Megadeth’s Dystopia Is No Rust In Piece, But It’s Not Rusty
By Jeff Feuerhaken
I’ve always thought of Megadeth as Metallica’s little brother. Always sulking in the shadows of his older brother’s accolades, Megadeth has always seemed to battle for the legitimacy that, like the scarecrow’s brain, the tin man’s heart, and the lion’s courage, has unknowingly been there all along. There is of course the more obvious reason for the comparison, which is that frontman Dave Mustaine was infamously booted from Metallica just before the release of their first album, Kill ‘Em All. I’m sure it must have sucked for Dave that the song he cowrote, “Mechanix”, was transformed by Metallica into a timeless classic (renamed “The Four Horsemen”) while his version just “sounds like that Metallica song”. Since it always seemed like Megadeth had something to prove to that other metal band that starts with an ‘M’, there’s a drive that has kept the band going throughout the band’s lengthy career. I was very much into Megadeth back in the glory days of 1990’s Rust In Piece, but somewhere between 1992’s Countdown To Extinction and 1994’s Youthanasia, I sort of stopped paying attention. I guess the music had inevitably lost its “freshness”, and I wasn’t feeling the poppier, more commercial-friendly sound the band had adopted.
Fast-forward a couple decades and a bazillion line-up changes later, and Megadeth is still bringing the metal to the masses, most recently in the form of their new album, Dystopia. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from this offering, but I was imagining I was either gonna get more of the corny, pseudo-pissed off pop metal numbers or perhaps a half-assed attempt to recreate some of the crowd favorites from the back catalog. So I took a listen, and yes, i did get a little bit of those things. But just a little bit. The album, overall, is actually surprisingly impressive.
The opening track, “The Threat Is Real”, kicks ass out right out of the gate. The blazing, palm-muted guitar chugging riffs and ridiculously shredding solos caught me a bit off-guard. The verses were reminiscent of a certain 90’s era Pantera song, but damn, me likee. I have to admit, the title track, “Dystopia”, is an utterly shameless rip-off of another song. But fortunately that song is one of their own, “Hangar 18”, perhaps the band’s biggest hit to date, so I guess that’s all good. There’s a lot of depth on this album, more than I was expecting. From the 4/4 to 6/8 time shifts in “Bullet To The Brain”, to the old-school punk-influenced “Foreign Policy”, to the all-around great instrumental track “Conquer Or Die”, there’s enough variety to keep even the most casual fan engaged.
If there’s one thing Megadeth is infamously known for, it’s the revolving door of supporting musicians. The list of former Megadethians is so long that it could probably be broken up into chapters and read over a summer break. So it should come as no surprise that Dystopia brings two brand spankin’ new members into the fold. The new drummer, Chris Adler, should be familiar to fans of his other band, Lamb Of God. Adler helps keep that metal groove going with the machine-like precision of that clicky kick drum. New lead guitarist Kiko Loureiro hails from Brazil and was a new name for me, but dude, this guy absolutely shreds. In fact, the guitar solos on the album, of which there are many, are pretty damn amazing. But technical ability was never a shortcoming for Megadeth, no matter who happened to be in the band at the time. The vocals, on the other hand, can get a little eggy at times. I’ve never been much of a fan of Dave’s voice, and some of the lyrics on this album, particularly on “The Emperor” tend to be a bit eye-rolling.
But hey, if you’re a fan at all of metal, or heavy music in general, or if, like me, it had been a while since you heard Megadeth and were curious what they’ve been up to, then by all means go check out Dystopia. I was pleasantly surprised on the first hearing, and after many more listens, the album holds up. Cheers to Dave Mustaine and his current crew for putting out an unexpectedly solid record. Let’s hope they can keep this streak (and line-up) going.