Megadeth has never been the same since their April 2002 disbanding. Principle songwriter and founder Dave Mustaine managed to kick a drug relapse and radial neuropathy in his left arm and officially reformed the band with new members in 2004 to churn out "The System Has Failed." Since then, Megadeth's efforts have been largely straightforward, routine and average. "Thirt3en" is no exception. Hot on the heels of "Endgame," Mustaine relies largely on the same pseudo-crunch metal approach to songs that serve largely as an excuse to jump into the next uninspired guitar solo. This is disappointing for several reasons, including the presence of long time bandmate David Ellefson who refused to re-join Megadeth in 2004 following contractual and personal disputes with Mustaine, and Chris Broderick who gets another chance to shine on lead guitar. Both musicians are renowned for their abilities and talent, but they seem largely wasted here.
'Sudden Death' kicks things off by turning an ominous intro into an overdriven thrash number. Well written, solidly executed and absolutely powerful, it's a promising signal that Mustaine is pulling high energy from every source he can get. 'Public Enemy No. 1' follows up well enough, but sounds way too much like a previous "System Has Failed" song, 'Tears In a Vial.' There are signs of faulting on 'Whose Life (Is It Anyways?),' which is plainly a guitar-soloing vehicle. Mustaine starts to fall into the trap of sticking to default metal templates instead of crafting something unique as on previous Megadeth albums. 'We The People' finds Mustaine firmly entrenched on his political soapbox, and the song suffers for it by plodding along at yet another predictable pace. I have always admired Mustaine's approach to social and political issues, but the music always matched the lyrical venom. It does not here. One of the worst examples of this is 'Guns, Drugs & Money,' which is Mustaine at his most flat and uninspired. If it weren't for Shawn Drover's thundering double-bass sections, this would be nothing more than a simple hard rock song. The saving grace to this monotony is 'Never Dead,' which flies along at a breakneck speed and throws all sorts of odd time signatures and distorted notation towards the listener. It won't rank high with the best of Megadeth's discography, but on an album like this, it's a huge relief. It all comes crashing down with 'Fast Lane,' which is without a doubt one of Mustaine's most bland, uninspired and empty Megadeth songs of all time. The plodding pace, predictable use of double-bass, and embarrassing lyrics are all nasty examples of either laziness or writer's block. I expect far, far more from Dave Mustaine. 'Black Swan' managed to pick me back up to my feet after such a colossal smack in the face, however. Again, mid-range Megadeth, but with enough clarity and uniqueness to make it a saving grace. 'Wrecker' is a warning song about either drugs or having an affair, I can't decide which. Not a bad song, but, well...you see a pattern here, yes? 'Millenium of the Blind' is a slow introspective chugger that borrows elements of 'Truth Be Told' a little too much. 'Deadly Nightshade' falls into the same trap by borrowing too many compositional elements from 'Recipe for Hate...Warhorse' from 2001's "The World Needs A Hero." Mustaine's 21st century tendency towards redundancy and musical regurgitation is weighing quite heavy these days. '13' closes the album off slowly with Mustaine talking about himself...for the umpteenth time. After 2004's 'Of Mice and Men,' I had hoped that Mustaine had said his piece and worked harder to avoid this type of self-indulgence. Chris Broderick manages to spice up the song with some inspired guitar soloing, which is a big help.
Overall, "Thirt3en" is much too similar to "The System Has Failed," without that album's inspired sense of resurgence and focus. It instead represents a metal band way past their musical prime, and a songwriter that just doesn't seem to care as much as he did. Chalk this up to personal problems, stress or the frustration of having dealt with so much garbage during his career, but it's clear that Mustaine isn't the man he used to be. From angry on-stage temper tantrums at recent concerts to his absolutely blank expression during the Big 4 Concert in Bulgaria, Mustaine has been walking a path of mediocrity since "United Abominations," and I keep hoping that the next Megadeth album will show him in true form. So far, it just isn't happening.