Megadeth: Dystopia (Nuclear Blast)
Dave Mustaine is one of the most enigmatic and interesting men in metal. Just look at the list: Inextricably linked with Metallica, a born again Christian, huge drug addiction in the 1990s, self-taught guitarist after nerve damage in his left arm meant he was unable to grip let alone shred and a reputation as an egotistical maniac who has split several cracking line-ups of his own band. However, what I’ve missed from this list is that Mustaine is also responsible for some of the most technically excellent thrash metal albums of all time. Tagged in as part of the ‘Big 4’, there isn’t a metal head in the world unfamiliar with the snarling of Peace Sells, the brutally sweet Hanger 18 or the tongue in cheek Sweating Bullets.
Over the years Megadeth has produced some absolute corking tunes, as well as some pretty shocking stuff as well. Risk immediately comes to mind, whilst 2013’s Supercollider was received with all the joy of a fart in a spacesuit. Despite this, the main man has continued to write and in 2014 changed his line-up again. Out went guitarist Chris Broderick and drummer Shawn Drover, and in came Angra guitarist Kiko Loureiro and Lamb Of God pounder Chris Adler. This immediately pricked up the ears of the metal fraternity, with Adler in particular noted to be one of the best stickmen around today. The band have been out on tour, with Adler notably doing double duty in Europe at the tail end of 2015. All the reports I read were extremely positive, with Megadeth holding their own with LOG; no mean feat in the live arena.
So, what about the studio results? Well, Dystopia dispels any negativity left over from the previous release. It is a ferocious slab of technical thrash metal, containing all the ingredients that you would demand of a truly top class Megadeth release. Opener The Threat Is Real sets the scene, with a killer double riff launching into a galloping thrasher. Soaring guitar work, Mustaine’s trademark snarl and Adler’s frantic yet controlled double bass underpinning the rhythm section with the reliable and solid bass lines of David Ellefson rampaging alongside. The title track follows at a similar pace, loaded with hooks and melody and some stunning guitar work from Loureiro and Mustaine. In fact, the guitar work throughout this album is just brilliant, classic Megadeth with solo after solo filling every possible space. Mustaine’s lyrics focus once more on the state of the world, his frustration with American foreign policy and the corruption of politicians.
It’s not just eleven recycled tracks though; Death From Within has a more standard Megadeth stomp, Adler hitting his form with ease, that double bass absolutely blistering whilst vicious fretwork drips from the ceiling. Bullet From The Brain has a classical guitar intro, backed by military style snare before developing slowly into a monster, with a brutal riff and meaty hook. A tale of forbidden fruit; biblical reference anyone? Regardless, some of the fretwork in this tune is stunning. Loureiro’s playing is magnificent; Mustaine has unearthed another guitar god. The pace changes with Poisonous Shadows, another classical guitar introduction leading to a symphonic powerhouse of a track. Surprisingly, there are elements of the Middle East with an orchestral arrangement and the additional vocals of Farah Siraj (also present on the opening track) and this is possibly the best track on the album. It is also the longest at over six minutes. Poisonous Shadows is a slower paced track than the majority on Dystopia but that actually enhances the quality and as it builds the backing vocals allow the composition to build before a piano led conclusion.
Conquer Or Die follows, an instrumental which is deftly split into two; opening with a classical piece of guitar before a heavy metal stomp. Any thoughts that the band are mellowing clears immediately with the full on thrash assault with Lying In State which motors along at 100mph, Mustaine’s cutting social commentary at the fore once more. However, it is the playing which once again grabs you by the throat. This track just doesn’t let up from start to finish; I was exhausted just listening to it as it arrived at a frantic finale. Onto the final two tracks of the album; The Emperor confronts the reality which afflicts so much of the Western World. A powerful driving track laced with riffs and solos that cut deep. Foreign Policy, a cover of Californian punk outfit Fear brings the album to an aggressive close, the title and the anger dovetailing seamlessly with the themes running through the album.
An aggressive return to form for Megadeth. Dystopia has enough about it to sit comfortably with much of the back catalogue. Having seen Megadeth several times over the years, it will be interesting to see how this new line-up delivers the new material in the live setting in June at Download. It certainly makes them unmissable, which is not something I’ve always said. Until then, goodnight and have a safe journey home. 9/10