Megadeth’s Dystopia dropped on January 22, and the new album is definitely a strong addition to the band’s catalogue. It wouldn’t be Megadeth without some drama and line-up changes, and this record is no different. The classic Rust in Peace-era members Marty Friedman (lead guitar) and Nick Menza (drums) have been threatening to re-join the band for some time now. A reunion seemed a real possibility with the 2014 departure of long time members Chris Broderick and Shawn Drover. However Mustaine and his Rust in Peace bandmates couldn’t see eye-to-eye yet again. So we have a shiny new Megadeth line-up on the new album, namely mainstay David Ellefson (bass), Kiko Loureiro (guitar) and Chris Adler (drums).
Megadeth Dystopia returns to metal heyday
Megadeth’s 2013 effort Super Collider was panned by many as being too safe and commercial. Mustaine obviously listened to his fans and returned in 2016 with an album that harks back to the glory days of Megadeth. Fans responded to the new direction, as the album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200. Dystopia is hence the group’s second highest charting effort, behind 1992’s Countdown to Extinction, which peaked at number two. Dystopia is by no means an old school thrash album, but it certainly sits on the heavier side of Megadeth’s output. It lies somewhere between the aggressive thrash of Rust in Peace (1990) and the more measured heavy metal sound of United Abominations (2007) and Endgame (2009).
Mustaine is in fine form here and his signature rapid-fire riffs are here in abundance. The production was handled by Mustaine and Chris Rakestraw, and it suits the album well. The riffs sound thick and chunky, just the way they should. Dave’s vocals have never been the big drawcard for the band, but he sounds convincing enough on Dystopia. His voice is in good shape, especially for a man of 54. He can definitely still pull off his usual sneer with plenty of authenticity. Dave’s lead playing could use a bit of a shake-up though. Many of the licks he plays on this record are recycled from older albums. It would be nice to have some more variation, as he does have a number solo spots throughout the album.
Ellefson back in the fold
Dystopia is the third consecutive album that David Ellefson lent his bass playing to, after his break from the band in the 2000s. This is probably the best album since Ellefson returned to Megadeth. He holds down the fort here well with tight, focused playing. Ellefson is not a particularly extroverted bassist, but on the albums he didn’t contribute to, his absence was definitely felt. He even gets a brief bass solo on Fatal Illusion, which immediately brings to mind the type of licks he played on Rust in Peace.
Chris Adler is synonymous with the very modern metal style he perfected in Lamb of God. As such, he wouldn’t seem to be an obvious choice to drum on a Megadeth album. However Adler puts on a classy and mature performance on Dystopia. It’s clear he perfectly understood what he needed to bring to the record, and also what he needed to steer clear of. The groove of his playing and the spot-on drum production combine to make his contributions one of the highlights of the album.
Kiko Loureiro is a Brazilian guitarist best known for his three-decade career with power metal band Angra and his more recent solo output. He was also a smart choice to play on the album. Megadeth has had some of the best in the business on lead guitar over the years, and the Brazilian clearly has the chops to join the club. His playing is less aggressive than his predecessor Chris Broderick. It’s characterised by smooth legato and melodic phrasing. In a number of ways he is reminiscent of original Megadeth lead guitarist Chris Poland, who was similarly deft of fingers and known for his legato style. Admittedly Loureiro doesn’t have quite the same ability to write catchy lines as Poland, but he’s certainly no slouch. Loureiro’s playing is a nice counterpoint to Mustaine. The boss’s lead breaks are, as always, aggressive and unapologetically in-your-face. All songs were written by Mustaine, but three have shared credits with Loureiro. This is interesting to note as Mustaine doesn’t make a habit of sharing the writing around that much.
No commercial sound, but singles still stand out
Third single and title track Dystopia is a clear stand out, with catchy lyrics and riffs in abundance. The opening chords and harmony instantly bring to mind Megadeth classic Hangar 18, although the song overall goes in a different direction. The track features some fiery lead playing from both lead guitarists. Dave perhaps outstays his welcome with his extended bridge solo though. Adler lays down a tight, groovy drum track that does just what needs to be done for the song. Deep cut Poisonous Shadows is a six-minute epic that features a haunting acoustic guitar intro and eerie strings. It’s a memorable slow-burn that shows it’s not only the thrashers that Dave can excel at.
Lead single Fatal Illusion has its moments as well. Strong points in the track are the heavy-hitting main riff that enters after the bass solo, Loureiro’s harmonised lead playing, as well as the hooky chorus line. The Threat Is Real opens the album with a bang. It features some eerie Middle-Eastern female vocals at the beginning followed by an insistent main riff and bold playing throughout.
Dave delivers again
Dystopia will certainly please fans who want another dose of the focused heavy metal sound Megadeth have been producing over the past decade or two. It’s certainly is a step up from both Super Collider and Thirteen. Mustaine made smart choices with his side men on the album and their contributions help keep the listener engaged. Dystopia is not going to go down as the finest Megadeth album in history but it’s a worthy addition to their catalogue. It’s worth a spin if you crave a good dose of old school metal with a tinge of modern production and groove.
Read about Dave Ellefson’s recent bass guitar releases (USA Concert Bass IV and V and the updated X Series Concert Bass IV and V) in our article Best Bass Guitar Releases: Hard Rock Edition here.