This week’s album is a band’s reformation effort, though also a reconfiguration in terms of how the band operated and who it worked with. It is noted as a new beginning and a return to form.
Megadeth – The System Has Failed
Released September 14, 2004 via Sanctuary Records
My Favorite Tracks – Kick The Chair, Blackmail The Universe, The Scorpion
The story leading up to The System Has Failed is quite a whopper. In 2002, with Megadeth’s fortunes on the low end of things, Dave Mustaine suffered an arm injury and was not sure if he would ever be able to play guitar again. He disbanded Megadeth and spent time healing his arm and building up to playing guitar again. His rehab was successful and he was able to resume his mastery of the instrument.
Mustaine set out to record a solo album but was held up by contractual obligations, hence the new effort would bear the title Megadeth. With this new mandate in mind, Mustaine gathered a group of session musicians and held the creative reigns of the new album. Megadeth was now Dave Mustaine and Company, a configuration that has held up to this day.
Notable among the session players on the album is Chris Poland, former Megadeth guitarist for the band’s classic Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? Poland contributed solos to this album, though his time back with Mustaine would be short-lived.
Megadeth had been on the downslide since the late 1990’s and the ill-received Risk album. An attempted return to form with The World Needs A Hero met with mixed results, and so fan perspective was skeptical after the mess of the band’s breakup and “reformation” under a Mustaine dictatorship.
The only way to reignite fan interest would be to deliver the goods. With 12 tracks going for a 48 minute runtime, did Dave deliver? The album cover certainly brought the old vibes back, but what about the music? I’ll get into that in more detail, though the short answer is yes.
Blackmail The Universe
The opener sets a harrowing and urgent tone, as a mock news piece details a terrorist attack on the US President. The leader of the free world is missing and the nation is in chaos about how to respond. Megadeth are no strangers to the world ending via nuclear holocaust and that is the ultimate fate of everything here.
The song is fantastic and was instantly hailed as one of the band’s best in years. The music was explosive and the twisted fate of the world was communicated in powerful fashion. Though in a new form, Megadeth was back.
Die Dead Enough
The album’s lead single is a mid-tempo affair, more in line with what was issued on albums like Cryptic Writings. The song was originally conceived for a movie soundtrack but the deal fell through and it found its home here. Die Dead Enough seems an odd premise but the action sequence sort of vibe works pretty well with the music.
Kick The Chair
Any concerns about Megadeth’s standing were lifted when Kick The Chair hit peoples’ ears. This was Megadeth back in form – snarling, angry and lashing out at a broken system. Kick The Chair takes aim at the justice system and its corrupted ties with money and power. This is a precise thrash masterpiece and one of the best Megadeth songs in years.
A twisted guitar passage stands out as Mustaine recalls the fable about a scorpion hitching a ride across a river from a frog and stinging the frog, dooming both animals to death. The “scorpion” in this case is a human doing bad things simply because they will. A fantastic song even without the thrash.
Tears In A Vial
A more melodic tune in line with Megadeth’s “commercial” work of the 1990’s. It’s a song about someone walking away from some kind of relationship or thing. While the song veers into more accessible territory it’s still pretty good – the dark secret about Megadeth’s “radio rock” phase is that a lot of it was actually good.
I Know Jack
A very brief interlude at only 40 seconds. No lyrics here, instead a famous 1988 quote from US Senator and Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen is played over the riff. Bentsen was attacking rival Dan Quayle, who had compared himself to JFK. In fairness to Quayle, he was only comparing his time in Congress with JFK, but Bentsen’s response became pretty famous in political circles. Quayle, despite his bungling nature, would still wind up as Vice President under George Bush, mostly because we don’t vote for vice presidents.
Why is this track here? I have no idea.
Back In The Day
Here Mustaine pays tribute to the old thrash scene of the early ’80’s. A good track though maybe not as “thrashy” as one would expect from a song talking about that very thing.
Something That I’m Not
Mustaine launches a shot at someone who betrayed him on this song. It is most likely about Lars Ulrich. This song was a bit after Metallica’s Some Kind Of Monster film, which features Dave in a scene that gets mocked a lot. Dave apparently asked not to be in the film but his request was ignored, hence this song. A few years later everyone would start getting along better and the Big Four stuff would happen. The song itself isn’t really my cup of tea.
Truth Be Told
Here we have Mustaine handing out Bible references, probably in line with his “born again” status that happened sometime after his arm injury. The song is pretty good and doesn’t suffer for its religious influences, it ties in Bible stories with its points pretty well.
Mustaine would go on to use his religious beliefs to influence concert promoters to keep other bands off of festival line-ups that Megadeth were playing, most notably Rotting Christ and Dissection. The attempts were not always successful and it generated a lot of nastiness in the metal community at the time.
Of Mice And Men
While sharing a name with John Steinbeck’s famous story, the song has no other connection to the book. Here Dave is reflecting on his life and offering wisdom gained through experience. It’s another track that feels like it could have come from Cryptic Writings and it’s one I don’t mind hearing.
After the interlude Shadow Of Deth, the album’s closer comes with Dave coming back to claim his kingdom after years away. He is directly referring to how Megadeth pursued areas outside of thrash and now the band is back and ready to get back to it. The song itself kind of misses the mark but the goods were delivered with the album as a whole.
The System Has Failed was a return to prominence for Megadeth – the album charted in several countries, including number 18 in the US. Reviews were positive and fan reception was good after several years in the murk and the break-up.
Initially this album was advertised as Megadeth’s last, with Dave wishing to do a Megadeth farewell tour and then pursue solo music. That did not quite happen and Megadeth would remain in existence to this day. It could be said that, in a way, it really is a Dave Mustaine solo project with a different name. The twists and turns of what happened with Megadeth’s lineups in the 2000’s could literally fill a book and is far more than I wish to get into here. In short, a new band was assembled for touring and members would come and go for years after, with no shortage of drama and weird shit.
But Dave Mustaine did successfully right the ship with The System Has Failed. While the back half of the album trails off some, the front is loaded with some of the best Megadeth songs in years. The new era had begun and more highlights were on the horizon.