There is little doubt that Dave Mustaine and Megadeth have gotten a bit of a bad rep the last few years. Between albums that diverted from the band’s traditional thrash roots, to line-up changes, to the mega-expectations placed on a man, and a band with such a legendary background, keeping everyone happy is an impossible feat. None of this has deterred Mustaine and his longtime compatriot in arms, bassist David Ellefson. With the notable talents of Lamb of God drummer, Chris Adler, and Brazilian guitar virtuoso, Kiko Loureiro (Angra) on board, Megadeth returns with arguably its most potent album in years, Dystopia. There will still be naysayers and loud discord from the metal elitists, but if you cannot appreciate this neck-snapper of an album, which brings the band’s gloried past into present, then nothing Megadeth can ever do would impress you at this point.
Dystopia is meaty and powerful right from the opening volley. “The Threat is Real” is textbook Megadeth: A cinematic Middle Eastern intro gives way to a swarming buzz of frenetic riffing. The verses kick in with a trademark chugging bass and a bouncing guitar line. Mustaine delivers his vocals in classic menacing form. This song is an instant weapon in the band’s loaded arsenal.
The title track, “Dystopia”, moves along at a solid clip, unfurling Mustaine’s politically infused lyrics. The track is equal parts punishing and melodic, and in some respects the song feels reminiscent of the Rust in Peace era.
Mustaine continues to set the tone with the buzz-saw aggression of “Fatal Illusion”. Ellefson’s bass begins the race and the guitars quickly join in the pursuit. Adler is simply pummeling behind the kit and the song is packed with fantastic solo fills from Loureiro.
The onslaught continues on “Death From Within” and the atmospheric and ominous, militaristic bent of “Bullet to the Brain”. The back and forth dance across the fretboard between Mustaine and Loureiro elevates these songs past their somewhat humble foundations.
A sinister and creeping riff paces the chug-and-groover, “Post American World”, while some eerie and rolling acoustic fretwork opens “Poisonous Shadows” with its Egyptian tone. The latter includes some well-choreographed orchestration that embellishes the darkly twisting and majestic track which also features some haunting vocal nuances from Jordanian vocalist, Farah Siraj. Louriero, who co-wrote the song, also plays piano on the song.
After the instrumental, “Conquer or Die”, the band returns to the gnashing and bashing with “Lying in State”–a crushing bruiser lyrically driven by Mustaine’s social cynicism: “Another day, another manufactured crisis keeping the people distracted–There’s no one playing by the rules anymore, how will history portray us?” While some critics might rail against Mustaine’s sometimes outspoken political views, he hits the nail on the head here.
Dystopia winds down with “The Emperor”, a number that seethes with contemptuous anger–before the album closes out with a cover of “Foreign Policy” from the 1982 debut album, The Record, by Los Angeles hardcore punk outfit, Fear.
Fans who pick up Deluxe editions of the album will also get the tracks, “Look Who’s Talking”, which is reminiscent in vocal delivery to Countdown to Extinction‘s “Sweating Bullets”. They will also get the propulsive thrasher, “Last Dying Wish”.
Fifteen studio albums into the band’s 33-year career, Megadeth has created an album that blends its vintage signature with contemporary touches. Dave Mustaine and company remain resilient and relevant on Dystopia, executing a record with more hits than misses, and some particularly memorable tracks that should become live mainstays. Chris Adler’s deft and weighty performance truly shines on Dystopia, and the addition of Kiko Loureiro is an inspired choice which seems to have re-energized Mustaine’s own playing. If you gave up on Megadeth in recent years, Dystopia should remind you of why they remain one of metal’s most influential bands. Bottom line: The thrash is back!