Album Review : Megadeth - 'Dystopia'.
It’s been a turbulent few years in the Megadeth camp. The critical and commercial failure of 2013’s chart friendly ‘Super Collider’, along with the split of their longest serving line-up since their ‘90s heyday left the band at something of a crossroads. Reduced to a duo of core members Dave Mustaine and long-time bassist David Ellefson, a much hankered after ‘Rust In Peace’ reunion was nixed, in favour of the addition of former Angra guitarist Kiko Loureiro, and Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler, creating this; Megadeth version 8.0 (or thereabouts).
With a lengthy tour already under their bullet belts, live, the band appear to be reenergised, and much like in 2001 following their much maligned pop-orientated ‘Risk’ album, Mustaine is attempting to turn the tanker around once more. The good news is that, for the most part it seems to be working, and ‘Dystopia’ is something of a return to form for the thinking man’s thrash metal act.
The opening blistering riffing of ‘The Threat Is Real’ confirms this. As a statement of intent, its fast picking intro, hard-driving beat and chugging guitars leave little doubt that the overtly radio-friendly hooks have once again been banished in favour of the more readily-associated speed metal of, if not quite ‘old’, then the last decade anyhow. That’s not to say that the material isn’t catchy – it is, sitting somewhere between ‘Youthanasia’ and ‘The World Needs A Hero’ - as the title track amply demonstrates - there’s just less evidence of the band desperately chasing a hit single.
‘Dystopia’ then, is evidently a much harder-edged album than its predecessor (despite a glossy production sheen), as anyone who has heard ‘Fatal Illusion’ can attest. One of the opening trio of tracks which have all been released as singles already, it hints strongest at former glories, with its hard-hitting preamble and hyper-riffing. Indeed, despite its tuneful chorus, the title track too harks back to former glories, recalling ‘Hanger 18’ with extended trade-off soloing and half time rhythms.
Guitar solos have always been an essential part of the Megadeth DNA, and as such the biggest spotlight here arguably falls on Loureiro. Following in the shredding footsteps of the likes of Chris Poland and Marty Friedman, the Brazilian native does not disappoint, and slots into the band seamlessly, his nimble fingers littering the album with a series of seriously memorable licks. While both ‘Death From Within’ and ‘Post America World’ show off his mind-boggling skills, it’s on the instrumental ‘Conquer Or Die!’ were he really shines. With a Spanish guitar section that reveals his roots, Kiko proves that he has perhaps more to offer than some of his recent predecessors.
Lyrically, Mustaine is his usual form, such as on ‘Lying In Stereo’s claim that “what we are witnessing is the decline of Western civilisation”, and while it’s not clear who the source of his ire is, on ‘The Emperor’ he certainly doesn’t mince his words; “you make me sick – you prick,” being one of his less subtle musings.
Mustaine however still has a few tricks up his sleeve, and among the album’s highlights is what is also its most surprising track. The epic Eastern-flavoured ‘Poisoned Shadows’ tight verses may show off Adler’s disciplined metronomic style, however, overtly melodious, it adds eerie keys, female backing vocals and most unexpectedly of all, genteel piano to its sonic palate. The result is that it’s the most forward-thinking Megadeth track in eons.
There will be some wondering if Mustaine can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat once more. ‘Dystopia’, after all, is not only an important Megadeth release, but one of the biggest metal releases of the year. It may not be perfect, but it’s the most vital sounding Megadeth album in almost a decade. Happily, the system hasn’t failed. The threat is real.
First published on uberrock.co.uk, 18 January 2016.