Fun fact: Megadeth founding members Dave Mustaine (lead vocals and guitar) and Dave Ellefson (bass) are devout Christians, and Ellefson is even in the midst of studying to become a Lutheran minister (read about that here). God and Megadeth might seem like odd bedfellows...and they are. The band's lyrics tread regularly in topics from the distinctly darker side of life, their music is violent and raw, and their skeletal mascot Vic Rattlehead always graces the visually bleak artwork that accompanies every album. It's an intriguing contradiction, to be sure.
Ellefson surprisingly returned to the fold in 2010 after an eight year exodus that found him and the infamously difficult Mustaine estranged, with Ellefson even hitting Mustaine with a lawsuit over royalties. As a longtime Megadeth fan who cares about things such as how much of the original group is still intact, I hoped that Ellefson's returning presence would help to sustain the high level of quality the band hit with 2010's Endgame (read my review here), but they would appear to have taken a step back to the mediocre levels that plagued nearly all of their album output throughout the first decade of this century. Th1rt3en is (surprise) the speed metal pioneers' 13th studio album and was recorded under a fairly tight time constraint, leading the band to curiously revisit five arcane songs that had previously been released, albeit mostly in demo form and on relatively obscure recordings. The results are uneven.
"Sudden Death" solidly opens the album, immediately breaking out the guitar fireworks with some epic soloing for a good minute over a building intro before Mustaine's snarling vocals start in. His singing style makes, I believe, Megadeth one of those "love 'em or hate 'em" artists - like Dylan, Cohen, or Young, for example, it's not for everybody (did I just compare Dave Mustaine to Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Neil Young?). "Public Enemy No. 1", the punkish "Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)", and "We The People" follow and are also strong, indicating that Th1rt3en might just give Endgame a run for its money. Alas, things then fall apart with the forgettable "Guns, Drugs & Money", before making a strong comeback with the scorching "Never Dead". The song is saddled with a pointless one minute instrumental intro before a chugging guitar riff breaks the tedium and then showcases Megadeth at their heaviest, pissed off best. "New World Order" follows and, while it's a good song, I'd already heard it (in slightly rougher form) on the CD single for "A Tout La Monde" 16 years ago. "Fast Lane" is one of the album's best songs, but the lyrics somewhat lazily revisit the "speed rush" theme heard most recently on Endgame's "1320". The final five songs on the album barely register, with slower, more stripped down numbers "Millennium Of The Blind" and "13" noticeably revealing Mustaine's vocal limitations. The nightmare-themed "Deadly Nightshade" is done no favours by its dopey title and an oddball intro featuring a girl giggling that has nothing seemingly to do with the rest of the song.
Megadeth, rounded out by guitarist Chris Broderick and drummer Shawn Drover, are second to none in the metal world when it comes to throwing down with their individual musical technical abilities, which this album has up the wazoo. The songwriting, however, just isn't there, resulting in a fairly disappointing and spotty effort.