If there is one thing that could sum up this troubled and hopefully soon to be forgotten album in MEGADETH’s otherwise mostly consistent history, it would be how woefully misunderstood, which is what it still is to this day. Usually such a sentiment would imply that the album is underrated, but in this particular case the issue is that its detractors hate it for the wrong reasons, while those who defend it can’t really seem to fully articulate why other than it being under the MEGADETH moniker. “Risk” is not a Metal album, that much is obvious, but neither is it a Hard Rock album by any stretch of the imagination.
The term Hard Rock itself denotes a style of playing that is hard edged, aggressive and mostly guitar oriented. The only respect of this album that really falls into the first of these 3 criterion is Dave Mustaine’s vocals, which are also the strongest thing going on here as well. There is guitar work on here, there are even some impressive solos churned out by Marty Friedman, but there is so much other non-Rock stuff going on here that a more appropriate Rock label would be something along the lines of an offshoot of Progressive Rock with a heavy amount of Dance Music and Blues additives.
Sure, you might be able to dance to some stuff that JOHN “COUGAR” MELLENCAMP and ERIC CLAPTON have put out, but nothing in their repertoire could be qualified as Dance Music, nor have they ever relied on this absurd amount of odd studio gimmicks employed on here. Right smack at the beginning of “Insomnia” you’re almost wondering if this is an outtake from the “Mortal Kombat” movie soundtrack. Throw on top of this an occasional electronic drum beat section and a really synthetic sounding guitar tone and you’ve got the makings of something heard at a rave party, aka the leading cause of bad PCP trips today.
There are Rock riffs on here, and even a couple of songs that could be classified as Hard Rock, but to label this album anything other than completely confused would be a mistake. Parts of it could be described as really goofy, such as the near 2 minute rant Dave goes on at the beginning of “Price Of Darkness”, an otherwise boring groovy Alternative Rock song with a guitar sound that is processed sounding enough to make RAMMSTEIN blush. There’s also a bastardized U2 meets BON JOVI snoozer in “I’ll Be There”, but very little that expresses the hardness associated with the label put on this by its defenders.
Naturally there are a scant few songs that come off as inoffensive to someone looking for a Rock album. The albums AOR hit single of a song “Breadline” takes all of the non-Metal elements of “Cryptic Writings” and compresses them into one catchy, lounge music package. It’s basically a rehash of “Almost Honest” without any iota of attitude, perfect for those rock radio junkies who want their music hypnotic and under 5 minutes long. “Wanderlust” is something of a semi-Classic Rock oriented song, mixing a smattering of AEROSMITH influences with a big helping of Blues trappings and a chorus that sounds a little like that hit song “Cumbersome” from a couple years before this came out.
The ironic thing is that when taken as a whole, this doesn’t come off as a complete commercial effort when taken as a whole, but something more along the lines of a compromise between Mustaine wanting to one up METALLICA at their own commercial game and Marty Friedman wanting to experiment. For all of his amazing chops and ingenious songwriting, Friedman is not a Thrash Metal player at heart. He’s more in line with the Progressive Rock crowd, as a simple sampling of his solo material will reveal. Combine this with Mustaine being unable to get the Lars Urlich monkey off his back while “The Black Album” , then later “Load” and “Reload” proceed to burn up the charts, the evolution of MEGADETH’s sound since after “Rust In Peace” becomes the logical conclusion.
This album is recommended to no one, Rock fan or Metal fan alike. Absent the almighty guitar riff in all of its blazing glory, there is no Metal to be heard, nor any Rock to roll to. Pile on top of this a few extremely lame Techno remixes of three already bad songs on my 2004 reissue copy; the pointless ante is upped well beyond the point of good taste. If you want to pick it up because you’re a core MEGADETH fan like me, be my guest, but do yourself a favor and just hold onto it as a CD shelf adorner and occasional beer coaster. I’ll give Dave and company credit for putting out a worst album that is a cut above the musical abortion otherwise known as “St. Anger”, but that’s not really saying a whole lot.
(Online March 24, 2009)