Six years have passed since Dystopia (2016), Megadeth’s last studio record. Much has changed since then. We’ve endured an ongoing global pandemic. Cofounder David Ellefson was dismissed from the band after a scandal. His exit comes as little surprise. He’s been in and out of the band several times and unsuccessfully sued Mustaine for 18.5 million dollars in 2004. Testament bassist Steve Di Giorgio re-recorded Ellefson’s parts. Previous drummer Chris Adler is out. New drummer Dirk Verbeuren (Soilwork) is in. Additionally, Mustaine battled and recovered from throat cancer. Encounters with severe illness often change a person’s perspective, so it’s easy to view The Sick, The Dying… and the Dead! through the lens of Mustaine’s illness. Mortality, being under constant attack, a sense of time passing, and perseverance are consistent subjects.
The title track begins with a voice yelling, “Bring out your dead” as a bell tolls. That along with a guitar intro reminiscent of a sped-up “Hells Bells” creates a grim atmosphere. Then, the pace picks up from slow to mid-tempo as Mustaine sings about Typhus, “this cursed disease.” Elsewhere, Mustaine states that the track is about the Black Death. “Life in Hell” is a fast riffer that references narcissism, addiction, and illness. Mustaine says, “I’m a disease, and I’m addicted to myself.” “Life in Hell” was inspired by the self-absorption of various characters in To Live and Die in L.A., though he says that the song has nothing to do with the actual plot according to Mustaine. “Night Stalkers” is another mile-a-minute burner that is about the 160th Battalion of the U.S. Army, which consists of helicopter special ops forces. Ice-T appears briefly. While this may strike some as an unexpected choice, we should remember that Ice has his own metal band Body Count (Mustaine made a guest appearance on 2017’s Bloodlust) and that Ice served for several years in the military, specifically the 25th Infantry Division consisting of light infantry and aviation units. “Dogs of Chernobyl” uses the concept of abandoned dogs in Chernobyl to express the feelings of loss and abandonment a person feels at the end of a relationship. After some light acoustic work, the track begins a mid-tempo sprint, and the last two minutes, which kick the pace up yet another notch, are the highpoint of the song. “Sacrifice” has a pounding introduction, and settles into a moderate pace with moments of superior shredding. The song mentions wizards, sorcery, hexes, flames, shadows, and spells and would have been at lyrical home on any of Megadeth’s first few albums. However, the band successfully gives the formula a modern update.
“Junkie” is self-explanatory. This is the first song that begins to feel generic—not bad, but unremarkable. “Psychopathy” is just over a minute long. It’s a short spoken-word piece about psychopathy laid over guitars and tribal-sounding drums. It’s designed as an introduction to “Killing Time” and Mustaine describes the two songs as “a one-two punch.” The connection is clear as Mustaine sings, “You’re a sick psychopath” who presumable wastes or kills the singer’s time with constant “lying.” This is another middle of the road track neither adding to nor detracting from the album.
The lull on the album ends with “Soldier On!” The verse and chorus are satisfactory, but the area around and including the solo level up the song. Not quite an anthem, it’s a self-peptalk, essentially. Mustaine says it’s about “coming to the realization that you need to walk away from a relationship that’s very toxic.” More specifically, he states, “If you look at the lyrics on this, it clearly tells you who it is [about]. You’ll be able to recognize some of the shenanigans that were taking place in the band and in our presence, and sometimes behind our backs, too.” One wonders if this is a jab at Ellefson.
“Célebutante” focuses on someone wrapped up in attracting attention and being a celebrity. After a couple of slower tracks, this faster song packs a punch and features a killer groove after the first chorus. It contains yet another blistering solo. “Mission to Mars” slows down, but it’s the best mid-tempo song on the album. Describing a failed “Mission to Mars,” the song has lyrical and musical echoes of “Hangar 18.” The phrase “rust in peace” further suggests this connection. The best part of the song comes at the end, which features a narrative in the form of a back-and-forth transmission set against guitar riffs and drums. I could live without the narrative, but the drums, guitar, and bass are exceptional. So often, albums close with more of a whimper than a bang, but not this time. “We’ll Be Back” is one of the album’s fastest and best tracks, though the chorus is a little weak. When it comes to Megadeth, I tend to prefer the faster moments over the slower.
Ever since Rust in Peace (1990), I’ve dipped in and out of the Megadeth catalog over the years. For me, Countdown to Extinction (1992) was the beginning of the post-golden era of Megadeth. Other than Endgame (2009), this is the first Megadeth album I have consistently enjoyed since Rust.
Though there are a few dips in the middle, The Sick, The Dying… and the Dead! is a more than adequate statement at a point in Megadeth’s career when bands start hitting the golf course more than the recording studio, pay greater attention to unrelated side hustles than their music, put out mediocre material just to have something in the market, or stop recording completely. In the portion of Monty Python and the Holy Grail that the opening of “The Sick, The Dying… and the Dead!” references with the call to “bring out your dead,” we must remember the response of one person who says, “I’m not dead.” Mustaine’s explanation of “We’ll Be Back” sums up the spirit and attitude of this album: “The things you can count on in this world are death, taxes, and Dave Mustaine coming through any kind of hardship.” The Sick, The Dying… and the Dead! is a powerful reminder that Mustaine, Megadeth, as well as all of us are still alive and thrashing.
- The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead!
- Life in Hell
- Night Stalkers
- Dogs of Chernobyl
- Killing Time
- Soldier On!
- Mission to Mars
- We’ll Be Back