Dystopia is Megadeth’s first album in the new line-up that has Brazilian guitar virtuoso Kiko Loureiro and Lamb Of God-drum animal Chris Adler joining Dave Mustaine and Dave Ellefson. Expectations were high, as Mustaine came across reinvigorated on stage as well as in interviews, and fans were hoping this newfound energy would translate into an inspired 15th studio album that could match the level of 1990’s Rust In Peace and 1992’s Countdown to Extinction, the albums that are still considered the band’s creative peak.
Unfortunately, Dystopia does not live up to the high expectations. The album initially gets off to a good start with the energetic opener ‘The Threat Is Real’ with great lead riffs by Loureiro. Up next is the title track which would have been a great tune, had it not been a carbon copy of ‘Hangar 18’. The song follows the same structure and rhythm changes as the Rust In peace-classic, with the ascending riffs in the chorus, the sweep arpeggio guitar solos and the switch to a mid-tempo pace two thirds in.
The third track is the decent track ‘Fatal Illusion’, also the first single of the album, but hardly any of the songs that follow manage to grab you like a good Megadeth-track should. One of Mustaine’s key strengths used to be the ability to combine catchy melodies with great riffs, but on this album that only happens towards the end on the song ‘The Emperor’, which is a typical Mustaine-style heavy metal pop song in the vein of ‘A Tout Le Monde’ and ‘Trust’.
Although it is not clear who Megadeth’s infamous frontman takes aim at when he sings about “The Emperor with no clothes”, the lyrics to most other tracks on the album are less ambivalent. Controversial political lyrics have of course been a trademark of Mustaine’s writing for many years and this album is no different, with songs like ‘The Threat Is Real’, ‘Post American World’, ‘Lying in State’ and the title track. Some of these tracks have already been accompanied by animated videos where we get to see an in-depth look at the metal madman’s ominous Dystopia. Although his lyrics can often be though-provoking, it may be a little too much this time. Perhaps Mustaine should to try and lay off the Fox news for a bit, as his vision of a dystopian society is about as fascinating as that of any of the many lame young adult movies out there (Hunger Games, Divergence, Maze Runner, 5th Wave, you name them). That said, we have to admit that Dave was right in his lyrics to ‘The Threat Is Real’, as it almost sounds as if he eerily predicted the Paris terror attacks (“The messiah or mass murderer / No controlling who comes through the door.”).
Now that we got the negatives out of the way, let’s focus on the positives: Although Dystopia as an album does not live up to its expectations, the band’s new shredmaster Kiko Loureiro delivers astonishing guitar work throughout. Every song contains at least one awesome solo, and Loureiro’s style can be best described as a mixture of Megadeth’s former shredwizard Marty Friedman and Dream Theater’s John Petrucci. So Dystopia has a lot to offer for guitar aficionados but at the same time this album is a great example of how tunes with amazing solos do not automatically make for great songs.
After seeing a re-energized Megadeth at the Hordern Pavilllion in Sydney just three months ago I was really looking forward to this album, and I kept giving it another listen to see if I was maybe missing something. But after several spins it becomes clear that although the solos and the drumming are great, the songs just do not seem to be there. This is a two star album, with one extra star for Loureiro’s phenomenal shredwork. Perhaps a lot of the songs on Dystopia were already written before Loureiro and Adler joined the band. If that’s the case then let’s hope that these two amazing new additions will get more creative input on the next album, so that the follow-up to Dystopia may indeed be that comeback-album we were waiting for.