While the world waits with bated breath for the new Metallica album (the first since 2008’s Death Magnetic), Dave Mustaine has produced four studio albums and undergone several of his traditional line up changes. After 2013’s Super Collider was widely panned and guitarist Chris Broderick and drummer Shawn Drover joined the ever-growing Wikipedia page devoted to Megadeth members fallen by the wayside, understandable pressure was on Dave to produce something that would at least live up to 2009’s Endgame. Dystopia is unfortunately not that, but it is an improvement on Super Collider.
As ever, it is sensible to note the continued deterioration of Dave’s once-angry, now unlistenable vocals. This is not the Dave of old, who screwed up his face and convinced you that he was thoroughly pissed off; the mask is off and God has been found, and Dave’s vision of a dystopian future is remarkably vanilla. Not one of the twelve tracks on Dystopia carried any more than a token feeling of dissatisfaction, which has always been Megadeth’s trademark emotional locus. In terms of the vocals, themes and lyrics, Dave certainly sounds like he’s going through the motions on top of a very worn soapbox. In terms of tone, Dystopia is confusing, or perhaps confused: while some tracks like “Fatal Illusion,” “Poisonous Shadows” and opener “The Threat Is Real” carry the kind of gravity that you might expect from an album based around the idea of a dystopian future, tracks like “The Emperor” and “Post American World” hark back to the slightly tongue-in-cheek, radio-rock feel of some of the band’s ‘90s work, though tellingly without the requisite sarcasm. The same applies to the slightly unnecessary Fear cover, “Foreign Policy,” tacked onto the end of the album.
Thankfully, there are elements to celebrate about Dystopia, even if the band’s best work is now clearly buried underneath several feet of basalt and forever unrecoverable. There are moments, particularly in “Poisonous Shadows” and “Lying In State,” when the galloping energy of Dave’s arrangements returns to form and makes the listener fall in love with the riffs and the way they lock in with the rhythm section. Brazilian signing Kiko Loureiro (Angra) breaths a breath of fresh and fluid air over his lead sections, providing a definite improvement over Broderick’s sterile competency and occasional obvious boredom. Long-time bassist Dave Ellefson, still holding the title for the man able to stand Dave Mustaine’s company for the longest, is readily audible and even has a few solo breaks reminiscent of Peace Sells… and Rust In Peace. Unfortunately, much-lauded addition Chris Adler (Lamb Of God, Protest The Hero) has not been allowed to spread his ample wings: in fact, it sounds almost like he was told to play as much like Shawn Drover as possible. Mustaine’s lead playing is, as ever, angular and caustic, though the harmony sections and guitar duelling that represent some of Megadeth’s best moments since the Millennium are few and far between on Dystopia.
In terms of production, there is not much done to relieve the inevitable ear-fatigue caused by 46 minutes of compressed, machine gun riffing proffered by Dave and Co. Dystopia sounds like it was recorded in the same session as the last four albums, though a slightly ineffectual orchestra was ushered in this time around for “Poisonous Shadows.” Megadeth fans hoping to read about “a return to form” will be disappointed by this new offering. However, perhaps they should not despair, for this line up (if it lasts) has the potential to push Megadeth into a new, more interesting phase of work, if only Dave will let it.