MEGADETH – Dystopia

DystopiaI think it’s kinda fair to say that Dave Mustaine and his Megadeth have lived in Metallica’s shadow from go. Still I think that the Metallica – Mustaine connection should have been over and out ages and ages ago because Dave Mustaine is a guy good enough to live and rock without having to feel bad about him not being in that band anymore and when you consider the fact that he wrote lots and lots of great songs that made Metallica famous, it feels unfair that Mustaine always felt threatened and inferior to Hetfield, Ulrich & co, at least that’s how things have looked from where I stand. See, even though I really dig Metallica up until the album that made them huge, the so-called Black Album from 1991, I don’t think that Metallica have released anything worth while at all and today, I don’t even call myself a fan anymore. With Megadeth, it was the other way around for me. There was some good stuff on the first three records, but to me it was with Rust In Peace (1990) that I realized what a good band they were. Also that was the line-up, Mustaine, Megadeth’s co-founder and Mustaine’s partner in crime David Ellefson on bass, Marty Friedman on lead guitar and Nick Menza on drums, that to me count as their “classic” line-up. But it was with 1992’s Countdown To Extinction that Megadeth got their first and biggest claim to fame and in my book, Megadeth’s career really took off when Metallica’s went in a downward spiral, at least quality wise. I mean, we all know that Metallica are still huge and that’s great and all, but Megadeth have by far released better records and I find Megadeth a way better band. I believe that Megadeth peaked with 1994’s Youthanasia, their best album to date, but they have released so many great albums after that. Albums such as Cryptic Writings (1997) and Risk (1999) made Mustaine and his gang eat a lot of shit, but again, that’s unfair. Sure, the records might not sound like Megadeth – a lot of pop, rock and straight forward hard rock had snuck its way into the music – but there are songs on those albums that are Megadeth all the way. Maybe they could have released them under a different banner, but I adore Mustaine for daring. And no matter what it says on the covers, those albums have lots of great tunes on them. After that – and lots and lots of line-up changes (even Ellefson was gone for a while) – Mustaine have tried to save Megadeth’s career by going back to his thrash metal roots and while albums like The World Needs A Hero (2001), The System Has Failed (2004) and United Abominations (2007) took them all the way to their past they were all a bit uneven but they at least showed a band (a man?) determined to kick the band back where it belonged. But to me, it took the return of Ellefson in 2010 and the album Thirteen (2011) for Megadeth to really get back on track, even though I found 2009’s Endgame where James Lomenzo (ex- White Lion, Pride & Glory, Black Label Society, David Lee Roth, Sweet & Lynch) held the bass, a really good album as well. The last album, Super Collider from 2013 have been under wild discussion among fans, but I take the side of those who like it, it was damn fine album. Which leads us to a new record and once again, a new line-up. Joining Mustaine and Ellefson this time is lead guitarist Kiko Loureiro (Angra, Tarja Turunen) who replaced Chris Broderick and drummer Chris Adler (Lamb Of God) who replaced Shawn Drover.

One look at the cover and I got the feeling that we’re dealing with a hard and aggressive Megadeth here, a Megadeth that are looking at world with gloomy eyes. The cover is also one of the best looking Megadeth covers in a long, long time – a great piece of art. Behind the cover, opener “The Threat Is Real” is kicking away like a wounded bear, angry and aggressive, still with a great melody and it brings back memories of the Rust In Peace album. There is also segments that reminds me of Testament – and that’s not a bad thing. The Middle Eastern singing in the beginning reveals all too clearly what threat Mustaine is talking about here, something the lyrics confirms. Mustaine have never been afraid to speak his mind, no matter how uncomfortable the opinion might be and for that he must be respected, no matter if you agree or not. Besides that, it’s a damn good song. The title track follows and it is a bit more melodic and accessible, but still very Megadeth. I’m getting a “Hangar 18”-vibe out of it and there are bits of melodies that are real close to pop – and I love it! “Fatal Illusion” is classic Megadeth thrash. It’s a good song, but it doesn’t really stick – I can’t find that extra push this kind of song needs. But “Death From Within” is great, a heavy and dark tune with stomping thrash groove and some catchy melodies to go with that. “Bullet To the Brain” have some almost alternative arrangements and feels a bit experimental at times, but there’s also an apocalyptic darkness over it – a real killer! “Post American World” is brilliant and one of the finest tracks on this record. It’s heavy and dark and goes back to the early days mixed with newer arrangements, kind of if “In My Darkest Hour” was recorded for Youthanasia. Another big favorite is “Poisonous Shadows” much because of its symphonic and atmospheric sound scape that lies over the dark and heavy music like a warm blanket. The tune is on the slower, almost balladry side of metal and there are keyboards on it. Also, the even more ballad-like piano and vocals ending of the song is pure brilliance. That song is followed by “Conquer Or Die”, a heavy metal instrumental that opens with some superb classical acoustic guitar. I’m usually not that big on those kind of instrumentals, but this one is actually really good. “Lying In State” sound as if it could have been written for one Megadeth’s three latest albums. It’s fast, heavy, aggressive, but still very melodic. It doesn’t really move me that hard, but it’s a pretty good song. “The Emperor” is another stand-out track for me – a straight forward hard rock song with metal undertones done in a very Mustaine-ish way – very distinct, direct and memorable. Brilliant again! The closing track – if you only get hold of the “normal” copy of the album – is a cover of the old hardcore punks Fear’s “Foreign Policy”. Now, I was never a punk – or even into that music except for some Ramones and The Clash – and this is not my bag at all. My least favorite song on this album without a doubt.

Let’s finish off with getting into the bonus stuff you can get hold of by buying some other editions. First of all, there’s a Spotify bonus track. A bonus track for Spotify!!?? Can someone please tell me why on Earth anybody would want to give a bonus track to a streaming service that is partly responsible for artist’s income loss? Maybe I’m just too old and don’t understand, but shouldn’t it be the other way around? That Spotify gets a shortage of tunes instead? Well, be that as it may, said track, “Melt The Ice Away”, a Budgie cover, is really damn good. The way Megadeth presents it, it sounds like a thrash metal Led Zeppelin, cool as Hell. “Look Who’s Talking” and “Last Dying Wish” are bonuses for Best Buy and iTunes editions, a bit more understandable. The first one is a heavy, very Megadeth sounding piece that goes back to the days of Countdown To Extinction with a really catchy melody and the latter is also heavy and hard with Mustaine talking over the verses instead of singing. Both songs are good, albeit not great and the way I see it, you need to be a hardcore Megadeth fan to spend any extra green on the songs. But if you lay your hands on the Japanese edition instead, you’ll get a song called “Me Hate You” and I’d definitely go for that one. It has a big metal groove, almost swinging, a musically fast chorus with a straight forward vocal line. A killer tune. The new guys are also really good. Adler does his job and is as tight as hell, but in all honesty, I can’t really tell all the Mega-drummers apart – they have all been really good. Loureiro on the other hand is a real find. Sure, he might go for technique over feel on some occasions, but for the most the guy is really brilliant and he’s not a far cry from Marty Friedman in style and he fits this band like glove. A keeper for Mustaine, without a doubt. As a whole, I believe that Megadeth have come up with a damn great record, to these ears the best one since Youthanasia. Songs, production, structure, style – everything works in favor for the band and this record. And speaking of production, Megadeth have always had very dry productions and many of them are a bit too thin for their kind of music. But not on this one, no this album have a fatter and more dynamic sound than ever and it makes them sound even more powerful. Great work, guys. This is Megadeth back on track for real.

Other Megadeth reviews:

Thirteen
Super Collider

8/10

Tracklist:

01. The Threat Is Real
02. Dystopia
03. Fatal Illusion
04. Death From Within
05. Bullet To The Brain
06. Post American World
07. Poisonous Shadows
08. Look Who’s Talking (Best Buy Bonus Track)
09. Conquer Or Die
10. Lying In State
11. The Emperor
12. Last Dying Wish (Best Buy Bonus Track)
13. Foreign Policy
14. Melt The Ice Away (Spotify Bonus track)
15. Me Hate You (Japanese Edition Bonus track)

 

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