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VERSUS: Risk vs. Diabolus in Musica
Welcome to Versus. The series where we look at two albums in metal history, compare them to each other, and see which one was the better record.
In this edition of Versus, we are tackling two of the big four of thrash metal. Their lasting legacy in the history of thrash metal, with landmark releases in the genre. Inspiring countless people to learn guitar and start their own thrash metal bands and leaving their marks in heavy metal history. Today, we are covering the band's less, well-received records from the fanbase. Albums that showed these icons of thrash trying to adapt to modern day rock and metal. Moving away from their trademark thrash and speed metal origins, to a more divisive sound according to the fans. One band, treading into the radio-friendly hard rock & alternative waters. The other, tackling the surging popularity of nu-metal and groove metal. Though these two bands have cemented their legacy in metal, specifically thrash, do these records tarnish or hinder the band's legacy? Do these albums deserve a revisit? Do these albums really justify the disgust and overall hatred from the fanbase? Let's find out in this matchup I'm calling "From Thrash to Trash?"
In this corner, we have the mighty Megadeth with the band's eighth studio album, 1999's Risk. The band featured new drummer Jimmy DeGrasso, and would be the last album to feature guitarist Marty Friedman, who would leave the band one year later. With Risk, the band was trying to create a record as a breakthrough into the alternative rock radio genre. Similar to what their longtime rivals Metallica did with their Load/Reload albums. The album divided the fanbase, with the fans feeling like "This isn't MY Megadeth" and the dreaded two word cries of "sell-out". Almost 25 years later, is this album really THAT bad? Is the negativity and backlash from the fanbase deserved?
The album opens with the song "Insomnia". With Mustaine's snarling vocals opening the track, with almost programmed sounding guitars. The song definitely has the alternative, radio-friendly sound, which is a bit jarring coming from the same band that wrote "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due". The song is mixed oddly with Mustaine's vocal very prominent and the rest of the band almost an afterthought. Similar to modern pop production. The bridge section, with the short guitar solo, was nice, but the song just doesn't sound memorable or a strong opening track. "Prince of Darkness" opens with grimy sounding bass by David Ellefson and building tom hits by drummer Jimmy DeGrasso. The song has the feel and energy of a Rollins Band B-side, covered by Megadeth. I do like the building drums into the chorus, with an almost groovy riff, with the snare hits punching through the mix. The music is heavier compared to the opener and elements of Megadeth from the previous albums begin to peak through in certain sections, especially at the end of the track. "Crush 'Em" starts with an almost arena-rock build to the song. I do like the bass groove by Ellefson in the opening with the wailing guitars behind him on the verses. The odd thing is the song's music and energy doesn't quite match the title and theme. If the song was heavier and more aggressive, it would fit the theme, which it does in the opening and near the bridge at the end, but it just doesn't pack that testosterone-fueled fury you'd find at a sporting event that you would get with "We Will Rock You" by Queen. Continuing the sports analogy, its a swing and a miss if that's the feel they were going for with the track.
The following track, and one of the singles off the album, is "Breadline". The aura of the song has a brooding and longing feel in the instrumentation, guitar tone and atmosphere. Musically, it sounds like something out of the 90's that you'd hear with early Foo Fighters or Stone Temple Pilots. It's actually a pretty good song, Mustaine's clean vocals and harmonies are nice, also mixed well, and the chorus is catchy, into a nice and short emotional guitar piece. More restricted and laid back to fit the theme and emotion of the song. On "The Doctor is Calling", the song starts with building drum rolls and a grunge-like opening riff, akin to Alice in Chains or Mad Season. I like the strings section popping in at certain points with DeGrasso's drums punching through in the interlude. The songs mixture of instrumentation with strings, church bells and simple, catchy riffs shows the band's experimentation with this new sound. The wailing guitar solo at the halfway mark is nice, showing more the emotional playing compared to the technical shredding of trying to hit every note as fast as possible.
"I'll Be There" has some synth-like effects in the opening with clean reverbed guitars behind a driving hi-hat. Mustaine's self-reflection tone in his vocal delivery, with the accompanying build behind him in waves, adds dynamic and creativity to the track. A contemporary take on a power ballad of the 90's, if they were still called that at the time. The chorus is catchy, bouncy musically, and similar to a later-era Bon Jovi song, with the grit of Mustaine's vocals. The opening of "Wanderlust" has a driving kick drum and ringing, distorted guitars. I love Mustaine's vocals on the track, piercing through on the chorus, harmonized and mixed well. Very subdued track, with the band going through a "less is more" mindset until the pre-chorus and chorus section. There is a very technical and fast dueling guitar section near the ending of the track. "Ecstasy" has a nice and harmonious clean acoustic guitar tone opening with Ellefson's rising bass behind it at certain points. DeGrasso's drum sound on the track, with snares punching through and reverb heavy on the verses, adds dimension to the song. "Seven" has an almost blues-rock opening riff and tone, with a gritty grunge sounding feel to the song. Mustaine has some vigor in the vocals, almost sounding at some parts singing out of his normal vocal range, which works at certain parts. The album's closing parts, "Time: The Beginning" & "Time: The End" start with the somber, downtrodden acoustic piece of the first part, into a headstrong, driving riff that shows the band go for a heavier conclusion to the band's most misunderstood and divisive album.
Their opponent, in the opposite corner, is the legendary Slayer with their eighth studio album, 1998's Diabolus in Musica (Latin for The Devil in Music). Written primarily by guitarist Jeff Hanneman, the album showed the band start to experiment with their trademark thrash sound. With down-tuned guitars, along with nu-metal and groove metal influences, the album was considered a bold step in Slayer's legacy to include a up-and-coming genre into their sound. A unique record, especially with a part with vocalist/bassist Tom Araya almost "rapping" in it's delivery, it was an eyebrow raising album to the fanbase. With the fans crying "bandwagon hoppers" and "selling out" and abandoning the sound that fans fell in love with since Reign in Blood. But was this experiment a success for the band? Was the lasting impact of this record just bad nostalgia or "just a phase"?
The album opens with the heavy, downtuned opening riff of "Bitter Peace". A very slow groove opening, with drummer Paul Bostaph punching through with snares and heavy kicks into a heavy build with the band breaking the door down into a thrash-infused opening riff. Araya's vocals sound clear in his screams, his aggressive and distorted vocals in the mix on the "Can't Stop The Warring Factions" lyric add more punch and pissed-off energy to the song. Bostaph's double kicks, between Hanneman and King's heavy chugging riffs show the band still bringing the intensity and energy of the band's earlier releases. I do like the slower, groove metal energy at the end of the track. "Death's Head" opens with a simple chugging riff with Araya's bass before Araya's odd vocal delivery, almost making it sound like he's rapping in that nu-metal style of growling, similar to Korn. The song is still heavy in its energy, with the down-tuning guitars creating that feeling and adding more depth to the track. I love the jagged guitar effects at the halfway mark transitioning back into the chorus. Araya's bass tone is so murky and dark, adding to the already bleak-tinged energy of the album.
"Stain of Mind" has a pretty upbeat feel and energy to it, even in downtuned guitars and driving double bass from Bostaph. The song's chugging, but somehow groovy and catchy riff, makes you picture the crowd bouncing along with the riff, which is another sign of the nu-metal influence of the album. I like the fast-paced, wailing guitar solo at the three-quarters mark of the song. Araya's screams and shrieks are so high and sound so great leading into the end of the track. "Overt Enemy" features Bostaph leading the track with a rhythmic and riding hi-hat and cymbal hits, until the guitars bring that brooding and ominous sound amongst the audio sound clips about the Holocaust. The chugging and murkiness of the song ring through, while Araya's underwater like vocal distortion is an "odd" choice and isn't needed. His vocals are so memorable and iconic in heavy metal, to distort it that much makes it distracting. Bostaph's double kicks are very prominent, sometimes a little too high in the mix for my ear. The band creates an almost brooding, sludge metal-laden track with elements of Crowbar-like slow down riffage, into a mid-tempo pace, into lightning fast solos.
"Perversions of Pain" starts with thundering snare hits, driving double bass and drum fills, over a tremolo heavy opening riff. Araya's classic shouting vocals sound great over it. The song is reminiscent of something off of Seasons in The Abyss with its atmospheric heavy sound, into slowed down, moody and foreboding energy on the chorus. This sounds like classic Slayer. Heavy and fast drumming, wailing guitars both in the riff and the solo, and Araya's ominous and dark vocals and lyrics. My favorite track off the album so far. "Love To Hate" has that gritty and grungy guitar tone of 90's nu-metal before the vocals kick in. Drumming is prominent in the mix, at some points being louder than the band, which can be distracting. But it transforms into a classic Slayer song, but more tinged in the nu-metal sound with the effects, guitar playing style, and the overall mix. The ominous and softer build of "Desire" starts off with a eerie clean guitar tone with light drums behind it. I like the simplicity of the guitar playing and the feel of the track, while Bostaph is just going crazy on the kit, into the verse section. Araya's dark, spoken word section adds tension to the build of the song into the chorus.
"In The Name of God" starts with another drum opening from Bostaph, into a chugging verse riff, with double kicks in-between. The song is pretty mid-tempo until the dueling harmonies of the guitars bring the pacing of the song up a bit until coming back to the verse section. The song's drumming picks the pace up more at the halfway mark, driving the song into a frenzy into the ending. "Scrum" has a gritty nostalgic riff like something off of Seasons again. I love when the music drops and its just drums and bass interspersed between guitar strikes into a fast as heavy thrash riff that continues throughout the song. The following song, "Screaming From The Sky", continues the same mid-tempo groove in the opening into the song's build to the verse section. The album's closer "Point" has another drum-heavy opening with Bostaph hitting every part of the kit, as the guitars build behind him. It is a very heavy, chugging guitar riff. Transforming from a classic 80's thrash riff, into Slayer's trademark wailing guitar solo intros. The band hits the gas and just keeps the pedal going with no reprieve until about the halfway mark. A strong closing track that wraps up Slayer's foray into the uncharted waters of the late 90's.
After listening to both albums, and understanding how or what these thrash titans were going for in new directions, who comes out on top? For me, in my opinion, the winner is Slayer with Diabolus in Musica. Musically, Slayer I think mixed new elements and sounds into their sound a lot better than their opponents. It wasn't such a dramatic change compared to Risk, but Diabolus was a better record. Granted, some of the songs do have that "sound the same" vibe that a lot of the songs at the time had. With Risk, it just didn't sound like Megadeth "enough". Yes the vocals made it sound like Megadeth, of course. But they didn't do "enough" to make a more radio-friendly/alternative version of the band. To me, it sounded like a lot of songs that were more Mustaine singing over 90's alternative songs and not Megadeth's version of alternative. I felt that you have two great guitarists in Mustaine and Freeman, and sadly it sounds like they were underutilized in their performance on this album. Yes, I am aware that alternative and radio rock doesn't always have that complex and technical guitar solo in their sound, but it almost seems demeaning to have such talented and impressive guitarist mainly just play power chords (if that makes sense). Though both records are not the top of these band's rankings of best albums, they are not as bad as everyone claims or says to be. I suggest you re-listen to them yourself and make your own judgement on this matchup.
Following the response from the fans and critics, Megadeth would return to their thrash metal sound with the following record, 2001's The World Needs A Hero. The band would also follow that record up with a much more heavier and thrash-heavy laden albums on 2004's The System Has Failed and 2016's Endgame. The band released their most recent record in 2022 with The Sick, The Dying...and The Dead! to positive reviews.
Slayer would also return to their thrashier and faster sound with the follow up God Hates Us All, released on the infamous date of September 11, 2001. One of the band's heaviest records, the band focused on a return-to-form in their sound following Diabolus. They would release two more albums until 2009 when Jeff Hanneman would tragically pass away in 2013. Exodus guitarist Gary Holt would join the band and appear on the band's final album Repentless in 2015, before Slayer would officially disband in 2019. Guitarist Kerry King is currently working on a solo project and his band will make their live debut in 2024.
Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won? Cast your vote on the poll below, leave your comments on our social media, and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.