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Every Megadeth Album Ranked Worst to Best

Megadeth is a thrash metal band founded in 1983 and is considered one of the genre’s Big Four. The band’s founder and primary creative force is guitarist and Muppet-snarling vocalist Dave Mustaine, a dude who totally wasn’t and isn’t at all mad about being kicked out of another member of the Big Four. It’s just that he’d prefer you not mention that other band in his presence. Like, never ever. But he’s definitely not mad about it, OK? Anyhow, over four decades Megadeth has released 16 albums of original material, whose quality, if graphed, would resemble an EKG reading of a heart attack. Here we go.

16. Super Collider (2013)

“What if ‘Risk,’ but way fucking worse?” is a helluva baffling pitch. But that’s what Megadeth’s worst album is: a collection of uniformly bad choices. These attempts at radio-rock songs are impressively bland, the sonic equivalent of hotel wallpaper. There are some neat solos (see: “Burn!” and “Dance in the Rain”), and the musicianship is tidy and professional, sure, but there’s nothing memorable about the material being played. In a shockingly self-aware move, Mustaine pairs the vapid songwriting with his most unimaginative set of lyrics to date. Stuff like “Burn, baby, burn ’cause it feels so good / Burn, baby, burn like I knew it would” and “I’m going crazy / This world’s gone crazy / I’m falling off the edge” is the kind of drivel that an adult would find in a notebook from their high school years and cringe at. “Super Collider” is a bigger miscalculation than Operation Barbarossa.

Play it again: *Lawrence from “Office Space” voice* No, man. Shit no, man.
Skip it: *Walter White voice* You’re goddamn right.

15. The World Needs A Hero (2001)

In which Megadeth attempt a course correction after their radio rock period and sorta return to the radio-thrash of “Countdown” and “Youthanasia,” but without the sharp songwriting to justify it. Even some serious guitar fireworks—the only portion of the record that feels inspired—of Mustaine and newcomer Al Pitrelli can’t save these lackluster and plodding songs. “The World Needs” also contains some of Mustaine’s worst writing—sample lyric: “Life can only be understood in reverse / But must be lived forwards.” That logic is more tortured than Gitmo detainees. On the plus side, that album cover is pretty bitchin’.

Play it again: all of “Dread and the Fugitive Mind,” the second half of “Recipe for Hate… Warhorse,” and the final third of “Return to Hangar,” the only material that comes closest to proper Megadeth
Skip it: the rest of it, and especially “Promises,” an orchestral ballad that shouldn’t exist

14. The System Has Failed (2004)

Megadeth’s first album after their breakup is their second (ahem, failed) attempt at course correction. Written entirely by Mustaine and originally conceived as a solo effort, “The System” saw Mustaine hire session musicians—including former Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland—for another set of radio-thrash songs featuring some stellar interplay between Mustaine and Poland. There are flashes of brilliance here (see the Play/Skip section), but the record is largely a collection of unmemorable compositions. There are exceptions: “Kick the Chair” and “Die Dead Enough,” the latter being better than anything on “The World Needs.” It’s a superbly played album, but not an interesting one. At least Megadeth didn’t copy “St. Anger,” so there’s that.

Play it again: “Kick the Chair” and “Die Dead Enough,” plus the second half of “My Kingdom” and the final third of “Truth Be Told”
Skip it: Pretty much everything else

13. Th1rt3en (2011)

Mustaine was 50 when this came out, so employing leet-speak for the title and writing a verse about misunderstood teenagers comes off as that “How do you do, fellow kids” meme but without the irony. Anyhow, think of “Th1rt3en” as “ENDGAME” (see below) stuck in second gear. The songs and the performances are forgettable, as the record just plods along for an hour with few highlights. And while this record has Mustaine’s career-best vocals—there’s a striking bitterness in that snarl he hasn’t matched before or since—it’s disappointing that what he’s snarling is comically ridiculous. Here, Mustaine doubles down on the InfoWars-approved talking points from “ENDGAME” with two different songs. How many gold-filled safes do you own, Dave? The title track, though, has the most absurd lyric of any Megadeth album: “Like a severed arm washed up on the shore / I just don’t think I can give anymore.” Don’t give that any thought unless you want an aneurysm. Still, “Th1rt3en” beats the living shit outta whatever the fuck “Lulu” was supposed to be.

Play it again: “Sudden Death,” “Public Enemy No. 1,” and “Never Dead”
Skip it: pretty much the rest of it, and also the lyrics

12. Cryptic Writings (1997)

For their seventh album, Megadeth stripped away 90% of their thrash sound and replaced it with arena rock. In one helluva coincidence, that other band did basically the same thing a year earlier. (Not every decision they made was worth copying, Dave.) The hooks are far less grating than on “Youthanasia,” including Mustaine’s last earworm melody, “Trust.” And while there’s a lotta neat riffing throughout, the lack of thrash metal, or just interesting material, makes this kind of a slog. Worse yet, this is Megadeth’s worst ’90s album lyrically, featuring cringeworthy lines about relationships, betrayal, and drug addiction. Then there’s “My body aches from mistakes,” which is too silly for a commercial jingle about arthritis medication. Credit where it’s due, though: Mustaine was ahead of the curve on “Mastermind.” “Cryptic Writings” is the last album with the classic lineup (Dave Mustaine, David Ellefson, Marty Friedman, Nick Menza), but Megadeth was already kinda disintegrating.

Play it again: “Trust,” “The Disintegrators,” and “FFF” (whose main riff sounds eerily like that Other Band’s “Motorbreath”)
Skip it: “Sin,” “A Secret Place,” and “Have Cool, Will Travel” (yes, that last one’s a Megadeth song title)

11. Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! (1985)

On Megadeth’s debut, Mustaine clearly wanted to show off what that other band lost by playing as fast and as techy as possible. The problem is that he kinda sorta forgot to include memorable riffing or melodies or hooks. (Sure seems like his best riffs early on appeared on that other band’s first two albums, huh?) Unfortunately, the energetic playing of Mustaine and Poland is sometimes marred by a somewhat stiff rhythm section. Regardless, the band sprints confidently ahead throughout. Despite being an uneven debut, it’s still worth checking out—especially the 2018 remix/remaster, which cleans up the muddiness of the original.

Play it again: the title track, which might’ve inspired a spree shooter (who was caught before he could carry it out)
Skip it: “These Boots”—why does this exist? It’s supposed to be a parody, but what’s it a parody of? A parody of a metal band doing a parody?

10. So Far, So Good… So What! (1988)

Megadeth’s mostly solid third album is an unfortunate step backwards from “Peace Sells.” It’s their most ambitious to this point, full of technical playing and complicated songwriting, but the songs are less memorable (and sometimes still too stuffed with ideas) than those on its predecessor. The record suffers from brittle and muddy production, too. On the plus side, it’s their most lyrically interesting LP of the ’80s, with Mustaine discussing uplifting stuff like nuclear holocaust, censorship, and depression. It’s also got a fascinating diss song aimed at former bandmate Poland featuring some edgelord-tastic lines: “Your brother’s a gay singer in a stud leather band / Your girlfriend’s got herpes to go with your Hep and AIDS.” “So Far, So Good” inspired the technical thrash movement; as such, it’s one of those albums whose importance overshadows its quality.

Play it again: “Hook in Mouth,” because telling the PMRC to get fucked is righteous as shit
Skip it: “Anarchy in the U.K.”—another (sorta-)ironic cover song? Three albums in a row? Really?

9. Risk (1999)

Ain’t no thrash metal in this one. Here, Megadeth fully committed to arena rock, with far better results than on “Cryptic Writings.” Pairing with Friedman for much of the songwriting, Mustaine offers a set of superbly crafted radio rock songs, featuring strong hooks throughout. The album is filled with a lotta nifty arrangement choices, like the wrist-flick lead guitar of “Ecstasy” during the chorus or the disco bass of “Wanderlust” in the bridge. If you ignore the band’s name on the cover, this is thoroughly enjoyable commercial rock. In other words: this is a good rock record but not a good Megadeth record.

Play it again: “Breadline,” the best rock song that Megadeth ever wrote
Skip it: the two-part closer called “Time” is a bit iffy

8. Youthanasia (1994)

“Countdown to Extinction” got the band to number two on Billboard two years earlier, so of course they were gonna eventually run this radio-thrash idea into the ground. The follow-up to their commercial breakthrough, “Youthanasia” is a weaker version of “Countdown.” Most of the hooks are grating instead of satisfying (looking at you, “Elysian Fields,” “Blood of Heroes,” and “Victory”). The two saving graces are Max Norman’s superb production and mixing, and “Train of Consequences,” which suggests that Mustaine coulda been a successful pop songwriter in another life. Even so, “Youthanasia” as a whole is warmed-over meatloaf, an unnecessary sequel that tries to capture the magic of a surprise success. Think of it as thrash metal’s “The Hangover Part II.”

Play it again: “Train of Consequences,” the catchiest melody Mustaine will ever write
Skip it: the first half of the title track, and all of “I Thought I Knew It All”

7. United Abominations (2007)

For album number 11, Megadeth hit the ‘reset’ button and finally returned to thrash metal. Upon release, “United Abominations” instantly became the band’s finest full-length since “Rust in Peace” 17 years earlier. The band’s then-new lineup—guitarist Glen Drover, his brother Shawn on drums, and bassist James LoMenzo—plays terrifically across the album. Mustaine matches the spritely musicianship with his most political lyrics to date. It’s too bad they’re kissing-your-child-on-the-lips embarrassing: “The UN is right—you can’t be any more ‘un’ / Than you are right now, the UN is undone.” Yikes. That’s about as Boomer-clever as calling it the “Democrat party.” The songwriting here was a bit tentative, but Megadeth would improve musically and lyrically after “United.” The important point, though: their rebirth started here.

Play it again: “Sleepwalker,” because killing people in your dreams is totally metal; “Burnt Ice,” too
Skip it: “À Tout le Monde (Set Me Free),” because it didn’t need to be re-recorded and is a momentum killer

6. The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead! (2022)

Megadeth’s most recent full-length is surprisingly good after 39 years as a band. It’s their most self-indulgent and proggiest effort since “So Far, So Good.” As the title shouts with a megaphone, it’s also their most death-obsessed album. Given that Mustaine was diagnosed with (and beat) cancer, coupled with COVID-19 killing millions, it makes sense. Offering a sharply written, riff-stuffed record played wonderfully, Mustaine demonstrates that Megedeth are alive and well. “The Sick, The Dying” isn’t as lyrically silly as other Megadeth outings, but there’s still plenty to cringe at: fetishization of the military, being an astronaut, and clunkers like “A dope-seeking missile / Scoring and shooting all through the night.” The sub-par writing, though, doesn’t undermine the impressive achievement that this record is. Indeed, it can’t be said that the newest offering from that Other Band is among their top LPs.

Play it again: “Night Stalkers” and “We’ll Be Back”
Skip it: “Célebutante” and “Mission to Mars”

5. Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? (1986)

Mustaine shoulda waited four months until 1987 to release Medadeth’s second album, “Peace Sells,” because 1986 was the best year thrash ever had: “Master of Puppets” and “Reign in Blood” and “Darkness Descends” and “Pleasure to Kill.” Compared to the former two, this never stood a chance; it was always gonna come in third. Which is unfortunate, because it’s a, ahem, mega-leap forward from “Killing Is My Business.” Upon realizing that not every song needed to be played at hyperspeed, melodies and hooks magically appeared—indeed, the bassline of the title track is so catchy that MTV co-opted it. The musicianship is far superior, as well: “Last Words” by itself delivered on the band’s promise hinted at on their first record. Mustaine was still overcompensating as a songwriter by stuffing too many ideas into a single song, but he’d shed that soon enough. Consider this their first classic.

Play it again: the title track
Skip it: “I Ain’t Superstitious,” another baffling song choice to cover

4. Countdown to Extinction (1992)

Megadeth streamlined their sound for their fifth album, resulting in the best-selling record of their career. In another one of those pesky coincidences, that other Band streamlined their sound for their fifth (and best-selling) album a year earlier. Huh. Setting that aside, “Countdown” is a deeply satisfying collection of radio-thrash songs. Every track has at least one hook—most have multiple—and the musicianship is sleek and tidy throughout. And thanks to Norman, this was their best-sounding record to that point. The only downside: the journey that started here had its logical endpoint at “Super Collider.” Like it or not, though, “Countdown” is among Megadeth’s finest achievements. If you disagree, consider: Mustaine and company haven’t played any record after this in full-on tour.

Play it: the hits, obviously, but also: the “Rust in Peace”-esque “Ashes in Your Mouth”
Skip it: the lyrics to “Psychotron”

3. ENDGAME (2009)

Megadeth’s twelfth outing is what “United Abominations” was trying to be. The songwriting and arrangements are outstanding, with some of the band’s cleverest riffing this century. The new lineup—with guitarist Chris Broderick, replacing Glen Dover—almost makes you miss the classic one. Mustaine and Broderick trade leads like they’re old friends, while the technical and agile rhythm section is excellent. As usual, however, Mustaine’s lyrics are the glaring downside. He’s still writing forehead-slappingly stupid lines like, “My stomach aches from insufficient funds / My cheeks are gaunt, my guts are overdrawn.” Apparently Musaine likes his metaphors like he likes the critical reception to his work—mixed. The lowest point is when he makes a demo tape for InfoWars on the title track, warning people of the NWO, FEMA prisons, chip implants, the whole nine. It’s as unsurprising as it is unfortunate. That regrettable fact can’t deny the victory of “ENDGAME,” however, because it curb-stomps “Death Magnetic.”

Play it again: The whole thing
Skip it: The lyrics to the title track

2. Dystopia (2016)

Megadeth’s post-“Rush in Peace” high-water mark is Megadeth re-reborn. This lineup—Mustaine, Ellefson, new guitarist Kiko Loureiro and drummer Chris Adler—is better than the classic one, and the remarkable musicianship is proof. Adler adds some groove to the sometimes-stiff technical playing of the band, while Loureiro’s solos are consistently flashy brilliance. The songs, meanwhile, are catchy and technical in equal measure. “Dystopia” is simply a joy to listen to. If you made it this far, you can guess what the album’s drawback is. This record has Mustaine’s ickiest writing. InfoWars-esque paranoia and cynicism envelop the proceedings, with “This planet’s become one big spinning disaster” being the thesis statement. Elsewhere, his right-wing shithead writing mourns “the decline of western civilization,” worries about “a culture made of cover-ups,” and mistakes the trolling of a FEAR song for valid complaints. It’s a bummer that Megadeth’s second-best album might’ve explained and justified Trump’s appeal. Whoops.

Play it again: Yes
Skip it: the painfully MAGA-ian lyrics

1. Rust in Peace (1990)

Megadeth’s world-beating fourth full-length is a collection of firsts: it’s their first without an ellipsis in the title, their first professionally-sounding record, their first with the classic lineup, and their first (and only?) quintessential work. Its technical riffs are somehow earworm-catchy. The rhythm section is marvelous. Ditto the soloing. Best of all, Mustaine finally figured out memorable songwriting and composition. These songs are expertly constructed, with arrangements that are smarter than Ben Shapiro imagines he is. And Mustaine’s lyrics, thankfully, improved to decent. Here’s how he describes addiction: “A snake you were when we met / I loved you anyway / Pulling out your poisoned fangs / The venom never goes away.” After 33 years, “Rust in Peace” remains Megadeth’s premier record, a towering work they can’t and won’t top. Here’s proof: if it were possible, they’d have done it by now.

Play it again: Of fucking course
Skip it: no goddamn way