Written by Lucas P. Jones
Megadeth, the thrash metal titans fronted by Dave Mustaine, have released their fifteenth studio album, Dystopia, amidst a fair amount of anticipation. The band has gone through some rough patches since releasing the much maligned Super Collider in 2013. Poor reception for the album, personal issues for both Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson, and the departures of guitarist Chris Broderick and drummer Shawn Drover, all contributed to the problems faced by the band. After Broderick and Drover left, Mustaine and Ellefson wrote the album themselves over the course of a year, and in March 2015, it was announced that Chris Adler from Lamb of God would take over drumming duties, and Kiko Loureiro from Angra would become the lead guitarist for the band. With a new line-up and a new focus, would Mustaine and company be able to recapture some old-school thrash magic?
Now, I’m a sucker for an opening riff. It really sets the tone for the song, and the entire album. So when “The Threat is Real” kicked off, I knew I was going to be in for a ride. Throw in some dueling solos towards the end, and you have yourself an opening track. “Dystopia follows the same vein, but includes a melodic hook that doesn’t feel out of place. “Fatal Illusion” provides some groovy bass riffage jutted up against super shreddy harmonized solos and a double time outro, which is a trademark of old school Megadeth. The next few songs also feature some phenomenal riffs and overall structure, continuing to hone in on the classic thrash metal sound.
The two standouts on the back half of the album, are “Poisonous Shadows” and the instrumental track “Conquer or Die”. “Poisonous Shadows” starts with a beautiful acoustic intro from new guitarist Kiko, and transitioning into a mid-tempo symphonic thrash track that is a top contender for best song on the album. The songwriting and layering is very reserved, allowing the powerful lyrics and fantastic solos to shine. The instrumental “Conquer or Die” starts with another acoustic intro by Kiko. As a longtime Megadeth fan, his influence and ability makes me really excited to see them live in March, and well as his future work with the band. The song itself is a call back to “The Call of Kthulu”, a song written by, as Dave would put it, “The last band I was in.” Then, “Lying in State” kicks in, ripping you from your melodic daze and throwing you back into a pit of thrash.
I should address the elephant in the room, since so many other reviewers have. Mustaine’s political views and affiliations are on full display here, and for those who don’t know, the man is very vocally anti-government and anti-Obama, and some have criticized his lyrics for reflecting that. Songs like “The Emperor” (a song that uses the tales of the Emperor who has no clothes) and “Foreign Policy” villainize tyrants and those with too much power. But why should we criticize an artist for writing about what they are passionate about? Thrash and punk, from which Megadeth’s roots are planted, have long been anti-establishment, and Megadeth has had anti-government lyrics and themes their entire career, so this is nothing new. The whole point is freedom of expression, and it would be dangerous to art and society in general to attempt to neatly and safely box up the words and ideas people use to express themselves.
Dystopia as a whole is a very successful effort on the part of Megadeth. Full of complex riffs, hard stops, over the top solos and aggressive and timely lyrics, this album is their best effort since Endgame. The album does occasional drift towards Supercollider territory, in that some songs contain very pop-y hooks and melodies, but always manages to pull back into thrash mode. I’m very excited to see them at Terminal 5 in March, and to hear what else this new line-up is capable of producing.