Saturday, March 5, 2016

Megadeth — Dystopia [album review]

Released on January 22nd

Megadeth has always tackled dark subject matter in their songs, so a loosely structured concept album about a bleak dystopian future isn’t quite the creative leap that it might be for other bands. Hell, their very name is taken from a politician’s made-up word to describe nuclear annihilation (minus an “a”...for that metal touch). On new album Dystopia, Megadeth frontman/singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine delivers pretty much start-to-finish lyrical doom and gloom — “Fatal Illusion”, “Death From Within”, “Bullet To The Brain”, “Conquer Or Die”, “Lying In State”, and “Last Dying Wish” are just a few of the sunny titles conjured up for the group’s 15th studio album. That apocalyptic outlook was no doubt informed by Mustaine’s extremely cynical view of politicians (including crackpot birther beliefs and accusations that President Obama was behind the 2012 Colorado movie theatre mass shooting), as well as the particularly difficult 2014 that Megadeth experienced. That year saw Mustaine’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother-in-law go missing for weeks before being found dead, bassist Dave Ellefson’s brother passing away, a highly public dispute with an Australian concert promoter that lead to cancelled shows, drummer Shawn Drover and guitarist Chris Broderick quitting the band within hours of each other, and more cancelled shows due to complications from Mustaine’s previous back surgery.

The revolving door of Megadeth musicians finds Lamb Of God drummer Chris Adler and guitar whiz Kiko Loureiro (from Brazilian band Angra) as the newest members of the group. Who knows how long they’ll be able to weather Mustaine’s legendarily volatile personality. For now, however, they prove to be a great addition to the mix, based on Dystopia’s highly impressive results. Loureiro and Mustaine work very efficiently off each other trading shredding guitar leads, as does the Ellefson/Adler rhythm section. Burners like “Lying In State”, “The Threat Is Real”, and “Fatal Illusion” (featuring a fantastically nimble solo bass line from Ellefson) are Megadeth at their thrashiest best. The title track, “Death From Within”, “Bullet To The Brain”, and “Post American World” dial down the tempos (which tend to change more than a few times in many of Dystopia’s songs) without sacrificing much heaviness. “Look Who’s Talking” and “Last Dying Wish” provide a brief respite from Mustaine’s love-it-or-hate-it singing voice with equally sneering spoken lyrics à la So Far, So Good...So What!’s “In My Darkest Hour” and Countdown To Extinction’s “Sweating Bullets”. The ambitious six minute “Poisonous Shadows” instills a symphonic element that was no doubt inspired by Mustaine’s 2014 collaboration with the San Diego Symphony and also features a guitar intro that appears to be a reworking of Countdown To Extinction’s “Foreclosure Of A Dream” intro. Instrumental “Conquer Or Die” gives Loureiro an opportunity to show off his profound classical guitar skills before the rest of the band comes in, although Dystopia wouldn’t have been weakened if the track had been omitted. An inspired cover of hardcore punk band Fear’s “Foreign Policy” closes the album and serves as a bit of callback to Mustaine’s one-off side project MD.45, which he did with Fear frontman Lee Ving back in 1996.

The best line I’ve read about Dystopia was from a Boston Globe writer who came up with the clever “riffing is their business...and business is good” (a reference to Megadeth’s debut album title for the uninitiated). Is it ever. Their latest release is loaded with great headbanging riffs and an intensity that was sorely missing from their last release, 2013’s disappointing Super Collider. Unlike that album, Dystopia completely jettisons aspirations of radio play and amps up the aggressiveness and anger that suits MegaDave and his cohorts exceedingly well this time around. The weakest component is the inconsistent narrative consisting of themes like solidarity among the downtrodden, failed states, authoritarian rule, American jingoism, and xenophobic paranoia (that inconsistency is further exemplified by a song like “Death From Within”, which is about Greek mythology’s Trojan War). Dystopia shines in spite of its thematic deficiencies, representing one of Megadeth’s best efforts since their 80s peak.

Rating: A-

Related Mediaboy Musings posts: my January 2010 review of Megadeth’s Endgame album and my February 2012 review of their Th1rt3en album 

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