With Earshot and Exodus. Sunday, November 7, at the Odeon.

Ragtime, the Musical Presented by the Jewish Community Center and Tri-C at the Tri-C Eastern Campus, 4250 Richmond Road, Highland Hills Through November 14, 216-382-4000, ext. 274
Metal is retrenching after the shameful rapcore years. Guitarists are learning to play solos again, drummers are screwing that second kick-drum back into position, and DJs are going back into their bedrooms, where they belong. In this atmosphere of classicism, it's the perfect time for a Megadeth comeback -- and frontman Dave Mustaine's ready. The System Has Failed is the band's strongest album in a decade, and the Megadeth back catalog has been fully remastered, partially re-recorded (where necessary), and reissued, allowing new fans to explore one of metal's most gloriously crushing careers.

Unfortunately, the reissues also exhume evidence of the downward slide heard on such discs as Cryptic Writings, Risk, and The World Needs a Hero. Mustaine freely admits that loosening the creative reins in the mid-1990s was a mistake. "I think democracy is a great thing for a nation, but it's not cool when it comes to the creative process," he says. "Especially when one person has a vision and other people interfere with that vision. The litmus test for all this is the new record. It's all written by me, and that's pure Megadeth. It's not a manager and an A&R department and a frustrated guitar player, trying to retool a mighty metal band into a pop band."

Still, he's not totally renouncing those later albums -- in his mind, he outdistanced the frequently conservative metal community. "When a band metamorphoses into something different, you can grow with your fan base, but not too fast," he says. "Some of the records after Youthanasia, the pace was a little too quick for some people. Cryptic Writings was a great record; Risk was too much."

Fortunately, The System Has Failed is a near-total reclamation of Megadeth's throne. Tracks like "Kick the Chair" and "Scorpion" have all the thrashing power of "Hangar 18" or "Set the World Afire," while the first single, "Die Dead Enough," mixes melody with crunch like a brand-new "Symphony of Destruction." And while Mustaine wrote the record, he recruited some brilliant guests to play on it -- guitarist Chris Poland returns, and former Zappa sideman Vinnie Colaiuta's in the drum chair.

Neither man will be joining Mustaine on the road, but true metalheads shouldn't worry -- Megadeth's touring lineup includes brothers Glen and Shawn Drover, of Eidolon, and former Iced Earth bassist James MacDonough. Megadeth, circa 2004, is an underground thrash all-star team, supporting a truly killer album. Horns in the air.

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