The same day Metallica is unleashing Lulu, its ambitiously flawed collaboration with Lou Reed, former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine is releasing Th1rt3en, the latest album by his stalwart outfit Megadeth. It’s an interesting contrast, but not surprising. While Metallica has continued its artistic decline, Megadeth has enjoyed an upswing with two potent comebacks, 2007’s United Abominations and 2009’s Endgame. A relatively recent convert to Christianity, Mustaine must be getting used to being born again; that said, he’s pressing his luck just a little with Th1rt3en.
The album’s main drawback isn’t its quality—which remains consistent throughout—but its dearth of detail. Over the years, Mustaine has grown into a ruthless self-editor, which both helps and hinders songs like “Sudden Death” and “New World Order”—impeccable, no-frills thrash anthems that nonetheless feel like they’ve had their insides scooped out. It doesn’t help that, a quarter-century after Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good!, Mustaine still hasn’t fully figured out what to do with his voice; in spite of some incredible broken-bottle-on-brick-wall vocals on “13,” his guttural utterances against government and conformity sound interchangeable.
When Th1rt3en clicks, though, it’s unstoppable. The disc’s high point, “Public Enemy No. 1,” kicks off with a churning riff swiped from Black Sabbath’s “Wheels Of Confusion” before carving a hefty slab of melodic ferocity; “Deadly Nightshade” is the kind of grizzled, sinewy onslaught Metallica ought to be making today. It would be great to hear more of the technical intricacy the group helped invent in the ’80s—especially now that founding bassist Dave Ellefson is back in the fold—but erring on the side of tightness and taste grants Mustaine and crew an almost dignified authority. With Th1rt3en, Megadeth seems positioned to chug into middle age in remarkably sturdy shape. Assuming, of course, it doesn’t start jamming with Leonard Cohen or something.