Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction turns 20

Love him or not, singer, guitarist, and ‘patriot’ Dave Mustaine has plenty of space in his heart for you

In July of 1992, Los Angeles thrash-metal juggernaut Megadeth released Countdown to Extinction, the group’s double platinum-certified fifth album that saw singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine’s headbanging assaults streamlined to fit arena stages the world over. The album bookended a golden era for Megadeth that began with 1985’s lightning-fast Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good! and continued through such classics as Peace Sells... But Who’s Buying? (1986) and Rust in Peace (1990). Twenty years after Countdown to Extinction’s release, Megadeth is out playing the album in its entirety on the heels of a deluxe 2xCD reissue.

Recently, Mustaine has drawn public scorn for his conservative Christian beliefs on such topics as gay marriage or, even worse, his propensity for insane rants on stage: Earlier this year, video from a Megadeth show in Singapore showed Mustaine alleging that President Obama staged the movie theatre shootings in Aurora, Colo., last July and the Sikh Temple murders in Oak Creek, Wis., in August as a means to “pass a gun ban.” Still, Mustaine doesn’t fit the right-winger mold. Lest we forget the anti-Bush sentiments he expressed with “Foreclosure of a Dream” or the Doris Day Genesis Award the band received from the Humane Society for raising awareness about animal rights issues (specifically canned hunting) via Countdown to Extinction’s title track. After taking flak for his recent comments, Mustaine still calls himself a patriot, and even though he isn’t so keen to spouting off his opinions any more, he still has plenty to say.

It has to be a trip to be playing metal at 50 years old.

Man, when I was in my early 20s I made a pact with our bassist Dave Ellefson. I didn’t think I was going to live to be very old, and I said, “David, if this doesn’t work out I’m going to handcuff myself to a telephone pole with a hand grenade.” He said, “OK. I’ll do that, too!” That was our tongue-in-cheek brother pact. But when you see 27 pass and realize you’re not going to be the Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, or Kurt Cobain of the music industry, then 30 comes, and 40, and then 50, and you’re still out there and having fun and jamming and playing good and looking normal, you start thinking about how people attack older artists. How many people make fun of Bruce Springsteen for being old? Not many. But everybody loves to talk about how old Mick Jagger is! It’s just a matter of swagger and handling yourself well.

Who would have thought that 20 years later, Countdown to Extinction would facilitate conversations like these?

It was a different time and records had a different purpose. ... Way back when I was in high school we used double records to clean the seeds out of pot because that was how crappy the pot was back then. Once cassettes came out it was like shit, you can’t read the album cover or the liner notes because they’re so small. Then when they went from that down to these smaller CD and DVD things the whole art purpose was gone. My first three records had eight songs on them. Now you need 18 songs for anyone to even give you a sniff. ... And it was eight good songs, not three good ones and a bunch of crap to fill up space.

Countdown to Extinction bookends what I’ve often thought of as a golden era for Megadeth.

You’re talking about an age of innocence — when So Far, So Good... So What! was out, and when Rust in Peace came out, the Constitution still meant something. If you talked about certain things that you didn’t like, you were free to speak your mind. ... The other day I was at a gathering that I go to for spiritual strengthening, and was told that right now the No. 1 dating site in America has put up a list of the 10 biggest turnoffs. The No. 1 turnoff is having a political affiliation! That’s crazy! You could be an axe murderer and that might be second.

That’s an extreme analogy — do you claim a political affiliation?

I’ve always been an independent. I’ve voted Democrat and I’ve voted Republican, but I’ve always been an American patriot first and foremost.

What does that mean to you?

I’m over 50 and I’ve been through a lot of different presidents and a lot of different faces of America. I worked at a gas station when I was a kid, during the first gas crisis in the ’70s — they’d let people with even-numbered license plates come in on even days, and odd-numbered plates on odd days. If you came in on the wrong day you were risking a beat-down. We’re getting close to being that way again with our energy dependency. ... I’ve been thinking about this for the last couple of days: “Do I really want to say how I feel about what’s going to happen to our country?” No. I’m just not up for it anymore. America is going to find out. I have a lot of time on my hands so I read, listen to, and watch the news — all different stations — and I travel all around the world and I see how different nations look at us. When somebody who isn’t educated on the issues goes out and votes, they’re voting with emotions. It’s like if you’re a Lakers fan you’re always going to root for the Lakers regardless of whether or not they have a good team. Point being, it’s your duty to be true to yourself.

Is it more dangerous to state your opinions — regardless of how extreme or offensive they may be — now than it was 20-plus years ago?

It isn’t any more dangerous to say your opinions, but you’re exposed to a lot of anonymity and cowardice from the Internet where people can say things that they would never say to my face or they’d risk getting their teeth punched in. With reality TV and the way that people get a thrill out of insulting and belittling people ... nobody is safe when you’re open to public evaluation, not necessarily scrutiny. Getting back to your question, is it more dangerous to have opinions? No, it’s just more dangerous to have people hear them.

Freedom of speech is a nuanced thing, and you have to expect repercussions over the things you say.

One of the things that I love about our country is that people’s opinions matter. Now, is what most people say relevant to me? Not usually. But every once in a while, if you listen long and hard enough, someone will say something that’s going to make you a better person, or put you in check when you need it; when you’re getting toward the edge of the roof and you’re about to fall off, someone will bring you back in. Do we do it as lovingly as we used to? Nah. People like to bitch-slap other people and make themselves look good.

Whether or not the American people agree with what I say, or even care about me, I care about them. They may not have space in their hearts for me, but I have plenty of space in my heart for them. I’ve had a great opportunity to play music for our fans and, granted, we are very opinioned, man. I cut my teeth playing music for opinionated fans, and if someone says they don’t agree with me, that’s cool. Just so long as they know that I still love them. Like two hockey players at the end of the game, after they’ve beaten the hell out of each other, we can still have a beer together.