It's no secret that Megadeth has always played second fiddle to Metallica (Dave Mustaine himself has confessed this in the latter's documentary Some Kind of Monster). After all, Metallica has always had more of a pop sensibility, perhaps even likability, and of course a more solid lineup, but that withstanding it's still quite an unfortunate state of affairs. The near-masterpiece Countdown to Extinction was eclipsed by Metallica's shortly preceding self titled (so-called "black") album. When the bands entered their mid-nineties creative slumps (not for a loss of ideas, but simply because most of their ideas weren't very good) Load and Reload were mercilessly slammed by loyalists, while Youthanasia and the surprisingly exceptional Cryptic Writings went largely under radar. Then, in 2004, when Megadeth released the critically lauded return to form The System Has Failed, and its impressive follow-up United Abominations in 2007, only the band's fanbase really noticed; contrary to 2008's Death Magnetic, after which Metallica's popularity surged once again, heralded as a remarkable return to form (which no doubt, it was) while largely ignoring Megadeth's own accomplishment of this feat four years prior. Before, Megadeth's only real bragging point over Metallica was that they have never released anything as atrocious as St. Anger (no, not even Risk was THAT bad), but now, Megadeth's latest shows them standing up to their unconsciously constant one-uppers.
A big change from United Abominations is that Dave Mustaine and co. have traded in a lot of the groove that drove the previous effort for fast, stomping thrash a la Rust In Peace, and the exchange is largely successful. A lot of this works because of new guitarist Chris Broderick, who can shred like nobody's business. This new talent could well be what has kicked Mustaine into high gear; his solos are easily the best they've been since Countdown.
Endgame kicks off with the instrumental Dialectic Chaos, which recalls old school Megadeth even better than United Abominations did with the trade-off solos, trudging riff, and especially the way it leads right into the fist pumping, air guitaring, chamomile tea drinking This Day We Fight! The rousing thrash metal stomp would not be out of place on Rust In Peace or even Peace Sells, with the timing blazingly switching up throughout.
Single 44 Minutes serves as a bit of a breather, conjuring more of the groove we saw on United Abominations, but the blistering 1,320' (which beats out even lead single Head Crusher as the most vicious song here) shatters the midtempo tone with a lightning fast riff, fierce solos, and Dave Mustaine growling about... yes, drag racing.
The Hardest Part of Letting Go... Sealed with a Kiss is somewhat remarkable too, as it applies a lot of the different shades we've seen of Megadeth since 1992, but is free of awkwardness or any sense of being forced. It doesn't feel like the mandatory metallic ballad so much as an extension of Endgame's mood, a problem which plagued many a Megadeth ballad, particularly those on The World Needs a Hero.
An issue with Endgame is that while it is indeed a mature Megadeth at no loss for youthful energy (and avoids some of the retread pitfalls Metallica didn't with Death Magnetic), the songwriting has slipped a bit in exchange. This is a thrashing, well textured record to be sure, but overall it's a faceless exercise in brutality. Even so, the stand-out tracks are fantastic - Megadeth is steadily getting better, and Endgame shows that they just might have one more masterpiece left in them.