In 1992, the world was being brutally bulldozed by the polished thrash of bay-area giants Metallica, their thrash-for-all take on the genre they helped materialise into the mainstream, a transformation of a heavier, darker underground sound. Metallica had just dropped their self-titled ‘Black’ album and topped the US and UK charts, a feat few could’ve foreseen. Less than a decade before had Metallica unleashed their rawer, rowdier, and rollicking debut, Kill ‘Em All. Littered throughout Kill ‘Em All are four songs credited not just to Messrs Hetfield and Ulrich, but to Messrs Mustaine too. Dave Mustaine, before he became the man behind the growl of Megadeth, was a bonafide member of the thrash elite, having responded to an advert Lars Ulrich had put out requesting guitarists who were fans of Budgie and Diamond Head – and if you’ve never listened to either, it’s highly recommended you do, particularly Diamond Head’s rapturous magnum-opus Lightning To The Nations -, and through that he bonded to Metallica like blood brothers, before being ceremoniously fired for reasons we’ll never really know – because they’ve all got their own side of the story – but it’s always been knuckled down to Mustaine’s party lifestyle. So all in all, Mustaine never played on Kill ‘Em All, but a lot of the songs he wrote got featured on it, with his replacement, Kirk Hammett, spitting his sliding riffs all over his work. It’s been well documented over the years the frustration and depression and struggle Mustaine went through post-Metallica, and it must’ve been tormenting, new band in hand, when you’re old band, once friends and now enemies, take over both sides of the Atlantic doing exactly what you helped them blueprint. Things for Mustaine weren’t so bad, Megadeth were building themselves quite the reputation, having released what is now classed as one of the most influential metal albums of all time, Rust In Peace, only a year before in 1990, and among activities such as hanging around with Axl Rose, it was all on the up for them.

Mustaine in Metallica

Something must have really clicked in Dave Mustaine’s mind, because in a somewhat subconscious response to both the world around him and the success of his former friends, he worked effortlessly with the now-classic line-up – David Ellefson, Marty Friedman, and Nick Mensa – to craft 1992’s Countdown To Extinction, which among other accolades, became and remains the highest charting album they’ve ever released, hitting number two in the US and number 5 in the UK. Perhaps more importantly, whilst Metallica were sacrificing some of their true-self in trade for record sales – look, Nothing Else Matters is a work of art but on a trash record, seriously? –, Megadeth were simply building upon the work they’d already completed, constantly retouching, refining, and revigorating what they had done before.

Taking its tone from the troubles they mused over in Rust In Peace, Megadeth took its thoughts on the military and world war, punched them up, threw in some world politics and Mustaine’s ever-changing view on social inequality, and opened up a few old and new wounds to explore the more personal workings of Mustaine’s mind, and if that wasn’t enough, they even wrote a song about Marvel character Deathlok, which in itself was typical Megadeth.

Usually when you write one of these anniversary essays, you spend half of it convincing you, the reader, that this album changed everything for the band, for the genre, for the fans, and yet Countdown To Extinction wasn’t exactly revolutionary. Rust In Peace, two years prior, really was more influential, because before it came along, no band had managed to hit the balance they did, and Countdown was merely an unofficial sequel, a selection of songs that simply spawned from a similar span of time. Yet, here I am, persuading you that Countdown To Extinction, whilst not revolutionary, is fully deserving of being admired and displayed twenty-five years after its release, and not just because it’s the most commercially-successful outing they’ve had.

Skin O’ My Teeth picks up right where Rust In Peace…Polaris left off, Mensa slamming down the machine gun drums before Friedman and Mustaine riff away back and forth. Whilst Rust In Peace was a song-by-song commentary on war, Skin O’ My Teeth opens Countdown To Extinction to the personal wars Mustaine have faced, the lyrics hauntingly poignant and disturbingly more relevant now than they were twenty-five years ago: “I need a ride to the morgue/that’s what 911 is for/so tag my toe and don’t forget/to close the drawer” – it’s a disparate yet desperate deluge, the narrator clearly becoming so disillusioned with life. Considering the inner workings of Mustaine’s mind, and Sweating Bullets which follows a few songs in, it’s safe to say this was a struggle to write.

Swapping out the politics of the mind for the politics of the world, Symphony Of Destruction is a second slice of machine-gun rhythm section heaven, bolstered by a lightning strike-shaped sliding riff that cuts in and out cautiously, all the meanwhile providing Megadeth with one of their most known songs, often mistaken for a Metallica cut thanks to its mid-song fretboard meltdown, where air guitaring warrants a health and safety sign pre-solo. One of the reasons Countdown is as relevant now as it was twenty-five years ago is that the social commentary Dave Mustaine provides unapologetically and controversially, is perhaps more relevant in a world where Donald Trump is the president, the UK government isn’t sure what its doing, and dictators are still allowed to persuade their entire country they won a world cup that didn’t even happen. It is haunting to hear Mustaine groan in his distinctive growl: “you take a mortal man/and put him in control/watch him become a god/watch people’s heads-a-roll”.

A theme throughout the album, bullets flying in a warzone prelude a cut-throat series of call-and-response riff-and-bangs as Architecture Of Aggression rattles in, Mustaine’s growl in full form, his anger flowing through his carnal vocals, his verses ricocheting like whiplash. Mustaine coins the phrase ‘Worldwide Suicide’ in one of the songs many whimsical one-liners, taking fire at former Iraq president Saddam Hussein and his involvement in the gulf war. Worldwide Suicide. There’s something about that, that sums up Megadeth’s position on the world and within the world at the time this came out. They were up against it. Attempting to follow-up Rust In Peace with a record that drew the line between the gloss of Metallica and the unadulterated heaviness of Slayer was almost a worldwide suicide: you may feel better but someone is going to suffer. Flipping it over, it’s exactly what we’re going through now, as every country attempts to throw themselves into the fire on their position on Syria – yes, we’ll help them, but our citizens will suffer, or there citizens will suffer, whatever, we’ll look good – it doesn’t work like that. The chorus doesn’t need explaining, it’ll resonate with you instantly: “Great nations built from the bones of the dead with mud and straw, blood and sweat/ you know your worth when your enemies praise your architecture of aggression”.

Foreclosure Of A Dream is perhaps my personal favourite, the way fingers toy with the acoustic guitar, plucking away precociously, whilst a sliding power-riff slides over the top in all its sheen, breaking into rapid rhythm sections, and let’s not forget, that sample. You know, the one where George H. W. Bush – the president back in 1992 – says “read my lips”? Could you imagine Megadeth plopping some Trump soundbites into a song now? It was the statement they were trying to make which makes Foreclosure Of A Dream such an intriquing song. In a time where Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are becoming modern-day messiahs with socialistic ideologies, Foreclosure Of A Dream sounds like a song written in 2017 rather than 1992, its words describing the dystopic political landscape we live in, its thoughts on social inequality epitomising the situation we are working our way through now -“Rise so high, yet so far to fall/ a plan of dignity and balance for all/ political breakthrough, euphoria’s high/ more borrowed money, more borrowed time” – Mustaine emphasises in 1992 the very catch-22 we are ironically attempting to crack in 2017: we can dream of equality but all it is borrowed time and money we don’t have, equality in a world revolved around class and built on capitalism is simply impossible.

Sweating Bullets was the first Megadeth song I ever heard, and was a gateway drug for an obsession I’ve carried with me for seven years now. It’s high-tone progressive intro captured my interest, and its monotonously militant drumming carried it through to the confrontationally conversational lyrics, and from then on in, I was hooked. Mustaine’s battles with his inner demons are on display in this song and yet even the simplest of lyrics, throwaways even, are now quips of utter importance: “Mankind has got to know his limitations.” The way Mustaine spits and growls and snarls each lyric out is perhaps the key point of the song, the pure pain seeping through his words, most noticeable as he groans out the guttural truth that is: “If the war inside my head/won’t take a day off I’ll be dead”. Mental health in 2017 is a topic as infectious as the common cold, it’s on almost everybody’s lips and yet back in 1992, brutally depicted in the video which throws caution to the wind representing Mustaine’s issues manifest within an insane asylum, mental health was a taboo subject, something you didn’t talk about and something you didn’t help. ‘Sweating Bullets’ would be today a dystopic caricature of mental health in the dark ages, and one which would highlight the continuous need for clarity and focus from the media on a subject more acceptable yet still taboo.

From this point onwards, Countdown becomes an album of deeper cuts displaying what they touch upon on the ‘A-side’. This Was My Life is a 90’s-deth-by-numbers cut-up that takes the call-and-response riffage flashed in Symphony Of Destruction, turns it up a notch, and goes full-on heartbreaker with a circling, looping riff that would later become part-and-parcel of a Megadeth album. Whilst its argument-turned-murder story is wax lyrical and somewhat contrived, the song is as vital to the sound of Countdown as it is disengaging with the rest of it.

The titular track is one of the record’s Mr Muscle’s, a polished-to-perfection pop-chart-ready piece of plastic, and yet Mustaine’s signature growl grinds over a rhythmic melody that is, like with This Was My Life, that would ultimately remain with Megadeth’s sound, particularly in their later 90’s work, notably in 1994’s Youthanasia, arguably the record Countdown was preluding too, and a personal favourite of mine. Whilst the beginning of the record is far more relevant to 2017 for its lyrical content, the second half is far more relevant musically. Few ‘mainstream metal’ bands avoid the melodic ‘we’re not pop we’re metal but you’ll like it anyways’ riffage that Friedman and Mustiane fire out.

High Speed Dirt is just one big kickass riff, let’s be honest. It’s a gym record. It’s a warm-up record. The fact the guitars sound like they’re revving up ready for some real high speed dirt is one thing, and the fact its pace never wavers is another. It was one of the rare moments Megadeth reminded you of their Killing Is My Business days, when Mustaine was still wired somewhat to Metallica, and essentially rewrote all the songs he wrote for them and repurposed them, and it works well, and again, in terms of relevance, songs like High Speed Dirt ensured that Megadeth never quite forgot their roots of kickass speed metal.

Psychotron’s opening guitar work is the groundwork that led to their better-known Train Of Consequence, it’s almost part-for-part the same song, and you could say the same for Angry Again too: the way Mustaine exchanges his growl for an almost-spit, the way the drums are chugging along, and the way it all fits together. In Countdown To Extinction, Megadeth found their sound, or at least parts of it, and they haven’t forgotten it, not even on their return-to-form record Dystopia. Also, it’s about Deathlok, a kickass cyber-genetic Marvel Comics alumni.

Madness comes and madness goes, an insane place with insane rules, battles without for battles within, where evil lives and evil rules” – Captive Honour is begrudged by many Megadeth fans, and definitely not a favourite of critics, and yet I’ve always been fascinated with it, and not just because hearing the way Dave Mustaine pronounces “You’re a mur-der-rer” is some of the funniest shit a redneck rocker dropped in a song. The aforementioned lyrics are haunting, especially the way they’re sung, and again, open up conversation on mental health, as well as the effects of war on soldiers, and I feel as if Captive Honour is a song that lyrically belongs in the here and now.

Ashes In The Mouth is a difficult one, because it’s the closer, and personally, it’s the weakest. It just doesn’t fit. I mean, yeah, it slots in on the ‘ol speed metal throwback vibes, but that works better as a one-song trip down memory lane, not as a refit. It ends with Mustaine snarling: “where do we go from here?” – well, it’s pretty clear, you take what you’ve learned, refine it and wrap it up into Youthanasia.

Countdown To Extinction really doesn’t feel like a 25 year old beast. It feels as if it could’ve easily been released in the last decade, and certainly wouldn’t be frowned upon today. Whilst Symphony and Sweating are without a doubt long-term life-sentence main-stays of a Megadeth set, it would be wondrous to see some of the other cuts slip into a live set a little more often. I was lucky enough to catch them drop Foreclosure Of A Dream during a secret set post-Download festival at the Electric Ballroom in 2012, which was a bit of a fanboys wet-dream but I sure would kill to hear Captive Honour and Architecture For Aggression out in the field.

Countdown may be their biggest selling album of all time, and it may be one of their finest moments, and it may be just as relevant now as it was then, but all in all, it’s the finalisation of a blueprint and a prototype that they have continuously and religiously redeveloped over the years. Countdown to Extinction…or Countdown to Megadeth?

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