Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Megadeth - Dystopia (2016)

I have at least two friends that consider Dystopia to be one of the best albums Megadeth has ever written, and while I can't go anywhere near that far, it certainly could be heard as heralding a second resurgence, a 'third wind' for the band after 2011's middling Th1rt3en and lamentable Super Collider from 2013. The band really gets back to some thrashing basics here, with a small bump in energy and inspiration from the adding of Angra's Kiko Loureiro to the lineup, a master who would bring both an elevated level to the lead guitars as well as the rhythm/songwriting, which he does contribute to this album. Despite the delicate, intricate touches of his alma mater though, make no mistake, this might just be the heaviest Megadeth record, armed with a lot of two-fisted, chugging thrash, intense session drumming from the beast Chris Adler, and Mustaine's desperate sociopolitical lyrics, which all certainly help the album live up to its name.

Sadly, this is the sort of modern thrash that often enters through one ear and immediately exits the other. Everything about it functions on a surface level, and the rhythmic, palm-muted bombardment has a few new tricks up its sleeve like in "Foreign Policy" or the quick lurching grooves of "Fatal Illusion", and they're all slathered in the sorts of seasoned leads that Mustaine and Loureiro can provide, with some breaks towards classic Megadeth speed (like the end of "Fatal Illusion" which recalled "Five Magics"). It's not even that the tunes are catchy in the moment, but perhaps it's just that the band had already created such an elaborate lexicon that few of these really stand about the shoulders of their elder siblings. The performances are off the chart, with Ellefson's bass lines giving the frightening guitar talents a run for their money, and Adler's power unquestionable as it drives the tunes harder than anyone has ever done before him. Mustaine's voice certainly feels its age, and he often sticks with a more mid-pitch grumble, but on a few tunes he'll flex that upper range and it still sounds melodic and effective, just with a bit more gravel to it.

The backing vocal arrangements are also quite nice here, like the counterpoints on "Death from Within" and the smooth descending harmonies on "Poisonous Shadows", a track that probably best exhibits Kiko's neo-classical input into its structure. But a few 'perk-up' moments aside, like the rhythmic groove in the bridge of "The Emperor", one of my fave tracks here, so much of the riffing just feels as if I've heard it all before, and it doesn't always congeal into songs that are going to stick around in the brain like they once did in the 80s. Dystopia is clearly a proficient, effective return to form after the miserable record that preceded it, and has enough going for it to fire up an entire next generation of Megadeth fans who hopefully would go back and check out the classic era, while also letting the old heads breathe sighs of relief that Dave still has his finger on the pulse of what makes his band so great, but it's rarely blowing me away like it could have with the teamwork of these four players.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

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