For more than 30 years, singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine has guided thrash-metal kings Megadeth through shifting musical, social and political landscapes with a guttural growl, shredded notes and pointed lyrical daggers. After all, this is a band with album titles like Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?, Countdown to Extinction, The System Has Failed and United Abominations.
But with the group's new release, Dystopia — and its extremely prescient and relevant subject matter — the question has to be asked: Has the “real” world finally caught up with Megadeth’s consistently grim worldview?
“It’s funny that you say it like that,” Mustaine chuckles a few days before the Dystopia world tour opens. “I think without sounding too self-righteous, all the indicators were there the way we were going to go and what was going to pass. If we treat people with love and peace and respect, or if we continue to dominate one another. If you do that, it puts more wear and tear on the planet and people, and you have a movie set for a dystopic, Brad Pitt movie with monkeys in it somehow!”
But it’s not all doom-and-gloom on Planet Earth circa 2016. Mustaine says that there are a lot of great people in the world and his vision of the record is more of a foreboding one, of what could happen if things continue to progress as they are.
“Look at just ten years ago. Do you think if somebody got jumped in a McDonald’s parking lot that somebody would help that person? Probably,” he continues. “Now, people wouldn’t get involved. But they’d sure film it and put it up on Facebook!”
Dystopia is a strong, strong effort that could go toe-to-toe with any of the better entries in the band’s discography. Among the extremely prescient and relevant-now song topics are terrorism (“The Threat Is Real”), politicians and government malfeasance (“Dystopia,” “The Emperor”), capital punishment and the very nature of evil (“Fatal Illusion”), war (“Death From Within”), the decline of Western power (“Post American World,” “Lying in State”), and even romantic tragedy (“Bullet to the Brain”).
Megadeth’s ever-evolving lineup today also features a couple of brand-new faces. Joining Mustaine and longtime bassist David Ellefson is Brazilian guitarist Kiko Loureiro and drummer Chris Adler — the latter on loan for a bit from his main gig with Lamb of God.
“Kiko is not that much different from the other [former guitarists]. But the best part about having all of those things everybody else did is that…he put into perspective for me how fortunate I was to have all those players,” Mustaine reflects. “Kiko has so many different styles. And he and I have a really fun relationship, and we made this record in a fun environment.”
Of all the tunes on Dystopia, opener “The Threat Is Real” has particular significance, given what is happening in the news today: “Justified obliteration/ No one cares anymore/ The messiah or mass murderer/ No controlling who comes through the door.”
The surface meaning brings to mind burbling battles on immigration and porous borders. But Mustaine says that threats aren’t limited to people with ill or murderous intent.
“It could be the Zika virus or Ebola. Or it could be the threat of nature. Or you’re sitting beside the guy on the plane who decides to blow himself up or light his underwear on fire!” Mustaine offers.
He also mentions some particularly relentless robocalls he has been getting recently at home that claim to be from IRS collectors. “The IRS will never call you. But if you get some unsuspecting person who is like an older person, some scumbag can take everything from them financially," he says. "And then what are they left with?”
On the track “Post American World,” Mustaine snarls, “If you don’t like where we’re going/ Then you won’t like what’s coming next.” He calls it a spiritual (and riff-wise) follow-up to Megadeth’s popular track “Symphony of Destruction.”
“There are all kinds of governmental backdoor meetings and agreements that [the U.S. government] has with people that you and I as Joe Q. Six-Pack have no fucking idea of the why, whens or how,” Mustaine says. “People don’t want America everywhere. And we can be like ‘Okay, screw it. We’ll pull out.’ And then they can see what happens.”
Mustaine is also amused by politicians who are having their “covers pulled back” by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. “When the dust settles, it will be [interesting] to see who is left standing. A lot of stuff that I’ve been talking about is being revealed right now. I’m just happy that people are waking up now to politicians and going, ‘Hey, you work for us.’”
The deluxe edition of Dystopia also includes some Megadeth-branded Virtual Reality goggles (emblazoned with band mascot Vic Rattlehead). After accessing an app and inserting a smartphone into the unit, it allows viewers to see a 360-degree VR mini-concert based on the group. Mustaine calls the final result “amazing.”
“For me to be able to look around and turn your head around and see different things in 360 degrees…incredible,” says Mustaine.
As for the Houston gig – only the tour’s second date – Mustaine says early shows on any tour are often like “pin the tail on the donkey” with new crew members, lighting techs and instrument wranglers all trying to get things down and synchronized.
Finally, Mustaine is a very frequent presence on Twitter (@DaveMustaine), answering questions and barbs from superfans and trolls alike, with the occasional political or sports observation.
Recently, when a poster was attacked by another for asking Mustaine a question about his time with Metallica, the front man told the angry dude to chill out, saying that the person might just be a new fan who wasn’t as much of an expert on the band’s history.
Asked which of his own musical heroes he would have liked to have a Twitter interaction with (had it been around back in the day when he was a young fan), he mentions original AC/DC singer Bon Scott.
“I think he and I would have been kindred spirits for some goofy reason," he laughs. "I may not have had anything in common with him, but I always looked up to him because he had this rebel feeling.”
Megadeth performs with special guests Children of Bodom and Havoc Sunday, February 21 at Revention Music Center, 520 Texas. Doors open at 7 p.m.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.