Review by Tom Mead
Recruiting new, prominent members is one sure-fire way of making people pay attention to your new album. Dystopia marks the Megadeth debut of Angra’s Kiko Loureiro on guitar and Lamb of God’s Chris Adler on drums, and their respective reputations have ensured that this is the band’s most anticipated album since the “reunion” album The System Has Failed was released in 2004.
This new line-up change could have been a risky strategy; Megadeth has always been, to all intents and purposes, Dave Mustaine’s band and so recruiting two new musicians who are essentially both leaders in long-established and respected bands themselves runs the risk of egos clashing and Mustaine’s vision for Megadeth becoming somewhat compromised. Luckily though, listening to Dystopia suggests that this potentially sticky situation has not come to pass; this new group of players sounds great together and, as a result, Dystopia is arguably Megadeth’s strongest album in years.
The new members make their presence felt immediately on opening track The Threat is Real. Following an ominous middle-eastern vocal intro, the song sneaks up on you, hits you round the back of the head and steals your lunch money. The band sounds more energised than it’s been in years, and Chris Adler shows that he is perhaps the tightest drummer Megadeth have ever had.
Fatal Illusion is another early highlight. “Spilling all their blood was a promise that he’d keep/Hate so strong revived him from a deep necrotic sleep”: this tale of a serial killer who seeks revenge after being buried alive is classic thrash material. These lyrics accompanied by a distinctive David Ellefson bassline mean that this fast but precise track wouldn’t sound out of place on Megadeth’s earlier albums. We’re also in classic territory with Lying in State, which has an intensity that many Megadeth fans may have missed; probably the heaviest song on the album, this is where we feel the full effect of Adler’s drumming.
This is ultimately a fairly diverse album, and there are several other tracks that highlight Mustaine’s ambition. Bullet to the Brain is one of the more dynamic numbers here with militaristic drumming and a multitude of technical riffs. The Emperor shows Mustaine’s punky, pissed-off side as he snarls “You’re bad for my health, you make me sick, you prick!” And Poisonous Shadows is perhaps the most ambitious song Megadeth have ever done. A chorus of palm muting and double-bass drumming blended with symphonic elements, it’s almost like Meshuggah meets Nightwish. Throw in Kiko Loureiro showing his diversity with a piano outro and you have a grandiose achievement that is thoroughly impressive though, admittedly, may not be to everyone’s tastes.
While the high points here are numerous, Dystopia is not quite the all-conquering triumph that many people would like to think it is. The instrumental track Conquer…Or Die!, while technically impressive, is not really much of a “song”; it sounds like a scale exercise that someone’s recorded by mistake. Moreover, Post-American World lumbers along uninspiringly but the most divisive track here is perhaps the title track. Dystopia has a good upbeat feel to it, and it’s where we properly get to hear what Kiko Loureiro is made of as a guitarist, but the parallels with Hangar 18 are embarrassingly obvious, right down to the bridge in the middle that precedes a barrage of solos. Nods to past efforts are dotted throughout the album, and Dystopia is undeniably played with a level of skill and precision that most bands would dream of, but that doesn’t stop it from ultimately being a highly derivative song. When a band tries to recapture past glories, you do run the risk of copying yourself; in fairness though, the fact that Megadeth only really cross this line on one track on Dystopia indicates that, overall, it remains a decent album.
All in all, this new line-up of Megadeth has made a good start to working together. Elements brought from Lamb of God and Angra are evident, but do not overshadow or compromise that quintessential Megadeth thrash sound. One or two misfires aside, this is a rebirth and rejuvenation akin to Testament’s The Formation of Damnation or Kreator’s Enemy of God. Who knows if the new members are here on a permanent basis, but I look forward to seeing what else they contribute if they are.