On July 14, 1992, the album "Countdown to Extinction", Megadeth's fifth studio album, was released.
If we defined "Rust In Peace" as a metal classic that is also probably the band's best album, then "Countdown to Extinction" is the band's most successful album commercially.
Although there is a fundamental difference between them, we certainly find a close connection between these two consecutive albums, which were recorded by the same "classic lineup" of the band, which includes Dave Mustaine, Marty Friedman, David Ellefson, and Nick Menza. Only a cohesive, professional, tight, and polished lineup like this, was able to produce under its hands two such monster albums. One, is in the form of the band's best album, and the other turns out to be the band's biggest album commercially to date!
True, this album caused a great deal of controversy and even divided the band's fan base, some of whom saw it as a sign of commercialization, especially after two masterpieces of thrash metal: "Peace Sells ... but Who's Buying?" From 1986 and "Rust In Peace" from 1990. At the same time, it is an excellent album that has become the band's best-selling album in its entire career and has jumped to number two on the US Billboard charts.
This album represents a fundamental change in the sound and style of the band, which is expressed, among other things, in the transition from thrash metal toward accessible and commercial heavy metal.
In the 1990s, thrash bands took a foot off the gas, slowing down RPM, and adding more friendly riffs to their albums, trying to be more accessible to the radio and appealing to a wider audience. This change usually sounds like classic heavy metal, but with a biting and heavier twist. "Metallica" was the first to do so with "The Black Album", which in a sense overshadowed the entire genre and served as its right-wing marker.
It should be remembered that at that time the root metal was in a kind of decline, as grunge and alternative raised their heads. David Ellefson and Megadeth read the map and realized they could not produce another album like "Rust In Peace". They consciously decided to go with the changes in the world of music and were also directly affected by the process that Metallica went through shortly before them. It was a conscious choice to write more catchy and less complex materials that would appeal to a wider audience and conform to the prevailing trends in the music market.
Nick Menza noted in an interview with him in September 1992 for "Spin" magazine, that Metallica opened the door to change for the bands that came after it. "Of course, we were the next band to cross the doorstep," Menza added.
But despite the band's change, it has not completely lost its identity. Dave Mustaine and his friends changed their sound and style, but they did so uniquely and intelligently without sounding like an imitation. They have found the balance point where they combine simple, catchy, and accessible riffs of heavy metal, with the virtuoso skill and complexity of thrash. "Countdown to Extinction" was less complex than the previous album - "Rust In Peace" but it still felt like a natural development of the band and not like a forced attempt to emulate.
This balance has been reached by joint efforts, with all four contributing to the writing process with an increased presence of Marty Friedman and Nick Menza compared to the previous album. Songs like the theme song, "Captive Honor" and "This Was My Life", introduced the band's newer and more melodic side, with songs like "Ashes in Your Mouth", "Pyschotron" and "Architecture of Aggression" representing the heavier side of the band.
This album features some of the band's most memorable songs.
The opening song "Skin o 'My Teeth" was released as the fourth single from the album and was influenced by verse 20, chapter nineteen in the book of Job. This song created a lot of problems for Megadeth with MTV after he was suspected of being a song that encourages suicide and the network refused to broadcast it. The parties were able to reach a compromise after Dave convinced the network executives that it was not a suicide song and that he would declare it whenever he asked.
The second track, "Symphony of Destruction", with such a chilling operatic opening and amazing solo. An immortal song influenced by the movie "The Messenger from Manchuria", a movie from the early '60s that came out during the missile crisis with Cuba and before the Canadian assassination, and tells about a communist plot to get an American president elected to be a Soviet agent.
The third track "Architecture of Aggression" is based on a book of the same name and refers to the underground bunkers during the Nazi regime. Mustaine and Ellefson took the issue fifty years further, being inspired by Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in the early 1990s, during the Gulf War. This is the most beloved song by Marty Friedman from the album.
"Sweating Bullets" features one of the amazing vocal performances of Dave Mustaine who enters the role of the schizophrenic perfectly and conducts with himself in a "crazy" dialogue. Dave noted that he wrote the song about himself after being remarked that he was the kind of schizophrenic who lived inside his own head. However, on VH1's "That Metal Show" he noted that the song was written about his wife's girlfriend who suffered from anxiety attacks. Dimebag Darrell really liked the song and took one of the lines seriously, when he made himself a black tooth tattoo based on the words: "Someday you too will know my pain and smile its black tooth grin".
The theme song "Countdown to Extinction" was written by all four members of the band after reading an article in Time magazine about hunting animals. The speech that comes about 3 minutes into the song is performed by a friend of Dave's who worked at a sushi bar near the recording studios in Burbank California.
And of course, the track that seals the album "Ashes in Your Mouth" which is also written by all four members and is also based on the Bible and more precisely on the book of Joel, chapter 4, verse 9. In this song, Dave Mustaine and his friends paint a black picture of the future of humanity that will always live on its sword.
The album "Countdown to Extinction" was Megadeth's first step toward the mainstream, and the band will continue to follow it on future albums as well. Despite the softening of the sound, the result is amazing, while the band still retains its identity, and maybe that's what makes this album the band's best-selling ever. It enjoys both worlds, on the one hand, the hard core of fans who have not yet abandoned despite the softening in sound, and on the other hand, a new audience that has been exposed to the band, following the musical change it has undergone.