Dystopia is the product of perseverance. When Shawn Drover and Chris Broderick abruptly quit the band after the disappointing Super Collider, Megadeth fell into disarray. Rampant rumors of a Rust in Peace reunion failed to materialize. A complete transformation was necessary to get the band back on track.
Enter Kiko Loureiro and Chris Adler. These two giants were exactly what was needed to re-energize Mustaine. With the familiar presence of Ellefson holding the band together, this latest incarnation has created the best Megadeth album in decades.
There was never really any question of the path that Mustaine would take after Super Collider. A return to roots was the only way to appease core fans. Anyone longing for a true thrash record from Megadeth will be pleased with Dystopia.
Even before the album hit the streets there were clues that Dystopia would be special. Adler was very vocal in the press about his preference for vintage Megadeth. It’s precisely this fandom that makes him perfectly suited to take over the all-important drum throne. This is a man who grew up listening to Peace Sells and Rust in Peace. He remembers when Megadeth proudly proclaimed themselves to be “The World’s State of the Art Speed Metal Band.” It’s easy to imagine his disappointment as Megadeth slowly distanced themselves from the blistering thrash that made them kings of the genre.
The cover of Dystopia provides immediate confirmation that Megadeth is indeed back. Vic Rattlehead has returned. Lost in a futuristic war-torn wasteland, Vic is a cyborg warrior in the midst of battle. The world he inhabits is dark and ominous. Seeing Vic prominently displayed invokes feelings of nostalgia, yet this new incarnation of Rattlehead is clearly a step forward. Dystopia may recapture key elements of the past but it is also a bold step into the future.
Fortunately for die-hards the music is also a return to form. Opener “The Threat is Real” begins with an oddly unsettling moan. The female voice is foreign and exotic. Moments later the guitars enter and it’s obvious that Megadeth has set out to make a legitimate thrash record.
The interplay between Mustaine and Loureiro is impressive. The title track easily recalls the middle passage of “Hangar 18” where Mustaine and Friedman trade off solos with ease. From a guitar standpoint, the playing on Dystopia is stellar and rivals the finest moments in Megadeth’s long history.
Kiko is an amazing talent worthy of the Megadeth lineage. To play on the level of Marty Friedman and Chris Poland is no easy task. Like his predecessors, Loureiro brings a unique style to the table that elevates the band to a new level. Simply listen to “Conquer or Die” and marvel at the dexterity of his acoustic interlude and fiery soloing. It’s clear that Kiko devoted himself fully to this project. No wonder Dave has referred to their relationship as a partnership.
Therein lies the basis of the album’s success. Even with Adler’s obligations to Lamb of God leaving his role in the band questionable, these are no “hired guns,” but men who have earned the respect and ear of Mustaine. Their input matters, and while Dave is still boss, this is a BAND that communicates and it shows. The songs have a cohesiveness and genuineness that translates into the most consistent album since Countdown.
My only issue with the new album is not specifically the lyrical content, but rather the lack of variation. The lyrics work. Destruction reigns and empires fall into chaos. It’s all very metal. The problem is that song after song dwells on a political motif. Even the cover song is political. As enjoyable as it is to hear Megadeth interpret Fear, choosing “Foreign Policy” only validates this complaint.
True, Megadeth have ALWAYS been a political band. Take “Peace Sells.” Clearly it’s a political song. Still, it never came across as overbearingly political. The lyrics were more of a rebellious rant. They were defiant. “What do you mean I’m not kind? Just not your kind!” The song never explicitly feels like political commentary but rather a big middle finger to conformist culture.
The rest of Peace Sells was rounded out by a variety of subject matter. “Wake Up Dead” is a tale of infidelity, betrayal and revenge. “The Conjuring” and “Bad Omen” reference black magic and the occult. There is a tale of imprisonment on “Devil’s Island.” The protagonist of “Good Mourning/Black Friday” goes on a homicidal killing spree. “My Last Words” describes a macabre dance with death as one tempts fate in a game of Russian roulette. “Peace Sells” was a political SONG, not a political ALBUM.
Essentially, I’m longing for the days when Dave had lyrical ideas other than politics. Give me the head banging bliss of “Rattlehead.” The tale of a mysterious witch as told in “Mary Jane” held my attention in ways that the songs on Dystopia never will. Of course there were the aliens of “Hangar 18.” Again, the lyrics on Dystopia aren’t bad. They simply lack variation and fail to live up to the topical brilliance that made early Megadeth special.
It would be ridiculous to let political diatribes ruin Dystopia. Instead it’s best to simply hold the record sleeve in your hands and crank the volume. Let the drums pound and the guitars engulf you. Listen to the energy, passion, and sheer dedication to the art of metal. Dystopia is the sound of classic Megadeth.