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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Megadeth Gives in to Paranoia

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It may sound strange to suggest that a band that has been together for more than 30 years is still capable of releasing an album that captures the feeling of being “in the moment,” but Megadeth has done just that. The group’s most recent album, 2013’s Super Collider, is a wildly uneven affair, one that violently smashes together a litany of disparate influences and ideas to create a sound that echoes the confusion, anger and paranoia that has come to define life in early 21st-century America.

Not surprisingly, Super Collider is, first and foremost, a heavy-metal album. Opening track “Kingmaker” reminds the listener of Megadeth’s status as thrash metal royalty, while “Built for War” sounds much like vintage Pantera (not a bad thing at all). Yet the Southern-fried “The Blackest Crow” finds the band incorporating banjo, fiddle and slide guitar into their signature breakneck sound. A muscular cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Cold Sweat” suggests that the band is capable of finding power in slowing things down, but many of the album’s other tracks get bogged down by a slower tempo. Megadeth founder and chief songwriter Dave Mustaine seems to desperately want a radio hit—and he seems willing, at times, to smooth out his band’s rough edges to once again obtain some mainstream success. Taken collectively, this hodgepodge of influences and motivations gives Super Collider a somewhat schizophrenic, confused feel.

This sense of confusion is only strengthened by the album’s lyrical content. On the one hand, “Dance in the Rain” takes on the institutions that have done their best to ruin the United States, caustically noting that “The Fed and the bankers own all the politicians,” with the shared goal to “Enslave and impoverish the middle class / make them dependent then strip it all away / Al-CIA-da, destruction and democide / addiction / corruption, every word’s a lie.” Yet other tracks, including “Kingmaker” and “Beginning of Sorrow,” make it clear that Mustaine feels that personal behavior is also at the root of the country’s current predicament. Here, the breakdown of the family (an illicit union in “Beginning of Sorrow” comically produces a son whose first name is “Ward” and whose surname is “Of the State”), rather than the doings of a corrupt financial order, emerges as public enemy number one. This, in other words, is an album that both Occupy activists and Tea Party protesters could claim as their own.

Yet what is most striking about Super Collider is the sheer paranoia on display throughout the album. The record opens with the ominous sound of helicopters overheard—police, FBI or maybe U.N. “black boxes”?—and Mustaine is soon singing, in “Off the Edge,” about the “panic in the street” in a “world [that] is going crazy.” Later, on “Forget to Remember,” Mustaine gets at one root of this chaos: “The culprit was the mercury / the vaccine wipes your memories / ’til you forget even how to breathe / a tangled web they weave, when they practice to deceive.”

It would be easy to dismiss such sentiments as provocative heavy metal imagery if not for Mustaine’s relationship with conspiracy-theory peddler/complete idiot Alex Jones and the singer/guitarist’s recent suggestion that the mass shootings in Oak Creek, Wis., and Aurora, Col., were staged events meant to inspire restrictive gun control legislation. Is the fact that such legislation never materialized also a part of some vast conspiracy? Regardless, such comments did not harm the band’s image. In fact, they may have helped spur greater interest in Super Collider, as the record debuted at number six on the Billboard 200. To paraphrase Mustaine, paranoia sells—and we’re buying.

Megadeth headline the Gigantour’s Milwaukee stop at the Rave on Friday, July 19 with Black Label Society, Device, HELLYEAH, Newsted and Death Division. The show begins at 4:30 p.m.