Sound — 7
The double-edged sword of being a living legacy in music is that the longer one practices their craft, the more risk one takes in watering down their legendary body of work. Dave Mustaine, and his thrash metal juggernaut Megadeth, has never taken a break from making albums, and though that resulted in a continuous stream of treats for anyone craving an astonishing guitar performance, recent albums have shown an inevitable weathering of quality. With the main cause of that being a simple inability to recreate the classics - no matter how much 2009's "Endgame" and 2011's "Th1rt3en" tried, they could never out-thrash any of Megadeth's first four albums - Mustaine tried a more contemporary and commercial-friendly approach with 2013's hard-rocker "Super Collider," a bet made similarly as 1999's "Risk" did, and was received with the same kind of panning in return.
With history more or less repeating itself, Mustaine knows how to bounce back accordingly, and Megadeth's fifteenth album, "Dystopia," hones back on its heaviness. While, obviously, that goal is met by bringing things back to their thrash metal benchmark, it's not only about stampeding riffs and shredding solos (although "The Threat Is Real" satisfies the former, while nearly every song satisfies the latter). Mustaine goes from triplet-tricky riffing in "Lying in State" to a permutation of doom-to-thrash-to-groove metal in "Fatal Illusion," and also pays homage to both influential rock bands (like the Iron Maiden-type melody and Thin Lizzy-style guitar harmonies in the self-titled song) and previous Megadeth material (like the midtempo slugger "Post-American World" rehashing the likes of "Symphony of Destruction," and the clean electric/acoustic riff in "Bullet to the Brain" calling back to those similar eerie riffs heard prevalently in "Peace Sells...").
Mustaine opts to utilize more acoustic guitar from there, and though the theatrical metal likes of "Poisonous Shadows" (which is also equipped with string sections and a piano outro) is arguably too grandiose for its own good, the following "Conquer or Die" kicks off with a wicked flamenco acoustic performance before turning into an instrumental-only shred track. This one-two punch does a decent job injecting some other characteristics that counterweight the heaviness, but with the final stretch of the album being a meager metal cut of "The Emperor" and a lackluster Fear cover ("Foreign Policy"), "Dystopia" certainly isn't without its flaws.
Lyrics — 6
Mustaine's evolution as a lyricist has been a winding road. Starting out as a devil-may-care metalhead who, like many of his peers, gravitated towards writing about the occult and brutality, his turn to born again Christianity has had him swear off those topics explicit to his faith - and with Megadeth's early songs covering things like witchcraft (like "The Conjuring"), criticism of religion-driven war (in "Holy War... The Punishment Due") or flat-out mocking any kind of faith (in "I Ain't Superstitious"), much of that back catalogue has been rendered off-limits. Nevertheless, Mustaine has taken occasions lately to satiate that classic craving, and "Fatal Illusion" hearkens back to Mustaine's earlier lyric material, detailing a serial killer who was executed coming back from the dead to get revenge on his prosecutors, easily being one of the most colorful sets of lyrics on "Dystopia."
Of course, the more pervasive arc Mustaine has made as a lyricist goes hand in hand with his changing political views. Going from sardonically harping on the likelihood of nuclear winter brought on by the asshole collective of the global elite, to voicing criticism towards jingoistic foreign policies in the mid-naughties, Mustaine's politics have been much more conservative-leaning in the past few years, and he's made it full and clear that he hates current president Barack Obama. That hatred comes to a boil in "Dystopia," which, for the most part, portrays the concept of the fall of Western society by a corrupt and weak leader (consider it Mustaine's hyperbolic version of NOFX's "The War on Errorism"). It's a simple, well-covered, and ham-handed concept, but Mustaine revels in the bluntness with unequivocally critical songs like "The Threat Is Real" ("Justified obliteration, no one cares anymore... A culture made of cover ups"), "Post-American World" ("There's creeping hate if you resist the false narrative"), and "Lying in State" ("A shiny new agenda, birthed from a depraved mind / Of failing us on purpose, to culturally sanitize / Its opiates for the masses under cloak as hope and change"). Though more direct this time around, it's a political bone-picking that Mustaine has worn the tread on in the past few albums. At least Mustaine can take solace in the fact that, after this year, Obama won't be president anymore.
Overall Impression — 8
In the past-their-prime stage of an iconic band that has no desire to quit making music, it's not about trying to one-up their material that's already been immortalized, but to try finding a decent ebb and flow in a catalog that continues to grow. Whereas "Th1rt3en" tried too hard to be the next best Megadeth album (an impossible achievement), and "Super Collider" unsuccessfully tried to make Megadeth a radio-friendly rock band, "Dystopia" succeeds in recalibrating Megadeth's strengths. Not only does it deliver exactly what thrash enthusiasts are looking for, but it throws in a few flavor-changes to be more than just a simple appeal to thrash, making it the most captivating Megadeth album compared to its recent predecessors.