting for?
I have no idea – we didn’t get a promo so now that the album’s officially released I’m gonna jump in with a virgin listen and give you my thoughts track by track. So strap on your bandoliers and pistoleros and let’s get to the heavy.
Quick personal history: yeah, I’m a big old school Megadeth fan. I’ve been there since hearing Peace Sells…but Who’s Buying? and happily getting bludgeoned by that iconic bass riff on MTV all throughout the 80s. I jumped ship for a bit (like a lot of folks did) around the Cryptic Writings/Risk era, but came back when I heard “Blackmail the Universe” from The System Has Failed – an album I still think is really underrated. That carried me to Thirteen which sadly soured me again: one too many silly anthem songs and a sterile production that did Mustaine no favors. The less said about Super Collider the better. So I was pumped upon first hearing Dystopia, and honestly, listening to it again this morning prior to the new record I think with a few exceptions it holds up really well (I still don’t care for the “Hanger 18”-isms of the title track, but there you go).
News of the new album with Bass God Steve Di Giorgio doing the bass and Dirk Verbeuren on drums had me excited, and the singles only whetted my appetite for what was to come. Enough chat, let’s listen to this fucker.
“The Sick, The Dying…and the Dead!” – Somewhere a church bell rings and a call comes to “bring out yer dead!” We get a brief arpeggiated intro and then things kick into mid-paced Countdown to Extinction era riffing. Mustaine’s voice is in fine form, and despite the weird left turn into spoken word spookiness halfway through the song I’m digging on the simple chug attack and how sweet the leads are. We get a small taste of harmonized guitars right before the solos and while it’s an out the gate barnburner, it’s a solid opening track. “Die Die Die!” indeed…
“Life in Hell” – Things kick up on the second track big time. Love how tight the rhythm section is locked in with the guitars. All praise to Metallica, but no one writes a riff or plays like Mustaine can. There’s a part of me that wishes this was the opening track. Super heavy, great shredding solos, and that signature snarl on vocals makes this an instant favorite. What? Another spoken interlude? At least this one is backed by some heavy guitars. It’s followed by the song speeding up even more, and ends even more furious than it began. Yeah, I can get used to this.
“Night Stalkers (feat. Ice-T)” – Man that is a nasty riff. This was one of the singles, and you can see why they put it out. Despite all the great solos and truly awesome pick attack on those verses, the star here is Verbeuren: the man is a demon behind the kit. Honestly, as much as I love the last couple of Body Count albums the short segment with Ice-T doesn’t do much for me; you could easily lose it (and chop some time off this six and a half minute banger) and have, I think, an even sharper, brutal track. For the record, though, this 3-3 of songs with a spoken interlude. Weird. I forgive it when you hear Di Giorgio’s baseline kick in before the song goes into its final burst.
“Dogs of Chernobyl” – Really digging the mood of this one. After the intro leads you to expect something a little more dark and melodic the main riff kicks in and we’re back in menace territory. Great touches of guitars sliding behind the song, panning left to right. Love the chorus on this one. Kiko is pretty much capable of playing a wrong note, huh? And HOLY SHIT that second half with Verbeuren and Di Giorgio locking in before the full bands goes full thrash attack. This is now my favorite track on the album. Although do Mustaine’s vocals on the second half count as another spoken word piece? Are we 4-4? I don’t care…this is the kind of song that reminds you how great this band is and has always been.
“Sacrifice” – Five songs in and not a clinker in the bunch? I was just chatting with the 9C Top Brass and “A Tout Le Monde” came up…so far nothing like that on this record. Love how great Di Giorgio’s bass sounds mixed in with the guitars: front and center and not simply doubling the other instruments. I had some concerns after Dave’s cancer scare and some live videos that we’d get some vocals issues but the man sounds great. Some of the higher register may be gone, but he’s settled into a real nice tone and it still cuts through like a razor. My fear at this point is The Sick, the Dying…and the Dead! has 14 tracks (at least on the digital version – my vinyl hasn’t arrived yet) and they can’t possibly keep this consistency going…can they?
“Junkie” – Whoa. For a brief moment I am terrified Megadeth are about to attempt some “Pour Some Sugar on Me” with that Def Leppard vocal thing, but then the song settles into a solid heavy rocker. I like the verses more than the chorus, which is kinda anthemic but I don’t know how much I want to sing out “JUNKIE!” Even when the song isn’t a standout, the production from Mustaine and Chris Rakestraw is so strong it helps lief the song up. As do the numerous solos.
“Psychopathy” – Verbeuren has been playing with the band since 2016, so this being his first appearance on a proper record you know he’s going to go all out. “Psychopathy” is really more a heavy segue before the next track, but the man sounds like a machine, with everyone else supporting him instead of the other way around. And for the record, Mustaine spoken word #5.
“Killing Time” – Classic Countdown/Youthanasia era song, with classic sneering Mustaine lyrics to boot. The transition from verse to chorus feels like a distant cousin to those songs, snapping to a real melodic chorus after a more choppy, aggressive verse. Super solid track, with another killing ending that lays on the menace again.
“Soldier On!” – Lot of exclamation usage on this album, huh? Another super heavy, crunchy riff kicks off this single. You can see the theme of what Megadeth released: give them the heaviest stuff so they know this isn’t going to be the second coming of Super Collider. I think the only thing holding me back on this track (besides the tired war kick Mustaine tends to overuse in his lyrics) is that by now it’s a known quantity and I’m more jazzed to hear the stuff I don’t already know. But when I put that aside this is really a killer track, heavy and fast and not caring to take a pause.
“Célebutante” – I immediately see the accented “é” and am fearful for the inevitable slow song. Nope! Imagine the surprise on my fast when we instead get an old school metal rager. Skewering celebrity culture this has huge 80s throwback vibes which gets me right in my old man bones. Little syncopation in the second half bringing briefly recalling “Train of Consequences” before going back to denim and leather high tops. For me the best Megadeth songs have Mustaine and his “lead” player trading off on solos and we get that here. Super happy.
“Mission to Mars” – Ah, THIS is where we get the slow song. Bass heavy, mid-paced, sound effects whoosh back and then we’re out of the slog and into another solid if second tier Megadeth. If you ever wanted to hear Mustaine sing “I’m a man on a mission” and that mission is to go to Mars, well this is your song. The hooks are a little too pop for my tastes – nothing flagrant or commercial (the days of thinking this kind of songs is going to engage commercially are over, folks – stop thinking of this stuff as “selling out”) but the concept of the song breaks the momentum for me. That is AGAIN…until the second half. Jeez…these guys are just killing it with the switch ups. I challenge to listen to the first 3 minutes and guess the direction the song will swerve to. Also we get a LOT of Mustaine spoken word again, throwing in references to earlier albums and other fun. Is that #6? I stopped counting a while back so let’s say 6.
“We’ll Be Back” – The first single winds up being the last “proper” song on The Sick, The Dying…and the Dead! This is what got everyone excited. Super fast, super aggressive, Kiko going full bore Guitar God™ on the solos. Love this track – definitely my favorite of the singles that were released, and probably in my top 5 for the album as a whole. Love the trio-tone chords slamming in the song’s outro. That they saved this for the final song reminds of how great it was to get to the end of albums like So Far, So Good…So What! or Rust in Peace and finding massive heavy gems like “Hook in Mouth” and “Rust In Peace…Polaris” to close out the album in grand style. Stellar way to close this one out, except…
“Police Truck”, “This Planet’s on Fire (Burn in Hell)” – We have two bonus tracks. I love the Dead Kennedys, and damn if Mustaine doesn’t do a great job covering this classic track. You need a singular voice to make the lyrics work, and Mustaine has that. He also has a killer band injecting some venom into the song, including recalling without outright stealing East Bay Ray’s tone. I wasn’t familiar at all with Sammy Hagar’s “This Planet’s On Fire (Burn in Hell)” but listening to how Megadeth updated it and got Hagar to play along is absolutely fine. Were you expecting harmony vocals? I wasn’t, and I kind of love it. The band have always been unafraid to show off their influences, and this is a fine addition to their history of cover songs.
So where does The Sick, The Dying…and the Dead! fit in the Megadeth discography. Well, technically at the end, since it’s their most recent album. But if I were to rank it on the Chris Scale of Megadeth Greatness, I would definitely put it as maybe their best thing since Countdown to Extinction? I fully realize that’s based on one initial listen, but the vibes are strong with this one, there not a weak track to be had, and the production is razor sharp and full and accentuates all the right things.
And if nothing else, it’s now got me listening to Sammy Hagar’s Street Machine from 1979, which ain’t half bad, either.
The Sick, the Dying…and the Dead! is available now from Universal Music Enterprises. For more information on Megadeth, go talk to anyone over the age of 40. Or I guess you can check out their website.