The System Has Failed
Megadeth: The System Has Failed (Sanctuary, 2004) reviewed by: Vinaya
|Track Listing1. Blackmail The Universe
2. Die Dead Enough
3. Kick The Chair
4. The Scorpion
5. Tears In A Vial
6. I Know Jack
7. Back In The Day
8. Something I'M Not
9. Truth Be Told
10. Of Mice And Men
11. Shadow Of Deth
12. My Kingdom Come
Although I’m not a fan of thrash metal, I have always respected the work of Dave Mustaine. It has taken the better part of two decades since his not-so-amicable split from the then-unknown Metallica for the man to get his due from the music press. And just as it seemed that Megadeth were on a significant career upswing, Mustaine was sidelined after the release of their double live Rude Awakening album. Details were patchy, but most information available at the time suggested that Mustaine had suffered an injury that might prevent him from ever playing guitar again. Could this, many wondered, be the end of Megadeth?
Fortunately it hasn’t been. Not quite, anyway (more on that later). After many months of rumors circulating over the internet, fans can breathe a sigh of relief, for Megadeth has indeed risen from the dead (or should that be “Ded?”). And for those who rued the band’s decision to pursue a more mainstream direction in recent years, The System Has Failed will indeed be a welcome return to from. The album bears a striking parallel with Black Sabbath’s late-‘80’s “comeback” album Seventh Star , which was originally intended for release as a Tony Iommi solo album. The System Has Failed , reportedly, was conceived in a similar manner by Mustaine, with the Megadeth name added mid-project at the record company’s behest. It is therefore not entirely surprising that, while much of the album may be in keeping with the Megadeth sound, it employs a completely different cast of players. Gone are recent Megadeth mainstays, including presumed bassist-for-life David Ellefson, while bassist Jimmy Lee Sloas and Sting (!) drummer Vinny Colaiuta prove themselves surprisingly appropriate replacements. And perhaps most notably, original (Killing Is My Business and Peace Sells -era) lead guitarist Chris Poland has returned to the fold, and his colorful, increasingly jazz fusion-esque style provides a welcome foil to Mustaine’s own rejuvenated lead and rhythm playing.
What we end up with is an impressive collection of songs that manages to revisit all of Megadeth’s musical incarnations over the years, from the frantic Killing -thru-Rust -era clip of opening cut “Blackmail The Universe” to the angry but controlled mid-tempo chug of “Kick The Chair” to the refined Cryptic Writings -style pop crossover of lead single “Die Dead Enough.” It must be said, though, that even when Mustaine and his new recruits skirt mainstream territory, as on the aforementioned “Die Dead Enough,” the insidious “The Scorpion” and, to a lesser extent, “Tears In A Vial,” they do it with a comfortable degree of integrity and inventiveness so as not invite accusations of “sellout.” Furthermore, The System finds Mustaine entering a bit of previously unexplored musical territory, perhaps his reason for originally billing this as a solo effort. “Back In The Day,” for instance, is almost pure NWOBHM in its shout-out to metal’s old-school (both musically and lyrically). There are also a couple of short but fascinating instrumental excursions peppered with odd Biblical mumblings (“Shadow Of Deth,” with its twisted take on The Lord’s Prayer) and Lloyd Bentsen’s famous roasting of Dan Quayle (“I Know Jack”). And throughout this fairly adventurous offering, standards for musicianship, composition, lyrical content are kept high, with Mustaine getting in his usual dose of biting social/ political commentary.
Indeed, Dave Mustaine has always had a thing or three to say about how our society functions, or doesn’t function. And as the title suggests, much of The System Has Failed conveys a lyrical message that all is not well in the world Mustaine sees around him. The album’s cover art depicts band mascot Vic Rattlehead selling “not guilty” verdicts to a long line of political figures that includes likenesses of Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat, and most of the Bush administration. And songs like “The Scorpion” and “Truth Be Told” express similar sentiments, making this album perhaps the culmination of Mustaine’s long tradition of railing against corruption. Add to that the sad news that Megadeth may well hang it up after their upcoming tour, and The System could represent the end of an era for metal, which is a crying shame, considering the renewed creative verve on display. The system may have failed, but Dave Mustaine’s vision, thankfully, has not.