Megadeth’s “Dystopia” Single

Yesterday Megadeth released the title track and single number three from their upcoming fifteenth (!) studio album Dystopia, due out January 22nd.

Interestingly enough, after the near-universal panning that 2013’s Supercollider received from fans and critics alike, Megadeth have once again found themselves in the underdog position with album number fifteen, one in which they have tended to thrive throughout their career. And with the three singles unveiled thus far, the band is certainly showing a lot of promise. First the thrashy “Fatal Illusion” (which I wrote about here) and “The Threat is Real”, and now “Dystopia”.

To my ears, “Dystopia” is the strongest of all three, but perhaps most notably, it’s the most tuneful. See there’s a period in Megadeth’s career – the one metalheads tirelessly and (mostly unjustly) rail against – in which their brand of metal became more song-centric. It began with Countdown to Extinction and progressed through Youthanasia and Cryptic Writings (both of which I earn minority status by holding in high esteem), before crashing and burning with Risk. But here’s the catch: despite much of the Thrash being absent in Megadeth’s mid-90s output, Mustaine’s songwriting was exceptional. The well-crafted hooks – whether on vocals or guitar, mind you – are light years beyond the capacities of most bands of the Thrash persuasion. But with the breakneck pace and sneering confrontation of Megadeth’s early years missing, it’s understandable why these albums didn’t fare too well. In reality, what truly needs to happen for a stellar Megadeth release is a fusion of the aforementioned song construction with balls-to-the-wall, guitar-driven speed metal. And “Dystopia” might be the closest we’ve gotten to a sonic manifestation of this dream in quite some time.

The track opens with a mid-tempo groove and a simplistic, ear candy guitar melody a la Youthanasia. From there, hasty yet modestly concise verses allow the guitars to take center stage, the long solo section after the second chorus being Exhibit A. In general, “Dystopia” is peppered with the most exciting guitar solos that have been on a Megadeth track in God knows how long. Let’s be honest, Kiko Loureiro SMOKES every Megadeth guitarist since Marty Friedman. I don’t care what you think. Like what the actual fuck is he doing with those octaves at 1:43??? I really hope an official songbook comes out for Dystopia so I can give some of these mind-blowing licks a spin.

But “Hangar 18”-style extended leads aside, Mustaine and Co. still bring the riffs. The winding groove after the solo section is classic Megadeth before the song is given a dramatic send off with an dopamine-pumping dual guitar harmony that crescendos beautifully to wrap everything up.

A Megadeth diehard, I’ve been in a state of “eager anticipation” since the announcement of Dystopia back in October. But the title track, which balances out the energy of “Fatal Illusion” and “The Threat Is Real” perfectly – clueing us in to what has the potential to be an excellent, well-rounded release – has allowed me to say I’m “excited” now for reasons other than just being a fucking stan. January 22nd, I’m ready for you!

UPDATE: Full Dystopia review here

Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood Review

The official edited version of this review is available here.

A Billboard Chart powerhouse, yet the most traditional in its adherence to industry standards of old, Country music has been waiting to be Beyoncé-d. Perhaps the holdout for a Country adaptation of Queen B’s increasingly ubiquitous surprise release tactic was simply a holdout for an artist with enough clout and appropriate timing. Enter Eric Church and Mr. Misunderstood. Without warning, the North Carolina native’s fifth full-length LP arrived in the mailboxes of premium fan club members on the eve of its unannounced November 4th release, which coincided with the 48th annual CMA awards. The follow-up to two consecutive platinum albums in 2011’s Chief and 2014’s The Outsiders, Mr. Misunderstood arrives with a commercial and artistic momentum that transcends any of its promotional methodology, novel for the genre as it may be.

The self-proclaimed “parking lot down-and-outer” has often treated Country, Rock, Blues, and Pop as a stylistic Four Corners monument, with his limbs stretched across their boundaries, defying categorization if it weren’t for his conspicuous twang. Mr. Misunderstood continues in a similar vein, but provides a bit of mediation between Chief and The Outsiders. Just as its ten-song track list eschews any “Drink In My Hand”-type celebration of the boozing everyman, there’s also no eight-minute epic like “Devil, Devil” or straightforward Rock showcase like “That’s Damn Rock & Roll”. Rather, Mr. Misunderstood is a hybrid of its two predecessors.

Musically, the album’s ambitious cuts are the first pair. “Mr. Misunderstood” is slick and effortless in its numerous tempo changes, never allowing rhythmic shifts to distract from the potency of its central message. “Mistress Named Music”, meanwhile, is a complex affair behind its straightforward vocal – layers upon layers of guitars and keyboards make stealthy entrances and exits as the song marches toward an eventual climax, courtesy of a blazing 70’s-inspired guitar solo and some vocal assistance from a belting choir.

After a bit of early experimentation, the LP settles into a logical sampling of Church’s various sonic avenues. “Mixed Drinks About Feelings”, a duet with blues singer Susan Tedeschi, abandons Country almost entirely and thrives in its direct Pop sensibilities. Ever since 2011’s nostalgia-laced “Springsteen” helped him become a worldwide sensation, Church has become synonymous with The Boss, whose influence continues to reveal itself in not-so-subtle ways on the stadium-ready “Knives of New Orleans”, one of Mr. Misunderstood’s energetic peaks. Elsewhere, “Chattanooga Lucy” welcomes funky guitars into the fold, while “Holdin’ My Own” and “Round Here Buzz” both favor a minimalist approach.

Despite its crafty blend of styles, Mr. Misunderstood places a bulk of its weight on lyrical content, a department in which it particularly excels. Church forgoes the topical clichés that have plagued much of mainstream Country in the past half-decade. Absent are accounts of partying, various modes of transportation, or any combination of the two – no buying of boats, drinking on planes, or cruising of any kind. As a wordsmith, Church has become reliable for penning narratives that are as vivid and focused as they are clever. The brilliant title cut pulls double duty as both an inspirational autobiography and an anthem of solidarity for Church’s more alienated listeners. “Kill a Word” executes its motif with careful precision – a crusade against unwelcome members of the English language and the negativity they represent. Meanwhile, album closer “Three Year Old” delivers potentially the most vulnerable moment of Church’s career as it speaks on the joys of fatherhood with a warm affection, bringing the superstar full circle as a narrator. He also continues to sprinkle in the occasional homage to his musical influences, name checking everyone from Stevie Wonder to Elvis Costello to James Brown in both the title cut and the witty double entendre “Record Year”.

At a concise thirty-nine minutes, Mr. Misunderstood engages its full potential without a wasted note. No corner of Church’s musical realm is left untouched, yet the album’s merit as a complete, cohesive statement is never in question. Mr. Misunderstood provides further justification for Church’s stardom – the ability to harness Country, Rock, Blues, and Pop into a singular body of work that is equal parts maturity and digestible fun is an ability unique to Eric Church.