Megadeth's Dave Mustaine and Kiko Loureiro Unlock the Secrets of 'Dystopia'

If your list of great twin-lead guitar bands doesn’t include Megadeth, you’ve probably got some serious listening to do.
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If your list of great twin-lead guitar bands doesn’t include Megadeth, you’ve probably got some serious listening to do. Since the quartet’s 1985 debut, chief Deth-head Dave Mustaine has paired up with various 6-string supermen including Chris Poland, Marty Friedman, Glen Drover, Chris Broderick, and Al Pitrelli, while scripting one of the most seminal chapters in the metal guitar bible. For the band’s latest record, Dystopia, Mustaine has enlisted Brazilian guitar sensation Kiko Loureiro as his new wingman. Cited by many fans and critics as a true return to form, the album is a treasure trove of breakneck thrash riffs, classically influenced melodicism, and fully shredded dual-lead mayhem. During their recent multi-night run of shows in NYC, Mustaine and Loureiro sat down with GP to deconstruct the finer points of Dystopia’s title track. I’ve transcribed it in standard tuning, but Dave and Kiko drop their guitars down a whole step [D, G, C, F, A, D, low to high].

Ex. 1a shows the series of baroque-flavored chord voicings pedaled over an open D-string during the song’s intro. To nail the rhythm on the recording, play each chord on the and of four and hold it for eight beats.

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Mustaine says the chord sequence in Ex. 1b was inspired by Beatles songs like “Michelle” and “Cry Baby Cry,” where a single-note descending line runs through an otherwise static chord. This provides the harmonic structure behind the opening figure of “Dystopia,” shown in Ex. 2.

Described by Mustaine as a “circular riff,” the single notes played against an open-D drone in Ex. 3 are a sparse but effective accompaniment to the song’s verses. Play the note in parenthesis in bar 1 on the repeat for the riff’s variation. Also, pay close attention to the G#5 to A5 power chord punches in the second ending. Mustaine stressed the importance of playing them with short staccato downstroke articulations to make them sound as heavy and brutal as possible.

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The driving rhythms of the verse pattern are contrasted nicely by the phrase-ending melodic triplet line shown in Ex. 4. Dig the wide intervallic note-pairs of a perfect 5th, minor 6th, and minor 7th in the last two bars. They cleverly spell out G5 and E7 chords.

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For the song’s solo, Loureiro takes center stage starting with a single-string melodic line over Am and C harmonies as demonstrated in Ex. 5. Watch for the muted-string rakes and legato slides to really nail the phrasing. After this lyrical opener, Loureiro kicks his solo into high gear with a hybrid-picking technique adapted from his interest in fingerstyle and classical guitar. To conjure the mojo, fret the D5 grip shown in Ex. 6a with your first, second, and fourth fingers, then arpeggiate it low to high. Loureiro uses his pick, middle finger, and ring finger to pluck the strings, but playing it completely fingerstyle with your thumb, index, and middle fingers will work too. The trick is to lift off pressure with your fretting hand immediately after sounding each note to give them a separate staccato attack. Once you have this roll pattern down, slide it up the neck, à la Ex. 6b. This isn’t exactly what Loureiro plays, but it’ll give you an idea of how to incorporate this cool trick into your own soloing.

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Like many of Megadeth’s best-known songs, “Dystopia” shifts to a completely different key and tempo for the final section. This section’s main riff shown in Ex. 7, is built around an F# blues scale, but tosses in an A#5 power chord (a major third above the root) and, in the last bar, a b9 (G) for the right amount of dissonance.

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The song builds to its finale via a series of harmonized variations on an F# minor melody, the last of which is transcribed in Ex. 8. This phrase is doubly cool because the harmonic movement harkens back to the song’s initial riff. Plus, instead of opting for tried-and-true tertian voicings, Mustaine and Loureiro are mostly playing in much more subversive-sounding fourths.

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“Dystopia” alone has provided a truckload of cool guitar parts, but as a final added bonus let’s look at one of Mustaine’s favorite new riffs: the manic opening to “The Threat Is Real” shown in Ex. 9. To get this quasi-Middle Eastern motif up to the required hyper-speed tempo, start off slow, use alternate picking, and heed the placement of pull-offs and slides. Mega cool!

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