Megadeth – The System Has Failed Review

Megadeth – The System Has Failed
Sanctuary, 2004

1. 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

There’s no mistaking that Megadeth has been on shaky ground for quite some time now. Granted, they were always a moment way from shifting the lineup and their albums have lacked a spark of fire for far too long. Ranting from the band’s epicenter Dave Mustaine had become beyond comical over the years and the entire franchise likely couldn’t get any worse if they turned and pulled a St. Anger on us. In fact, I’m sure that’s what most fans awaiting this disc were expecting. Mustaine has gone on record several times stating that he’s returning to his roots on this disc, but how many artists say that these days and then release material clearly aimed to capture the current pop market trend?

On top of this, for those following along: not two years back, Mustaine claimed a career-ending injury after falling asleep on his arm and severely damaging a major nerve. He broke up the band and looked to move on to greener pastures. But as anyone with any grain of medical knowledge would know, an injury like this is easily rehabbed with good results. Lo and behold, come 2004, Mustaine is pulling Megadeth back from the ashes after having regained the ability to play his instrument. While that could be a surprise to nobody, the real surprise was that he was leaving his entire former band in the dust, including bassist Dave Ellefson, the only member to have been with Mustaine since day one. And rather leave the public to ponder, Mustaine has since released a series of statements regarding his injury, the status of his band, and much venomous gossip. Were it anyone else, this would look bad. However, Mustaine has decades of infamy when it comes to stirring the pot. Moreover, it’s probably the best thing that could have happened to this album.

Indeed, one saving grace of Megadeth has always been Mustaine’s unending ability to be angry about something. Metal — especially thrash — gained its energy and following through uniting the anger of its fanbase. While other forefathers like Metallica have gone on to make buckets of money, live in huge houses, and have nothing more to whine about than being addicted to beer, Dave Mustaine remains completely pissed off at everyone and everything. Between legal entanglements, his arm, and his former bandmates, Dave once again found his fire.

Kicking off The System Has Failed is “Blackmail the Universe.” Within 20 seconds, a shower of double bass pounds and a pseudo-newscast proclaiming Air Force One has been shot down fills the speakers, and it’s official: fears that Megadeth was dead and buried are gone. In fact, if The World Needs A Hero did start covering them with dirt, this disc is the Uma Thurman punch back to the surface. Halfway through that first song, it’s all too clear: this is beyond a return to form. This is classic Megadeth PLUS.

It’s interesting to me that “Die Dead Enough” was chosen as the first single. Lyrically, it seems to be Mustaine’s mantra, but isn’t nearly as strong as many of the other cuts. “Kick the Chair” busts out some good old fashioned speedy thrash, and “Back In the Day” spits anger in a most classic style without sounding dated. Both seem excellent choices to play for a younger audience whose heads may be clogged with Cryptic Writings and Risk, mediocre discs that delved too far into a mainstream/alternative approach and flattened the band’s signature sound. “Truth Be Told” is eerily reminiscent style-wise of the band’s popular single “Foreclosure of a Dream,” which may touch on the appeal of those who appreciated the stellar Countdown To Extinction. Even the autobiographical “Of Mice and Men,” where Mustaine sings about how he nearly ruined his young life but came out stronger after learning life’s lessons and cleaning up, may be an appealing memory jog to those who were fans of the band back in their heyday.

Compared to the last ten years of the band as well as on its own, the songwriting is very strong; Mustaine fires back with political vengeance like his old days, although in much smaller, more palatable doses, mixing less controversial material for what results in much less of a leftist beating over the head than he had done at times previously. Likewise, the technical complexity that dominated the band’s first five discs has mellowed. A focus more on groove than grandstanding may be a huge step below that which is adored on Rust In Peace, but makes for more well-rounded songs as a whole. As odd as it may seem, this disc which was nearly entirely created with Mustaine’s sole creative influence seems distinctly less self-centered than much of his band’s greatest efforts.

Still, there are markings throughout the album which may or may not translate well — namely, old thrash trademarks recycled that let the oldschoolers feel at home, but may leave a newer crowd confused and perhaps even giggling at the anachronism of it all. “Tears In a Vial” sounds distinctly mid-80s; “Shadow of Deth” not only bears a cheesy band name pun in the title but is also nothing more than a silly interlude of creepy chanting pieces of bible verses and other ominous-sounding things. While “The Scorpion” has a great updated sound, the lyrics sound like 1987’s leftovers. Fantastic for those who remain aficionados of classic thrash, but not so fantastic for an attempt to regain a foothold on the current market.

Even with these flaws, there’s no doubt that Megadeth has managed to somehow make old thrash sound new again, by and large. There’s spitfire that seems much more honest than anything Linkin Park or Nickelback are trying to market. Noodly solos are nestled into the songs instead of standing out like goofy relics. Most noticeably, the drumming has taken a powerful hold as is popular in more of today’s metal — there’s definitely never been this much double bass anywhere near Megadeth’s music before. The songs are cohesive and hook-laden without collapsing into generic pop formula. It’s a beautiful sight to behold.