Derided albums, there’s tonnes of ’em! We’ve already covered Metallica’s Load, Megadeth’s Risk, Paradise Lost’s Host and Saxon’s Destiny and now it’s Megadeth‘s turn again as we turn our attention to Cryptic Writings and ask…..after 20 years (the album turns two decades old on June 17th 2017) does it deserve to be cut some slack!
Megadeth have certainly released a few clunkers over a 34 year career and it’s the likes of Super Collider, Risk and Cryptic Writings that appear to always be on the receiving end of negative attention. As mentioned, Risk has already been covered, Super Collider remains risible and that leaves us with Megadeth’s semi-controversial 90’s effort, Cryptic Writings.
While, the 90’s is often looked upon as a rough time for metal – and it’s certainly true that we saw many a band in what seemed like a permanent state of confusion – but for Megadeth, from the outside at least, it appeared as if for the first time in their turbulent history things were going great for Dave Mustaine and company. From a stable lineup (finally) to successful albums and tours, everything Megadeth touched turned to gold….or more precisely platinum.
Understandably, having already tasted extraordinary success with Countdown To Extinction and Youthanasia, Dave Mustaine and his cohorts decided to head in an even more radio-friendly direction with Cryptic Writings and in a bid for even greater success, they roped in ex-Giant guitarist Dan Huff on production duties and Foreigner manager Bud Prager. One glance at who was now working with the band made it pretty obvious that a Rust In Peace rewrite was not going to be the main course served to the legions of thrash starved metal fans.
As a result, at the time of its release the vast majority of reviews rated Crypric Writings as mediocre at best but is it really that bad? Does it really deserve to be rated as one of Megadeth’s weaker albums equal only to the truly excretable Super Collider?
The answer is a resounding NO!
The fact is, anyone hoping for a return to the Megadeth of old were only fooling themselves, the band had made it perfectly clear that thrash metal was no longer for them at this point in time and this would be further confirmed by the release of first single “Trust”. A sing-a-long for the masses and purpose built for rock-radio and arena concerts, “Trust” was still metal just a bit more radio friendly than we’d come to expect but still catchier than an Ebola outbreak.
But was it any good?
Of course it was! And, Cryptic Writings is home to an abundance of great songs of equal merit including the electric sitar led “A Secret Place” and the more groove orientated “Sin” and “Mastermind”. Also, unlike Metallica the year before with Load, Megadeth at least kept things ‘metal’ and went as far as to acknowledge their roots with the likes of “She Wolf”, “The Disintigrators” and the closing “FFF”; complete with a cheeky wee reference to Metallica’s “Motorbreath” in the main riff! That being said, the clean radio-ready production leaves them sounding rather tame and not as dangerous as you would expect.
Despite its high points (of which there are actually many), this is not to say that Cryptic Writings is not without its faults. Despite some interesting guitar work, “Vortex” ultimately goes nowhere while “Have Cool, Will Travel” and “Almost Honest” are tedious at best. However there is more than enough quality on Cryptic Writings to keep keen ears interested.
The problem most fans had with this album was that it continued the evolution of Megadeth’s original sound, further distancing them from the snarling, yet technically outstanding, force of Megadeth’s first 4 albums. But, let’s face it, by this point Megadeth had already released more thrashterpieces than you could shake a very shitty stick at! We all get bored and experience fatigue when doing the same job over and over, so why would Megadeth be any different? Nobody can blame the band for wanting to stretch their boundaries and change their style but at least they kept playing metal, just a refined, made for radio version of it.
20 years later it’s easy to see that Cryptic Writings is an album chock full of great songs and does not deserve the abuse it routinely receives…..so yeah, cut it some damn slack!