On June 17, 1997 "Megadeth" released their seventh studio album "Cryptic Writings".
In 1997, Megadeth continued their musical journey started in "Youthanasia", that would divide fans and challenge their own creative boundaries. "Cryptic Writings" emerged as an album that showcased the band's willingness to experiment, leaving behind the tried and tested formulas of their earlier works.
A Time of Renewal and Musical Maturity:
Three years after they released, "Youthanasia" "Megadeth" found themselves in search of renewal. In a surprising move, they enlisted producer Dan Huff, known primarily for his work in country music and went down to record the album in Nashville, Tennessee. This decision sparked curiosity and skepticism among fans, as they questioned the direction their beloved band would take, especially after the musical changes in the last studio album. Indeed, The album features tracks with accessible song structures and altered lyrics, aimed at radio airplay and a wider audience. However, "Cryptic Writings" revealed itself as an album of maturity, showcasing the unity and growth of the band members, particularly Dave Mustaine.
Explorations in Sound:
From the very beginning, it becomes evident that "Megadeth" aimed to push the boundaries of their sound and walk on unfamiliar grounds like Hard Rock, Heavy Metal and even Classic Rock And Pop oriented songs.
"Trust" kicks off the album with a riff and drum pattern reminiscent of "Metallica's" "Enter Sandman". The song instantly grabbing attention with its catchy riff and acoustic soft bridge. It's an introspective track that delves into the complexities of relationships tainted by lies and deception. The song had significant airplay and "MTV" and reached No. 5 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, becoming "Megadeth's" most successful single to date. It was also nominated for "Best Metal Performance" at the 1998 Grammy Awards.
The emotional and musical journey continues with "Almost Honest", featuring a guitar riff reminiscent of "Yes'" "Owner of a Lonely Heart", a catchy bass line and poignant vocals. It was the second single of the album, that like the first single, entered the top ten on "Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart". Mustaine stated that the song is about how people treat one another, which contains a message that "it's difficult for people to be honest".
Finding Beauty in Experimentation:
"Cryptic Writings" invites listeners into a realm of musical experimentation. "Use the Man" surprises with its cheeky acoustic chord progression, before Mustaine's familiar voice takes charge. It's an unexpected twist that adds a touch of nostalgia and keeps us engaged. With lyrics about drug addiction, the song begins with a sample of "Needles and Pins" by "The Searchers", which was removed for the radio edit and remaster. The first half of the song is more rock-oriented, while the second half has a Thrash Metal faster tempo. The exploration continue with "A Secret Place" which starts with a "Def Leppard's" intro riff and you can even listen to Marty Friedman playing the Sitar. It was one of the last songs written for the album, describing losing touch with reality. The "Aerosmith-like" rocker "Have Cool, Will Travel" with the harmonica solo, talks about school shootings. interesting to note, that the remastered version a snippet of the schoolyard song "The Wheels on the Bus", was added to its introduction. "Mastermind" which is one of the catchiest on the album, has a killer bassline and a “Jump in the Fire” meeting "Walk This Way" guitar riff. "I'll Get Even" starts with the Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side"-like bassline and continues with a David Bowie "China Girl"-like baseline which is another proof of the album's more rock-oriented sound.
Respecting the Band's Legacy:
While "Megadeth" may have shed some elements of their earlier Thrash Metal sound, the album doesn't abandon their roots completely. Songs like "She-Wolf" (although using the "Iron Maiden" twin guitar melodic solo in the end) written about a woman that "Megadeth's" manager dated at the time, "FFF" (Fight For Freedom) which riff sounds like "Motorbreath" and "The Disintegrators" showcase glimpses of the band's original ferocity, with powerful riffs and Marty Friedman's lyrical guitar work reminding us of their greatness. These moments pay homage to their thrash metal heritage, balancing the new directions explored throughout the album.
A Personal and Professional Evolution:
Dave Mustaine once remarked that "Cryptic Writings" marked "Megadeth's" ascent into professionalism. Comparisons to "Metallica's" "Load" and "Reload" released at the time, do not diminish the band's unique identity. Instead, they offer a reflection on "Megadeth's" trajectory and the challenges faced by a band seeking growth and reinvention. Through this album, "Megadeth" gracefully navigated the balance between evolution and preserving their signature style.
"Cryptic Writings" stands as a testament to "Megadeth's" boldness and willingness to explore new musical territories. It may not be their most classic or instantly gratifying album, but its emotional resonance and depth grow with each subsequent listen. From the catchy "Trust" to the glimpses of their thrash metal roots in "The Disintegrators", this album captures a pivotal moment in "Megadeth's" journey. It invites us to reflect on the passage of time and embrace the evolution of our favorite artists.