Justify Your Shitty Taste: Megadeth’s “Risk”

Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalog. Well, every Wednesday morning, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Deciblog to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit.  This week, Jeff Treppel enters the arena to explain why Megadeths Risk does, in fact, crush em.
So, here we go, one of the all-time classic non-classics, Mustaine’s folly. The album that sent one of the greatest thrash metal bands into a tailspin for a decade trying to make up for it. Dave Mustaine has basically disowned it, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of old-school Megadeth fans still hold its existence against him. “Crush ’Em” may be one of the most notorious turkeys in the history of metal, causing cringes whenever it’s played at an NHL game. But here’s the thing: Risk ain’t that bad. It’s definitely Megadeth’s most adventurous record, even if some of it comes across as misadventure now. Really, the problem is that it was a decent hard rock album that should have never been put out under the Megadeth name.

Now, admittedly, the genesis of Risk was a misguided one. According to MegaDave in his autobiography, he was spurred on by two things: Marty Friedman’s desire to indulge in his pop sensibilities, and former bandmate Lars Ulrich’s taunts in the press that he didn’t take enough risks. As we all know, commercial desire and childish anger are great reasons to make an album, and the resulting records all turn out well… right? Anyway, it was pretty much a disaster for the band, and Mustaine parted with his management and Friedman soon afterwards. But that still leaves us with the bastard child itself, and it deserves reevaluation.

The truth is, divorced of the preconceptions, these are some pretty damn catchy tunes. The opener, “Insomnia,” might be one of the best Megadeth songs of the past 15 years. Swirling Middle Eastern strings, crunching guitar line, some of Mustaine’s most demented ranting, building in intensity until you feel like you’re trapped in his head at 3 a.m., unsure if the demons are coming from within or without. The problem with its follow-up, “Prince of Darkness,” isn’t on a musical level. In fact, it uses its industrial drive to good effect, crafting some good clean Hammer Horror fun. The big disappointment is how sledgehammer obvious it is—it’s a pretty straightforward “Sympathy for the Devil” tale, without Mustaine’s signature lateral take on the character. And while those two fare the best, there are some other decent tracks: “Breadline” offers some lightweight arena rock social commentary, “Wanderlust” uses some blues rock harmonica to talk about the oft-covered subject of touring, and although the first half of “Seven” doesn’t work, the swing breakdown towards the end does.

There are, no doubt, some big missteps. “The Doctor Is Calling” aims for creepy, but hits cheesy instead. “Ecstasy” sounds like a reject from Cryptic Writings, a grunge ballad that just doesn’t do the trick. And “Time: The Beginning” and “Time: The End” could have been excised completely and saved the listener some time. Within the context of the album’s flow, though, the first two tracks mentioned actually fit in nicely, keeping things moving along with the right emotional beats.

And then we arrive at the elephant in the hockey rink. Disco metal at its finest, a blatant attempt at nabbing lucrative sports arena airplay, “Crush ’Em” was the big single, even finding its way into Universal Soldier: The Return. Taken as a Megadeth song, it’s goofy as hell. But you know what? It’s effective! It does exactly what it was designed to do: psych you up for some serious alpha male wrangling, pure “Rock ‘n’ Roll Pt. 2”/“We Will Rock You” macho BS fluff. Taken on its own terms, it succeeds. It’s just when you stack it up against “Hangar 18” or “Peace Sells” that it’s a bit… lacking.

So, yeah. Not the best Megadeth album by a long shot, but way more interesting than The World Needs a Hero or United Abominations. Take it out, give it another listen—pretend it’s not Megadeth, just a pretty good late ’90s hard rock band with a singer that sounds uncannily like Dave Mustaine. You might be surprised at what happens when you take a… no, not going to go there.

1. “Insomnia”
2. “Prince of Darkness”
3. “Enter the Arena”
4. “Crush ‘Em”
5. “Breadline”
6. “The Doctor Is Calling”
7. “I’ll Be There”
8. “Wanderlust”
9. “Ecstasy”
10. “Seven”
11. “Time: The Beginning”
12. “Time: The End”