It has not been easy for Megadeth lately. 2013’s Super Collider has widely been considered a flop. Frontman, Dave Mustaine, has been entrenched in multiple sociopolitical controversies on top of rehabilitating a cervical spine surgery and dealing with an ailing mother-in-law. Megadeth has been absorbing a revolving door of band members during its prior two albums (sans stalwart bassist David Ellefson). All of these instances have marred the momentum of the Los Angeles-based thrash titans in the past handful of years. Thankfully, amid all of the adversity their fifteenth studio album, Dystopia, is very refreshing.
For all of its intent and purpose, Dystopia cleanses the palate of the horrid taste its recent predecessors has left in the mouths of the Megadeth faithful. While lyrically, it is loaded with the same political paranoia that Mustaine is regularly plagued with; it is delivered through the classic angst and aggression that Megadeth is traditionally known for (thus avoiding the fear that this album would be Mustaine’s political manifesto). On Dystopia‘s title track, Mustaine proclaims “They tell us to believe just half of what we see/And absolutely nothing that we hear”, alerting the listener of cover-ups and secrets that are kept from the public. This theme continues throughout the course of Dystopia, his lyrics penning a warning for a future certain to lay in waste as well as a system that purposely keeps its citizens blind to the truth (see “Post American World” or “Lying In State”). Mustaine’s ego leaks into the back half of the album as well on tracks like “Poisonous Shadows” and “The Emperor”. Whether or not this is supposed to be transposed onto, Vic, the main character of Dystopia‘s narrative, or it is, in fact, Mustaine speaking to the listener remains uncertain.
Setting lyrical content aside, the instrumentation for most of Dystopia is quite stellar. Mustaine and Ellefson brought Chris Adler, the drummer from Lamb of God, and Kiko Loureiro, guitarist of Angra, into the mix for Megadeth’s newest work. Mustaine and Louriero’s guitar licks and riffs are incendiary on “The Threat Is Real,” “Fatal Illusion,” and “Death From Within”. Chris Adler’s drumming is probably the best Megadeth has had since the mid-nineties. “Post-American World” has a bit of a “Symphony of Destruction” feel with it’s rolling riff and chorus. Mustaine’s voice is aging well also as he is settles into a forceful growl and snarl. There are moments in the album where it seems to fall flat as well. “Poisonous Shadows” and “Lying in State” lack a punch. The instrumental “Conquer or Die” should have been placed a little earlier in the album as it feels like it is out of place. Placing it before “Poisonous Shadows” would possibly have been a better option.
Overall, Dystopia is a solid return to form for Megadeth in the 21st century. Following the massively subpar Super Collider, this new album puts Megadeth back on the right track. The addition of Chris Adler and Kiko Louriero were much needed, Mustaine and Ellefson hit personnel selections out of the park. Adler’s drumming is the best and most consistent part of Dystopia which as a whole suffers from some dips in form. Fortunately, there are some excellent Megadeth songs on this album that rival the greatness of many of their earliest works. “The Threat Is Real,” “Fatal Illusion,” and “Dystopia” are all fantastic songs that are wildly catchy and worthy of throwing your horns in the air. Dystopia was a pleasant surprise in the end. It reaffirms the Megadeth faithful that Mustaine, Ellefson, and whoever they bring into the mix can still make good music for thrash fans.