by Jeff Maki
There’s been a huge buildup to Dystopia, the 15th album from the legendary Megadeth. Another Megadeth album means another round of mainman Dave Mustaine in the press, and while I quite enjoy his ramblings and his controversial remarks, he’s a constant target on the Internet. (The latest developments are not crediting Dave Ellefson as being a founding member of the band and, most recently, the possibility of a Mustaine-family reality show.) Fans were ecstatic about the near-reunion of the Rust in Peace-era lineup, only to see it fall apart. (Drummer Nick Menza said it was over financial negotiations.) Of course, Mustaine was to blame. He made amends with fans by adding Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler for the recording of Dystopiaand hiring Angra’s Kiko Loureiro as Megadeth’s new full-time guitarist.
So that brings us to Dystopia. I don’t really agree with the things I’ve read about the album being a “return to form.” When did Megadethlose it’s form? Aside from taking a few “risks” and going a little commercial over the years, Megadeth has been about as rock-solid of a thrash metal band as there ever was. (For the record, I happen to like that album.) Rather, Dystopia is hopefully the beginning of a new era for Mustaine, Dave Ellefson, Loureiro, and Adler or whoever ends up becoming the full-time drummer.
This lineup is tight–he guitars are on fire, the drumming is heavier than ever and there’s even a bass solo on “Fatal Illusion.” Save for a few cringe-worthy vocals (which, lets face it, Dave is always good for), Mustaine’s vocal performance is lethal and sinister as ever. The overall performances give Dystopia a futuristic thrash metal sound and make it relevant for the modern day. If you’ve ever wondered what Vic Rattlehead may look like cast in The Divergent Series, look no further.
A lot of things have been said about Mustaine’s controversial lyrics, many regarding current events and the state of our country. One writer even accused Mustaine of being a “xenophobe.” We are surprised Mustaine has controversial lyrics? Whether these reflect his personal opinions or not, it’s in the context of the theme of Dystopia. It’s meaning: an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. How we get there is totally up to Mustaine.
You might have heard the excellent “Fatal Illusion” and “The Threat is Real” leading up to the release, but part of being a rock-solid thrash metal band is packing your albums full of deeper cuts. This is something Megadeth always has done (See “Tornado of Souls,” “This Was My Life,” “She-Wolf,” and the list goes on and on.) Besides the politically charged songs on Dystopia, the amazing instrumental “Conquer or Die” is like Megadeth playing Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The evil low end of Adler’s double bass on “Poisonous Shadows” rolls and thumps into Mustaine snarling an Alice Cooper-like chorus, while “Bullet to the Brain” is a thrasher’s sing-along. “Melt the Ice Away” is a great album closer with a classic, ode-to-Motorhead riff that’s the most throwback element here. I’m not going to begin to pretend to know what I’m talking about when I describe the guitar mastery of Mustaine and Loureiro. Let me just say that if you’re just getting into Megadeth, bands don’t do it like this anymore—not even close.
The only songs I’m not immediately fond of are “The Emperor” (see cringe-worthy lyrics) and “Foreign Policy,” a cover song originally by hardcore punk band Fear. I get the thinking for its inclusion on the album, but this lineup is too good to play hardcore, and I don’t think it works.
Thirty-five years and 15 albums in, Mustaine still has that war inside his head, a chip on his shoulder for a variety of reasons. Once again, he has assembled a new supergroup to lead us into the bleak future. Dystopia is a welcome addition to the Megadeth arsenal and contains a number of new classics-in-waiting. Go Dave.
(Tradecraft, January 22, 2016)