On The Ever-Shifting Politics Of Dave Mustaine

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About a month ago, Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine sent Bill O’Reilly a tweet encouraging him to listen to the band’s latest album, Dystopia, which had just dropped at the end of January. In said tweet, he included a photo of several of O’Reilly’s books, saying that since he had absorbed O’Reilly’s work, perhaps he should reciprocate:

Okay, a few things here. First off, that’s not all of O’Reilly’s books; I don’t see Those Who Trespass or Culture Warrior anywhere, not to mention the immortal O’Reilly Factor For Kids. Secondly, begging Bill O’Reilly to listen to your album has to be the least metal thing of all-time. Congratulations, Vince Neil doing the chicken dance, you’re off the hook.

Of course, Mustaine’s love for O’Reilly shouldn’t be too shocking; he’s been a well-known far-right conservative for quite some time. In 2012, he endorsed Rick Santorum for President, he’s stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, and in one truly cringe-inducing rant, seemed to suggest that the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo. was a hoax done to artificially increase support for gun control legislation. In short, we’ve been through this before.

But if you’re a Megadeth fan, it all can be a bit much to take in because, well, it wasn’t always like this. Megadeth’s work has always had political overtones, and while I don’t know if it would be quite accurate to refer to their early work as “liberal,” you certainly wouldn’t call it conservative either. Consider 1990’s Rust In Peace, often considered to be the band’s masterpiece. Throughout this album, there are anti-war themes that would make the Fox News crowd cringe. “Rust In Peace…Polaris” is a rant against the proliferation of nuclear arms, “Holy Wars….The Punishment Due” admonishes killing in the name of religion, while “Hangar 18” features the immortal line “military intelligence/two words combined that can’t make sense,” which wouldn’t exactly sit well with the “support our troops” crowd.

And it’s not like that album was a fluke. The immortal “Peace Sells” from the album of the same name was a rant against every element of society that that irritates Mustaine in which he posits himself as both an outsider and an everyman (“what do you mean I don’t support your system?/I go to court when I have to”), while the title track of 1992’s Countdown to Extinction was a treatise against the act of canned hunting. The ladder is certainly a far cry from the virulently pro-gun stance Mustaine takes now. Not because one couldn’t oppose canned hunting while supporting gun rights — many do — but because Mustaine has so thoroughly moved to the other side of the debate table. There’s just nothing about Megadeth’s early classics that would give you the impression of “wow, I bet this guy is a pretty staunch Conservative!”

Although, if we’re being fair, notes of right-wing politics did permeate Mustaine’s views even in Megadeth’s early years. In a 1988 interview, Mustaine criticized homosexuality, saying the Bible was against it, and in another interview the same year, he stated his proto-Trump plan to “build a giant wall” along the Mexican border. So, despite the anti-war themes of some classic Megadeth songs, he was never exactly a dyed-in-the-wool leftist. That said, he’s definitely shifted further to the right in the past decade or so.

What caused this transition? A likely answer would be Mustaine’s conversion as a Born Again Christian. While attending AA meetings, Mustaine decided to make his faith more of a focal point of his life. This would lead to the controversial decision to no longer tour with any bands that featured references to Satanism in their imagery or lyrics, a move that likely alienated him the metal community. It can’t help but seem like once Mustaine began further embracing his Christianity, the right-wing views that had previously been a footnote in his career were now pushed to the forefront.

This isn’t the only reason, however, as Mustaine also became a fan of radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. While promoting 2009’s Endgame, Mustaine stated that he wrote the album to educate fans about concepts like the alleged New World Order. It’s not a huge stretch to think that the influence of Jones is why Mustaine now believes that the government staged a mass shooting in an attempt to take our guns. While he was never exactly trusting of the government, his embracing of far-right conspiracies is definitely a recent development.

Interestingly, Mustaine’s new views haven’t really affected his approach to writing lyrics. After all, the theme of many Megadeth songs was “the world is broken, and only President Mustaine can fix it.” That’s basically still true, it’s just that now, President Mustaine has taken a severe shift to the right. Tracks on the band’s latest album, Dystopia, have titles like “The Threat Is Real,” and “Post-American World,” both of which could have been the names of ’80s Megadeth tracks, but now, Mustaine’s paranoia comes with an undeniable tinge of xenophobia; “The Threat Is Real” is almost certainly referring to concerns over Muslim immigrants entering the country.

For left-wing admirers of Mustaine’s music — like myself — this all can be extremely frustrating; both the fact that Mustaine always had some problematic viewpoints, and that they’ve gotten far worse over the past decade or so. In his review of Dystopia for The A.V. Club, J.J. Anselni discusses the disconnect between the album’s brilliant musicianship, and Mustaine’s “offensive lyrics.” He gave the album a D, so you can guess which element he ultimately decided mattered more. It’s an understandable frustration. In spire of his views, Mustaine is still making incredible music and Megadeth’s latest is a modern-day monument to his chops. Unfortunately, if you want to be able to appreciate it, unless your in line with is fairly extreme views, you may have to hold your nose and turn your head to a lot of the things he’s saying. And personally, for this longtime Megadeth fan, that may be too much to ask.