Megadeth - Rust in Peace (1990)
An impressive and exhilarating, if not completely flawless, thrash metal classic.
Megadeth’s third album, So Far, So Good...So What?, had been an inconsistent and not particularly satisfying effort. It wasn’t all that surprising either given the drug and alcohol abuse going on within the band, not to mention the instability of the line-up involved. Things didn’t get any better afterwards either and in 1989, Mustaine fired both drummer Chuck Behler and guitarist Jeff Young. Ironically, given the same thing occurred for him a couple of years earlier, Behler was replaced by Nick Menza, his drum technician. Finding a replacement guitarist proved much more difficult however and during the auditioning period, Mustaine was arrested for driving while intoxicated and possession of narcotics. He would be forced to clean up under court ordered rehab and got sober for the first time in ten years. The search for a guitarist continued with quite a few big names such as Lee Altus of Heathen, Eric Meyer of Dark Angel, Dimebag Darrell Abbott of Pantera and Jeff Loomis of Sanctuary (and eventually Nevermore). Dimebag Darrell was actually offered the position but would not accept unless his brother Vinnie could also join the band. Since Menza had already been selected as drummer, this was not possible and he had to be turned away. Mustaine had been very impressed with 16 year old Loomis but was not willing to hire him due to his age. It would be Loomis that would find Megadeth’s solution, informing Cacophony’s guitarist Marty Friedman that he should audition at a concert.
Of course it wasn’t as simple as that. Mustaine initially rejected Friedman for the simple reason that his hair was multicoloured. It would take Friedman to undergo what Mustaine called Rock School 101 before he would be allowed to join the Megadeth ranks and finally a full line-up was complete in February 1990. This union would become the longest standing and most successful Megadeth line-up of all, remaining together for close to a decade and recording four albums (three of which would go platinum in the States). But it was in March 1990 that Mustaine, Ellefson, Friedman and Menza first entered the studio together to record the infamous Rust in Peace album and for the first time in Megadeth’s existence, they would do it completely sober. It’s a good thing they were too as the resulting album is considered not only Megadeth’s most praised release, but also one of the very best thrash metal albums of all time. Much tighter than their previous albums, Rust in Peace showcases some incredible musicianship and highly complex structures throughout. Not only does Mustaine finally display just how good he can be when he’s not off his tree, but Friedman’s heroic performance is truly one for the ages. This album contains a whole host of awesome thrash riffs and countless exhilarating, not to mention technically astounding, leads from both guitarists. Most importantly though, and unlike all previous Megadeth albums, the band don’t tarnish this one with an inappropriate cover version.
Mustaine came up with the title Rust in Peace after reading a bumper sticker that stated “may all your nuclear weapons rust in peace”. He thought it would not only make a great title for an album, but that it would fit perfectly with the political discontent that was a popular theme within Megadeth’s material. The majority of the lyrics of Rust in Peace take on a more serious note than before, with Mustaine switching between real world issues such as the Northern Ireland conflict (Holy Wars), prisoners of war (Take No Prisoners), and nuclear war in general (Dawn Patrol and Rust in Peace...Polaris) and more personal issues such as heroin addiction (Poison Was the Cure) and dysfunctional relationships (Tornado of Souls). Of course he still manages to get some sci-fi/b-grade horror stuff in there as usual with Hangar 18, Five Magics and Lucretia, making Rust in Peace as entertaining as it is relevant. There will always be people that suggest the album suffers due to Mustaine’s vocal performance, but while I admit he doesn’t always sound comfortable or technically correct, I just can’t imagine any of these songs being performed by anyone else. His inimitable style just screams Megadeth and somehow combines perfectly with the themes within. Speaking of themes, once again artist Ed Repka nailed the cover artwork, managing to combine mascot Vic Rattlehead, the band’s political criticism and album theme Hangar 18 in perfect union.
Considering all the worshipping at the altar of Megadeth that I’ve just completed, you might be wondering why my rating for Rust in Peace is missing half a star. The answer is that despite how incredible the musicianship and overall package is, there are a few tracks on the album that slightly miss their mark. If all nine tracks were as good, or even nearly as good, as Holy Wars...The Punishment Due, Hangar 18 and Five Magics, then I’d probably try to give Rust in Peace six stars. These three tracks are majorly ass kicking and the majority of the album’s high points can be found within them. Five Magics in particular would have to be my favourite Megadeth track ever with its dark atmosphere, progressive timings and potent duel solos. Unfortunately, the second half of the album can’t quite keep the high standard going and while things do finish on a high note with the title track, I can’t ignore the let down. Poison Was the Cure heads back to the NWOBHM influenced Killing is My Business period which just doesn’t sit too well with me, Tornado of Souls is not particularly attention-grabbing despite having one of the finest solos you will ever hear courtesy of Friedman, and the less said about Dawn Patrol the better. I’m not suggesting for a second that Rust in Peace is not one of the most important and enjoyable albums in thrash metal, but I simply can’t rid myself of the feeling that it’s far from perfect. It is however, as close as Megadeth would get.
Ushering in what would become Megadeth's "golden era", 1990's 'Rust in Peace' was the album where all the pieces fit together perfectly. Dave Mustaine was sober (again... for now...), a new line-up was in place that was superior to any that had come before (and probably after...), and the music was a perfect bookend to the thrash metal scene that was on its last legs (for the time being...).
1988's 'So Far, So Good... So What!', with only a couple of notable songs and pretty rough production, was a bit of a disappointment, and with mainstream success on the horizon, it was time for the band to get their act together. With another new line-up change (their third over four albums), main man Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson were joined by drummer Nick Menza and guitar virtuoso Marty Friedman. And the difference is noticeable immediately.
'Rust in Peace' sees the band really step up the intensity and precision in their playing, with some of their most technical and relentless compositions. The chemistry between Mustaine and Friedman is incredible, with both men given ample time to shine, though it's Friedman's exotic guitar licks and ripping solos that truly raise the game for Megadeth. A much-improved production means that every note is crisp and clear, and with the 80's thrash boom coming to an end, this would at least ensure the subgenre would go out with a bang!
However, transcending the thrash genre and often cited as one of the best metal albums of all time, period, this is where I feel 'Rust...' tends to become slightly mired by hyperbole. Don't get me wrong, 'Holy Wars... The Punishment Due', 'Hanger 18', 'Tornado of Souls' and 'Rust in Peace... Polaris' are all absolute classics. And that's an understatement. These are truly some of metals finest and most endearing pieces, having stood the test of time and still being as impactful today as they were in 1990. But let's be honest with ourselves here... 'Five Magics'... 'Poison Was the Cure', even 'Dawn Patrol', which serves as a breather from the barrage of headbanging mayhem, are all fairly average tracks, and while they're not awful, they're not all that memorable, either.
This doesn't take much away from 'Rust in Peace', though. It's status as a classic metal album is fully warranted, and while I may not rate it as highly as most others, there's no denying that this is Megadeth's best, most beloved and most innovative work.
Nothing Megadeth did in the 80’s really struck me as all that amazing (no, not even Peace Sells…) but Rust in Peace is almost as incredible as the legends tell.
Megadeth has long avoided my praise due half to Dave’s poor vocals and lyricism and half to the total absence of real feeling in the otherwise impressive playing. Here, the band improve their already strong technique to enter Tech Thrash territory at times, but much more importantly they add a heavy dose of intelligent and evocative melodies that serve the song instead of simply showcase talent. The first few tracks have earworm riffs for days, just galloping one after another, only stopping for equally fantastic solos.
Dave’s vocals aren’t good here, however, he has found the sweet spot in making them work with the music, and most of the time they work really well. Holy Wars is the best example, as he switches between angry snarling about government, to a rough, desperate croon that actually sounds pained when playing the role of The Punisher lamenting what he’s been through. His voice doesn’t always hit right, but here it works much better and more often than anything they’d done prior. The lyrics range from very good to not so great, but they almost always manage to be better than the shallow words of their 80’s output.
There’s so much energy and good technique that even the weaker songs on the album are quite good. However, it is certainly a glaring weakness that side A is so, so much better than side B. Once you get halfway through, you’ve very little to look forward to in comparison of the awe-inspiring material that starts you off. In terms of high points though, this album reaches heights that are absolutely deserving of its praise.
I have never understood the praise and lauding of this record. I will go on record at this early stage of my review as stating that I do not feel it a bad record, just a very overrated one. Four records into their career Megadeth had certainly progressed from their 1985 debut and five years showed well on their fourth outing, the album is very mature with well developed structures for sure. The main issue I have always had with Rust In Peace isn't actually much to do with the record itself. More the fact that the attention it receives bills a far more exceptional record than you actually get.
As a Megadeth record, in comparison with the rest of the their discography it is most certainly the band at their peak. With a superb combination of Mustaine, Ellefson, Menza and Friedman there was little excuse for the band to make Rust In Peace anything other than the jewel in their collection of gems over the years. As a unit they all do their share to make the likes of Hangar 18 an absolute triumph with the musicianship and talent being obvious throughout all five minutes and fifteen seconds of the track.
Unfortunately this is where the album peaks far too early. From track three onward we are firmly on a downward spiral with this record. Somehow managing to not lose any of the attack of the album the song quality deteriorates track by track, rendering the opening two tracks as distant memories of the real promise of this album. I repeat, it never gets terrible or even particularly bad though, it is just not worthy of the adoration and adulation afforded it in seemingly every review or conversation with peers about it.
There's all the consistency in terms of talent shining through for virtually all the album but it is not frequent enough to get the blood continuously pumping through these veins. There's also some very odd decisions been taken during the writing of tracks like Five Magics with its dreary and drab chorus and annoying spoken word repetitions of the sung vocals. Then there's the suspenseful build of the drama for Poison Was The Cure which ends up in a clumsy and clunky track with little in the way of direction or memorability.
I know I am in the minority here in not heaping shovel loads of admiration on this record but to my ears it is just an average thrash album with a couple of standout tracks.