Before he became a botoxed spewer of conspiracy theories and Rick Santorum endorsements, Dave Mustaine was the archetypal underdog — the former Metallica guitarist who was exiled, disenfranchised, and cast out to fend for himself. He reacted by forging his own metal enterprise, Megadeth. Although never as relevant as Metallica, Megadeth achieved chart success and mainstream prominence with the release of 1992’s Countdown to Extinction, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary and getting the obligatory reissue treatment. It’s the album that got the band on the radio.
Recorded in L.A. amid the Rodney King riots and the lingering tensions of the Gulf War, Countdown to Extinction was Mustaine’s political record (and also his most accessible). After the technical theatrics of 1990’s Rust in Peace, Mustaine and lead guitarist Marty Friedman opted for groove metal, best illustrated by the chunky chords and verse-chorus-verse simplicity of the lead single, “Symphony of Destruction”. No wonder it remains Megadeth’s most popular song. The album also houses “Sweating Bullets”, in which Mustaine sings like a constipated cartoon character (“Nice story, tell it to Reader’s Digest!”). It’s charmingly goofy, but just ridiculous enough to be Mustaine’s finest vocal performance ever.
This modestly priced reissue includes the LP, an exclusive live album (the fidelity’s great, but it’s a boring, by-the-numbers performance), four hardstock portraits of the band members, and a massive poster — arguably the coolest perk. Aside from the live CD, there’s a noticeable lack of bonus tracks and demos, which is surprising considering the 2004 reissue had four bonus cuts.
Countdown to Extinction saw Megadeth moving away from thrash metal and closer to generic hard rock (read: Metallica), a sonic shift they would embrace on subsequent albums. It’s a fun—if flawed—record that’s dominated by strong singles and plagued by some throwaways (“Psychotron”, “Architecture of Aggression”). As for the reissue: Buy it if you’re a superfan. There’s not much here for the passing listener.
Essential Tracks: “Symphony of Destruction”, “Sweating Bullets”