"I'm aware of what's going on politically," insists Dave Mustaine. "I'm not the stereotyped stupid, heavy-metal kid. A band should be aware of what's going on instead of being so wrapped up in themselves."
Mustaine's band Megadeth (which plays the Country Club on Friday) is one of the leaders in a heavy-metal sub-genre called thrash-metal--rawer, faster, and, according to Mustaine, more socially aware than other forms of heavy-metal.
If they can, singer Mustaine and bassist Dave Ellefson say they want to change heavy-metal's negative image by presenting songs with positive social messages, including anti-arms race statements.
From the L.A.-based quartet's rough 'n' tumble musical approach, you'd never guess these guys are peaceniks. On the new "Peace Sells . . . But Who's Buying" album, Megadeth serves up a bruising brand of metallic energy that relies on a muscular, staccato rhythm attack. It's an approach that's similar to that of hard-core punk, and Megadeth's shows often attract a strange mixture of metal maniacs and punk skinheads.
"We have a pretty good following with some of the skins," said the long-maned Mustaine. "When we did a show in Oakland just last weekend there was a huge slam-dance pit out there. Actually, punks and thrash-metal fans are the same kind of people, but just with different haircuts. Usually, they have the same attitude."
But Mustaine, who formed Megadeth in 1983 after leaving another up-and-coming young metal band, Metallica, says there is a difference between the followers of mainstream metal bands and thrash-metal fans.
"I think kids that listen to Ratt and Motley Crue are a different breed," he said. "It doesn't discount or close them out from listening to us, but I think they may take lighter approach towards their listening.
"Our music demands them to be a little more devoted. Our fans are diehards and if they were extreme enough they might even pummel the kid with the heavy-metal glam shirt. I'm not saying that that's cool, but that just shows you that there is a vehement attitude by some kids against big heavy-metal bands going commercial and making heavy-metal look stupid."
Mustaine resents mainstream heavy-metal bands that just sing about hedonistic pleasures. Thrash bands, he says, are like punk bands in that social issues are more of a concern.
Some of the Megadeth's detractors, however, feel the band is a typically morbid and anti-social heavy-metal outfit. The band's name and some of its song titles give the impression of an uncouth unit, but tracks like "Bad Omen" warn against devil worship, and "Peace Sells" is both a convincing statement of personal and social responsibility and a sharp anti-war message.
The band has a harder time defending itself against charges of sexism after Mustaine's women-as-meat comments in a recent L.A Weekly interview.
"I'm a humorous guy and I'm not serious about half that stuff," Mustaine explained. "A lot of things with us are really tongue-in-cheek. Half that stuff is just bar talk. If you were sitting there listening, you would say, 'Aw, c'mon Dave!'
"Somebody has to say stuff like that because you know people think it. People are too serious. I'm flesh and blood. I'm supposed to be imperfect. I'm engaged now. My fiancee knows I'm not serious and people in my family know I'm just being funny."