Genre: Thrash Metal
Producer: Dave Mustaine, Chris Rakestraw
Released: January 22, 2016
When discussing music, or art in general, I try to evaluate the work of an artist separately from its creator, no matter how unlikable or despicable that person might be. It’s about whether or not you like the painting on the wall; the fact that it was painted by someone who murdered a busload of people should be irrelevant. That is, unless the painting depicts a busload of corpses. Context is everything. And this is how we get to Megadeth and its frontman Dave Mustaine. For years, mister Mustaine has been known for rather controversial personal views, sitting comfortably in the sweet spot between tinfoil-clad conspiracy theorist and born-again fundamentalist Christian: he has declined to perform or socialize with his black metal colleagues, openly campaigned against gay rights, believes that many of the recent U.S. mass shootings were staged by Barack Obama, and came up with Donald Trump’s wall idea all the way back in 1988. But as I have mentioned, Mustaine’s personal views, no matter how weird, outlandish or against my ethics, should not affect me as a music consumer.
However, when all this starts to bleed into his music is the exact moment I’m starting to have a problem with it. And that finally happened on the band’s 15th studio album, Dystopia. It’s pretty hard not to read into Mustaine’s xenophobic attitudes on immigration when he ominously repeats the title of “Death From Within”, be it about the Trojan War or not. “Lying in State” continues on similar themes; “Post American World” showcases his jingoistic attitudes towards foreign policy; even the instrumental piece “Conquer or Die!” manages to convey Mustaine’s attitudes through its unfortunate name. Not that the lyrical writing is exactly Shakespeare to begin with: rhymes like “You make me sick / You prick” on track “The Emperor” make the listener either chuckle in disbelief or want to punch someone square in the face.
That is a shame, since musically Dystopia is probably the sharpest Megadeth since the 90s; I would go even further and say it’s the best thrash metal album any of the Big Four has delivered in since the turn of the millennium. The newest additions who happened to walk in through the revolving door called Megadeth line-up, Angra guitarist Kiko Loureiro and Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler, bring their own energetic influences into the mix, kicking the performance into second gear and revitalizing the whole band’s presence. This is a welcome change of pace after 2013’s stale Supercollider. Despite its half-assed lyrics “The Emperor” showcases great musicianship and compositional prowess; “Poisonous Shadows” shows refreshing symphonic elements clearly brought in by Loureiro; the lead single “Dystopia” manages to be just vague enough lyrically to not cause the listener to cringe. The only track that doesn’t really sit well with the others is the Fear cover “Foreign Policy”, which manages to sound like Megadeth only during the impressive guitar solos.
Dystopia is probably the most divisive album of Megadeth’s career: musically, it’s closer to the aggressive barrages of Megadeth’s classic albums like Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? or Rust in Peace, but the lyrical content is a bitter pill to swallow. However, if you can ignore the questionable messages, Dystopia is easily the best Megadeth album in two decades, and a competent thrash metal album overall.