David Ellefson says that "Risk" was "very much a transitional record" for MEGADETH, explaining that it was made during a time when "heavy metal had such a horrible stigma" in America.
Issued in 1999, "Risk" received a mixed response from critics and alienated hardcore MEGADETH fans due to its departure from the band's heavy thrash metal roots to a more commercial, pop-rock sound. The album debuted at No. 16 on the Billboard chart and was later certified gold for selling half a million copies in the United States.
During a recent interview with Eonmusic, Ellefson was asked how he looks back on "Risk" 20 years after its release.
"It's a storied one, for sure," he said. "I think ultimately we came off a very successful rebuilding campaign with 'Cryptic Writings'. That was a record that repositioned the band — we finally became profitable again. We dug ourselves out of some huge financial holes, major transitions in our whole management team — a lot. And plus, here in America, we basically wrote a record that fit very well with the FM radio sound that was going on, because, man, as you know, the '90s were not kind to thrash metal. Between the Seattle sound, the nu metal music and all this stuff, I mean, for us thrash bands, it was challenging, and I think we really hit the mark with 'Cryptic Writings'."
Elaborating on why he thinks "Risk" failed to repeat the success of its predecessor, the bassist said: "I think we came off the road, and we went into the studio with 'Risk' much too early. We didn't have all of the songs together. I think our mindset was, 'We need to write these sort of mainstream radio songs, and when we get to [the recording studio in] Nashville, we'll chuck these metal tunes out, no problem, because we can do that in our sleep.' And I think what happened is we got to Nashville, and we didn't chuck out the metal songs. I think there was so much focus on the record being this sort of polished, mainstream, radio-friendly record that the metal songs sort of got pushed to the side, and they didn't get included. And if anything, I think that's the story of that. But [some of the tracks on the LP] are very likeable songs; forget about the genre or anything. But I think when you buy a MEGADETH record, it needs to have a certain sound to it. I mean, even the logo — all of a sudden, pointy guitars, pointy logos, all that shit was illegal in heavy metal. People were thinking, 'Don't even say you're heavy metal. Say you're hard rock.' Because heavy metal had such a horrible stigma here in America. IRON MAIDEN — everybody went through a downturn. It was a challenging time."
Asked when he and his bandmates realized that the album wasn't connecting with people, Ellefson said: "We knew it right away. As soon as we put it out, we knew it, and honestly, there was a conversation on the bus not long after that European tour when Dave [Mustaine, MEGADETH leader], he just said, 'We have to go back to being a thrash band.' He said, 'We've got to get back to who we really are and stop chasing this and that.' And that was when Marty Friedman [MEGADETH's then-guitarist] just said, 'Look, if we're going to go back to being a thrash band, I'm out.' And the next day he quit. And it was a couple of weeks later when Al Pitrelli came in. So, yeah, it was very much a transitional record for us personally in the band. And part of me was going, 'God, are we just going to go back to being what we used to be? Shouldn't we continue to move forward? As humans, don't we grow forward?' It was an interesting moment — very, very challenging. The whole infrastructure of just who we were as a band was just on the line — everything."
Last year, Mustaine said that "Risk" was the result of him "capitulating" to Friedman's "desires to be more of an alternative band." He told SiriusXM's "Trunk Nation LA Invasion: Live From The Rainbow Bar & Grill": "We kept slowing down and slowing down and slowing down. If that record would have been called THE DAVE MUSTAINE PROJECT and not MEGADETH, I think it would have been successful. People wanted a MEGADETH record. They didn't wanna see Dave bending over backwards to keep Marty Friedman happy, 'cause Marty wanted us to sound like fucking DISHWALLA."