“Countdown to Extinction: Live” is a live album by American thrash metal band, Megadeth. It was released in 2013 on the Tradecraft label and produced by Dave Mustaine. The line-up for the album was Dave Mustaine (vocals/guitar), Chris Broderick (guitar), David Ellefson (bass) and Shawn Drover (drums).
So here we are, 20 years down the line from “Countdown to Extinction”, and Megadeth decided to tour and play the album in its entirety, surrounded by a few other oldies and some newer tracks. With this live album you get 17 Megadeth songs which were recorded live at the Fox Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on December 7, 2012. The line-up of Mustaine/Broderick/Ellefson/Drover is becoming the best Megadeth quartet – even better than the “Rust in Peace” era – and that is down to the professionalism of the band, and Dave Mustaine cleaning up his act in particular. Is it any good? Let’s find out!
The song and live performance comes in with “Trust” from the band’s 1997 album, “Cryptic Writings”, that has an orchestral feel which leads into a melodic lead riff. The first thing of note is that the production quality is excellent, and you can hear all instruments clearly, though if there was to be any criticism it would be that there is almost too much audience. “Trust” was nominated for a Grammy for Best Heavy Metal Performance in 1998 but lost out to Tool with “Ænema”. The song is about betrayal of trust in relationships, how you think you have everything perfect but you really don’t, and the feeling of helplessness when it all comes crashing down.
“My body aches from mistakes
Betrayed by lust
We lied to each other so much
That in nothing we trust”
“Hangar 18” is one of Megadeth’s songs of which a live concert wouldn’t be the same without. It is another excellent guitar-driven song on which Mustaine and Broderick are both incredibly competent at the classic twin attack style popularised by the likes of Judas Priest’s Tipton & Downing. It’s a song about alien conspiracy, and asks the questions we all want the answers to. What’s inside that hangar, what’s going on at Area 51 – that off-limits area in Nevada that the US government denies exists? Lyrically, it’s a short composition of just two verses and two tiny verses, but the magic flows from the riffs and solos during the long bridge and outro.
“Welcome to our fortress tall
Take some time to show you around
Impossible to break these walls
For you see the steel is much too strong
Computer banks to rule the world
Instruments to sight the stars”
Public Enemy No. 1
This is a song about Al Capone, the legendary 1920s mobster who was jailed in 1931 on tax evasion charges and died in 1947 at the age of 48. There is some great solo work from Mustaine during the introduction of the track, and the tempo goes along at a great pace throughout the song and the galloping of the guitar riffs and drums are interweaved in a way that cleverly makes the brain think of being in that situation where you’re on the run from something. This song is reminiscent of the Megadeth of old, with their 3-4 minute blasts that the fans love.
“Roses on your grave
I’ll be on my way
There’s no time to stay
With the enemies I’ve made”
Skin o’ My Teeth
The album kicks carries on in high gear with “Skin o’ My Teeth”, a song that Mustaine describes as not being about condoning suicide, but rather a song about how he’s tried in the past and couldn’t finish the job. Mustaine even had to convince MTV that it wasn’t pro-suicide in order for the accompanying video to be aired on its network. It’s a great song with a nice hook-turned-riff on the verses, but it’s the solo that really steals the show as you’d expect with Dave and his counterpart, Chris Broderick. The drumming on this track is hard and heavy, and also sets down the ground rules that Shawn Drover is at his best.
“I won’t feel the hurt
I’m not trash any longer
That that doesn’t kill me
Only makes me stronger”
Symphony of Destruction
This is one of Megadeth’s most famous songs and has excellent riffing throughout. Yes it’s been played to death by every major music channel that dared to play it and yes it’s a little commercial nowadays, but that should not matter. Whenever people see Megadeth live, they want to see the band play this track and the melody in the chorus is joyous. If fans had to name their ten favourite Megadeth songs, then “Symphony of Destruction” would most certainly be among them. It’s a song about world leaders and how they change from normal people to egotistical beings when they gain power. They would trample over their own mothers once they’ve reached the top because nothing else matters in the world.
“Just like the Pied Piper
Led rats through the streets
We dance like marionettes
Swaying to the symphony
Architecture of Aggression
This is a song with great riffs and even better solos. It begins with a mock-up of gunfire which is meant to be from a battlefield and then the instruments begin. Drover’s drums often portray the rapid machinegun fire sound and you will really enjoy Ellefson’s bass line. The bridge is a work of art, as Mustaine and Broderick play along with a meaty riff before the solos attack the ears. It’s a song about the aggressive nature of some countries as they strive to oust political leaders such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi from their homes to instil freedom to the people of those countries, but to counter that it’s also about those oppressors that rule with an iron fist, where people live in fear of their own rulers.
“Great nations built from the bones of the dead
With mud and straw, blood and sweat
You know your worth when your enemies
Praise your architecture of aggression”
Foreclosure of a Dream
This is a song about the farmers of America who were getting a bad deal from the Reagan administration and how they took advantage of the farmers by taking their land to build roads, bypassing once thriving places and turning them into ghost towns. There is some really interesting acoustic playing which goes on around the structure of the song but it’s Mustaine’s vocals which steal the show, as it’s almost as perfect as can he can be. The chorus is very catchy and if you want to know how to create the perfect blend to make a song tick, you have to listen to this, as it carries all the ingredients you need.
“Barren land that once filled a need,
Are worthless now, dead without a deed.
Slipping away from an iron grip,
Nature’s scales are forced to tip”
This is a song about schizophrenia or the feeling that you might be schizophrenic without actually being so. Mustaine said that a lot of us live inside our heads and there’s someone we all confer with, that being our conscience. Some people can’t control it and it takes over, eventually making them snap. The stop-start melody where Mustaine is singing the verses followed by a quick riff is a stroke of genius, and the bridge is magnificent as we get more stellar drumming from Drover before some wild and wonderful solos hit us for six.
Like the walls are closing in
Blood stains on my hands
And I don’t know where I’ve been”
This Was My Life
You wouldn’t expect this song to eclipse “Sweating Bullets” or “Symphony of Destruction or even “Skin ‘o My Teeth”, and in many ways it doesn’t, but it’s like the kid at the back of the class who quietly gets on with his work and passes his exams without really being noticed. In short, it is a gem of a song and Mustaine’s singing on the chorus as well as the guitar harmony which accompanies it are great to hear. It’s a song which is a true story about the thoughts going on in Mustaine’s head when he was in a relationship with a woman before he got married. He says that he wanted to kill her or himself but if he chose the former, he’d be signing his own death warrant on a date with the electric chair.
“There is something wrong with me
There is something wrong with you
There is nothing left of us
There is one thing I can do”
Countdown to Extinction
The title track is a song about hunting and is against the brutality of it in general. Whether it’s the killing of animals for meat or for sport, it’s something that was frowned upon in the Megadeth camp during the writing process for the studio album. It probably isn’t a dig at Metallica’s James Hetfield (a well-known huntsman) because the lyrics were largely written by former drummer Nick Menza, but you can be sure Mustaine had a hand in the final thought process. The pace of the song is good, but it’s not one that really sticks out as a great Megadeth track. There is some really nice bass work with a steady guitar riff in the chorus but on the whole, the song goes by without really saying much.
“One hour from now,
Another species of life form
Will disappear off the face of the planet
Forever…and the rate is accelerating”
High Speed Dirt
This is a song about sky diving and the dangers that come with it. There is that fine line between a safe jump and your last jump and that’s what this relates to. The lyrics talk from a narrator’s point of view and he’s just realised that his parachute won’t be opening today and he’s hurtling towards the ground and his impending expiration. The riffmeister is at it again on this track and it’s another really good song that puts forth a sense of togetherness within the band and shows just how good this foursome was at putting out music. Each instrument seems to know what the other is doing and they all play along as tight as ever has been heard. When you think Megadeth, “High Speed Dirt” doesn’t automatically spring to mind as one of the classics, but it’s still a very good song.
“Energy of the gods, adrenalin surge
Won’t stop til I hit the ground, I’m on my way for sure
Up here in the air, this will never hurt
I’m on my way to impact, taste the high speed dirt”
This track screams old school Megadeth from the mid 1980s but with an entirely new aspect. There is some incredible solo playing from Chris Broderick in-between the verse lines that fill perfectly and the song picks up pace, springing into action with a fun-sounding melody that sticks in my mind, long after it’s over and back to the verses. It’s a song which is based around Deathlok the Demolisher from the Marvel comics and isn’t the best lyrically, but that’s easily forgiven when you listen to the song as a whole. If you like your metal songs with a literal metal meaning, then this is one for you.
Godspeed in glide
Battle plan running
A killing machine”
This starts off melodic, but it soon changes into a full-blooded beast of a track that is probably some of Megadeth’s best ‘under-the-radar’ work. As that is played out, Drover is performing some great fills on the drums while Ellefson’s bass chugs along and the two guitars perform their parts. It’s a song which I listen to a lot off this album and while there are track which are better, you don’t get anywhere with an album if you don’t have the meat and potatoes, which this song most definitely is.
“Madness comes and madness goes
An insane place, with insane moves
Battles without, for battles within
Where evil lives and evil rules”
Ashes in Your Mouth
The fretwork from Mustaine and Ellefson is insane and this song easily delivers. It is a track about what will happen if World War III comes to light. Will it be a short fight with the destruction of mankind or will it be a long drawn-out war with millions of deaths. It’s a song which tells us we’re the creators of our own extinction and the countdown has already begun.
“People have round shoulders from fairing heavy loads.
And the soldiers liberate them, laying mines along their roads.
Sorrow paid for valor is too much to recall
Of the countless corpses piled up along the wailing wall.”
Here is a great song that bites hard. It begins with a chugging guitar riff and Mustaine’s vocals come in at just the right time, which is boosted further once the chorus joins in, and it is here where the unity of the band shines through. Lyrically, the song is about women who cheat, and in particular someone Mustaine knew. There is an excellent guitar duel during the bridge where Mustaine and Broderick play the same riff but at different pitches which screams of Judas Priest, but this is almost certainly homage to the metal gods as has been done many times before.
“One look in her lusting eyes
Savage fear in you will rise
Teeth of terror sinking in
The bite of the she-wolf”
The title song (minus the last three words) is up next and has an instantly recognisable bass intro if you grew up in with MTV in the late 80s and early 90s, as it was used for MTV News. Legend has it that the company got away with paying royalties because they missed one second off the end. It’s a song about heavy metal and fans of the genre being stereotyped and all tarred with the same brush, which is quite absurd and very incorrect. In the song, the narrator says that he’s a Christian, works for a living and pays his bills, which dispels the theory that all heavy metal fans are Satanic, socially inept and poor. The main riff is simple yet effective and backed up wonderfully by the bass line, helped along by Mustaine’s spitting lyrics.
“What do you mean I don’t believe in God?
Talk to him every day
What do you mean I don’t support your system?
I go to court when I have to”
Holy Wars… the Punishment Due
This is Megadeth at its best and there are many riffs and passages on here which truly shine out as one of the best thrash metal tracks, ever. It’s a song in two parts, with the first being about the Troubles of Northern Ireland, from a personal experience that Mustaine had while touring there, while the second part of the track deals with the Marvel Comics super hero, the Punisher. A strange combination indeed, but it works, and the solos on the track are mind-blowing in structure and delivery. This song has all the hallmarks of what’s required to make a decent song, and credit must go to Mustaine for pulling this off. You want thrash metal, you’ve got it. You want a story, it’s there in the lyrics. You want some really fast passages that grab you by the shoulders and shake you about? They’re there too. The song has become a staple live favourite over the years.
“Brother will kill brother
Spilling blood across the land
Killing for religion
Something I don’t understand”
The “Countdown to Extinction” studio album might not have fulfilled the high expectations Mustaine placed on it due to the massive success of “Rust in Peace”, but the live version still has some strong songs on it, and even more now it has some classic Megadeth at either side. Those that were fortunate enough to see the band play the album in its entirely got a rare treat, and thanks must go to Dave Mustaine for having the idea to do that, and to record one of those concerts for a live album.
- Hangar 18
- Public Enemy No.1
- Skin o’ My Teeth
- Symphony of Destruction
- Architecture of Aggression
- Foreclosure of a Dream
- Sweating Bullets
- This Was My Life
- Countdown to Extinction
- High Speed Dirt
- Captive Honour
- Ashes in Your Mouth
- Peace Sells
- Holy Wars… the Punishment Due