[Note – I’ve actually done this album before, but with the passing of Nick Menza I’ve listened to it a lot again recently and fancied doing another take on my original article from two years ago]
The idea to re-cover this album returned to the front of my mind last month when we heard of the sudden and shocking death of ex-Megadeth skinsman Nick Menza. Aged only 51, Menza was on stage with his current band, OHM, when he collapsed from heart failure and could not be revived.
Menza was the drummer for the band during its second “phase” and recorded today’s featured album and the three which followed. He did reappear briefly in 2004, but didn’t record any tracks with them during that time.
But back to Rust in Peace. I mentioned a phase, and to my mind Rust kicked this off for Megadeth. Their first albums were rougher, heavier and a bit more brutal. With Rust in Peace, the band changed things around a bit and the sound on this incredible album is notably more technical. The drumming is definitely a part of this, being less bludgeoning and instead blending more with the frenetic pace of the shredded guitars rather than trying to batter the crowds in the way we’d come to expect from, say, “Black Friday”.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the first three albums and the include some of my favourite tracks. But Rust in Peace absolutely blew me sideways. The single most obvious influence to the sound, pace and style of the album was the introduction of Marty Friedman on lead guitars. Again, no offence to Chris Poland and Jeff Young who’d gone before, but Friedman is a scarily talented guitarist. He’s the kind of player who can rattle sounds off at an unreal pace, and get it note perfect time and time again. Listen to his solo material and you’ll quickly realise that his skills extend far beyond those of speed metal, too.
Friedman really brought out the best in Mustaine’s rhythm playing, and with long-standing bassist David Ellefson, you had what was to become the “classic” Megadeth line-up. Production is credited to Mike Clink, though allegedly he had little to do with it as he was also working on Guns n’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion pairing at the time. Mustaine, mixer Max Norman and engineer Micajah Ryan are cited as having done a lot of the work instead. In 2004, a new version of the album was released and it’s awful in comparison to the original – suffering in a large part to over-production though this time Mustaine was wholly responsible for production duties. Is this what Rust in Peace would have been like in 1990 had Gn’R picked a different studio and producer to work with?
The album opens with the two singles to be taken from it. “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” apparently influenced by Ireland’s “Troubles” and Marvel hero The Punisher. It doesn’t hold back and like almost every track on the album is pure, blistering speed. “Hangar 18” is without a doubt one of Megadeth’s best songs out of their entire catalogue, and perhaps one of the best speed/thrash tracks ever written. Menza came up with the theme and idea, and the twin guitar work on this song is simply sublime as they hand solos off to each other in the second half of the track. Listen closely and even the simpler intro licks are chock full of hammers, slides and the like. Technical play at its best.
There simply isn’t a bad track on the album and I just can’t believe the handful of negative comments on its release stating that they were “samey”. I can only assume that the pace was too fast for those reviewers.
There is, of course, that one track that’s vastly different from the rest. The slow, plodding “Dawn Patrol” which seems more an excuse to give Ellefson some stage time than anything else. Sometimes I like this track, sometimes I don’t. Even all these years on, I can’t make up my mind about it.
But what other treasures lie within? “Take No Prisoners” with is teenage boy-pleasing “Take no shit!” chorus. “Five Magics” which appealed to the D&D fan that still lingers inside me. The absolute breakneck “Poison Was the Cure” (well, once it gets going and after that wonderful, skipping drum blast which joins the two sections). The hook-filled “Lucretia”. “Tornado of Souls” with another flurry of incredible solos at the tail end.
All rounded off by five minutes or so of title track, an anti-nuclear protest song of epic (in thrash metal terms) proportions.
I used to air guitar and headbang to this album over and over in my bedroom when I was a kid. It’s largely to blame for me having a larger, thicker neck than most of the rugby players at my school. I was also lucky enough to see the band twice on the accompanying tour (Glasgow and Newcastle), and what blew me away was hearing these complex tunes being played at such speed live. In front of me. And faultlessly.
Twenty-six years on and it’s still in my nominal “top ten albums of all time” list. I think it always will be. Just avoid the 2004 release – original is best.