Sound — 9
Megadeth unleashed upon us their 15th studio album today! After over a year of hype it was undoubtedly one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year by metal fans everywhere. It's hard to say what I was expecting from "Dystopia" prior to its release, but the release of promotional songs "Fatal Illusion," "The Threat Is Real" and "Dystopia" filled me with joy and excitement ahead of what would definitely be a marked improvement on their previous release, "Super Collider." So what have they done well? And is there anything that lets the album down?
The first thing to note is the variety in the album; it's got some all out thrash songs in "Lying in State," some that are very much more Rock oriented in "Dystopia," and some longer, more progressive tracks like "Poisonous Shadows." What the songs have in common, and makes them stand out from other similar songs, is how well conceived they are: Dave spoke about the songs having lots of twists and turns, and that's evident in some cases, like "Post American World" in particular. In this, the solo section erupts out of nowhere. The solo's use to the song is obvious as Mustaine manages to incorporate a key theme from "Hangar 18," a song which has a related concept behind it; but it is poorly executed and abrupt. These songs are very reliant on the song's concept and lyrics to tie them together as is what happens in this case; but for the most part the songs flow together effortlessly. "Poisonous Shadows" moves through so many different textures and ideas, but the ideas are all fully thought out, well-executed and merge into each other very well. The orchestral instruments help, along with masterful thematic builds and excellent production value, to blend the heavy and soft sections together. This is different to a lot of previous Megadeth tracks which would rely on the recognised thrash features to allow them to jump between vastly differing sections; it shows a really strong songwriting progression of the band. There are two main things that help this: the song lengths being shorter enables a more focussed concentration on a particular style/genre; and the impressive guitar work, the forced change in tuning due to Dave's surgery has actually helped the band in some ways.
What the album has, a lot more of than on others, is heavy riffs; I think this is largely helped by the drop D tuning. Partly because Mustaine believes that it's harder to hear the articulation in fast paced low register riffs on the dropped D string; resulting in slightly slower riffs, and partly because the lower tuning just sounds much heavier. Mustaine mentioned in an interview before the album's release that Bullet To The Brain has some of his favourite riffs on the album. They definitely do not disappoint! The riffs on this track are definitely not as fast as some others, but they sound so heavy, revolving around the lower register, and emphasised tremendously by Adler's drumming; aided again by the good production value. "Poisonous Shadows" probably has my favourite lead guitar playing on the album; when the first solo enters following the change from the sparse texture; it is accompanied by a heavy riff underneath, and impressive synths and strings helping to create an epic atmospheric surrounding. The solo itself plays on the harmonic minor scale excellently to give an exotic feel to the track, further helping to blend in from the previous section. It then has a fun call and response with the synths to transition into the verse. The solo for the middle of the track is really well written, it begins melodically to attract attention, yet quickly begins to display the player's talents using impressively quick runs to round off the solo section. As good as the guitar playing, and composition of "Poisonous Shadows" is, the vocal performance was somewhat underwhelming.
Lyrics — 8
With so much else happening throughout the track, it perhaps an artistic choice for Mustaine to not fully go for it, singing wise. The whole song features a snarling performance relating to more spoken than sung; the vocals open up a bit in the chorus, but in such a melodic song I would have expected a more convincing melodic leading line to complete the harmonically rich section. This is probably the only issue I have with Mustaine's vocals on the whole record though. All other tracks they do a brilliant job of either providing a central hook, as in "The Emperor" and "Dystopia," or are appropriately aggressive like in "Lying in State" and "Post American World." Further, the lyrics on each track are really well conceived.
There is no overall theme to the lyrics on the album, although many focus on current political events; "Fatal Illusion," "The Threat Is Real" and "Lying in State." Despite my dislike of the delivery on "Poisonous Shadows," the lyrical concept is one my favourites. The song is a lot more emotional; thankfully in a different way to some of Mustaine's other emotional songs. The song focusses around "people hiding from themselves," and how people like to pretend that aspects of their past didn't happen; these secrets are the poisonous shadows that haunt them. This topic is extremely relatable for listeners and will undoubtedly draw an instant relationship with some listening. The lyrics throughout are well written; some offering creative metaphors, some providing an alternative perspective on life, and some simply challenging the way we currently view the world.
Overall Impression — 8
I think that as a whole album, it's probably Megadeth's strongest since "Cryptic Writings," it's consistently great throughout; including a variety of songs that can appeal to a variety of moods and people. The construction of the album overall is very good, it flows really well in terms of lyrical themes, and varying the song genres. "Lying in State" would not follow on very well from "Poisonous Shadows," but having "Conquer or Die!" between them helps the flow of the album. The songs themselves are a little jumpy in places, though most are very well constructed, with excellent concepts, delivered through Mustaine's excellent vocal performance and lyrics, that match the music. The only song I dislike, and think doesn't fit the album, is the cover "Foreign Policy," it doesn't have the same level of thought and concept behind it as the others, and this makes it seem out of place, although it is arguably the most thrash song on the album. This takes nothing away from the original tracks on "Dystopia" and Megadeth should be very happy with the album they've created. Overall a very enjoyable album, definitely worth a buy; Megadeth back to their best!
Standout tracks: "Dystopia," "Poisonous Shadows," "Bullet to the Brain," "The Emperor."