Dystopia is album number 15 for Megadeth, the band that refuses to die, which I mean in a positive way. If you read the Wiki pages for the band and this album, Dave Mustaine and company faced some serious hardships while writing and making it. It would have been easy for Mustaine to take a year or two off to clear his head and recharge his batteries. Instead, it would seem he continued to make music as his way of venting.
If I’ve learned one thing about Mustaine over the years, it’s that his lyrics are how he expresses himself best. And, it turns out, he had a lot to get off his chest. But before we get into that, let’s talk about the title. According to Google, Dystopia, a word that’s seldom used anymore, is “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.” Merriam-Webster states that it’s “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” Listening to the album’s razor sharp lyrics, it’s obvious that Mustaine feels like we’re living in one now. Or he at least believes that’s the direction we’re headed in.
On the roaring title track, Mustaine sings, “There’s panic and there’s chaos rampant in the streets / Where useless thoughts of peace are met with rage.” That’s the Dave Mustaine we know and love, spitting out lyrics that hold up a mirror and make society see itself for what it is: corrupted and broken. Listening to the somewhat familiar, “Hanger 18”-esque guitars, it’s impossible not to think of the classic Megadeth album Rust in Peace, often cited as the band’s best. To that end, it’s an album Mustaine and company have, to some degree, tried to recreate over the years. (Remember “Return to Hangar” from The World Needs A Hero?) With Dystopia, Mustaine has been influenced by it, but instead of trying to recreate it, I believe he tried to top it. Whether or not he did, is for you to decide, but I dare to say that he did. Dystopia burns with that same fiery passion and ups the ante musically and lyrically.
One of the album’s greatest strengths is the guitar interplay between Mustaine and newcomer Kiko Loureiro of Angra fame, which is nothing short of brilliant. Check out how they play tag on tracks like “Fatal Illusion,” “Look Who’s Talking,” “Post American World’ and “Conquer of Die.” There’s no denying the magic the two have worked all over the album, their spiraling guitars equal parts shiny and menacing. They’re not the only ones who pull their weight either. Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler knocks it out of the fucking park, scoring one home run after another, some of his blasts as brutal as black metal. He gives these songs precisely the kick in the ass they need. Meanwhile, bassist Dave Ellefson plays like his life depends on it, attacking his instrument and making it scream, just as he always does on every Megadeth album he’s on. It also must be said that Mustaine and Chris Rakestraw produced the album exquisitely.
The verses of “Look Who’s Talking” find Mustaine on the prowl, doing that angry sing-speaking thing he’s famous for. “I’ll never stop until I find you / That’s when you’re gonna cease to exist,” he sneers addressing the corrupt, the hypocritical and the oppressive. During the chorus, he sings like a vicious dog barking, “I look who’s talking / And I see / A big nothing looking back at me.” The song ends perfectly when he spits, “Now roll over / And play dead.”
“Poisonous Shadows” is downright eerie, musically and lyrically, a song you wouldn’t want to play around your kids at bedtime. Not that I’d recommend playing Megadeth for your kids, but… You get the idea. The lyrics are like a blueprint for a horror movie screenplay: “Is it my face you see, do I haunt you in your sleep / On your hands and knees, when you crawl through your nightmares / When there’s no more grace, does your heartbeat start to race? / Clawing everywhere in the dark, poisonous shadows.” It should also be mentioned that Loureiro plays a short but impressive piano piece at the end and it sounds just like tense horror film score. Every note of this song is perfect and it’s nothing short of epic, easily one of Megadeth’s best songs ever. If you’ve been waiting for a new spin on “The Conjuring,” you’ve got it here.
Another highlight is “Post American World,” which Loureiro wrote with Mustaine, accordingly to Genius. You might expect the song to be about how we’d be better off in a post American world, but that’s not it at all. I speculate that Dave fears that day as the chorus goes, “What will we look like? / In a post American world / Why cower to those / Who oppose the American world?” You feel like bullets are firing over head as the guitars thrash, mean and unforgiving, and the solos are like lasers set to blind you. Watch out.
The above-mentioned are just a few of the triumphant songs on Dystopia. I could find something positive to write about them all, really, but it’s best you experience the rest of the album without any expectations. Although I will say that you should expect to be dazzled. To be blown away. This is Megadeth’s magnum opus.
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