The metal scene is a cut throat one. There is such a large variety of genre and bands on display, that to really stick out you have to be truly above the rest. Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer achieved this in the 80s. They were the gods of Thrash metal, and icons of the metal genre in general. BUT metal is generally not mainstream, and even though these bands were in the forefront and the closest to the music big-time, they still couldn’t quite receive the mainstream acknowledgement they probably felt they deserved. So their faced with a dilemma…should they just stick to their guns and continue playing the same old music, mainstream success will probably never bloom to much but their core fan base might love them throughout. Or change their sound, adapt and try to reach a more widespread crowd. Metallica did this, with the Black Album by releasing a hard rock album that was still heavy enough to satisfy the past fans.
Megadeth, fronted by charismatic front man and lead guitarist Dave Mustaine, released their fifth studio album in 1992 called Countdown to Extinction. The 1992 release is the bands best-selling album, reaching double platinum status and is filled with many hit singles. Countdown to Extinction is a crucial album for Megadeth, it serves as a continuation of their past brilliance (Rust In Peace, Peace Sells) but it also gives the listener some foresight into what’s coming next, as the band starts aiming for a more traditional music structure following the verse – chorus – verse pattern(Youthanasia, Cryptic Writings and eventually Risk).
Lyrically the album is not new ground for Megadeth, with themes of corruption, military and political agendas all playing a part, but themes of Suicide (Skin O My Teeth) and schizophrenia (Sweating Bullets) also make an appearance. Mustaine is the central writing force for the band, even though Ellefson does have a couple of writing credits on the album, and as usual most of Mustaine’s beliefs and agendas come into play. When it’s truly emotional and personal, like Skin O My Teeth, the songs can be powerful and moving, but at times the lyrics can feel forced and preachy as the lead singer takes shots against ‘The Man’.
The album is slower than the previous Megadeth offerings, but unlike later releases, the aggressiveness is still there. Songs like ‘Symphony of Destruction’ and ‘Psychotron’ are among the best the band has to offer, with a powerful heavy riff and some good soloing. The former is one of the best tracks on the album, with a great chorus and a brilliant solo. The latter is the definition of cheesy, as a terminator like creator goes on a rampage, but the lyrics are well supplemented by the chaotic and rapid instrumental. ‘Skin o’ My Teeth’ starts the album off brilliantly also, with a good drum solo that builds into a frantic riff and eventually solo. The song has a surprisingly catchy chorus, and the lyrics are generally very good. ‘Sweating Bullets’ and ‘Countdown to Extinction’ are similar tracks, although more mid-tempo than the previously mentioned track. The former is a particular highlight.
‘Captive Honor’ and ‘Foreclosure of a Dream’ are fan favorites, and rightfully so. They are two of the slower songs on the album, with the former being restrained and filled with wit. The latter is as close to a ballad as the band will come on this album, which centers on a personal family experience that Ellefson went through when his family was put out of business by the government. The song features a clean acoustic guitar for a majority of its run time, relatively new ground for the band.
‘Countdown to Extinction’ is Megadeth still at their heights, but it foreshadows that they might be due for a drop. The album has no weak song, and the songs are catchier and more melodic than their previous albums. But as the band starts to abandon creativity and variety in favor of restrained and eventually predictability, the songs do not have that replay value that their earlier releases have.