Meshuggah’s distinctive brand of crunchy, intense, precise, complex metal has set heads banging for over 20 years now. Riding high from the success of sixth studio album obZen (2008), Meshuggah is almost ready to finally guide the tour bus towards the off ramp and begin work on the follow up – but not before they hit Australia for the Soundwave festival and sideshows (as well as a few gigs in New Zealand) I caught up with guitarist Marten Hagstrom on February 10 to discuss writing, recording, and the past and future of Meshuggah’s distinctive custom Ibanez 8-string guitars.
Is Soundwave the last of the touring cycle?
Yeah it actually this. This is finishing off the obZen touring cycle for us. We’re really looking forward to it. Last time we were in Australia was great and we’re hoping it will be the same this time. Getting some nice weather in and getting out of Sweden right now seems like a good thing.
I dunno, it’s pretty freakin’ hot here right now.
Well we’ve got snow up to our waists. This has been the coldest winter in a long time up here!
So have you already started working on the next album?
No not really. We’re one of those bands who, we don’t really work a lot on material when we’re still in the touring cycle. We’ve got some stuff that we didn’t really get to finish for the obZen album and some of it feels like it belongs to that album so we probably won’t use that, but we’ve got a couple of things that still feel really fresh so we’re gonna work a little bit on that when we get back. But most importantly we’re just gonna have to sit down and start focusing on the writing because, coming to the end of the tour cycle we switch modes and switch focus. It’s like, we’re done with all the live stuff, now we can just take a little breather for a week or two then start to get a feel for what we want out of the next album. So still it’s very early on. The only thing we’ve really accomplished as far as the next recording goes is we’ve rebuilt our studio a little bit to accommodate what we want out of the recording. But as far as writing we haven’t done much yet.
Well as a geek who writes for music mags, I like this kind of stuff, so what have you done to the studio?
We have this studio here in Stockholm. It’s two stories, and the recording room is down in the basement, so a couple of years ago we ripped out the whole basement and just started from scratch and built a real studio the best way we could. We had some help from the outside as far as how we were going to construct it but we did all the carpentry and all the work ourselves. The room itself turned out to be great but we knew beforehand that we were not going to get a perfect result to begin with. So what we did was we finished it, we rehearsed in it and we tried to get the feel of the room, and now we had this guy who has built a lot of studios here in Sweden, he’s like a wizard, an old guy, and he was like, “Well you need diffusers here and there, and this type, and you need to order it from here,” and whatever. So we ordered a shitload of stuff and then we took, like, two weeks to get everything up on the walls so we could get the acoustics we wanted. We’ve gotten pretty close, we’ve just got some minor details to fix. Most of it’s been carpentry, putting up diffusers in the whole room.
Everyone was worried that studio recording in general was on its way out, with Pro Tools, plug-ins and that sort of stuff, but it seems everyone’s building their own actual studio these days.
Yeah. It’s a good trend, I think. Obviously it’s a bad thing for a lot of studios, but on the other hand, we can see it: we’ve got a studio of our own and we’ve been working in this studio since the Nothing album. So we’ve done it for quite a while. But the thing is that these old massive studios, they’re pretty expensive. And if you’re a band that know a little bit about what you want out of things, you don’t need to go to the most costly and flashy and expensive and exclusive studio to get the right result. So it makes sense for guys who are really interested in producing themselves and getting into the tactical and technical aspects of being in a band, and pretty much take the responsibility over your own productions. We’ve been doing that all the time but it took a while for us to find a place to actually build our studio. I would say that a lot of major studios have gone down the drain but for every one that does that there’s, like, five or six small studios, that a lot of times bands own, that pop up. We’ve been getting quite a lot of requests from bands wanting to record here at our place, so there’s still a need for studios, it’s just how you build the studio. It’s easier for people to do it on their own. Back in the day that was impossible. You had to have a lot of fucking money to do that, and now that’s not the case. I would say that some artists, some bands, there are always a couple of guys who are really tech nerds who really go for that stuff. A lot of guys see it as an opportunity to invest some of the money that you bring in playing in the band to build the studio up. But most of the time we turn bands down when they ask to record there. We’re sharing it with Clawfinger, who are friends of ours. And [sharing the studio with other bands] takes up so much time from the studio, because we built it for ours and their sake, so 90 percent of what’s going on in the studio is about Clawfinger and Meshuggah, so it leaves very little time to make any money off it, at least not right now.
Plus you don’t want people coming in and moving your shit around.
So you mentioned how every band has a couple of tech nerds: are you one such tech nerd?
Not really. I know as much as I need to. You care about the stuff you do from a guitar standpoint, and I’m very specific about what kind of specs I’ve got for the custom guitars I get from Ibanez and stuff like that. And in the studio I know how things work so that I can be a part of the recording in a fruitful way, so to speak, but I’m not one of those guys who runs out and reads magazines and goes ‘Oh shit, have you seen this new hard drive?’ and goes mental about that. That’s more Fredrik’s stuff (laughs). But all of us guys in the band, we know a lot about how we’re set up in our studio because you kind of need to, you know?
Now, onto the 8-strings. How did that come about?
It was a long time ago – around 2000 I’d say, or maybe a little bit earlier. We’d always been 7-string players, and the only thing that differed with our setup as far as 7-strings went was we dropped the tuning down half a note: standard tuning but half a note down. That’s kind of a legacy from back in the day when it was more of a thrash metal oriented band, where you had to have the vocals in a certain range. But apart from that, the vision for the 8-strings, that was kind of an idea where we wanted to have an instrument that could be consistent in tone where, normally you would tune down a regular guitar and get that sloppy note out of it, but we wanted to take that baritone approach towards how the guitar would sound. There was this guy here in Sweden called Frederik, he has a brand called Nevborn. He approached us and said “I wouldn’t mind trying to build you an 8-string guitar because that’s one of the projects I’ve been working on, and I think it would really fit for what you guys want to do next.” So we tried it out and it really helped us in ways that we didn’t expect. What happened was, going down that low you had to change your approach to what you wanted to write. The guitar itself inspired the way of writing, instead of the other way around. All of a sudden we had this new tone, the single-string down-low playing that we hadn’t messed around with that much. On the old 7-string stuff we have a lot of single note riffs but it doesn’t come across the way it does on the 8-strings. So they’re very different beasts than a regular guitar. First of all, they’re pretty big. A lot of the custom-mades we have are 30” measures, so they’re pretty close to baritone range, and they were very liberating, I’d say. It opened up a new vista for us.
Your customs look cool! The body shape is a little different to the production 8-strings Ibanez recently came out with. They look more metal. How else do they differ from the production 8-string Ibanez?
Yeah. Looking the way they do and being such big guitars, it makes the body look a little bit different. But you were saying about the difference between the retail and the custom. The retail 8-string that Ibanez put out, it’s an RG. It’s a bolt-on neck, it’s standard scale, it’s more like you would play a 7-string. It doesn’t differ that much. You get a different tone, obviously, from having a lower range and more consistency out of the notes on the 8-string, but it’s not even close to the custom guitars. I don’t know how to explain: the difference between having the neck-through, the measure and everything, it just makes it a totally different guitar. And we’ve got the Lundgren pickups which Ibanez doesn’t run on the retail. So it would be unfair to compare the 8-string retail to the customs we’ve got.
Have you ever talked with Ibanez about making your guitars available to the public?
I’m actually going to discuss it with Mike Taft at Ibanez. We used to work with Rob Nishida at Ibanez and he quit after 14 years on the job. He wanted to try something new. So we’re gonna talk to Mike about that, because there’s a lot of people that seem to be interested in acquiring a custom 8-string in the setup we use. I think it might be a wise thing to maybe release some kind of limited edition. Because they’re pretty expensive guitars. It turns out to be that way when you spec it so hard. For some people the 8-string that came out as retail, it’ll probably suit some people better than our guitar, because ours takes some adjusting. But as well as those people who want to have a lower price tag, there are always people who are interested in getting the real deal, so we’ll see what can be done with that.
I’m a big Ibanez geek and I’m not alone – there will always be collectors who will buy something like that.
Yeah. It wouldn’t be a major series or anything, it would just be cool to put something out, but we will speak about that [with Ibanez]. We’ve been trying a lot of different approaches to how we want our guitars. The first ones we got were pretty close to perfect, then we started messing around a little bit with the specifics of the guitar, but we’re still looking to nail it about a thousand percent.
Amp-wise, what are you guys using? Or rather, what are you using instead of amps?
We’re running though Line 6. We’ve been using Line 6 Vetta II heads for the bass and the Pod Pros for the bass for the live sound. On the last couple of tours, as far as guitar amps go we’ve been using, well as you say, it’s not amps, but we’ve been using the AxeFX by Fractal Audio, but it’s a bit of a mish-mash as far as amps go. But the AxeFX as well as Line 6 have really helped us bring our tone to the stage without the hassle. We’re going DI so we’re heavily relying on the monitor system but it’s such an easy way to have everything in your little rack: you just plug it in and you have a consistent tone every night. You don’t have to worry about the house or anything like that, so that’s what we’re running through right now.
To my ears, even though the sound is distorted it doesn’t really sound like you’re not using an absolute shitload of distortion: there’s more punch there than you’d usually get with such a high level of gain gain.
We use quite a lot of distortion but I would say that what makes it come across as maybe a bit more clean and powerful is the 8-strings. They have a different tone, and the way the guitar resonates makes a tremendous difference on how you have your settings on the amp. I’d say it’s a combination of what you can get out of the Fractal Audio and what the guitar actually does. A lot of that single-string stuff tends to clean up the tone a little bit, y’know?
Okay, last question, and this is a bit off-topic, but the big news in metal this week is David Ellefson returning to Megadeth. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I didn’t know! I didn’t hear!
Yeah, he’s back!
I didn’t hear that! That’s awesome! It’s always cool when original people get back together. I mean, if you’re a new Megadeth fan who really likes the new stuff I guess it doesn’t really matter (laughs) but for me, it was the first three albums that I really listened to, and coming back to formula is probably something good in this respect. That’s cool!
Brisbane, Australia Feb 20 Soundwave Festival
Sydney, Australia Feb 21 Soundwave Festival
Sydney, Australia Feb 22 Manning Bar
Melbourne, Australia Feb 25 Billboard
Melbourne, Australia Feb 26 Soundwave Festival
Adelaide, Australia Feb 27 Soundwave Festival
Perth, Australia Mar 01 Soundwave Festival
Wellington, New Zealand Mar 03 SFBH
Auckland, New Zealand Mar 04 Transmission Room
WOW! Here’s one I didn’t see coming. David Ellefson has rejoined Megadeth. Did you ever think you’d see the day? Crazy!
Here’s the press release:
ANNOUNCES RETURN OF FOUNDING BASSIST DAVID ELLEFSON
TO MEGADETH LINE-UP
Megadeth founder and frontman Dave Mustaine has announced the return of original bassist David Ellefson (1983-2002) to the iconic multi-platinum group. This reunion is appropriately timed to Megadeth’s upcoming historic month-long Rust In Peace 20th anniversary tour which launches March 1 in Spokane, WA. At these incredibly special shows, Megadeth will play their landmark, genre-defining 1990 album Rust In Peace in its entirety, in addition to other Megadeth favorites.
“This shows the power of brotherly love and forgiveness,” Mustaine says. “David Ellefson belongs in Megadeth. Next we are going to show you the power of getting your asses kicked…HARD!”
David Ellefson concurs: “This is a huge moment for all of us, band and fans alike. It is a great celebration of the music from one of the biggest landmark albums of our career.”
Ellefson will join Mustaine and Megadeth band members Shawn Drover (drums) and Chris Broderick (guitar) on tour in support of the group’s current CD Endgame, which has received some of the highest critical accolades of the band’s career.
“We’d like to thank James LoMenzo for several years of loyal service on the bass, and wish him the very best,” Mustaine adds.
For more information on Megadeth, go to: http://www.megadeth.com/.
Photo: Stephanie Cabral
Here’s one I didn’t see coming. Megadeth are going to play the entirety of Rust In Peace live during their forthcoming tour with Testament and Exodus. Why exactly didn’t I see it coming? Well, cos Dave Mustaine seemed to shrug off that the very idea just a few months ago when I interviewed him:
Here’s a question from the Megadeth forum: Are you planning anything to mark the 20th anniversary of Rust In Peace?
Well if they’re asking about me playing with those guys again I think I’ve made it pretty clear.
Well even something like a special commemorative release, or playing the album start-to-finish live.
Yeah, I’ve heard that, but my answer is pretty simple: If it was gonna happen it would have. I don’t think it’ll ever happen. I don’t dislike any of those guys. We did have some very difficult periods together but I was just as difficult to be around as they were. And all I want to do right now is just bless them and just let them know I’m a fan of theirs. Even the ones I had a hard time with, I’m a fan of theirs. They were part of my life and I look to those times together with great fondness.
But wait, if you read closely, Dave seems to be a bit evasive when I bring up the idea of a ‘play all of Rust in Peace’ tour, instead shifting the focus to whether he’d reform the line-up of that era. Did Dave plan to do this all along? Or was it a recent decision based on needing to do something spectacular to compensate for the fact that Slayer had to reschedule their tour plans with Megadeth due to Tom Araya’s back operation? Or is this decision simply a ‘Dave decided he wanted to do it, so here it is’ thing? Whatever the reason, there are gonna be some very happy metal fans out there this year, and a very sad guitar blogger who won’t even be on the same continent. :(
Here’s the press release
The mighty Megadeth will join forces with Testament and Exodus for a month-long jaunt that will find these thrash titans crisscrossing the nation on the ‘Rust in Peace’ 20th anniversary tour. These will be incredibly special shows that will delight Megadeth fans, as the band will be playing their landmark, genre-defining album, 1990′s Rust in Peace, in its entirety, in addition to other Megadeth set list favorites.
Megadeth’s latest, ENDGAME, was released in September 2009 and received some of the highest critical accolades of the band’s career. The band performed on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and was nominated for yet another Grammy – the eight nomination of their storied career- for “Head Crusher.” Megadeth also enjoyed heaps of praise in the press, from outlets as varied as New Yorkto Revolver to VH1′s “That Metal Show” to PopMatters. With ENDGAME, Megadeth have once again ascended to the top of the metal world.
The tour will kick off on March 1 in Spokane, WA and will run through the end of the month.
MegaFanClub tickets presale will be held on Thursday, January 28th from 10AM to 10PM. Tickets go on sale to the general public Friday, January 29th.
Dates are as follows:
3/1 – Spokane, WA – Knitting Factory
3/2 – Boise, ID – Knitting Factory
3/3 – Medford, OR – Medford Armory
3/6 – Calgary, AB – Big Four (Testament with Special Guests)
3/7 – Edmonton, AB – Shaw Conference Centre (Testament with Special Guests)
3/8 – Saskatoon, SK – Prairieland Exhibition Hall
3/11 – Indianapolis, IN – Murat Theater
3/12 – Pittsburgh, PA – Palace Theater
3/13 – Buffalo, NY – Town Ballroom
3/15 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
3/16 – Baltimore, MD – Rams Head Live
3/18 – Scranton, PA – Scranton Cultural Center
3/19 – Norfolk, VA – The NorVa
3/21 – Atlanta, GA – Tabernacle
3/22 – Asheville, NC – Orange Peel
3/23 – Memphis, TN – Minglewood Hall
3/25 – Houston, TX – Verizon Wireless Theater
3/26 – Austin, TX – Stubb’s Amphitheater
3/27 – Lubbock, TX – The Pavilion
3/28 – El Paso, TX – Club 101
3/30 – Tucson, AZ – Rialto Theater
3/31 – Hollywood, CA – Hollywood Palladium (Testament with Special Guests)
Stay tuned for more information next week on the rescheduling of the “American Carnage” tour dates, as well.
Megadeth guitarist Chris Broderick’s bitchen new custom Ibanez S5470 has been completed. Remember the work-in-progress pics last week? Well here it is, all assembled and ready to rock:
GUITAR CENTER LINKS:
Ibanez S5470 Electric Guitar Transparent Black Sunburst
Ibanez S5470 Electric Guitar Red Viking
Ibanez S5470 Electric Guitar Sapphire Blue
Ibanez S5470 Electric Guitar Red Optimus 889406826083
Chris Broderick’s cool new Megadeth Endgame Ibanez custom guitar (reported here last week) isn’t the first axe to feature Megadeth-themed album art. Since Megadeth’s return with The System Has Failed, Dave Mustaine and his co-guitarists have used a whole bunch of custom guitars from ESP/LTD, Dean and Ibanez.
Here are a pair of Dean VMNTs with artwork from Rust In Peace and United Abominations, respectively.
Glen’s tenure in Megadeth only lasted for one album and a few tours, but he sure used some cool custom-painted guitars in that time. Here we have a pair of ESPs (Countdown to Extinction and Peace Sells …But Who’s Buying graphics) and a Dean Vendetta with the United Abominations cover.
This is an off-the-shelf Ibanez S5470 with a custom hand-painted image taken from the booklet to Megadeth’s new album, Endgame. Chris told the Megadeth forum this one will be re-fitted with DiMarzio pickups.
The guitar appears to be an S5470, one of Ibanez’s more recent additions to the S/Sabre family. Click here for more info about this model on Ibanez.com.
On the Megadeth forum (registration required), Chris says:
I will hopefully have a new Ibanez guitar to play by the start of the U.S tour, but I thought I would give you guys a sneak peak before it’s even finished. It still needs a clear coat but the artwork was all hand painted and came out great. Let me know what you guys think
Take care, Chris.
GUITAR CENTER LINKS:
Ibanez S5470 Electric Guitar Transparent Black Sunburst
Ibanez S5470 Electric Guitar Red Viking
Ibanez S5470 Electric Guitar Sapphire Blue
Ibanez S5470 Electric Guitar Red Optimus 889406826083
25.5 inch scale
6 In-Line headstock
Dave Mustaine Signature Seymour Duncan Livewire Pickups
The most surprising thing about this model to me is that it features a distressed finish. Interesting that Dave would choose to go this route on a brand new guitar. First of all, he’s known for playing Vs, so the distressed finish isn’t mimicing the wear on a particular much-loved road-warrior guitar. Secondly, he’s quite well-known for graphic finishes and that cool metallic Mercedes grey colour.
Having said that, maybe it’s because I’m such a Mustaine geek but I’m really really into this guitar.
Megadeth’s new CD, Endgame, is out now on Roadrunner.
UPDATE! Here’s footage of Dave Mustaine using his new Dean Zero signature model on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:
Check out this pic from the photo gallery of Dave Mustaine’s page at The Live Line. It’s the first look at his new Dean signature model, the Zero, which he plan to play on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon on September 17 (actually technically it’ll be September 18 because the show starts over midnight – but you know what I mean, right?). Make sure you sign up for TheLiveLine – it kicks ass.
Dave mentioned this guitar in my interview with him a few weeks ago:
“At the NAMM show that’s coming up at the beginning of next year they’re going to be debuting a brand-new Dean guitar for me. The exciting part is that I looked at Dean’s catalogue and a lot of the guitars they had and… well, my VMNTs, it’s nothing like the original V that they have. It’s nothing like the ones they’re creating right now too. My line is my line. Neck shape, the configuration of the electronics, the ease and comfort, the way the pitch of the headstock is, the way the strings go through the body for getting all of that extra resonance. It’s a one-of-a-kind mentality towards making a guitar the absolute best thing you could ever possibly want to play through. They had another body style that wasn’t being utilised by anybody. I said ‘Can I get you to make me one of those?’ ‘Well yeah, fuck man, sure man!’ I said ‘Wow, is anybody playing this?’ ‘No man.’ I said ‘Can I?’ ‘Fuck yeah man!’ I said ‘Can I change some of the lines on this?’ ‘Yeah sure!’ ‘So I’m gonna Dave Mustaine this guitar right now, ok.’ So we’re debuting a brand-new style. It’s called the Zero and I can’t really tell you much more than that other than it’s going to be a workhorse and the people who have seen it already over at Dean, they’ve been there for years and they’ve seen everything under the sun, that kinda stuff is exciting. Especially when it’s opening up another area of creativity with the company.”
CLICK HERE to read the full interview.
Just saw this at the excellent Frantikmag.com. Good news for my buddies in the US, especially after Dave Mustaine confirmed on the Megadeth forum (registration required) that the band are adding 5 Magics to the set!!!
Now, before we get to the press release about the tour dates, here’s some Megadeth-related coverage on I Heart Guitar for ya:
Ok, on to the news.
New York, NY: Megadeth are proud to announce that they will be embarking on a headline tour, their first in support of their latest album, ENDGAME. The ENDGAME tour will feature Machine Head, Suicide Silence and Arcanium in support slots from November 14 through December 3. Warbringer will replace Machine Head on the bill, beginning on December 5.
Megadeth’s twelfth studio release, ENDGAME, will be released on September 15, to much fanfare, with early praise for the record flooding in, including a nod from the prestigious New York Magazine, which dubbed the record a “Want to Hear” pick, while the band had chats with RollingStone.com, Decibel, Revolver,Guitar World, AOL Noisecreep, Thrasher, among a host of others.
Fans and critics alike are deeming this Megadeth’s best, most visceral record of the decade. Known for their ferocious, unforgettable and brain-scarring live shows, the band will co-headline another throng of dates with fellow metal icons Slayer in Canada, beginning on November 8 and running through November 13, and will subsequently lay waste to venues in the States.
The band will also cap off their incredibly anticipated release week with a live performance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” on September 17.
Dates for the ENDGAME tour are as follows:
Nov. 14 – The Orbit Room – Grand Rapids, MI
Nov. 15- Peoria Civic Center – Peoria, IL
Nov. 17 – Eagles Ballroom – Milwaukee, WI
Nov. 18 – The LC Pavilion – Columbus, OH
Nov. 20 – Madison Theater- Covington, KY
Nov. 21 – The National – Richmond, VA
Nov. 22 – Valarium – Knoxville, TN
Nov. 23 – The Fillmore – Charlotte, NC
Nov. 25 – Revolution – Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Nov. 27 – Hard Rock Live – Orland, FL
Nov. 28 – House of Blues – Myrtle Beach, SC
Nov. 30 – The Pavilion at Concrete Street – Corpus Christi, TX
Dec. 1 – Sunken Gardens – San Antonio, TX
Dec. 2 – Palladium Ballroom – Dallas, TX
Dec. 3 – Bricktown Events Center – Oklahoma City, OK
Dec. 5 – The Beaumont – Kansas City, MO
Dec. 6 – Pop’s – Sauget, IL
Dec. 7 – Great Hall at River Center – Davenport, IA
Dec. 8- Fargo Civic Auditorium – Fargo, ND
Dec. 10 – Shrine Auditorium – Billings, MT
Pre-sales begin September 15 at 10 AM, while regular onsales to the general public start the same time on September 18. For further information about the tour, additional dates and ticketing, check www.megadeth.com regularly.
The first thing you hear bursting out of the gates on the new Megadeth album, Endgame (Roadrunner) is a thunderous, crunching riff leading into one huge back-and-forth solo-fest from Dave Mustaine and new guitarist Chris Broderick on the track ‘Dialectic Chaos.’ The tones are huge, the drumming relentless, and my freaking god Broderick is fast. Dave has said in the past that when his sparring partner was Marty Friedman, the contrast was that Marty played with a lot of love while Dave played with a lot of hate. Now, while I liked Glen Drover’s playing on United Abominations and live, his playing just didn’t have the passion and fire of Marty’s. It had a similar love of the guitar, but not the kind of love-you-so-fucking-much-I-want-to-have-you-right-here-right-now, dirty love that Marty had for his axe. Well, that fire is there in Broderick’s playing. It’s fast, precise and melodic, but intense, energetic, powerful and sometimes downright obscene, in the best possible way. In Broderick Mustaine has a co-guitarist who packs as much snarl and power into his playing as Dave does.
Yet for all its precision riffage and lead guitar mayhem, ‘Dialectic Chaos’ is still only the intro to the album proper, segueing into ‘This Day We Fight.’ With lyrics inspired by Lord of the Rings and riffs inspired by fighting for your frigging life as a horde of hellbeasts bare down on you, this track is at once vintage and future Megadeth. You’ll hear remnants of the same hyperaggression of ‘Rust In Peace (Polaris), ‘Take No Prisoners’ and ‘Poison Was The Cure’ from Rust In Peace, but fed through the more modern approach of tracks like ‘Kick The Chair’ from The System Has Failed and ‘Sleepwalker from’ United Abominations. With lyrics inspired by Lord of the Rings and some of the most pissed-off playing and vocal delivery of his career, Mustaine’s out for blood.
‘44 Minutes’ might remind some listeners of the balance of melody and aggression displayed on Countdown To Extinction tracks like ‘Symphony Of Destruction’ and ‘Architecture of Aggression’ but with the added heaviness that seems to come from just being in the mere presence of such an intense track of ‘This Day We Fight.’ It’s like some of the power and brutality of ‘This Day We Fight’ has actually leeched out of the track and into the rest of the album. After garbled police dispatch messages introduce the track, a growling James Lomenzo bass line is punctuated by stop-start guitar rhythms and a relatively restrained vocal line from a more narrative-driven Mustaine than the ‘in-the-moment,’ pissed off Dave we hear on ‘This Day We Fight.’ I’ve been listening to the album for about half a week now and this is my favourite track by far, and one of my favourite all-time Megadeth songs. By the way, the last 8 bars of ‘44 Minutes’ will probably kill about 94% of the guitar players you know, and seriously wound the pride of the remaining 6%. So say your goodbyes.
Now ‘1,320.’ Megadeth hasn’t done a song quite like this since ‘High Speed Dirt’ on Countdown To Extinction. But while Countdown was a meticulously crafted, evil cyborg of an album, there’s a pissed-offedness to Endgame which propels this track forward like the nitro-burnin’ funny cars it honours. Hold on for another wild back-and-forth Mustaine/Broderick guitar solo tag team, interspersed with cool harmonies. This one’s going to kill live.
Interestingly, ‘The Hand That Feeds’ also reminds me a little of ‘High Speed Dirt’ – both have chugging riffs that alternate between palm-muted pedal tones and higher chord stabs, as well as half-time sections. That’s not to say it’s a copy or rehash of ‘High Speed Dirt’ – it’s Mustaine’s sound so he has every friggin’ right to use it. By the way, this track contains one of my favourite Mustaine vocal deliveries ever, on the line ‘The roaches lick the cupboards clean of TV dinners …and beer.” There’s also a very cool end section which has an almost metallic shuffle feel. This is quite a proggy track with lots of riffage to dig your teeth into.
Next we have ‘Bodies.’ This one seems to bolt a bit of a United Abominations feel onto the songwriting of Youthanasia or Cryptic Writings, but Dave’s rhythm tone is bitier and more aggressive than anything on those albums. It’s more akin to his Rust In Peace era tone but twice as distorted and more compressed. The middle section includes what almost sounds like a nod to ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ before going all orchestral and proggy. If you heard just this section without knowing the artist you’d probably be surprised to find out it’s Megadeth, until an absolute prototypical Mega riff bridges the section to an intense thrashout.
I almost feel bad comparing tracks on Endgame to stuff from Megadeth’s extensive back catalog, so it’s at this point in the review that I’ve gotta step in and emphasise that this really sounds like Endgame, not a collection of rehashes of past tracks. The comparisons are just provided to give you a rough idea of the general vibe of the tracks. Got that? Ok good, cos the title track ‘Endgame’ kinda reads like a sequel to ‘Youthanasia’ in feel and theme. It’s almost like Mustaine is revisiting the bleak warning of ‘Youthanasia’ and taking it to its ultimate dystopian conclusion. Once again the arrangements are quite proggy. About ¾ of the way in, we revisit several of the musical feels established on Killing Is My Business …And Business Is Good, except updated for 2009. It’s an intense ride, and despite the gritted teeth of Mustaine’s vocal delivery you can kinda imagine him grinning at how much fun it must be to play a track like this.
Hey, how did you feel about Risk? Cos that might determine how you feel about ‘The Hardest Part Of Letting Go …Sealed With A Kiss’ Here we find the more melodic, orchestrational Dave, with a heartfelt and nuanced vocal delivery. The opening section contains delicate acoustic guitars including a little classical guitar mixed down low and some electric harmonies, before everything brutals back up again. Check out the riff at 1:52 to hear Megadeth showing Dream Theater how to really pull off the prog metal thing. This could very well be considered a centrepiece track, and it’ll be very interesting to see if it makes it into the live set.
‘Head Crusher.’ I’m sure everyone’s heard this by now – another pass at the ‘Sleepwalker’ vibe, and an odd choice for first single. To be honest I’d much rather hear ‘44 Minutes’ as the first single – it’s melodic yet heavy and instantly memorable, whereas ‘Head Crusher’ took me a few listens to get my ears around. It’s unrelenting and furious, with monstrous shredding throughout and particularly in the solo, but while I think it was a great choice of track to show metal fans that Megadeth were sitting on a pretty intense album, I can’t help thinking it would have been better left as a teaser, or at least used as a teaser then held off to be the second single. That said, you really can’t fault the song.
‘How The Story Ends.’ More crushingly thick Mustaine rhythm tone with punchy muted single notes mingling with chord stabs. Drummer Shawn Drover is a star on this one. Great memorable chorus, somewhat like something from the Cryptic Writings era but once again undeniably Endgame. Broderick brings out the acoustic for a little flamenco moment, showing that even though he’s an unstoppable shred machine, he can also play it sensitive. The following electric solo is an arpeggiated tour de force which could grow to be a show stopper in a similar way to Marty Friedman’s ‘Tornado Of Souls’ lead – it’s not as long but probably packs in four times as many notes!
‘Nothing Left To Lose’ opens with a creeping James Lomenzo bassline before a big Mustaine riff kicks in. It just fits as a closing track, in a similar way to how Megadeth could not possibly have ended Countdown To Extinction with any song other than ‘Ashes In Your Mouth.’ Chuggy guitars in the verses, big harmonies in the choruses, double-time solo… A kickass track that probably wouldn’t work so well earlier in the album but is right at home here. Classic Mustaine ‘wide stretch’ solo too.
Other thoughts: Shawn Drover’s sound on Endgame is more natural and open than on United Abominations. The word is that producer Andy Sneap decided to go with real drum sounds as opposed to samples this time round, and the added dynamic range recalls Vinnie Colaiuta’s work on The System Has Failed. Also, James Lomenzo has proven himself to be an indispensable part of Megadeth’s sound. He doesn’t roam as much as he did in Zakk Wylde’s Pride & Glory, but he provides a solid, powerful low end and a confident, powerful tone.
And Sneap. Sneap, Sneap, Sneap, Sneap, Sneap. Awesome producer but there’s always a fear that anything he touches will end up sounding like ‘an Andy Sneap record.’ That’s certainly not the case here. While I can’t help feeling that he may have influenced the level of distortion on Dave’s guitars just a little, he seems to have focused on getting the best Megadeth performances possible on Endgame without really stamping his sonic footprint on anything.
So that’s Endgame. Where do I rank it compared to its predecessors? Well I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and the more I listen to it, the more I like it. As of today I’d rank it equal second with Countdown To Extinction, Rust In Peace being number one. I know that probably sounds like a huge call – bands aren’t meant to make super-great albums this far into their career, right? We’d be happy with ‘Well, it doesn’t suck,’ yeah? – but it’s really that good. The fact that Mustaine is out there cranking out soon-to-be-classics like ‘44 Minutes,’ ‘This Day We Fight,’ ‘The Hardest Part Of Letting Go’ and ‘Bodies’ in 2009 when most of his contemporaries are… nah, y’know what? I’m not gonna go there. Endgame should be appreciated on its own merits, for what it is. And what it is, is one of Megadeth’s finest moments.