Dave Mustaine is spinning slowly in a chair, holding a visor tight over his eyes, as he enjoys a rare experience: watching Megadeth perform live. He's looking at rehearsal footage of his thrash metal band for a virtual reality project in connection with Megadeth's new album, Dystopia, out Friday.
"I'm seeing Kiko 'Suave' playing guitar," says Mustaine, now standing and describing what he sees in the visor as he virtually wanders among the band mid-song, looking first at newest member Kiko Loureiro. Then he sees bassist and co-founder David Ellefson "in the flesh" and drummer Chris Adler, then finally himself. "Hey, my hair looks great!"
The band is at a Los Angeles soundstage with director Blair Underwood and the 360-degree cameras of Next Galaxy to perform five songs from the new album: "Fatal Illusion," "The Threat Is Real," "Dystopia," "Post-American World" and "Poisonous Shadows."
"We're hoping for something that is completely mind-blowing, and we're doing something that to the best of my knowledge hasn't been done yet by any metal bands and maybe not any bands at all," Mustaine tells Rolling Stone during a break in shooting. "You're not only going to be able to see what we're doing — you're going to feel like you're right in the room with us."
Ellefson notes that Megadeth was the first metal act to have a website back in the mid-Nineties. "It's cool to see things that were just concepts so many years ago are now things that our band are on the front edge of doing," he says.
The virtual reality performance footage will be included in a special edition of Dystopia, packaged with the visor and instructions on how to download an app that allows you view the immersive mini-concert via your smartphone. The five-song set unfolds amid flashing lights, layers of fog and the "dystopian world" introduced in the music video for "The Threat Is Real."
That grim scenario is hardly new for Megadeth, which has explored doom, death and corrupt geopolitics in their songs and imagery from the band's early Eighties beginning. The band's name, says Ellefson, refers to the body count after a nuclear confrontation, and "that theme has carried through from the very original artwork."
"I don't like to present the world in a horrible light," says Mustaine. "The world is a great place, but it's got several buttholes that live here. ... Either you can get into that mob mentality and point fingers and complain and bitch and bellyache, or you can do something about it."
Mustaine said his experience in 1992 working with Rock the Vote to increase turnout of young voters made a lasting impression on him. "Changing the course of civilization or behavior with one person or a group of people, it takes time," Mustaine says. "It's much like trying to turn an ocean liner — you can turn the wheel all the way to the left, and you know you're turning, but it don't feel like it. It just takes time.
Among the new songs performed for the virtual reality shoot was "Poisonous Shadows," which opens with Loureiro plucking an acoustic guitar melody. At the VR taping, a small string section was recruited.
"It's a good way to show different atmospheres on a thrash metal album," says Loureiro, who joined Megadeth early this year. "It's a beautiful song that deserves to have these counter-lines with viola, violin, cello."
It's another layer to the thrash metal sound originated by the so-called Big 4 bands of the genre: Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax. Created in the days when hair metal dominated MTV and the Sunset Strip, thrash was a faster, harsher underground sound, but proved to be the more lasting one. "I'm really glad that I matter," Mustaine says, "that I've made a difference."
"It was a way of life," says Mustaine. "It was kind of like those old medieval movies, where each clan had its charter and creed that they lived by. And they would get together and before they said anything, they would always celebrate — they'd eat, they'd drink, and then they'd get down to business."
He now laments that business usually comes first in much of the music industry. "That is the cause for so much superficiality in the music business," he says. "You see that the pop business and some of the other factions of the music industry [are] so sales-driven, they've forgotten the beauty about music and what it is — that it's supposed to make you feel good. When you listen to it, you go places."