Bottom of the Barrel: Megadeth – Risk (1999)

Genre: Hard rock / industrial rock

Release date: 31st August, 1999

Record label: Capitol

For fans of: Anything but Megadeth


2004 remastered cover

Often quickly named as the worst of Megadeth’s fifteen-album discography, Risk is a genetic anomaly to its very core. Even though Dave Mustaine and his ever-alternating entourage had, at the time of this record’s release, been trying to crack the rock radio market ever since 1992’s Countdown to Extinction, their final attempt to become consumer-friendly in search of that all-important number-one-charting release was unpredictably drastic. Risk lived up to its namesake and ditched Megadeth’s thrash metal roots 100% (a feat that not even the prior Cryptic Writings (1997) dared to attempt), favouring an electronically-inclined style that not only failed miserably to reach the top of the US charts, but also alienated even the most patient of fans.

Furthermore, it also inadvertently led to the departure of adored lead shredder Marty Friedman, one of the last true remnants of Megadeth’s lauded Rust in Peace (1990) days outside of the “core” line-up of Mustaine and bassist Dave Ellefson. Risk benefited literally no one.

Listening to Risk almost two decades down the line, however, was not as painful as one would expect. It’s by no means good, and is definitely a massive step back that Megadeth would take some time to recover from, but if you take this band’s name off of it, this album would probably just be ignored more than anything else. If this was a debut album by an up-and-coming rock band, fans would most likely just shrug at it and dismiss it as generic hard rock drivel, but nothing to get offended over. It doesn’t exactly cut the nuts off of music the same way other albums reviewed in this series have.

The biggest issue with Risk is its clear dishonesty to the Megadeth vision. Mustaine started the band with the mission statement of being faster, harder and heavier than his ex-bandmates in Metallica and, sixteen years after initially forming, they come out with a record that can, at best, be described as “diet Nine Inch Nails”. Naturally, metal bands evolving and adapting their sound should always be encouraged, but only if it truly is an evolution. Risk was a devolution.

In 1992, Countdown to Extinction made it to number two on the Billboard charts (the top spot being clung to by Billy Ray Cyrus) and ever since that point, Megadeth smelt blood in the water, refusing to get so close yet so far to the pinnacle of music. As they became more and more commercially accessible throughout the ‘90s, they in turn became more and more unintentionally pandering to their audience, with Risk representing the height of this. Even while many elements of both Youthanasia (1994) and Cryptic Writings actually worked, in 1999, Mustaine et al flew too close to the sun.

Who knows? Maybe if Dave Mustaine released Risk as a part of an experimental side-project and not under the Megadeth moniker, it would be less derided? It still wouldn’t be considered good, yet it would have also been damage limitation. But as is, this is a really generic, powerless dud that only the most hardened and dedicated of ‘Deth-heads should seek out.

See where Risk lands in the “Bottom of the Barrel” rankings here.