The thrash metal band’s 15th album is a dark ride
by MIGUEL MIRANDA
In case you haven’t recovered from the hot mess that was Trump’s Thursday afternoon press conference, Megadeth’s Dystopia is a remarkable diversion.
Released in January 2016, the well-received LP spawned a handful of viral hits, begat a tremendous world tour and earned itself a Grammy for “Best Metal Performance.” Not bad for a band that’s been around for more than three decades.
But I’m not plugging Megadeth’s latest because I’ve been a fan of the band for more than a decade. Dystopia’s track list reads like a thematic guide to the Trump White House’s shenanigans. It’s nearly an hour’s worth of face melting guitar solos, crushing beats, and lyrics about man’s cruelty to man that resonate with America today.
In case you’re unaware of Megadeth’s origins let me spell it out: founder and lead guitarist Dave Mustaine is a right-leaning Conservative Christian. He loves Jesus and reads Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and the Founding Fathers.
He’s also written some of the gnarliest songs in heavy metal history. Google “the best metal albums ever” and there are at least a couple of Megadeth platters in there.
If that’s not enough to establish Mustaine’s bona fides, consider his seminal role in Metallica. Mustaine had a huge influence on the quartet’s songwriting until the band kicked him out for abusing drugs and alcohol in 1983. He formed Megadeth later that year, borrowing its name from Reaganesque paranoia over US-Soviet arsenals of megadeath.
But is Mustaine another Trumpist in the music business? Despite personal opposition to Pres. Barack Obama and staunch Republicanism since the Bush-era he never openly endorsed Trump. But he did allude to The Donald’s appeal during interviews.
“You wanna know what being with Bernie Sanders would look like? Look at Venezuela,” he told the radio station Katt 100.5 in May last year. “If you want to know what Hillary Clinton would look like, it’s more of the same.”
“If you don’t want either one of those things the choice is going to be Donald Trump. I think that because Hillary might not be able to run because of her criminal proceedings.”
So is Dystopia another musical echo chamber for the Trumpian world view? Give it a listen. The signs are telling.
Megadeth’s fifteenth album was a rebirth for the band. Notorious for shaky line-ups, the addition of Lamb of God’s Chris Adler and Brazilian guitar wiz Kiko Loureiro allowed Mustaine and longtime bassist David Ellefson to indulge complicated song structures and blistering guitar duels while recording outside Nashville in 2015.
Known for their speed and musicianship, Dystopia is damn heavy for a Megadeth album. Give it a spin and hear the opening track “The Threat Is Real” roar to life before it slides real smooth to “Dystopia,” the song Mustaine insists was inspired by movies such as 12 Monkeys and Total Recall.
The band released music videos for both tracks featuring the Megadeth mascot, Vic Rattlehead, fighting against a police state led by a vengeful maniac. In the course of the two-part series Rattlehead’s accomplice, a cyberpunk Lady Liberty, is torn to pieces and he’s left clutching her severed head — hence the album’s cover art.
Then there’s songs such as “Post American World” whose chorus goes:
If you don’t like where we’re going / Then you won’t like what’s coming next
What will we look like? In a post-American World
Why cower to all those / Who oppose the American world?
The second verse is a real beauty:
When you walk away from that which makes you strong
You only fool yourself; you only weaken your cause
There’s creeping hate if you resist the false narrative
Crushing all the dissenters who still think for themselves
Keep in mind this was written in 2015 and Mustaine’s describing America’s descent to dictatorship. Like what’s happening now!
Prescient lyrics aren’t uncommon in Megadeth’s oeuvre. Back in 1986 the band thumbed its nose at the United Nations — also an easy target for Trump — with the hit song “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?”
When Mustaine recovered from a debilitating wrist injury in 2004 and made a comeback with the cynical The System Has Failed, taking on the U.N. became the whole point for Megadeth’s 2007 follow up, United Abominations.
The album that came next, 2009’s Endgame, had a title track about a cherished right-wing fantasy. It went:
I woke up in a black FEMA box
Darkness was all around me, in my coffin
My dreams are all nightmares anymore
And this is what I dream every night
The leader of the New World Order, the President of the United States
Has declared anyone now residing in the US of A
Without the RFID chip, you’re just an illegal alien
An enemy combatant of Amerca, welcome to the New World Order
Fast forward to the present. Here’s some alt-right angst from Dystopia’s “Lying In State”:
What we are witnessing is the decline of Western civilization
Crushing our potential and piling it on, how will history portray us?
Attack the family, attack their faith and dreams
Attack the body and the head will fall
It’s like Mustaine, whose musical influences include punk, hardcore, Iron Maiden, and Motown, is a happy resident in Alex Jones’ world.
Guess what? As with another Trumpian heavy metaller, who also had an album titled Dystopia and is always vigilant of government mind control, Mustaine appeared on Infowars.
The rest of Dystopia’s musical fare have the requisite darkness that would tickle Steve Bannon and his minions. From the album’s heaviest rocker, “Death From Within”:
A token gift, destroyers deep within its hold
Revenge of patient men is sweet and best served cold
The enemy inside the belly of the beast
A mighty Trojan horse, tonight the sentries sleep
If the lyrics nauseate you, I recommend the haunting track “Conquer or Die” just ignore the words and savor the musicianship.
Of course, Megadeth’s lyrics are too innocuous to pin a specific agenda on. Mustaine is a prolific songwriter who has railed against the PMRC, farm foreclosures in the 1990s, and aliens held prisoner in Area 51.
But Dystopia’s lyrics are too on the nose. It’s as if Mustaine is channeling the fears and absurdity of he Divided States of America circa 2017. There’s even a song about a narcissistic buffoon hogging the spotlight, “The Emperor.” It goes:
Who do you, Who do you think you are?
Some kind of super star? We’ll see!
Where do you, where do you think you are?
That shit won’t get you far with me
You’re just so dashing, you marvel at the sound
Of your own voice as you crash into the ground
It’s like Mustaine describing Trump’s disaster of a press conference last Thursday. Dystopia even ends with a homage to Megadeth’s punk roots. A cover of Fear’s “Foreign Policy,” whose lyrics read like an Ur-Fascist monologue dripping with sarcasm.
I don’t want to leave readers with the impression that Megadeth’s music means anyone ill. But just take the songs on Dystopia and interpret them as warnings for when American democracy is trampled underfoot…and they make sense.
And remember, Mustaine was writing from his Conservative point of view. So is this Megadeth’s own The Wall? I don’t think so. But damn. Megadeth did capture the spirit of the times with Dystopia.
Now in case you want to explore their musical universe, I suggest starting with Dystopia and then rewind to their earlier material. Rust in Peace, Countdown to Extinction, Risk, and Endgame are my recommendations.
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