Key Tracks: “Dystopia,” “Death From Within”
I don’t think there’s very many people, at least besides Dave Mustaine, who would argue for present-day Megadeth. Their releases have been inconsistent, and none in many years have matched the band’s late 80’s to early 90’s heyday. I was barely a month old when “Rust in Peace” came out, but I was probably rocking out to it already. So Megadeth are past their prime, and they showed it on 2013’s “Super Collider,” which was, frankly, awful. They had lost that lovin’ feelin,’ and by that I mean the music had been drained of energy in an ill-fated attempt at reclaiming a wide audience. Then the band members suffered a bunch of personal and professional turmoils, resulting in the departure of the drummer and the non-Mustaine guitarist. Armed with half of a new line-up, Megadeth kick it back into high gear on their 15th album, “Dystopia.”
Much of the album, and especially the opening tracks, mimic 80’s thrash metal surprisingly well. It’s sweaty, massive, and makes you want to punch someone in the face. This trend follows across nearly every track, with only small instances where they give way to a different form. The only real departure is “The Emperor,” which is less sustained, although it could just be seen as a point to stop and breath. Mustaine’s riffs are gigantic, and the dual-guitar solos come up strong. The title track is the only one that’s very guitar-heavy, this album’s “Hangar 18,” but the electric crunch throughout runs deep. The addition of Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler is a nice pick-up as well, his drumming can switch from chaotic to restrained to pummeling based on whatever calls. There’s also a two-song set in the album’s middle that, although two separate songs, act as an inspired mini-suite. “Poisonous Shadows” takes a decrescendoing break from thrash, and builds back up into the instrumental “Conquer or Die.” From a musical standpoint, this is one of Megadeth’s best albums in a long, long time.
And that’s where it stops. Megadeth’s lyrics have rarely been Pulitzer-ready, but they’ve gotten worse over time. Megadeth has a Dave Mustaine problem. His awful, corny and racist lyrics ruin all the goodwill “Dystopia” otherwise builds up. “The Threat is Real” is about enemies attacking from within, and sure as hell seems to be pretty anti-Islamic in that belief. It’s also got lines about “vultures coming home to nest.” He sings about American triumph, and the emperor’s new clothes. The theme of dystopia is clearly important to the album, but the super-conservative Mustaine vaguely presents a dystopia that’s really an American utopia. America is the strongest country, join or get out. Which, okay buddy, maybe it’s time to let some other guys do the writing.
Thankfully, when the music is as strong as it is on “Dystopia,” Megadeth becomes like a themed roller-coaster. It’s all about the ride, and the theme (in this case, the lyrics), only serves to feed into the brand. It’s a Superman roller coaster because the track is painted blue and red, and that’s easy to ignore. The real thrill comes in the mechanics, and that’s the music. A new and improved Megadeth bring the ferocity back, even with the consistently garbage lyrics.
If you like this, try: Slayer’s passable 2015 album “Repentless,” although if you like this, you’ve already listened to that album. Also try turning off the Xbox and going outside for a bit.