Two gems in recent years followed by two head-scratchers. The only given in this band comes when a MEGADETH album truly tanks, the band storms back with sheer ferocity. Just when many listeners had given up on Dave Mustaine and MEGADETH following 2013’s awkward, if occasionally fun “Super Collider”, the proverbial storm gathers and strikes lightning within the ‘DETH camp.
Following the mass rejection of “Super Collider” by the metal public, drummer Shawn Drover and guitarist Chris Broderick broke off from the band. Circulating rumors that Nick Menza and Marty Friedman would be returning to MEGADETH became fleeting trivialities that even Dave Mustaine himself has gone on record stating the same mojo would never have stoked. It wasn’t long before Mustaine quashed other gossips of disbandment by announcing Chris Adler from LAMB OF GOD and Kiko Loureiro from ANGRA as the band’s new recruits. However, metal fans were dubious as to what musical direction this lineup would take, regardless of the fuel injection Adler brings to any project he contributes to.
Let Vic Rattlehead depicted as a would-be Judge Death on the shelled-out cover of MEGADETH’s fifteenth album “Dystopia” be the splatterpunk herald that Dave Mustaine is once again back in the saddle atop his sprinting metallic steed. This is easily the best MEGADETH album since 2009’s “Endgame” and 2004’s “The System Has Failed”. The listening experience to “Dystopia” is akin to a championship caliber football team underperforming for weeks and, having reaped at trade deadline, makes an imperative and gallant run into the playoffs.
Despite arranging the title track in exactly the same fashion as “Hangar 18” right down to the jiving breakdown and thrash-bursting outro, this album is very inspired, stuffed with massive shredding and some of the most blistering solos since “Rust in Peace”. When you consider not much has changed in the world since “Rust” dropped in 1990 with shaky politics and the Middle East submerged within a steady conflagration, it’s fitting “Dystopia” plays with a fiery head of steam. While not a full-on thrash album, “Dystopia” is nonetheless socked with throbbing fury on cuts like “Fatal Illusion” (a song that hits a gloriously brisk glide ala the “Peace Sells” days), “The Threat is Real”, “Post American World”, “Look Who’s Talking” and the bombastic “Lying in State”.
As most of “Dystopia” is set at mid-tempo, the key element to its success is its density. You’ve heard the marching menace of “Death From Within” plenty of times in the past, but here it’s shoved with conviction and huge guitar play you end up buying into it all over it again. For certain, Chris Adler brings urgency to MEGADETH with his tireless flailing and trip hammers. Yet the tag solos between Dave Mustaine and Kiko Loureiro are entertaining as all hell. Some of their most searing come on “Death from Within”, “Fatal Illusion”, “Poisonous Shadows”, “Bullet to the Brain”, “Look Who’s Talking”, “Conquer or Die” and of course, the colossal chaos they rain all over “The Threat is Real”. Bringing ANGRA’s flamenco flair to the table, Kiko Loureiro drops a gorgeous acoustic spiral to the first half of the instrumental, “Conquer or Die”.
David Ellefson, always a massive component to any album he appears on, be it MEGADETH, F5, AVIAN or even SOULFLY, plays like his career depends on it. The last couple of MEGADETH albums were rescued more often than not by Ellefson. On “Dystopia”, he writhes, slithers and thrums despite the full-frontal guitar theatrics spooling in front of him. Ellefson sounds nearly as grand as the dressed-up keys and chorals along with Chris Adler’s blast beats on the richly written dirge epic “Poisonous Shadows”. His funky chunks at the tail end of “Fatal Illusion”’s intro is just sick.
“The Emperor” is a blaring straight rocker that embarrasses “Super Collider” in its entirety with its chaw. “Post American World”’s snarling riffs give nod to “Symphony of Destruction”, a mallet jam for Dave Mustaine to issue his customary prophecy of the downfall of America as Neo-Rome. To kick his point across even more, Mustaine and MEGADETH hit a rowdy, if tightened cover of FEAR’s “Foreign Policy”. To the good, this “Foreign Policy” far supersedes MEGADETH’s mucked attempt ages ago to metal up the SEX PISTOLS‘ “Anarchy in the U.K.”
“Dystopia” arrives in the nick of time as the music world mourns the losses of Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie and Glenn Frey, all departing within days of each other at the end of 2015 or early in 2016. Dave Mustaine’s pissed-off snarls are precisely the voice of what we’re all feeling as music and metal fans right now, and his lyrical tirades are so very welcome. His squirming vocals on “Lying in State” hurt in a beautiful way. We needed one of metal’s big guns to step up and thankfully, that’s what MEGADETH has done here. “Dystopia” isn’t monumental, but it’s a damned good (often magnificent) album. The entire foursome in this incarnation of MEGADETH goes for the win and “Dystopia” readily scores.