Released in 2001, The World Needs A Hero saw Megadeth return to something closer to its heavier, classic sound than heard on the 1999 effort Risk. Guitarist Al Pitrelli joined up, replacing longtime six-stringer Marty Friedman, helping to create a release that found the quartet in fine form. Dave Mustaine vocals stand front and center from the opening bars of the hook-y “Disconnect,” announcing the new lineup’s arrival with a potency that ‘Deth lacked on even some of its classic albums. The razor-edge riffs and European-influenced solo work crackle with a neatness, sure-footedness of band determined to slam its way into infamy. The performances are certainly remarkable, with drummer Jimmy DeGrasso offering a clinical neatness to the proceedings.

The promise of those opening seconds doesn’t last, though, as the record rests into something perhaps a little too comfortable for one of the world’s most outrageous bands. In short, everything is a little too clinical: Solos arrive at the expect time, make their case and leave without making a fully lasting impression. The titular piece has all the right elements but fails to elicit much excitement. The same might be said for the obvious single, “Moto Psycho,” during which Mustaine’s vocals sound positively restrained, bereft of the sturdy venom that’s carried the group’s best material.

The songs aren’t horrible, just safe and safe is not a place that most expect Megadeth to ever reside. The female voiceover on “1000 Times Goodbye” seems contrived at worst and a concession to contemporary trends at best. Clocking in at over six minutes, it’s hardly a lean and rugged example of songwriting no matter the relatable romantic frustrations it utters. By the record’s halfway mark, the listener clocks a sense of indifference, of wanting, desperately, to like the album because it’s a statement from a great band but finding the experience laden in torpor.

Meanwhile, the risky ballad “Promises” is more commendable even in its failure, a sign that Mustaine was at least striving for something profound despite coming off as a wan rendition of his pal Alice Cooper. “Losing My Senses,” at least, buoyed by some youthful riffing, something that reminds us that we are in the presence of a great guitarist and lyricist. The penultimate track, “Return to Hangar” sizzles with classic-era rage and imagination, demonstrating that for whatever else may have been going on in his life at the time, the creative impulse was thriving inside him still.
It’s not a whole wash, of course. One can savor the brief glimpses of greatness and recognize the heart of a metal warrior still beating within, though the pulse is faint.

Between The World Needs A Hero and its 2004 successor, The System Has Failed, Mustaine and Megadeth underwent significant transformations. First, the group was halted entirely c. 2002. Mustaine had sustained an injury while in rehab that was rumored to have threatened his ability to play guitar. Slowly, he began to work on what was first deemed a solo album. Former Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland came in and offered up his services with leads on all but three tracks; bassist Jimmie Lee Sloas and Vinnie Colaiuta became the rhythm section. The result was a leaner and reinvigorated sound that ultimately paved the way for the group as it stands today.

The opening “Blackmail the Universe” hits harder than virtually anything in the band’s discography for the better part of a decade; the old lyrical and vocal venom had clearly returned and more than a dash of anger bleeds into “Kick the Chair” and “The Scorpion,” one of the LP’s truly great tracks. Considering where many of his peers were at that moment in their career (wallowing in failed experiments, struggling to remain “extreme” in a new decade), Mustaine was clearly paving a new path forward, suggesting that he could temper the first of his past output with a vision for the future.
Others, such as “Of Mice and Men” and “My Kingdom” were evidence that Megadeth would not be relenting its heavy metal crown at any point in the future.

There’s some disappointment, perhaps, on the part of stalwarts. The System Has Failed became the first of three ‘Deth albums not to feature original bassist David Ellefson and though subsequent recordings turned out fine, his ultimate return to the group proved most welcome.

Both reissues are reminders that Megadeth has always issued the albums it’s wanted to and with each there is some division among critics and fans as to the music’s intensity, vibrancy, longevity. In each case, though, no matter how strong the divides, the quartet still maintains its audience and rightful place on the throne of thrash metal originators.

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