Megadeth - Dystopia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Dystopia (2016)

t-boy records

Dave Mustaine seems to do some of his best work when he’s got a chip on his shoulder. His anger at his former Metallica bandmates gave us Killing is My Business...and Business is Good! (1985) and Peace Sells...but Who’s Buying? (1986), two early thrash classics. 30 years later, Mustaine and Megadeth still have something to prove. Their last LP, Super Collider (2013), was critically panned and generally uninspiring. Guitarist Chris Broderick and drummer Shawn Drover left after its release, acknowledging that the album wasn’t very good. This was after Mustaine had crowed about how that Megadeth lineup was the best one ever. Of course, he’s saying that again about the current roster of mostly hired guns. (It might be time to give up that rhetoric.) The frequent personnel changes sometimes work to Megadeth’s advantage. New members bring new strengths and new ideas to the band. The return of original bass player David Ellefson in 2010 seemed to invigorate the group. Now, Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler is propelling the band with a renewed energy.

Dystopia is a pretty popular theme at the moment, especially among young people. Mainstream movies, books and TV shows are saturated with tales set in post-apocalyptic wastelands. Mustaine and Megadeth were always way ahead of the curve and have been mining this rich source of material for years. So Far, So Good...So What! (1988), Rust in Peace (1990), Countdown to Extinction (1992), The World Needs a Hero (2001) The System has Failed (2004), United Abominations (2007) and Endgame (2009) were all dominated by the subject. It certainly appears that Mustaine doesn’t have much faith in a bright future. More than 30 years into his career, his worldview seems bleaker than ever. Dystopia, Megadeth’s 15 album, feels like a culmination of what he’s been working toward. Even the cover art features Megadeth mascot Vic Rattlehead carrying Lady Liberty's severed head while drones buzz around in the background.

Musically, Dystopia is what you’ve come to expect from Megadeth since about the year 2000. It’s melodic thrash delivered with machine-like precision. Album openers “The Threat is Real” and “Dystopia” are both really strong tracks, but the production is a bit heavy handed. The sweeping orchestral synthesizers and operatic female vocals make the killer thrash songs feel a tad pretentious. Megadeth just isn’t as rough around the edges as they used to be. Mustaine’s singing has improved in the traditional sense, but it’s easy to miss the old “Peace Sells” snarl. Truth be told, Mustaine’s songwriting is in fine form. “Fatal Illusion” and “Death From Within” are both rock solid. “Bullet to the Brain” veers off topic and into the complicated realm of male female relationships. “Poisonous Shadows” is probably the most ambitious song on Dystopia. It opens with an extended acoustic intro, gets heavy and melodic in the middle, then closes with a haunting piano outro.

“Post American World” works well with the dark imagery. Mustaine’s strange mix of patriotism and contempt for the powers that be are on full display. “Conquer or Die” is an instrumental that features some tasteful classical/flamenco acoustic guitar work and ends with what might be a creepy priest giving latin mass. In general, the ample guitar solos on Dystopia tend to lean toward the neo-classical style. Think Randy Rhoads or Yngwie Malmsteen rather than Mustaine’s earlier frantic stuff. “The Emperor” doesn’t name names, but could easily be about someone who promised hope and change, but then delivered the same old crap. The album wraps up with a cover of Fear’s “Foreign Policy”. It’s not the first time Megadeth has recorded a punk classic, (see “Anarchy in the UK”), and the song fits in well with the rest of the material. Mustaine also has a personal connection to Fear mastermind Lee Ving, as they did a one off project together called MD45 (The Craving, 1996). The new version certainly doesn’t improve on the original, but it does it justice.

Dystopia is as good a collection of songs as we’ve heard from Megadeth since the 90’s. There’s nothing as savagely heavy as “Holy Wars” or as catchy as “Symphony of Destruction”, but there’s no real duds either. (You can’t even say that about some of their classic LP’s.) Megadeth’s commercial peak may be well behind them, but they continue to crank out vital, relevant music. Mustaine has proven once again that he still belongs at the top of the thrash heap. While it’s highly unlikely that Dystopia will return the band to multi-platinum status, it will almost surely leave longtime fans as satisfied as they’ve been in quite a few years.