Megadeth’s 1992 album “Countdown To Extinction” is the band’s most commercially successful album to date. It is the successor to, in my opinion, the band’s best release and one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time, “Rust In Peace.” “Countdown” spawned a greater number of singles than any previously released albums. The album even scored the band a Grammy nomination in ’93 for Best Metal Performance.
Stylistically, the album takes a more involved attempt at tackling maturity. Aside from the album artwork excluding the band’s skeletal mascot, Vic Rattlehead, the musical composition is drastically scaled back from the lightning fast, unreservedly fierce and overwhelmingly complex tone that was present on preceding releases. While the lyrics still remain aggressive, they simply pale in comparison to songs such as “Liar”, “Peace Sells”, “Tornado of Souls”, etc.
Singles include the opening track “Skin O’ My Teeth” and the twisted view of the American dream titled “Foreclosure of a Dream.” “Skin” is a very good opening to the album, and the reason may be that is the closest to sounding like the “Rust In Peace”-era Megadeth. It is one of the faster tracks on this album and there is better-than-decent musicianship. As far as singles go, this is the one to listen to. Unfortunately, “Foreclosure of a Dream” is about as uninteresting as “Skin” was interesting. “Foreclosure” moves at an uncomfortably languid pace and just doesn’t sound like Megadeth too much of the time.
But the two most popular singles from the album are “Symphony of Destruction” and “Sweating Bullets.” “Symphony of Destruction” works at a slightly quicker pace than “Foreclosure,” but still not quite at a perfect tempo. It has a harmonious and (oddly enough) a symphonic feel that is unusual for a Megadeth track, but manages to flow with the band’s signature style. It is a decent track, just not a great one. “Sweating Bullets” though is an interesting track that has lyrics involving raging paranoia. The track employs yet another thing unfamiliar to Megadeth, and that is a steady groove. Thankfully, the song pulls it off in a very enjoyable way. Also, “Sweating Bullets” probably contains the best instrumentation of the whole album.
Every once in a while an interesting tune will come around to give you hope for the newly evolved approach the band has taken. The second to last track, “Captive Honour”, begins with acoustic guitars and an almost spoken word intro by Dave Mustaine. Once that section ends, the rest of the band kicks in with a vengeance. While the more radio-friendly sound sets it apart from the group’s customary grittiness, it still remains a relatively heavy track. The title track “Countdown To Extinction” has a continuously building atmosphere around it, starting softly and gaining more momentum around each corner. Even if it is essentially Megadeth-Lite, that isn’t an entirely bad thing in some cases.
But the problem with “Countdown to Extinction” is the number of purely uninteresting or under-developed songs. Tracks such as “Architecture of Aggression”, “This Was My Life” and “Psychotron” did not leave any significant lasting effect on me, even after repeated listens. Though the final track “Ashes In Your Mouth” contains traces of previous Megadeth cuts, most of the riffs, in my opinion, feel very disconnected and frankly haphazard in structure. And I really hate saying this, because Megadeth is quite possibly one of my favorite bands of all time.
“Countdown To Extinction” essentially did for Megadeth what “The Black Album” did for Metallica. Both albums marked a new style for their respected bands. Both albums introduced those bands to the musical world outside of the heavy metal realm and garnered themselves a larger fan base. Both albums are the most purchased and most well known albums of both band’s catalogues.
However, I must give the upper hand to “The Black Album,” as it still retains some of Metallica’s progressive roots that were always present during the pre-“Black Album” days. “Countdown” forgets about the ground Megadeth broke beforehand and morphed their distinct sound into something that could be easily digested by a commercial audience. While an unfortunate misstep for the band, it is also similar to “The Black Album” in that it would pave the way for the musical direction of the band’s future releases.