What’s the first thing you can say about “Dystopia”? Well, it’s no “Super Collider”, thank all things metallic and unholy.
Since 1990’s “Rust In Peace” Megadeth’s musical output has been incredibly inconsistent. MegaDave seems to constantly be torn between chasing Metallica-like commercialism (“Countdown To Extinction”, “Risk”, the afore-mentioned “Super Collider”) or remembering what made him famous in the first place- metal (“Endgame”, “United Abominations”, "Th1rt3en"). Thankfully for anyone who remembers the Megadeth of the 80s, this is the latter.
That’s not to say “Dystopia” is a new “Rust In Peace”, or that boring old cliché, a “return to form”. No, this is what Megadeth should have been doing all along. Yes, their glory days are long gone, but there is still plenty to be explored in the metal oeuvre. This isn’t the band’s best album ever, and far, far from their worst. It’s good, solid metal, which isn’t going to earn the band any new fans, and should hopefully bring a few back.
First track “The Threat Is Real” starts with a riff straight out of 1988. Yes, this is proper fucking metal, the way it used to be, with sharper, harder 21st century production values.
And the snarl is back. Dave Mustaine is at his vocal best when he’s sneering rather than when he attempts straight singing. The vocal melody on “Fatal Illusion” harks right back to “Devil’s Island”, Megadeth’s oldest song. The lyrics are a bit on the paranoid conservative Christian side. Just look at the song titles like “Post American World”, “The Threat Is Real”, and even the album’s title, but if you are really bothered by such things, you shouldn’t be listening to Megadeth in the first place.
There’s a bit of filler, like “Bullet To The Brain”, but it’s not obviously half assed. “Poisonous Shadows” drags a little. The acoustic intro to “Conquer Or Die” has all been done before too, but is by no means bad. And some songs, like “The Emperor”, while not an out-and-out thrasher, has that effortless, understated drive first introduced to Megadeth’s sound on “Countdown To Extinction”.
While Dave Mustaine’s personality might be quite abrasive, leading to a high turnover of band members in Megadeth, one of his great strengths is an ability to spot a great musician. Latest additions Kiko Louriero (guitar) and Chris Adler (drums) mesh well with Dave and Dave Jr. There’s some damn good drumming and excellent guitar duelling, always present on good Megadeth albums anyway.
The whole thing is wrapped up with a cover of Fear’s “Foreign Policy”, a great choice as a closer for its manic, desperate energy, and thematic fit to the rest of the album.
With expectations very low after the lacklustre “Super Collider”, “Dystopia” is not a game changer, but at least it shows there’s still some life left in one of thrash’s pioneers. Unlike some previous “file-and-forget” albums, “Dystopia” is an album which warrants replaying. And it’s great to see Vic Rattlehead back on the cover again too.