Monday, April 11, 2016

Review of Megadeth's Dystopia

Much has already been made of Megadeth's fifteenth studio album, including the parallels that it has to past achievements like the classic Rust In Peace and the surprisingly satisfying Endgame. Like those two efforts, the recruitment of a new lead guitarist and drummer (Angra's Kiko Loureiro and Lamb of God's Chris Adler, respectively) reignites the energy that had been fading from the lineup before it and results in renewed senses of aggression and technicality. Dystopia may be a retread of an established pattern but it does develop a few tropes that had merely been hinted at through Megadeth's long career.

Seeing how Thirteen and Super Collider got their share of flak for moving away from the standard Megadeth sound, it is interesting to note that Dystopia may be the style dialed down even better than Endgame ever did. Not only are the songs more energetic and Dave Mustaine's vocals tougher, but the songwriting makes use of the structural complexity to extents that haven't been seen in some time. This is most evident in the opening songs as the ultra melodic title track crosses the drive of "Hangar 18" with the closing stomp on "Wake Up Dead" and "Fatal Illusion" dances about numerous tempo changes in a way that recalls "Bad Omen."

But what really makes Dystopia stand out is the heightened sense of drama compared to their other recent efforts. Megadeth has always flirted with backing vocals and classical instrumentation but it's never taken on such a cinematic quality. From the Middle Eastern vocals that open "The Threat Is Real" to the climactic vocal lines on "Death From Within" and building swells on "Conquer Or Die," Dystopia showcases theatrics that haven't gotten their chance to shine in quite some time. Props must be given to Loureiro for working in his power metal influences in a way that Marty Friedman or Chris Broderick never pulled off.

Of course, the album still has its share of imperfections. The heightened technical prowess and polished production job do highlight Dave Mustaine's diminishing vocal performance and less commanding energy. In addition, the attempts at rock & roll attitude on "The Emperor" and take on Fear's "Foreign Policy" end up sounding out of place and close the album on a rather underwhelming note.

While Dystopia isn't a perfect album and I may actually prefer Endgame by a hair, it is interesting to see Megadeth once again assume the role of the strongest band left of the original 80s thrash scene. The songs find ways to be memorable and the overall presentation elevates them to a greater level of grandiosity. Considering the trajectories that occurred in the wake of the band's past successes, it'll be interesting and potentially horrifying to see how things evolve from here...

"The Threat Is Real"
"Death From Within"
"Poisonous Shadows"
"Conquer or Die"

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Local Love: Review of Stone Magnum's Holy Blessings to None

Stone Magnum of Michigan City, Indiana has always been able to bring diverse songwriting to their particular brand of Trouble-inspired epic doom metal. Their third full-length album is certainly no exception and showcases even further evolution to their sound. The result is easily their most varied effort so far.

While past efforts, particularly 2013's From Time...To Eternity, proved that the band could pull off differing moods and tempo changes, Holy Blessings To None pushes them even harder and ends up being their most aggressive effort. Much of this can be attributed to the recruitment of drummer Justin Henry; his double bass work makes the fast jumps on songs like the opening "As I Burn Your World to Ash" even more hard hitting and turn the curiously self-titled "Stone Magnum" into a borderline speed metal tune. The vocals also add to the shift as Rick Hernandez brings in a grittier performance with more unhinged operatic moments.

The diversity is welcome but I do find the songwriting doesn't quite have the same impact as their first two albums. The performances are stellar and the changes keep the songs from getting dull, but there aren't as many memorable riffs or vocal lines to stand alongside past tracks like "Fallen Priest" or "By An Omen I Went." Fortunately, greatness can still be found as "The Illusion of Faith" brings the most stirring moods while the title track closes things out in a wickedly plodding fashion.

Overall, Holy Blessings To None hits harder than their past efforts in terms of style but results in a slightly lesser impression. It may take more time to grow on the listener than usual but should be particularly rewarding for those seeking a more energetic approach to epic doom. From Time...To Eternity is still their effort to top but this is a worthy entry.

"Stone Magnum"
"The Illusion of Faith"
"Holy Blessings To None"