Megadeth have been through a lot in the past few years, since their 2013 album Super Collider the group has weathered everything from family members dying, band members departing, watching the world fall apart, and writing songs about it all.
Dave Mustaine, who has fronted and shredded for the band almost nonstop since 1983, give or take a year or so in the early ‘00s when he put the project on hold, still seems steady as a rock — he’s recorded for almost no one else since Metallica kicked him out in 1982. (He did pair up with Fear’s Lee Ving for a one-off album as MD. 45 in the mid ‘90s, and he’s made momentary cameos on albums by bands like Dream Theater and Diamond Head.)
Megadeth has not always been the easiest band to wrap one’s head around
But David Ellefson — Megadeth’s first bassist, who left the band from 2002 to 2010, then came back — always seems to have plenty of side projects up his sleeve (Altitudes & Attitude, Knight Fury, Metal Allegiance, Temple of Brutality, plus solo recordings under his own name.) And on their new Dystopia Megadeth adds Kiko Loureiro, longtime guitarist for Brazilian power-metal outfit Angra, while the drum kit is manned by Lamb of God’s Chris Adler, who’s not technically a Megadeth member but must have found some time to spare.
So it’s hard to keep them all straight without a scorecard, but then again, Megadeth has not always been the easiest band to wrap one’s head around. That Metallica connection probably helped them and hurt them in equal measure –it anointed them as one of thrash-metal’s Big Four, but Kirk Hammett supposedly swiped lots of Mustaine’s riffs. And how serious could a band whose name mirrored John Belushi’s early ‘70s National Lampoon Lemmings metal parody Megadeath be taken anyway, especially when their first three albums (Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good!, Peace Sells….But Who’s Buying?, So Far, So Good….So What!) all had ellipses in the title? Mustaine’s pretty much shelved that trusty punctuation mark since, but he’s kept plugging away, at some point becoming both a born-again Christian (and battling Satanic death-metal bands about it) and subscribing to certain out-there false-flag conspiracy theories (and bantering on Alex Jones’ syndicated radio show about it.)
There’s anxiety everywhere, too — where would metal be without war and strife, after all?
Hints of New World Order/Illuminati paranoia show up on Dystopia, just like they have on most of Megadeth’s recent albums. But where Super Collider and 2011’s Th1rt3en frequently suggested late-period Alice Cooper imitations with hints of Appalachian banjo, martial drums and the occasional Thin Lizzy cover, Dystopia seems to push the envelope more, and does a pretty decent job with it. Mustaine’s apparently thinking a lot about Middle East, and while it’s not clear exactly what he’s thinking, it clearly has him spooked. Opener “The Threat Is Real,” first released as a single late last year, has him railing about clocks running out, vultures coming home to roost and mass murderers coming through the door. More intriguingly, it actually opens the album with a whoosh of wind beckoning the sound of mullahs ululating in the desert, and later on the guitars take on more Middle Eastern shades in “Poisonous Shadows,” which makes way for a rather gorgeous extended Segovia-style classical introduction to “Conquer or Die,” presumably courtesy of Loureiro. In fact, there’s a lot of melody in the guitars on this album in general — check the repetitive and oddly upbeat soloing in the title track, the blues rock seeping out between the cracks of “Fatal Illusion” or “Bullet to the Brain”’s psychedelic doom. The ’80s/’90s country star Steve Wariner is even said to lay down some steel guitar at some point.
And there’s anxiety everywhere, too — where would metal be without war and strife, after all? (In fact, this time Megadeth’s apparently even created a “virtual reality set-up” so, with the right “cardbox headset,” you can experience them performing within their dystopia first-hand, in case you’re in to that kind of thing.)
Anyway, in “Death From Within” there’s “no place to run, nowhere to hide, no one is safe” from “trained assassins,” and in the explicitly topical “Post American World” we’re all pitted against each other “by class and size” and the planet “becomes one spinning disaster.” The album ends with a couple of straightforward, punchy blitzkriegs — “The Emperor” (who thinks he’s perfect but of course wears no clothes) has the staccato catchiness of Voivod at their punkiest, and then a cover of Mustaine’s old L.A. hardcore chums Fear’s “Foreign Policy” (to further the set’s overriding theme) closes things out.
Word is the band also recorded a take on “Melt the Ice Away” by the awesome (and previously twice Metallica-covered) ‘70s Welsh band Budgie, but it didn’t make the cut, so it looks like we’ll have to wait to hear that some other time. What’s here, though is still the best evidence in quite a while that Megadeth can still dish it out, even if a few names have changed along the way.