n a career filled with well publicized humiliation, drug addiction, severe nerve damage, and all-around bad luck, finally leading him to at least temporarily disband the group he had spent most of his life building, Dave Mustaine received what amounted to the ultimate pity-fuck in critical acclaim following 2004’s The System Has Failed, the predictable back-to-our-roots record that predictably changed little from the prior decade of pop-metal disasters.
But Megadeth has always been a mystery to me. Like Anthrax, they remained a second-tier alternative with minor underdog status for most of the ‘80s. No one disputes this, even if the less reasonable (and honest) of their fans consider it undeserved. Even Rust in Peace, sure to appear in any personal or suit sponsored “best of” still feels unsatisfying, its anger caged in labored vocal delivery and flashy but conceptually dull composition.
Never short on talent but constantly betrayed by the absence of solid writing, what memorable songs there are throughout the years remain only half-remembered that way. Most of their trademark sound is composed of sappy ballads and trite blues licks—an empty clusterfuck of bad trips on Diamond Head, Priest, and all the rest. With his skill reflected not in speed nor intensity but in acute sense of melody, the fact is Mustaine has rarely ever written a truly engaging chorus to any of his songs. (The standard “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying,” “Angry Again,” and the later and unfortunately maligned “Addicted to Chaos” being crucial exceptions.) Though pushed forward by a wild ambition and personality, Megadeth appeared unique more so by their shortcomings, and not necessarily the ability to work within them, a problem that continues on United Abominations.
The album is Mustaine’s twelfth under the ‘Deth moniker, supported by a brand new lineup (adequate but not exceptional stand-ins from King Diamond, Zakk Wylde, and Eidolon) and apparently settled on the same pop-sympathetic direction with eleven new tracks. It’s all here: the stiff, catchy melodies, the anti-climaxes that follow, satin leads, and the snarling, wiseass attempts at social satire on par with “Real Time with Bill Maher.” In their own inimitable way, “Sleepwalker,” “Washington is Next!,” “Gears of War,” and “Burnt Ice” are all smooth, delicately restrained, and enjoyable tracks with only hints of vintage thrash metal glowing behind the taut hammer strikes and muted rhythm. The album’s only real surprise, however, (and not in its favor) is a re-recording of the cloying farewell anthem “A Tout La Monde,” which reportedly “inspired” Kimveer Gill, the Dawson College rampage killer. It now features a duet between Mustaine and Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia, as if to say, in the most hilariously shook display of false-redemption, “Well, no one could possibly be moved to violence by this NOW.”
It’s sobering to think of the reality behind Mustaine’s statement that this is his “last real shot at achieving anything significant,” as his physical problems grow toward becoming a permanent and career-ending handicap. In many ways he deserves better, not least of all from himself. The fact is United Abominations is no more an eloquent or well-crafted epitaph than The System Has Failed, and if the man can’t make peace with his life’s work at this point, this may only serve to undo the success he’s earned. But my friends all say, Dave’s mental anyway...
Reviewed by: Todd DePalma
Reviewed on: 2007-06-19