For Megadeth’s 15th album Dystopia (released on Universal/Tradecraft/T-Boy Records on January 22), Dave Mustaine put together a new and impressive lineup. With the departure of longtime lead guitarist Chris Broderick, Angra’s Kiko Loureiro has taken his place, and Lamb of God’s Chris Adler has replaced Shawn Drover on the skins. It’s practically a thrash metal supergroup – and that should excite a lot of fans who may have given their last full-length Super Collider (2013) a collective yawn.
Megadeth has been recording albums for over 30 years now. They thrived and survived through hair metal, grunge and nu metal, and given us at least a handful of true classic records, starting with 1985 debut Killing Is My Business… and 1986’s Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? (the title track of which has truly withstood the test of time). But since the mid-’90s, it’s been an up-and-down ride as far as consistency goes – inconsistent lineups and albums. What has never been in question, however, is the live show – Megadeth concerts are always killer.
So if you’re wondering if after 31 years (and particularly after the back-to-back duds that were the 2011 LP Thirteen and 2013’s Super Collider), Mustaine has completely lost what it takes to make a terrifically meaty thrash metal record, fear not, my metal friends. Dystopia is not only worth listening to, it’s the best Megadeth album in over a decade – since 2004’s The System Has Failed. (If you think it’s their finest since 2009’s Endgame, you could very well make the case for that but I believe this new one is more ferociously consistent.)
True fans of any band wouldn’t want artists to stunt their artistic growth and repeat the exact music that made them successful. But revisiting the winning formula just to recapture that initial inspiring energy in order to make a solid record again is just fine. The title track of this release alone embodies this approach. Everything from the sudden tempo shift over halfway through it to the solo tradeoffs by Loureiro and Mustaine recalls “Hangar 18,” one of the classics and enduring live favorites from 1990 masterpiece Rust in Peace.
With Loureiro in the fold, you’d expect the Brazil native to bring some fresh ingredients into Megadeth via his virtuostic playing. And that he does on acoustic to start “Conquer or Die” and elsewhere (mainly using his electric six-stringer). As Mustaine told the April 2016 of Guitar World, there are Hungarian, Arabian and even Hindu scales the band used on the record. While Broderick brought some sweet classical/neoclassical guitar into Megadeth during his time in the band, that’s been done before – as far back as Ritchie Blackmore/Deep Purple and Randy Rhoads/Ozzy – so it’s great to hear a different kind of depth and density in Megadeth music
Perhaps the biggest surprise on Dystopia is the metal-tastic cover of “Foreign Policy” by California punk band Fear. If you thought Mustaine’s gritty vocals were starting to resemble Cookie Monster in recent years, forget that, at least for a moment. There’s something about the energy of punk rock that can make you find the fountain of youth, and here, he ups the ante over the course of 2:27. (Note: Bonus track “Melt the Ice Away” is also a cover – of a 1978 track by Welsh hard rock/metal ’70s group Budgie, one of Mustaine’s formative influences on pursuing music as a career.)
There may be a slow moment or two on this new record, but there are no real duds, not when the overall playing is so inspired. The word that comes to mind is “blistering.” And that’s what a good thrash metal should be. If there are faults, they are few and solely vocally, such as the rather mundane choruses of “Poisonous Shadows.” And then there’s the lyrics.
It’s always been true that Mustaine has never been afraid to address politics or war on his records, and in fact, he told Guitar World (April 2016 issue) that those two subjects, along with drugs and the occult are his “Mount Rushmore” of lyrical subjects. But he had always been more populist than overtly partisan with his political views (at least on his albums). That is, until recently – read his controversial comments here. The one consistent theme politically, it appears, is that Mustaine just is not a fan of whoever is in the oval office at any given time – he was a reporter for MTV News during the Democratic National Convention in 1992, when President George H.W. Bush was still in office.
On Dystopia, his view of the world appears to be especially bleak. Some fans may just roll their eyes when hearing lyrics like “What we are witnessing is the decline of Western civilization” from “Lying in State” and think he’s gone off the deep end on “Post-American World.” (Note: Mustaine told Revolver magazine last year his first title for the new record was One Fucked Up World. I think most fans would agree with him on at least that sentiment.) The good thing is, when you blast this album on your speakers or headphones, it’s really the music that resonates more than anything else. And that’s the way it should be.
Catch Megadeth on tour with Suicidal Tendencies (with former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo on board for the tour), Children of Bodom, and Havok. Visit their official website to keep up with everything else happening with the thrash metal masters.