“Dystopia” is the fifteenth studio album by American thrash metal band, Megadeth. The album was released by Tradecraft via Universal Records on January 22, 2016. Produced by Dave Mustaine (and co-produced and engineered by Chris Rakestraw), “Dystopia” largely received a positive response from both fans and critics alike, citing the return to a more aggressive and hard hitting sound. The album debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts, the band’s highest charting album since 1992’s “Countdown to Extinction” which debuted at #2. “Dystopia” shipped 49,000 copies in its first week of release, the highest amount since 2007’s “United Abominations”.
Following the release of the roundly hated “Super Collider” in 2013, Dave Mustaine and the rest of the band started to discuss a follow-up album, an urgency influenced by the death of Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman which gave Mustaine a sense of mortality. Several hardships hit the band in 2014. A tour planned for February and March was cancelled after a disagreement with a promoter and bassist David Ellefson lost his brother to cancer in May which led to more cancelled gigs. In October, Mustaine’s mother-in-law who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s went missing and her remains were found in late November. Additionally in late November, longtime drummer Shawn Drover and guitarist Chris Broderick announced their departures from the band on the same day. After much speculation that Mustaine and Ellefson were to reunite the infamous “Rust in Peace” lineup, which later came out that the band in fact had discussions with Marty Friedman and Nick Menza, Megadeth hired Angra guitarist Kiko Loureiro and Lamb Of God drummer Chris Adler. All of the hardships the band had suffered through has culminated in Megadeth’s ferocious return to form.
This would be the first Megadeth album to feature Kiko Loureiro on guitar (replacing Chris Broderick) and Lamb Of God drummer Chris Adler (replacing longtime member Shawn Drover).
The album opens with a track entitled “The Threat Is Real,” the second single released from the record. The song begins with an eerie, middle eastern tinged intro before a riff so menacing and powerful cuts straight through the speakers.The whole band kicks into chaotic overdrive and new guitarist Kiko Loureiro delivers a middle eastern flavored guitar solo before the opening verse. The verses gallop like the wind. It’s crushingly heavy and surges forward as Mustaine delivers his vocals in a perfectly catchy way. It’s hard not to hum along with Mustaine during the verses (if you haven’t learned the words yet). The choruses aren’t among Megadeth’s catchiest but I like them. The rhythm section is sublime on this track. Absolutely crushing. There are a few things that are apparent on the album’s opening track: i) Mustaine’s snarling vocal style is back ii) the band seems more motivated than they have in quite some time and iii) the chemistry with the new blood is apparent. Blazing opening track! Awesome song.
Then the title track “Dystopia,” the album’s third single. The song begins with yet another eerie intro before the band kicks in. And for the most part, pre-opening verse, it’s pretty mellow and laid back despite the dark and ominous tone/vibe. Then the verse kicks in. And wow, does it blow me away. The guitar riff that is on display here has been best described as something out of the Mega Man video game. And I love that comparison because that’s the kind of vibe I get from the riff. And also, the riff is just killer. I wouldn’t call it thrash but it’s a mid-paced ripper. And to go along with the verses’ killer riff is the absolute flawless vocal performance from Mr. Dave Mustaine. Just so damn catchy. The chorus is pretty basic, lyrically and vocal wise, as the name of the track is repeated over and over accompanied with face altering solos from guitar virtuoso Kiko Loureiro. The final 2 minutes or so features no vocals but showcases the new found chemistry between Mustaine and Loureiro. It might not be thrash but it’s Megadeth at their best again and it’s for sure an album highlight.
The there’s “Fatal Illusion,” the album’s opening single. It is, in all honesty, probably my least favourite of the three singles. And not because I don’t like this track because I do, but I just like the other two more. The track has seen a lot of positive attention but if there’s been any negative criticism, a lot of it has been directed at the track’s intro. I don’t hate the intro but I do see why people aren’t too crazy about it as the intro part last about 57 seconds of a 4 minute and 16 second song. I compare this intro to the intro of “Never Dead” off Megadeth’s “Th1rt3en” album. The intro is a bit too long and a bit pointless for a relatively short song. But after the first 57 seconds, the track is straight fire. Ellefson delivers a pummeling frantic bass line that kicks your head into the next dimension. The drums are bombarding, the guitar work is frenetic and relentless. The track delivers everything you wanted but was absent from “Super Collider”. The first two verses are pretty good but it’s far from the track’s highlights. Then at about the 2:30 mark, all hell breaks loose. Mustaine unleashes a riff, which sounds like it was lifted from “Black Friday” and all chaos ensues. A full blown thrash track is in full swing. Things get even better around the 3:15 mark. It’s fierce, it’s fast, it’s ferocious, the Megadeth of old are back. Structure wise, it’s vintage Mustaine of the PSBWB era with lots of twists and turns. Absolutely incredible.
Then comes “Death From Within,” one of my favourite songs off of the album. Now this song absolutely crushes. It’s ferocious, it’s vicious, it’s furious, it’s the Megadeth myself and other fans have been clamoring for for awhile. The surging charge of the guitars, the snarling vocals from Mustaine, and the crushing bombardment of that rhythm section is simply sublime. The verses chugs along with more of a mid to fast tempo that borderlines on thrash. The bridge/pre-chorus is without a doubt that track’s highlight and in my mind, one of the album’s brightest spots. The combination of the blitzkrieg riff and blazing rhythm section topped off with incredible vocals/lyrics provided by Mustaine makes for a memorable track. The chorus, for me, is a grower. When I first heard the song, I felt the chorus kind of ruined the track for me or at the very least brought it down a bit. But now, I love the chorus but it did take a few listens to get comfortable with it. Also, some nice lead work on this track. In my mind, this is a standout song. Aggressive, venomous, and head rattling.
Then there’s “Bullet To The Brain,”and still to this day, after many many many listens, is a track that I’m not too fond of. In my opinion, this is a song that should have been left off the album. It sounds like a song that would have appeared on Megadeth’s “Th1rt3en” album, it has that kind of vibe. It sounds really generic to me, especially the pre-chorus and chorus. I really like the intro though. A cool little acoustic piece. The verses, I guess you could call them, are actually not bad at all. I really like how Mustaine sings it. It’s when the “He had to KNOW, KNOW, KNOW…” part kicks in when the songs takes a deathly turn off a cliff. And then the chorus buries the corpse. I can’t stand the chorus. I don’t dislike it as much as when I first heard it but I still don’t like it. It’s generic and it’s just not good. But the best part of the track is around the 2:40 mark where a killer guitar lick is unleashed accompanied by a face altering solo. Really dark morbid vibe on this track. Overall, a song that has its moments but its fair share of weaknesses. Least favourite track off the album.
And then there’s “Post American World,” the first of three songs to see a writing contribution from Kiko Loureiro. The intro riff, albeit a simplistic and cool little riff, is very much a recycled Megadeth riff. It’s a riff very similar to that of one in “This Was My Life”. Then there’s the verses. They are absolutely killer. My God, the riffage is explosive, it’s ravenous, it’s rapturous. It’s straight up, a mid-paced sledge hammer to the back of the head. And Mustaine delivers his vocals perfectly to suit the riff. The verses are so good, it leaves you wanting more as there’s only two of them. The pre-chorus is solid as well with Mustaine perhaps foreshadowing the band’s musical direction: “If you don’t like where we’re going / Then you won’t like what’s coming next”. The chorus is simply okay, although it does ratchet up the tempo. But it’s nothing special, it’s a bit lazy. There’s a cool little haunting interlude around the 2:30 mark and if I had to guess, it’s what Loureiro contributed to the track. Overall, it’s a good track with some some good moments but it’s far from the album’s best.
“Poisonous Shadows” is the second track to feature writing contributions from Kiko Loureiro and was the final song to be written for the album. The song kicks off with a dark, ominous guitar lick provided by Kiko Loureiro. It is eventually met with some distortion and Loureiro unleashes a mighty fine guitar solo. Then the opening verse begins and my God, listen to that rhythm section. The galloping of the guitars and the double kicks from Adler is earth shattering. It’s also pretty catchy too. The chorus is simply fantastic. It’s dark, it’s mystical, it’s melodic, it’s vibrant, it’s catchy, the chorus has it all. This track is the “The Hardest Part of Letting Go… Sealed With A Kiss” of “Dystopia,” which I feel is a good comparison. This track is cited by many as one of the album’s best tracks and when you listen to it you will understand. The musicianship is sensational and the track has everything. It’s heavy, also melodic, it has face melting guitar solos and it has a chorus that you can’t help but sing a long to. It’s not my favourite off the album but it’s definitely up there. Great track.
Then comes the instrumental piece “Conquer Or Die!,” the third and final song on the album to feature writing contributions from Brazilian virtuoso Kiko Loureiro. While it’s no “Into the Lungs of Hell,” it’s an incredible piece of work that showcases the talent of Loureiro. Though the writing credits are given to both Mustaine and Loureiro, you could definitely tell this is a Loureiro inspired masterwork and he did most of the writing on this one. The track really showcases the versatility, complexity, and talent of Kiko Loureiro. The overall tone and vibe of this track is really dark. Doomy and gloomy, you get the vibe of imminent doom. The first 1:15 of the track is merely clean guitars with no distortion as well as no bass or drums. All you hear is the brilliance of Loureiro. Then the heavy distortion and drums kick in and pummel the listener for the rest of the song. After hearing this track, there’s no doubt Megadeth got the right guy to fill Chris Broderick’s shoes. Kiko can do exactly what Broderick can do but with more feeling. Awesome instrumental.
And then comes “Lying In State,” without a doubt one of my favourite songs on the album. The track takes no time unleashing chaos. Right from the get go, it’s straight forward, in your face pulverizing thrash. The rumbling, catastrophic riffing is reminiscent of “Blackmail the Universe” off their 2004 TSHF album. Crushing riffs to go along with Chris Adler’s blitzkrieg double bass and a terrific vocal performance from Mustaine make “Lying In State” a standout track. I really dig the verses and choruses as I find them superb but the spoken word (although it’s spoken word sung with a melody so it’s kind of not spoken word) sections really shine. The breakdown section right before the solo is reminiscent of “Holy Wars” and it’s a super killer riff. All in all, this is just a superb track that has all the elements you want out of a Megadeth track. Cool lyrics, snarling vocals, and a band that is firing on all cylinders. If this track isn’t the best song off the album, it’s certainly in the top three. Simply amazing.
The album’s penultimate track “The Emperor” is the last original Megadeth song on the LP. When I first heard this track, honestly, I was a bit disgusted with it. I found it very poppy and I thought the song sounded like something you would heard on “Super Collider”. It just has that vibe. Though it still has a bit of a dark tone like the rest of the album, this is the only song on “Dystopia” to have an upbeat vibe. But now I must admit, this is just a terrific song. And if I have to be honest, this might be the album’s best track – certainly it’s one of them. The verses are upbeat, the bridge is poppy, and the chorus is so damn catchy and memorable you won’t be able to get them out of your head for weeks. These are the kind of choruses you expect out of Mustaine and he hits a home run with it on this track. And if the chorus doesn’t jump out at you, the solos will. At around the 2:05 mark, Kiko Loureiro starts the soloing frenzy and at around 2:28 Mustaine finishes the madness with a face melting, spine splitting solo that could shatter planets. Very reminiscent of his “Burnt Ice” solo. The tracks ends on a high note with Mustaine singing the super catchy chorus and Loureiro shredding like a maniac. What a track!
The album ends with “Foreign Policy,” a cover of the classic from punk rockers, Fear. It appears it’s not everyone’s favourite but I got to admit that I dig this cover quite a bit. Lyrically, it fits right in with Megadeth and what they’re going for. Musically, obviously it’s very punk rock since it’s a cover from a hardcore punk band. Overall, Megadeth do a commendable job and they’re track record with doing great cover tunes continues. It’s an explosive track. I really like Mustaine’s vocals on this as they fit absolutely perfectly. Good way to end Megadeth’s comeback album.
“Look Who’s Talking” is one of two bonus tracks that is featured on the iTunes and Best Buy editions of “Dystopia”. To me, it’s very much a bonus track. It’s a good song but I’m not up in arms about this not being on the standard album. I still probably prefer this over “Bullet to the Brain” but again, I’m okay with this not being on the standard album. There’s definitely some bright spots on this number. I really like the riffing that’s going on during the verses. It’s not thrash but it’s mid paced and it’s aggressive. Unfortunately, Mustaine is speaking rather than singing in the verses. However, the second verse and beyond I actually don’t mind it. It’s just during the opening verse Mustaine’s spoken word detracts from the song. But one of the positives with Mustaine’s spoken word verses is that it has some vintage Mustaine bite to it. Another positive this track has is the chorus. I find it really catchy. Sing-along friendly for sure. Overall, it’s a good song with strengths and weaknesses. It’s a grower.
“Last Dying Wish” is the second of two bonus tracks that is featured on the iTunes and Best Buy editions of “Dystopia”. Just like “Look Who’s Talking,” I prefer the track over “Bullet to the Brain” and I’m not upset that it’s not featured on the standard album. This is definitely more of a thrash track. Furious and ferocious riffing with razor sharp execution to go along with face altering solos. And just like “Look Who’s Talking” the verses are done in spoken word. But on this track it sounds like Mustaine is speaking through a PA system. Sometimes I like the use of spoken word, sometimes I don’t. It’s not that I don’t like it here but I was hoping for a little more singing. This could have been a real standout track with the vicious riffing going on during the verses. I like the chorus, once again it’s sing-along friendly. It may have a “Super Collider” feel to it but it’s still catchy. The highlight for sure is (I guess the best word for it is) the interlude. Great riffing going on there. Overall, it’s a good song. It’s also a grower.
“Me Hate You” was released as a bonus track for the Japanese edition of “Dystopia”. Say what you want about the title, this track is straight up fire. Honestly, it’s almost criminal that this was left off the standard album. If it were up to me, I would swap out “Bullet to the Brain” for this track. It ain’t thrash but it’s a mid pace slasher that cuts straight down the middle. Awesome riffage and hooks going on here. Mustaine gives the listener a grade A chorus with the chorus being the highlight of the track as it’s super catchy. Great solo section on this as well. I’m a little disheartened that this didn’t make the cut as it’s a standout track. Awesome song, give it a listen.
The cover of Budgie classic “Melt The Ice Away” is a special bonus track released on Spotify. And Megadeth’s track record of doing amazing covers continues. Honestly, I like this more than the “Foreign Policy” cover that appeared on the standard album. I do understand that “Foreign Policy” is more of a ‘Megadeth’ track than “Melt the Ice Away” but damn is this a killer track. I love every moment of it: the riffs, the solos, the vibe, the vocals. Mustaine does an amazing job vocally on this track. Extremely catchy track. This is a grade A cover tune. Great to see Budgie, a very underrated and under appreciated band, get recognition from a popular metal band not named Metallica. Check this track out if you haven’t heard it yet. Great cover.
As a longtime die hard Megadeth fan I definitely wasn’t alone when I say I was extremely disappointed in “Super Collider”. I will always be excited for new Megadeth but I have to admit I wasn’t chomping at the bit for new Megadeth after that abysmal 2013 release. But that all changed when both Shawn Drover and Chris Broderick departed from the band in November 2014 and rumors of a “Rust In Peace” reunion circulated. I lit up like a Christmas tree and although the reunion didn’t come to fruition, my excitement for a new Megadeth album was bolstered by the suggestion that Megadeth on their new album would return to their roots. Needless to say, I had extremely high expectations for the new album. I wasn’t expecting a “Rust in Peace” 2 but I was expecting something of higher quality than that of their last releases. After the initial first listen of “Dystopia” I admit I was bit let down. Not that it was bad but I was expecting/hoping for something a little better. But after every listen the album got better and better. And now after many many many listens I must say that I love this album. “Dystopia” obliterates Megadeth’s two previous offerings and is indeed not only the perfect comeback album but the perfect statement: Megadeth ain’t going nowhere!
Dave Mustaine, alongside his longtime partner David Ellefson, new sidekick Kiko Loureiro and with the helping hand of Chris Adler has transformed Megadeth into somewhat of a super group resulting in “Dystopia,” Megadeth’s finest hour in several years. The snarl is back, the outrageous riffs are gloriously present, and the poppy metal is absent. When Dave Mustaine is determined and motivated it shows. And it definitely shows on “Dystopia” as Mustaine goes back to Megadeth’s roots which results an unrelenting, unapologetic return to form thrash metal album. Dave Mustaine kept his word at least on this album as he said he would never write a radio song again. And perhaps because of that you can add “Dystopia” to the list of great ‘return to form’ albums for Megadeth. And for me personally, this album is over four years too late. This album is the logical follow up to the critically acclaimed “Endgame” and is everything that both “Th1rt3en” and “Super Collider” was not. “Dystopia” for me is a lot like “The System Has Failed” as both are not Megadeth’s best efforts but still great albums in their own right and have put Megadeth back on the right path. Although “Dystopia” is far from perfect, it’s an album that can get you excited about Megadeth again… something that you couldn’t say about its two predecessors.
RYM Rating: 5/5 Retrospective Rating: 9.5/10 (A +)
Recommendation: If you ever wanted Megadeth to do a thrash album again, this is probably the closest you’ll ever get. Is it a full fledged thrash album? No. But a lot of thrashy moments. A must listen for any Megadeth fan.
3 Favourite Songs: The Emperor, Lying In State, Death From Within.