When one sits down to listen to any new album from Megadeth, there are a handful of constant truths that simply have to be accepted before one can get anywhere.
1) Dave Mustaine's ability is a given. He will fire off guitar solos at any and all opportunities. They will possess both remarkable precision and unimaginable free-form capability.
2) The lyrics of all the songs will be underdeveloped and meaningless
3) Dave Mustaine's voice is awful.
Coming off "United Abominations," a tepid and convoluted mess of an album, Megadeth's "Endgame" needed to prove that the band could still put together a cohesive thrash effort. Dave Mustaine spoke frequently in the months preceding the release of "Endgame" of how newly inspired he was to be working with guitarist Chris Broderick. Megadeth fans (and more widely, metal fans,) were rightly skeptical. Not since "Rust in Peace" had Mustaine put together an album of undebatable quality.
Mustaine's feud with the members of his former band, Metallica, is both real and well-publicized. So, whether or not it could be called a coincidence, "Endgame" is for Megadeth what "Death Magnetic" was for Metallica. Fans may never know if Metallica's resurgence gave Mustaine the conviction to grind down and produce a quality work, but no matter the cause, "Endgame" is a complex but classic throwback to the Megadeth of (at least moderately) old.
"Dialectic Chaos" is a great way to open the album, as it both eases the listener into the more substantive riffs to come, and features none of Mustaine's horrid voice. It whets the appetite for something grander, and heightens the expectations of what may come. While not as grandiose as the subsequent tracks, Mustaine loses no time to dawdling, and slings solos from one end to the other.
In that regard, Mustaine is as sharp as he's ever been. His guitar playing is exemplorary, as he alternates between blistering scales and imaginative free-form. Notes are as smooth or as harsh as Mustaine wants them to be, and every measure is both calculated and artistic. His solos are exploratory without being meandering, as Mustaine stays to task while incorporating so many of the ideas he made metal canon over two decades ago.
Something interesting happens before too long, however. Megadeth put together a song like "44 Minutes," which is perhaps the first ever concrete proof that Mustaine can write powerful, hard-edged songs at something less than hypersonic speed. "44" is a dominant, plodding, patient journey into rarely tapped territory for Megadeth. In typical fashion, twisting, intricate solos soar over the base riffs, but the very nature of the song is foreign for most Megadeth fans.
"1,320'" is as close as Mustaine will ever assemble in terms of party songs, but his riffs are classic metal with just the barest influence of blues scaling. As with all Megadeth pieces, the melodrama runs high, but that's just part of the cost of doing business.
"Endgame" is not a total smashing success, as the title track is nothing special. Musically it's not fallacious, but the song gets lost among so many other bright spots on the album. Mustaine also tries to paint his typical picture of a bleak dystopia, but at this point his vision no longer intimidates. It is as though he needs gentle reminding that the Wall fell and the Cold War ended. It was in the newspapers and everything. To that end though, I defer to rule #2. Dave was better off when he was writing songs about the Punisher in 1983.
There are a couple real duds in the latter half of the album. "The Hardest Part of Letting Go...Sealed With a Kiss" is a poor showcase of Mustaine's "sensitive" side, and is eye-rollingly overwrought. "How the Story Ends" is a bland attempt to recreate the kind of accessible, stacked riffs that made "Hanger 18" such a classic.
The shining glint on the b-side, if you will, is "Headcrusher" which immediately brought me back to two of my personal favorite Megadeth songs, "Poison Was the Cure," and "Good Mourning, Black Friday." "Headcrusher" is the type of merciless, masturbatory thrash fest that I've come to identify with Megadeth over the years. I know it's not the desired effect, but I couldn't help but crack a sardonic smile at the idea that Mustaine could still put together such a piece.
"Endgame" is the best Megadeth album since "Rust in Peace," and is far more enjoyable than anything that has come in the interim. As with all great Megadeth works, the strength of the album lies not necessarily in the considerable technical prowess of the players, but in the breakdowns, where hook riffs are abound, and the gallop riff has been almost single-handedly ressurrected. There are few true choruses on the album which just leaves more space for guitar wailing and righteous metal thrashing. It can be difficult to tell which sections of songs are central to the theme and which are bridges to other parts, but really, who gives a shit? "Endgame" isn't as raw or vengeful as "Peace Sells..." and some of its value is undoubtedly because of the comparison to the efforts that came immediately before. Still.
Damned if it's not good to hear new Megadeth.