Review by Ben for 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.