March 2, 2015 by NowhereButPop
Out of the Big Four of thrash metal, Megadeth has always been the most political and overt in their intentions. So long as Dave Mustaine is alive, Megadeth will continue to exist in some capacity, and although 1990s Rust in Peace was the first album to feature the new lineup including drummer Nick Menza and guitarist Marty Friedman, somehow, this album and this lineup have become the definitive Megadeth that everyone remembers. And why not? It’s the best album put out by the best iteration of Mustaine & Friends.
Rust in Peace has arguably become the best metal album of the 1990s, and although that’s not really saying much, Rust in Peace is the last in a chain of brilliant albums put out by the Big Four. When it comes to the Big Four, the ranking goes something like this:
- Metallica: The Beatles of heavy metal that all the other three bands not-so-secretly aspire to be.
- Megadeth: Second best and they know it, and like any second born child, Dave Mustaine will do anything humanely possible to usurp Metallica’s crown.
- Slayer: The most hardcore and scariest of the Big Four, and their fans are considered weird and extreme…even by heavy metal standards.
- Anthrax: They’re just happy to be included in the Big Four at all.
With that being said, Mustaine saw what Metallica did with And Justice for All, and tried to raise the pot with Rust in Peace. Whereas Metallica dealt with the idea of an inescapable and invasive sense of omnipotent injustice that oppresses us all, Mustaine uses actual examples as the basis of his lyrics. Opening track “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” deals with the religious strife in Ireland, while the closing track “Rust in Peace…Polaris” is written with the fear of nuclear death in mind. According to Mustaine, these are the things we should fear, not random injustices that can strike from anywhere.
Even though Mustaine’s voice would sound better on later albums like Countdown to Extinction, musically, Megadeth was at the height of their prowess in 1990. The chemistry that Mustaine and Friedman share whilst trading solos on “Hangar 18” is reminiscent of the intertwining tradeoff of chords that Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood displayed Some Girls. The rhythm section of bassist Dave Ellefson and drummer Nick Menza connects to provide a fuller groove that wasn’t prevalent on prior Megadeth releases. The schizophrenic “Lucretia” is a perfect example of the destructive groove that Menza provided during his tenure with the band.
More than anything else however, Rust in Peace is an album meant to showcase Mustaine’s guitar skill, both as a composer, and as a musician. But, without the aptitude and vision of Friedman, these solos and riffs wouldn’t be anywhere near as neat and cohesive. For all of its strength, the biggest advantage of Rust in Peace is that it doesn’t sound like a band coming together for the first time. Although “Hangar 18”, with its three minute solo-extravaganza is the clearest example of this unity and cohesion between guitarists, “Holy Wars” and “Rust in Peace” demonstrate this idea of interchangeable guitar parts that would only be possible with two guitarists as skilled as Mustaine and Friedman.
The best track on Rust in Peace is also one of the more obscure tracks, even if it has the coolest title, “Poison was the Cure”. The way the song builds up its wall of sound augments sense of impending doom, and probably also where Metallica got the idea from. After that, the song rolls out into a chaotic storm of vitriol led by a rapid fire riff that makes it seem like you’re caught in the middle of a raging tornado with no escape. On top of this burning tempest, Nick Menza sounds like he is drumming for his very life, trying to catch up to Lars Ulrich’s foot speed. Ladies and gentlemen, in short, “Poison was the Cure” is the very best in what thrash metal has to offer.
It’s very difficult for heavy metal albums to have sustainability or replay value because of the inherently narrow scope of heavy metal, particularly thrash metal. Rust in Peace avoids this problem since it’s only 40 minutes long, and all the songs, even the weaker ones like “Take no Prisoners” and “Five Magics”, have so many serpentine turns to them. For a perfectionist like Mustaine, who’s been trying to make that one album that’ll convince Metallica they were wrong to kick him out of the band, Rust in Peace is that masterpiece. It’s safe to say though, had Mustaine never been thrown out of Metallica, we never would have gotten Rust in Peace. If that’s the price to pay for a heavy metal masterpiece such as this, I’d say that’s a pretty fair trade.