Megadeth hang by the skin of their teeth on oddly spelled ‘Th1rt3en’

No matter what you think of Dave Mustaine’s music or personality, you can’t deny that he’s a survivor. Kicked out of Metallica before the band exploded to stardom, he struggled with substance problems and a constantly rotating cast of musicians in his own band Megadeth, and despite having a deliriously successful run in the late ’80s and early ’90s, he always had to play second fiddle to his original group.

Yet here we are, late 2011, and Mustaine is still alive and kicking. His band recently played a string of dates with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax as part of the Big 4 package, celebrating the groups cited as pioneering the thrash sound, and now Megadeth have a new record, their 13th, awkwardly spelled “Th1rt3en.” Longtime friend, then nemesis, then friend again Dave Ellefson has returned on bass (it’s his first Megadeth studio record since 2001’s “The World Needs a Hero”), and his presence is very evident and completely welcome sonically. Guitarist Chris Broderick and drummer Shawn Drover are back and have become the new constants, other than Mustaine, of course.

The record itself is a bit of a mish-mash. It’s new material, sort of. All 13 songs are freshly cut by the current formation of the band, but a few of the tracks have longer histories and even have appeared before in alternate versions. “New World Order” has been around since 1991, when the band toured on the Clash of the Titans bill and Marty Friedman and Nick Menza were in the group. They get writing credits.  “Black Swan,” that has nothing to do with the movie of the same title, also been around for years, and a version was offered to fan club members who pre-ordered “United Abominations.”  “Millennium of the Blind” also has been around since 1991, and a version was a bonus track on the remix/remaster of “Youthanasia.” So it’s a collection of some new songs, with older odds and ends added, and you have to wonder if the re-worked tracks weren’t good enough for release before, why are they now? Or maybe the songs just didn’t fit the model of the record from the time they were created.

The album starts off just fine with “Sudden Death,” a song that simmers in the air almost as if it’s going to turn into an Immortal song before it kicks into their tried-and-true thrash path. “Public Enemy No. 1,” a song about 1920s gangster Al Capone, sounds like those classic Megadeth singles from the past two decades, where it’s just heavy enough to satisfy long-time fans and just accessible enough to get radio play. “We the People” is a really dark song, with Mustaine dropping references to the Illuminati, one-world government and currency, and a sense of the Biblical end of days. In fact, Armageddon is all over this record. The closing title track clearly is about Mustaine and the band’s artistic endeavors as a band, their trials and tribulations, and whether their time might be coming soon. Or maybe, as noted, they’re just survivors who will refuse to go away. While their life as a band continuing is not out of the question, Mustaine does drop a hint of demise when he admits, “I just don’t think I can give anymore.”

Those are all the finer points of “Th1rt3en.” Now the not so good, which, unfortunately, outweighs the highlights. There aren’t any terrible songs on this album, and Megadeth have been good for a real clunker or two per record (or sometimes just a flat-out bad album … “Risk”), but there’s a long stretch of this collection that isn’t very inspiring. Aforementioned “New World Order” and “Black Swan” are fine for what they are, but they’re way better as B sides. “Guns, Drugs and Money” isn’t nearly as menacing as its title indicates, and there’s a weird Deep Purple-like keyboard line hanging behind the thing; “Fast Lane” is about fast cars and blah blah blah, and it should feature an appearance by Vin Diesel, but it does not. “Never Dead,” a song written for inclusion in the “NeverDead” videogame, sounds like it was banged out in 15 minutes specifically to fill out a soundtrack; “Wrecker” and “Whose Life (Is It Anyway?)” both are about evil women doing bad things, and you know, you just shouldn’t trust them. They’re both kind of dull, with “Whose Life” sounding comically teen angsty. “Deadly Nightshade,” built from an old riff, isn’t bad, as it has a nice crunch and a strong bassline from Ellefson, but it won’t make any greatest hits lists.

This isn’t a bad late-career record from Megadeth, and if you’re a gigantic fan and a completest, you probably won’t regret buying the album. I don’t think it’s going to be the cause of any commercial resurrection for the band, and it’s not up to par with recent albums by tourmates Anthrax and Slayer (though it kicks the hell out of the “Lulu” thing …). It’s not terrible, not great. I prefer 2009’s “Endgame” and even 2007’s “United Abominations” over “Th1rt3en,” but that’s if I was forced to choose one of those discs. My excitement for the band started to fade with “Countdown to Extinction,” and I don’t give much of their post-2000 work much playing time anyway. This thing isn’t going to change that for me, but at least they’re still doing competent work and trying to stay true to their roots.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy “Th1rt3en,” go here:

For more on the label, go here: