Review Summary: The best Megadeth has sounded in a long time
To say expectations for this album were low would be an understatement. And after the (united) abominations that were Thirteen and Super Collider, can you really blame fans for not being as excited for a new Megadeth album as they once were? However, as each single was released, my expectations grew. I still wasn't expecting to be blown away by it, but I certainly was interested. So, does Dystopia revive Megadeth or finally prove that the band is truly dead?
Dystopia is as front-loaded as an album can be. I understand the reason for this, they needed to get people excited for the rest of the album, but they put the 3 already released songs first. To say this hurts the album would be putting it nicely. Firstly, it makes you wait about 15 minutes to actually hear new material. Secondly, these 3 songs are the best tracks on the album. This means that the rest of the album never lives up to the excitement the first 15 minutes built, or would have built had we not already heard the songs. Imagine if Ride The Lightning had "Fade To Black", "For Whom the Bell Tolls", and "Creeping Death" as the first 3 songs? It would make the rest of the album feel like a let down, even though the rest of that album is great. It's just a poor choice that makes the album feel like 3 great songs with a good number of after-thoughts. This doesn't mean that these songs are awful, just that they are drastically inferior. That doesn't mean there aren't awful songs on display here though. Even when not compared to the first three tracks, songs such as "Post American World" are absolutely laughable, and the song "Bullet To The Brain" makes me want to live up to the title. Where once Dave's voice was grimy and dirty, now it is just embarrassingly unintentionally cheesy. I'll talk more about his voice later though.
New band member's Chris Adler and Kiko Loureino don't exactly have much to prove, as both are well respected musicians from well known bands, but it was still uncertain how their playing would mesh with Dave's artistic vision. Megadeth has always been a true band, but a band with a very clear leader, and as such all member's contributions had to fit what Dave was wanting. Loureino's more power metal and neo-classical stylings and Chris Adler's more metalcore oriented drumming, while great in their other bands, easily could have not worked well with the Megadeth sound. However, both men both conform enough to the tradiotnal Megadeth fans happy, while providing enough of their own spin on things to help make this album stand out. Kiko's guitar work is reminiscent of Marty Friedman, but never sounds like he's trying to emulate his style. Both musicians are accomplished neo-classical musicians, but Kiko is above all else a power metal guitarist. Chris Adler's drumming is mostly focused on driving the music, never taking center stage but always powerfully propelling the music forward. Kiko's guitar-work helps the music feel grand and epic, while Chris Adler's drumming helps to keep things grounded. Not to take away from Mustaine and Ellefson, who both give their best musical performances since Endgame. Ellefson's bass gets to shine here a little more than usual, able to come to the front of the music occasionally and provide his typical groovy basslines. Mustaine also offers his most interesting riffs in years, being both complex and focused. This leads to Dystopia having the best music a Megadeth album has had in a long time, at least since Endgame. However there are moments where it seems that everyone was on different pages. This is expected, as half the band members are new and had never worked with anyone in the band before, while the other half has been in the band for 30 years. However, this doesn't happen often enough to severely hurt the album.
While the music here is without a doubt great, there is a pretty big elephant in the room, that being Mustaine's voice. It's not unexpected for a 54 year old man to not be able to hit the notes he could at 24, but that fact does nothing to help the fact that the vocals on this album pretty much stay within a four note range the whole time. This makes songs that are distinct musically blend together, as Mustaine's voice is high in the mix. This problem isn't too noticeable when listening to the songs separate, but when you sit down for 50 minutes to listen to the whole thing, it becomes impossible to ignore. On top of that, the lyrics are pretty bland too. Blah blah blah the world is falling to pieces blah blah blah. It's stuff we've heard Megadeth deal with before, but done less well. That isn't to say the lyrics here are completely trash, it's just rehashed ideas that aren't as good as they were the first time we heard them.
Production wise, it's a step in the right direction for Megadeth, being less compressed that previous albums. In the era of the loudness war, it's nice to hear an album that hasn't had the life compressed out of it. The bass is nice and thick, guitars sharp and clean, and well defined drumming. Nothing too impressive, but it doesn't hold the album back in any way, shape, or form.
In short, Dystopia almost completely rights the wrongs of Thirteen and Super Colider. Megadeth has once again come back from the grave, and with a new lineup of diverse musicians, I expect for Megadeth to stay. Mustaine's voice is aging rapidly, but his guitar riffs sound as good as ever. It's all around a great album, one that any Megadeth fan at least needs to check out once.