Album Review

Megadeth - Dystopia

Released January 22, 2016
Dylan Sonderman​

It’s 2016, and Megadeth is still at it.  Since 1983, the band Dave Mustaine founded after being kicked out of Metallica has continued as a pioneer of thrash metal. Released on January 22nd, Dystopia is the 15th full-length album from the group.

Though some see the band as constantly in the shadow of Metallica, who achieved far more commercial success, guitarist and lead vocalist Mustaine has largely blazed his own trail. Though the group did follow Metallica’s much-maligned trajectory into hard rock territory with 1999’s "Risk," Megadeth maintains a way more consistent track record for delivering thrashy releases. James Hetfield and the boys boast only a paltry nine albums to Megadeth’s fifteen, despite predating Mustaine’s band by two years. Quality over quantity, some may say, but the point is, Megadeth has never really stopped being a serious force in the realm of thrash metal.

With a revolving door of drummers and lead guitarists, anchored by longtime bassist David Ellefson, Mustaine has led his group this far, so why stop now? Dystopia is an unsurprising 47 minutes of breakneck chugging riffs, dueling guitar solos, galloping basslines, pounding drums, and aggressive vocals. 10 original tracks and one cover (“Foreign Policy” by hardcore punk band Fear) later, I was happily banging my head in approval. And a few more listens through led to about the same result. At this point, Megadeth is one of those bands with little to prove.

Considering former members Chris Broderick and Shawn Drover departed the band in late 2014, Dystopia features the exceptional talents of Kiko Loureiro, formerly of Angra, on lead guitar, and Lamb of God’s Chris Adler on drums. Both musicians play flawlessly and elevate the band, which never lacked in instrumental prowess, to new technical heights. Loureiro shreds with the best of them, and in addition to his blazing alternate picking and ridiculous sweeping, provides some excellent acoustic fingerpicking and classical guitar passages in a couple songs, particularly in “Conquer or Die!,” “Bullet To The Brain,” and “Poisonous Shadows.” For Chris Adler’s part, the relentless delivery of double bass and snare on Dystopia represents the most technical drumming Megadeth has ever had. For all that, I almost feel like Adler probably held back in some parts, honestly. But that’s okay. Megadeth has pretty much always been the Dave Mustaine show.

There’s a really great harmonized riff at the end of “Dystopia” that really felt like old-school thrash. I definitely wished there was a bit more of that kind of classic vibe. But Mustaine is still an awesome guitarist and writes quality metal riffs. Ellefson is pretty much just there, holding down the low end, but there is a pretty progressive-sounding bass break in “Fatal Illusion,” followed by guitars kicking in on the same melody. It really harkened back to the intro of “Peace Sells.” Other than that, the record has fuck-tons of technical soloing and harmonized leads, and some mean grooves. The intro to “Lying in State” really crushed. “Poisonous Shadows” is the big epic track, acoustic guitar, strings, orchestra, the works. And “Conquer or Die!” stands out as an instrumental that breaks up the monotony a bit. I felt the band was lacking just a bit of the bite and edge I had hoped for on this release, though. But only a bit.

I found the lyrics to be pretty typical fare for Mustaine. Political topics and biting observations are sneered through a layer of violence and post-apocalyptic grime. None of the lines really resonated with me all that strongly, though. And the singing itself didn't really impress me, for the most part. He obviously has a lot of experience at constructing songs, and consequently, the vocal parts seem nicely put together, rarely boring or repetitive. But,his singing chops are not what they used to be.  And his voice, distinctive as it is, was never exactly my favorite to begin with. So maybe that element held me back from really “feeling” this album on any deep level. I didn’t hate the vocals, but they seemed uninspired. On a positive note, though, “Death from Within” benefits nicely from the backing vocals in the chorus and “Poisonous Shadows” makes use of a choir.
I've always liked a few Megadeth songs, and respected them as musicians. And this album didn't really change that. Other than perhaps the title track, there’s nothing on here quite as powerful as say, “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due,” “Hangar 18,” “Angry Again,” or even “Trust.” There isn't anything as lyrically memorable as “Peace Sells” or “Sweating Bullets,” but it’s a consistent, heavy, well-crafted metal album. “Dystopia,” “Conquer Or Die!,” and “Lying in State” were my favorite songs.

The songwriting sounds like a modern take on old-school thrash with a progressive twist, occasionally making me think of Dream Theater’s 2007 album Systematic Chaos. The production, however, strongly reminded me of Avenged Sevenfold’sl City of Evil, especially the guitar tone and certain vocal and acoustic guitar cadences. It’s not really a bad thing, just an observation.  Overall, Dystopia should satisfy Megadeth’s current fans and expose a new wave of young metalheads to the group. And what else can you really ask for from a veteran thrash metal band in 2016?