Megadeth - Dystopia
My stance on Megadeth ever since 2007’s excellent United Abominations has been one of diminishing interest. Mustaine and his revolving door of musicians have had nothing to prove, really, since 1999’s Risk; by this point, the band had explored every possible avenue of their sound, from the seminal thrash of Rust In Peace to the balladry of Youthanasia. In my opinion, guitarist Chris Broderick was an ill fit for the band, too. Lacking the passion of a Friedman or Poland, Broderick displayed his usual flashy, virtuosic style yet never really wrote hooky enough leads for a band whose guitar solos often make or break songs. After Endgame (Broderick’s best effort with Megadeth), Mustaine’s turn back towards mid-tempo, commercial songwriting alienated his guitarist even more and eventually forced him out.
Broderick’s eventual replacement, Kiko Loureiro, is a guitarist I’ve followed and admired for many years and his involvement piqued my interest to the point of pre-ordering the new Megadeth album Dystopia. Before I talk about anything else, I want to talk about Kiko because he’s such a huge new ingredient in Mustaine’s vision. Impressively, there are numerous riffs and arrangements on Dystopia I’m almost positive were written by him (punch-in riff: Fatal Illusion, verse riff: Dystopia) and certainly all of his leads bear his trademark sound (edit: he also plays piano on the album’s epic centrepiece Poisonous Shadows). He’s at the heart of everything good about this record, truly; his flamboyant and emotive brand of guitar solo contrasting beautifully with Mustaine’s more weathered, chromatic assault. There’s a certain energy which Kiko brings that makes him sound like a guitarist half his age – he modernises the band’s sound whilst also bringing back fond memories of one Mr. Freidman from the band’s glory days. Kiko’s brand of virtuosity is a far different and more effective beast than Broderick’s and Mustaine’s claim that he’s the first guitarist to intimidate him in fifteen years sounds wholly believable.
As you’d expect from any release associated with or featuring Chris Adler, the drumming is superb and measured throughout. During his session with Protest the Hero on their Volition album in 2013, Adler proved that he’s not only a spectacularly dexterous and skilled drummer, but also that he can effortlessly play outside of his comfort zone and truly serve a band’s needs. With Megadeth as with Protest the Hero, Adler is never guilty of overplaying and often compliments the more rock-edge which Dystopia brings with solid grooves and beats so as to not take away from the guitar theatrics. What is important about Chris Adler being around (drum prowess aside) is his reputation for quality control and love of good metal music. As soon as Adler was announced as drummer, all fears of Super Collider pt. 2 were squashed and I knew the band would be guided towards doing what they've always been best at. There’s never been a bad Lamb of God album for a reason, and I attribute a great amount of that to Adler’s ear and gut instinct. Dystopia is no different.
Overall, the first 8-9 songs of the record remain consistent with the standards you’d expect from an upper-tier Megadeth LP, but final tracks The Emperor and the Fear cover Foreign Policy end proceedings with five minutes that will likely divide fans. Mustaine goes into full cock-rock/punk territory with these two tunes and Dystopia ends up in a far different place to where it started, as a result. Personally, for me, it’s a breath of fresh air to have such a definitive statement at the end of an album I thought had shown me all it had to offer by the 8th or 9th track. Replay value abounds because of how this one is structured. Speaking of which, much attention has been given to the intros of nearly every song here, with a variety of fade ins and effects which bind the music together thematically whilst giving each cut a unique identity. This might be one of the best ever Megadeth albums to be listened to front to back with no interruptions, and for that I have to take off my hat to Dave and co.
After several sittings with Dystopia, I can confidently say that this is a fresh entry in the Megadeth catalogue, simultaneously pushing boundaries and referencing just about every era of the band. Mostly, it sounds like the lovechild of Countdown to Extinction and The System Has Failed, utilising the choppy tech/chug riffs and succinct songwriting formula that made both of those albums a success, yet peppered with the frenetic soloing style from Rust in Peace or United Abominations. Because of this, I’d highly recommend Dystopia to any Megadeth fan – but especially those that were bored of Chris Broderick’s soulless vibe, or hated Dave’s foray into more poppy waters. This record is everything that Megadeth should be in 2016. They may not be the biggest of the Big Four, but based on this offering, they’re certainly the best on record right now.
Words: Ben Armstrong