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Megadeth | Countdown to Extinction | review | metal | Lollipop
Countdown to Extinction (Capitol)
by Tim Den
This was the big turning point. This was the "mainstream breakthrough" that Dave Mustaine had lusted after ever since his ousting from Metallica. Countdown to Extinction, known by fans as "the popular album," propelled Megadeth to Number Two on the Billboard charts thanks to its instantly catchy songs ("Symphony of Destruction," "Skin O' My Teeth") and pristine production, but make no mistake, this was no wuss of a record. The band sounded slicker than ever, and the songs were paired down to relatively simpler arrangements, sure, but Countdown to Extinction treaded the line between accessibility and integrity, giving a spoonful of sugar with every poisonous bite. The singles might've reeled 'em in, but once inside, ears were assaulted with the downward spiral of "This Was My Life," the exquisitely technical riffs of "High Speed Dirt," the weary sadness of the title track, and the eruptive closer "Ashes in Your Mouth." Even the annoying "Sweating Bullets" (who doesn't cringe when the vocals come in all "scary scary"?) contained some of Friedman's best work, turning descending notes into a maddening insanity trip. And who can forget "Architecture of Aggression"? That mechanically robust main riff, supplemented by machine gun triplets and a groove-till-you-puke bridge. Fuckin' relentless.
When this album first came out, purists were afraid to like it because of how "easy" it seemed. But unlike Metallica's Black Album, Countdown to Extinction is now looked back upon as a great achievement: Just popular enough to get Mustaine and crew their rewards without completely dolling them up beyond recognition. Classics were forged out of this collection, and classics they have remained. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the next, oh, four studio records, but it's good to know that the story has a happy ending: As of this writing, the killer "comeback" record, The System Has Failed, hit #18 on Billboard, quite a feat for an "old metal" band in a musical environment of dogshit hip hop. Bravo, Mustaine, bravo. Not only have you given us numerous reasons to be proud of our headbanger status, but you've gotten your last laugh against all odds. Bravo indeed.
PS: The bonus tracks here are incredible. Not only is there an exclusive called "Crown of Worms," but the demo versions of "Symphony of Destruction" and the title track alone are worth your money. They show how differently the songs started out, with far more complex arrangements that would make Rust in Peace proud.
PPS: I know it's already on Hidden Treasures, but I would've LOVED to see "Go to Hell" on this reissue. One of the band's best and most overlooked by far.