In 2013, the band released Super Collider that divided the fans as some did not like the direction the band had taken. I would still categorize the album as a whole as “metal” but the tempos were a little slower. The majority of the songs did not have the complex riffs, trading solos, and intricate drumming that fans usually expect from Megadeth. In that aspect, some considered it as another Risk (1999) type album. To be fair, I like Super Collider for what it is because I like it when bands take risks and try something different. Having said that, I definitely see where all those people are coming from. Reading the reviews in 2013, it was easy to see that a considerable amount of fans was disappointed. Everybody was yearning for a more traditional Megadeth album that fired on all cylinders!
It turned out that the songwriting and recording had to wait.
By the time they were ready to write new songs, Dave Mustaine had already gone through quite a lot. His mother-in-law had been battling Alzheimer’s disease and, in November of 2014, went missing near a campground in California. Unfortunately, when the search teams later found her about a month and a half later, she had passed away. This was of course devastating to not just Dave, but to his entire family. When this was happening, he was also in the middle of moving to Nashville to support his daughter’s country music career. But first, he had to support his family during this tragedy. The priority, naturally, had to shift.
To add another complication into the mix, Shawn Drover (drums) and Chris Broderick (guitars) quit the band right around this time. I wrote about their departure in more detail on my first post. There was rampant speculation about the reasons but two main topics always show up in interviews: musical differences, and rumors about a Rust-in-Peace era reunion. The musical difference part is fairly evident as Megadeth is Dave’s band and ultimately, he makes the final decision on the music. And as we now know from Chris and Shawn’s new band, Act of Defiance, their music is completely different. As for the RIP-era reunion, it’s well publicized that the band tried that. They even jammed with Nick Menza for a while. But it fell through for obvious reasons – financial disagreement & creative differences. But Mustaine claims that even before Broderick and Drover had quit, the band’s management at the time was already pushing for this reunion. It was another reason why those two felt unwanted and ultimately quit.
“It was a real blessing that everything fell into place as quickly as it did. A lot of things were discovered on this journey; one was that the things of the past, past lineups: just let that rest. As always with Megadeth, forward is the motion, never backwards.”
– David Ellefson, on the RIP-era reunion attempt and finding new players –
– Metal Hammer Magazine, Issue 280, February ’16 –
It’s always divisive when Megadeth announces new members, but I was thrilled about Kiko and Chris even before hearing anything from the album. I thought Chris Adler was the drummer that Megadeth needed to re-introduce some exciting drumming into the band’s sound. And as for Kiko, upon listening to a few Angra records and pretty much becoming obsessed with his solo album “Sounds of Innocence”, I was already convinced we had a truly remarkable new lead guitarist. His style wasn’t just focused on showing off difficult techniques on the guitar, but on adding elements of unique melodies that made the solos memorable. In that regard, many fans were comparing him to Marty Friedman because both players are known for having such distinctive styles and making their playing about the melody, not about how “difficult” their solos are.
After this long journey, we arrive to today. The new Megadeth album… Let’s talk about DYSTOPIA.
From a production standpoint, this is the band’s best sounding album since Countdown to Extinction. The instruments blend well together and the whole album somehow retains a “live” feeling even though the sound is polished enough. The guitars are aggressive, with great rhythm and lead tones, making the guitar-work truly shine! The best part of this album’s sound, however, is the drums! My biggest beef with the past few albums was with drums as they usually sounded either too digital for my taste or the snare didn’t have the attack you’d expect from a thrash oriented album. Dystopia has drums that sound polished, and sound high in the mix – but retain the natural sound. It highlights Chris Adler’s drumming perfectly.
The guitars are once again tuned one step down to D Standard. It fits Dave’s new vocal range better and he sounds really good on this album. People complained after Super Collider saying the guitars weren’t heavy because they were in D Standard but that had nothing to do with it. It’s about how you set your tone, not necessarily about your tuning! Dystopia is perfect proof of that. I hope Megadeth keeps using D live and in the studio.
The other tracks are also very well executed and all of them offer something unique and interesting. I only mentioned some of the tracks to highlight the common themes and the musical direction but you can’t go wrong with any of them if you are a fan of the riff-oriented, heavier Megadeth. The focus on this album was definitely not radio success, it was all about putting together the best possible album. The funny thing is, this album actually did excellent with chart success because the album came #3 in the Billboard 200 chart, their highest since Countdown to Extinction in 1992, and topped most of the rock and metal charts around the world. When you think about the fact that this is a metal band that’s been around for 33 years, it’s a remarkable achievement.
Some didn’t like Mustaine’s lyrics, especially the politically charged ones, but I think all songs are well written on Dystopia. All themes they chose to explore fit the aggressive music perfectly. The overall vibe is gloomy – as the album title and artwork would suggest – but that’s nothing new to Megadeth. Their 1986 album Peace Sells But Who’s Buying?! shows the United Nations building blown to pieces. The beloved 1990 album Rust In Peace dealt with dark themes as well, with the title track talking about a nuclear warhead called Polaris. 2004’s The System Has Failed showed politicians getting in line in front of the Supreme Court building and buying a “not guilty” verdict from Vic Rattlehead. There are a ton of examples – but the point is, this band is known to explore these themes.
The Threat Is Real got the majority of the criticism because it deals with modern terrorism, the recent atrocities, and how countries are trying to deal with the aftermath. What some reviewers carefully ignored is that, as a musician, if you choose to talk about this, it doesn’t mean you’re against refugees, or you hate a certain group of people. It just means that you’re shining a light on what goes on in the world. All rock bands are known to do that. Especially with Megadeth, it is well known that a lot of times, the lyrics are tongue in cheek to make a point. To provoke thought. Not everything is meant literally. The Quietus described it best (and I fully agree) – “Megadeth are at their best when Mustaine is antagonized and disgusted by socio-political issues, and his lyrical commentary on ‘The Threat Is Real’ – which surely deals with modern day terrorism – adds a suitable dimension of reality in light of recent atrocities. Mustaine may be conservative in his political stance but his lyrics appear to come moreso from the view of a concerned humanitarian…”
“I don’t care if you like me or not, it’s not gonna change my appetite. But to judge me when you don’t
know me is prejudice, and contempt prior to investigation is ignorance.”
– Dave Mustaine –
– Metal Hammer Magazine, Issue 280, February ’16 –
Sources and Additional Reading:
– Metal Hammer, Issue 280, February 2016