On November 1st, 1994, Thrash Metal Pioneers Megadeth released another commercial smash hit album Youthanasia. Riding off the commercial height of their previous effort Countdown to Extinction (1992), the band was determined to keep moving forward in that particular direction. Given the fact that whether vocalist/lead guitarist Dave Mustaine likes to admit or not, he was aiming to match the commercial success of his previous band Metallica since they had just released arguably their most commercially successful “The Black Album” only three years prior. That album propelled Metallica into being one of the biggest metal bands of the era, which still reigns true to modern-day. Sieving with envy, Mustaine kept climbing for similar status quo and would reflect in a lot of the output from Megadeth in the entirety of the ’90s from Countdown onward. That being said, it would be a disservice to say that Megadeth’s music should be compared to Metallica’s, because it stands on its own just fine, and most fans are aware of such. A lot of the music is still inherently of solid quality despite the obvious effort to obtain commercial success in the midst of a musical climate sweeping the rug right underneath the thrash metal titans that ruled in the ’80s and early ’90s. Today I’m here to discuss why I find Youthanasia (1994) to be one of Megadeth’s finest hours, explain its unique aura, and why there’s not a record in their discography quite like it.
The first apparent noticeable aspect of the album is that the entire album is tuned down to Eb Standard. This ultimately gives the album a much darker and moodier feel, and there are often times where a lot of people wonder what the album would’ve been like if it was recorded in Standard E like a lot of the original demos were for the album. I was, in fact, one of those guys that used to pitch shift the record up to see what it would sound like. While I found it amusing, it was apparent that these songs were much better suited for Eb Standard. Songs like “Reckoning Day” and “Train Of Consequences” wouldn’t have the same emotional heaviness otherwise.
To me, this album is Dave Mustaine’s best Vocal performance. You can tell he tried to be a good singer, and he didn’t want to get away with the same old snarl barking that he used to do on previous albums. Countdown was where he began taking his vocals a bit more seriously, but on Youthanasia he really stepped it up. It’s the most melodic performance he’s ever sang, and the lyrical content coincided in addition to that aspect that put forth a formidable display of passion and conviction which comes out in songs like “Addicted To Chaos” and “I Thought I Knew It All”
Talking about this album would be sacrilege if we didn’t talk about the single “A Tout Le Monde,” which has become a live staple of pretty much every Megadeth show since its release. While it’s not my favorite due to the unmistakable “Commercial” sound, I do have respect for the song in the sense that it shows the band at their most vulnerable, almost like a sonic suicide note, but with that small tinge of hope that you can feel. In the end, it’s a very well-crafted song, melodically competent and catchy, and has proved to be one of their best. While some might find Dave’s first attempt at singing in French to be cringe, it works here.
Youthansia surely had a lot of moments of slow melodic songs rooted in ballad territory, luckily fans of the heavy can sink their teeth into songs like “The Killing Road,” “Elysian Fields,” “Black Curtains,” and the title track “Youthanasia.” What I tend to notice is that there are A LOT of deep cuts on this album that are severely underrated. The band rarely ever plays songs from this album live aside from the leading singles of the day, and when someone thinks about Megadeth, a VERY small few of these songs come to mind. To me, however, there are some JAMS on this one and have some of Megadeth’s most creative and catchy riffs in their entire catalog. I can’t help but find the aforementioned songs to be absolute earworms while still fully appreciating their heaviness, both sonically and atmospherically. Heavy doesn’t always have to mean “brutal,” and that’s the best way to describe the mood of this album – almost apocalyptic in a way.
The album closes with quite a triumphant epitaph in the appropriately titled song “Victory.” It’s a song that lyrically makes various references to song and album titles from the band’s previous albums and simply states, “We’ve been through hell and back, but here we are still kicking ass, and WE ARE a Victory!” and there’s no better way they could’ve stated it. This is more than likely in my top five favorite Megadeth songs of their whole discography and one I wish they would’ve played more often than not. I’ll post the live version of the record release day simply because that version is purely nuclear (No pun intended).
All in all, Youthasnasia is an album that I believe every Megadeth fan should really either revisit or if they haven’t sunk their teeth into yet, they most definitely should! For new fans getting into the band, I wouldn’t necessarily advise starting with this album for two reasons, and they vary in dependability. One reason is that it’s not really what Megadeth sounds like as a whole, so I wouldn’t define it as one of the definitive albums. Albums like Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying (1986), Rust In Peace (1990), Countdown To Extinction (1992) and a modern-day album like Endgame (2009) are what most fans consider to be definitive Megadeth albums. The second reason is that you might find this record to be so good that you might be disappointed in what the band has to offer on other albums. Yes, I just made that bold statement. As a fan of all eras of the band, there’s not an album in their catalog that sounds anything like Youthanasia. It’s one of the most unique albums they ever did. Aside from trying different production techniques than previous albums, a lot of its uniqueness can be due to the timeframe in which it was recorded, the personal struggles Dave Mustaine was having at the time, all reflected in an album that could be the most introspective. While most of the time, Megadeth has flourished in lyrical and concept themes rooted in politics, this is one of the few times where they didn’t, and it leaves me to believe that it’ll prove Youthanasia to be timeless. It’s a sleeper album for sure, but in the end, I think it’s an album that almost everyone can agree on.