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"

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