Megadeth - Dystopia Review

By Ashley Bailey

Over the years, the Megadeth line-up has come and gone like the clientele of Charlotte the Harlot. People have their favourites, the Rust in Peace line-up (Mustaine, Ellefson, Friedman, and Menza) attracting perhaps the most vehement portion of the fan base. I have a soft spot for the Endgame era line-up, with the blisteringly talented axeman Chris Broderick serving as the Sergeant Riggs to Mustaine’s Sergeant Murtaugh. Sadly the Mustaine-Broderick partnership wasn’t meant to be, with the latter leaving alongside Shaun Drover in 2014 to form Act of Defiance. Megadeth (or Mustaine at least) are, fortunately, rather adept at the art of perseverance. They’d have to be, what with their slouchy periods – i.e. the Risk and Super Collider eras.

So fresh meat was brought in for the grinder – with Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler and ex-Angra guitarist Kiko Loureiro completing Megadeth’s fractured line-up. And like Elizabeth B├íthory bathing in virgin blood, this served to kick-start a band many claim have been flagging since the release of 1994’s Youthanasia. The band’s fifteenth release, Dystopia, had a lot to prove then. Fortunately, any doubt is immediately dispelled by the opener The Threat is Real. The song is at once classy and furious, a combination of the craftsmanship of Friedman and the pure aggression of Broderick. One can detect the encroaching influence of the East here: it opens with a bit of mystical Eastern melismatic wailing and employs the use of Eastern scales for its solos. This is a stylistic choice which serves to highlight the overall theme of the album – Islam’s growing influence in the Western world.

Title track Dystopia keeps the momentum going with an old school beast that’s up there with Hanger 18 regarding progression and complexity, but sounds closer to Black Swan and She-Wolf. Kiko shines through here, especially in the solo around the one minute forty mark which demonstrates his hybrid picking mastery. Really, this is going to stand amongst Megadeth’s best – even Mustaine’s deep, gravelly vocals don’t seem out of place here. Fatal Illusion, unfortunately, doesn’t follow on from the intense crescendo of riffage and drumming which closes out Dystopia. I wasn’t keen on it at first, but after a few listens I became rather fond of the track – which I guess is some kind of music equivalent of Stockholm syndrome. The opening riff is a monster, down tuned to D to give an almost doom metal effect. Following which is some catchy bass which had me thinking for a moment that the band was attempting to emulate Black Sabbath’s Nib. The pace and intensity pick up throughout, but still I was left feeling like I was trying to masturbate to a copy of National Geographic.

Death From Within and Bullet to the Brain have that generic modern Megadeth quality to them. Perfectly serviceable but if you went for a walk while listening to the album, they’d likely blend together in your mind. Bullet to the Brain does have some nice bluesy solos, however. Post American World follows the similar vein of generic ‘deth but is arguably the most atmospheric song on the album. Unsettling ambient noises serve as the song's intro, and from there it chugs along to an uncompromising down tuned riff and Mustaine’s snarling vocals. Add to the mix an excellent acoustic Eastern inspired solo and you have a rather atmospheric track. Not really a fan of the whole desperate American patriotism, though.

Poisonous Shadows manages to both continue the gloomy atmosphere, and meet Megadeth's one ballad per album obligation. Although it's more of a pseudo-ballad in the vein of Promises only much, much heavier. I actually really liked PS, the chorus is hauntingly beautiful: “Is it my face you see? Do I haunt you in your sleep? On your hands and knees, when you crawl. Through your nightmares.” The gloomy melodramatic songs always best fit Mustaine’s anguished vocals anyway, so PS works really well. Conquer or Die! brings proceedings back up a notch for the home stretch. CoD is an instrumental track which demonstrates the powerhouse that is a Mustaine-Kiko partnership. The guitar work is phenomenal, with the Eastern-inspired acoustic intro being the real standout. The instrumental carries straight over to Lying in State, which is easily one of the hardest hitting of the bunch. It’s like The System Has Failed era, specifically Blackmail the Universe, on crack. Unfortunately, there’s nothing much else to say about it. Other than the lyrics veer into the kind of paranoid fantasy my granddad indulges in whenever he claims the nurse have been stealing his medication.

Penultimate track The Emperor is my favourite, and, in my opinion, would have closed the album far more effectively than the cover of Fear’s Foreign Policy. Powered by some balls-to-the-wall hard rock guitar and drum work, The Emperor is an incredibly charged track and harkens back to the hyper-energetic early days of the band. Again, Mustaine’s trademark snarl befits the sardonic tone of the lyrics, and he demonstrates remarkable range and capability here. The solo has shades of Hanger 18’s melodic solos to it, and I found myself involuntary air-guitaring along to it for days on end – which was a bit embarrassing during my prostate exam. The Emperor does lose points for unironically sharing a lyric with the Spice Girls: “Who do you think you are? Some kind of superstar?” As mentioned, I didn’t really dig Foreign Policy. It’s a bit too loud and aggressive and lacks any kind of direction. Which is to be expected for a hardcore punk song. But simply being abrasive and screaming ‘Foreign Policy’ for the chorus while a generic riff chugs along isn’t enough when set to the standard of the rest of the album. Some fans may appreciate the charged intensity of the track which harks back to the band’s formative years. Maybe this one will grow on me down the line.

All in all, Dystopia is a substantial effort; one which is surely capable of winning over the fans left unimpressed by Endgame and 13, and perfectly showcases the band’s new formation. Kiko and Mustaine go together like screaming teenage girls and horror movies. Adler is the most proficient drummer the band’s had since Menza. This is a line-up I hope continues for years to come. But to focus on the present, I’d like to talk about the cloud that hangs over the whole thing like a stagnant fart in an elevator. Dystopia is a thematic album, and though it doesn’t tell a single story, the tracks do all link to a singular theme: America’s destruction at the hands of the liberals and fifth columnist enemies. This isn’t exactly new territory for Megadeth; Endgame had the loose overarching theme of the encroaching totalitarianism of the government.

I had an argument with a friend about this very subject; I know, an argument over a metal album. Who’d have thought! He was distancing himself from the album for what he perceived to be Islamophobic and ultra-conservative lyrics. I don’t believe that this is really the case. The creeping born again Christian values can be a little grating, admittedly. But Dystopia is simply the product of one man vocalising how he sees the state of the world. Megadeth has always been like the crazy bloke who lounges around his trailer in his y-fronts, protecting himself from government mind-rays by covering himself with tin-foil. They are well known for their conspiracy theorist worldviews, with songs about the New World Order, nuclear warfare, religion, and sinister government conspiracies. In fact I’d be suspicious if Megadeth released and album about how everything is absolutely fine. Oh no, looks like they finally took his thoughts away! How did they get to you, Dave? 

Devil Horn Rating (Out of Five): \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/


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