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July 18, 2024

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Risk (Capitol Records)

By: Jeb Branin

Although all four bands of the original "big four" of eighties thrash metal are still going strong, they have all in one way or another presented perplexing dilemmas for their fans. METALLICA practically abandoned their roots and their long time fans in an effort to remain relevant during the reworking of the heavy music landscape in the early nineties. SLAYER remained true to their roots and fans but have stagnated just a bit for their trouble. ANTHRAX proved inconsistent at best as they have tried to revamp their sound. And MEGADETH? Well, they have also proven to be spotty. They have tried valiantly to expand their sound and appeal without totally losing the feel and vibe that first attracted them to fans. Nothing could be more evident of this dynamic than the new album "Risk". MEGADETH made a calculated decision to jack up the melodic nature of their sound by incorporating influences from "the NWOBHM" to the "British Invasion" to "Fleetwood Mac" as they describe it. They also brought producer Dann Huff on board and welcomed his advice in retooling their approach. The result is a complex and fascinating album that takes the band to either new highs and new lows depending on your perspective. This is without question the furthest they have ever strayed from their "thrash" sound. They incorporate all kinds of embellishments (most notably string arrangements) and they use heavy guitar riffs more to cement the hook in the song than in any effort to be truly "heavy". This gives the songs a lot of depth and creates an appeal that can easily transcend the limitations of heavy metal as a genre. On the flip side, it also comes across as rather forced and unnatural. Most of these are heavy metal tunes that are being wrapped in a pretty package so they can be sold as something else. The melodic overtones thus seem to be artificial, a charade, a pretense for musical "evolution". The true nature of the music seems to be buried and it stifles the entire flow of the album. I generally applaud a band who experiments with their sound in an effort to truly do something new but I am also highly critical of experimentation just for the sake of change. There is a lot of subjectivity in analyzing which of these two types of experimentation has happened and there is, admittedly, a lot of grey between the two concepts. This album falls squarely in that grey.
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