"Countdown to Extinction" is the 5th studio album by American thrash metal band, Megadeth. It was released in 1992 on Capitol Records and produced by Max Norman & Dave Mustaine. The line-up for the album was Dave Mustaine (vocals/guitar), Marty Friedman (guitar), David Ellefson (bass) and Nick Menza (drums).
Megadeth was able to enjoy an unchanged line-up for this album and that clearly showed in the songs as Mustaine and Friedman came together to produce intricate riff and solos. This is easily one of the best albums the band has put out in their career and was a favorite amongst many fans, reaching the lofty peak of No.2 on the US Billboard 200. In 2013, the band put out a 20th anniversary DVD/CD combo of a live recording of the full album with other Megadeth songs wrapped around it.
Skin o' My Teeth
The album kicks off into high gear with "Skin o' My Teeth", a song that Mustaine describes as not being about condoning suicide, but rather a song about how he's tried in the past and couldn't finish the job. Mustaine even had to convince MTV that it wasn't pro-suicide in order for the accompanying video to be aired on its network. It is a great song with a nice hook-turned-riff on the verses, but it's the solo that really steals the show as you'd expect with Dave and his counterpart, Marty Friedman. The drumming on this track which is hard and heavy, and also sets down the ground rules that Nick Menza is at his best once more.
Symphony of Destruction
This is one of Megadeth's most famous songs and has excellent riffing throughout. Yes it's been played to death by every major music channel that dared to play it and yes it's a little commercial nowadays, but that should not matter. Whenever fans see Megadeth live, they want to see the band play this track and the melody in the chorus is what makes it tick. The lyrics, too, are magical:
Just like the Pied Piper
Led rats through the streets
We dance like marionettes
Swaying to the symphony
If fans had to name their ten favorite Megadeth songs, then "Symphony of Destruction" would most certainly be among them. It is a song about world leaders and how they change from normal people to egotistical beings when they gain power. They would trample over their own mothers once they've reached the top because nothing else matters in the world.
Architecture of Aggression
This is a song with great riffs and even better solos. It begins with a mock-up of gunfire which is meant to be from a battlefield and then the instruments begin. Menza's drums often portray the rapid machinegun fire sound and Ellefson's bass line keeps the song rocking. The bridge is a work of art, as Mustaine and Friedman play along with a meaty riff before the solos attack the ears. It is a song about the aggressive nature of some countries as they strive to oust political leaders such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi from their homes to instil freedom to the people of those countries, but to counter that it's also about those oppressors that rule with an iron fist, where people live in fear of their own rulers.
Foreclosure of a Dream
This is a song about the farmers of America who were getting a bad deal from the Reagan administration and how they took advantage of the farmers by taking their land to build roads, bypassing once thriving places and turning them into ghost towns. There is some really interesting acoustic playing which goes on around the structure of the song but it's Mustaine's vocals which steal the show, as it's almost as perfect as can he can be. The chorus is very catchy and if you want to know how to create the perfect blend to make a song work, this carries all the ingredients needed.
This is a song about schizophrenia or the feeling that you might be schizophrenic without actually being so. Mustaine said that a lot of us live inside our heads and there's someone we all confer with, that being our conscience. Some people can't control it and it takes over, eventually making them snap. Listeners will love the stop-start melody where Mustaine is singing the verses followed by a quick riff. The bridge is magnificent as we get more stellar drumming from Menza before some wild and wonderful solos hit us for six, which then brings us back down to earth..
This Was My Life
This song is the dark horse of the album. You wouldn't expect it to eclipse "Sweating Bullets" or "Symphony of Destruction or even "Skin 'o My Teeth", and in many ways it doesn't, but it's like the kid at the back of the class who quietly gets on with his work and passes his exams without really being noticed. In short, it is a gem of a song and Mustaine's singing on the chorus as well as the guitar harmony which accompanies it are especially good. It's a song which is a true story about the thoughts going on in Mustaine's head when he was in a relationship with a woman before he got married. He says that he wanted to kill her or himself but if he chose the former, he'd be signing his own death warrant on a date with the electric chair.
Countdown to Extinction
The title track is a song about hunting and is against the brutality of it in general. Whether it's the killing of animals for meat or for sport, it's something that was frowned upon in the Megadeth camp during the writing process for this album. Some people look too much into it as a dig at Metallica's James Hetfield (a well-known huntsman) and though the lyrics were largely written by Nick Menza, Mustaine probably had a hand in the final thought process. The pace of the song rocks, but it's not one that really sticks out as a great Megadeth track. There is some really nice bass work and the guitar riff in the chorus speaks to the ears but on the whole, the song goes by without really saying much.
High Speed Dirt
This is a song about sky diving and the dangers that come with it. There is that fine line between a safe jump and your last jump and that's what this relates to. The lyrics talk from a narrator's point of view and he's just realised that his parachute won't be opening today and he's hurtling towards the ground and his impending expiration. The riffmeister is at it again on this track and it's another really good song that puts forth a sense of togetherness within the band and shows just how good this foursome was at putting out music. Each instrument seems to know what the other is doing and they all play along as tight as I've heard any band I've ever heard. When you think Megadeth, "High Speed Dirt" doesn't automatically spring to mind as one of the classics, but it's still a very good song.
This track screams old school Megadeth from the mid 1980s but with an entirely new aspect. There is some incredible solo playing from Marty Friedman in-between the verse lines that fill perfectly and the song picks up pace and springs into action with a fun-sounding melody that sticks in my mind, long after it's over and back to the verses. It's a song which is based around Deathlok the Demolisher from the Marvel comics and isn't the best lyrically, but that's easily forgiven when you listen to the song as a whole. If you like your metal songs with a literal metal meaning, then this is one for you.
This starts off melodic, but it soon changes into a full-blooded beast of a track that is probably some of Megadeth's best 'under-the-radar' work. There is a spoken word passage about a minute in which goes like this:
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?
Yes, we have Your Honour, we find the defendant guilty on all counts for crimes against all humanity.
By virtue of the jury's decision and the power vested in me by the State
I hereby sentence you to be incarcerated with no possibility of parole for life.
Life? Whadda ya mean life? I ain't got a life.
Boy! Your soul better belong to Jesus! Hmmm-mmm cause your ass belongs to me!
As that is played out, Menza is performing some great fills on the drums while Ellefson's bass chugs along and the two guitars perform their parts.You don't get anywhere with an album if you don't have the meat and potatoes, which this song most definitely is.
Ashes in Your Mouth
The final track of the album is "Ashes in Your Mouth", and this is a great ending to what is another really good groove-driven track. The fretwork from Mustaine and Ellefson is insane and this song easily delivers. It's a track about what will happen if World War III comes to light. Will it be a short fight with the destruction of mankind or will it be a long drawn-out war with millions of deaths. It's a song which tells us we're the creators of our own extinction and the countdown has already begun. Nick Menza performs a very brief drum solo at the end of the song which is pretty wondrous and brings the album to an excellent close.
"Countdown to Extinction" might not fulfil the high expectations Mustaine placed on it due to the massive success of "Rust in Peace", but it's still a really good album with strong songs on it. Unfortunately, though, it does have to live in the shadow of "Rust in Peace"... and that was always going to be a problem for any album. There are still some very strong tracks on this album and some which deserve more credit than what they get but you should not dwell on what might have been. If you don't like the genre of thrash metal or are new to it, "Countdown to Extinction" might just be the album which brings you into it.
- Skin o' My Teeth
- Symphony of Destruction
- Architecture of Aggression
- Foreclosure of a Dream
- Sweating Bullets
- This Was My Life
- Countdown to Extinction
- High Speed Dirt
- Captive Honour
- Ashes in Your Mouth