There is no doubting Dave Mustaine’s incredible abilities as a guitarist. It was the reason he was a member of Metallica. It was the reason he was able to put together a new band and win a record deal after being booted from Metallica. It was the reason Megadeth has always been regarded as one of thrash metal’s Big Four, despite the fact Megadeth was at least two years behind the other three when it came to releasing a debut album.
Mustaine’s biggest problem has always been gathering and maintaining enough talent for Megadeth to reach its full potential. He found a steady lieutenant in bass player Dave Ellefson, but a second guitarist and drummer proved more problematic. ‘Rust In Peace’ was Megadeth’s fourth album, with a third different line-up. It may seem hypocritical, but drummer Gar Samuelson and guitarist Chris Poland were both sacked due to drug problems, despite the fact Mustaine and Ellefson were also drug users. Replacements Chuck Behler and Jeff Young only lasted a single album, and were both sacked while Ellefson was undergoing drug addiction treatment.
Behler was replaced by his drum tech, Nick Menza. A new guitarist was a bit more problematic. Guitarists as diverse as Dimebag Darrell, Slash, Lee Altus from Heathen, and Eric Meyer of Dark Angel were suggested or auditioned as a replacement. Meyer and Dimebag were both offered the position, but both turned it down. The answer turned out to be Marty Friedman, previously of Cacophony. For an ego as big as Mustaine’s, Friedman must have been quite a threat. Why? Because Mustaine had finally met his match, if not his better.
Finally, Megadeth had its classic line-up. And so to ‘Rust In Peace’. Pushed by Friedman’s talents, Menza’s solidity, and his own and Ellefson’s sobriety, Dave Mustaine set out to create a fitting successor to the impressive but flawed ‘So Far, So Good…So What!’. This is what he came up with.
Non musicians will struggle to name half of what Mustaine and Friedman created between them. Sharp, spiky riffs, incredible solos, with notes flying past in all directions, it is a lesson in thrash metal guitar technique. Nick Menza’s drumming is streets ahead of anything the band had produced in the past. So, great riffs, great solos, great drumming, great musicianship all round. What’s the problem?
The faults are numerous, but for some odd reason, metal fans the world over ignore them.
The first is the main problem Megadeth has suffered ever since its formation- vocals. Dave Mustaine knows what he wants to say, and when he’s snarling his vocals, the message is loud and clear. The guy can’t fucking sing though. As soon as he tries anything melodic, he goes outside his effective range and ends up out of tune. Sometimes it doesn’t matter too much, but on the song “Five Magics” he hits the most dreadful tones of his entire career, and sings flatter than a witch’s tit. “Tornado of Souls” is also fucking awful, with his voice wobbling all over the place. Worst of the lot is the pointless filler ‘Dawn Patrol’. Yes, it shows off Dave Junior’s oft-overshadowed bass, but the almost Gothic vocals are just fucking silly, and the little sucky mole sounds at the end are just...wrong.
The next problem is the guts had almost completely gone from Megadeth’s sound. ‘So Far, So Good…So What!’ was not what Mustaine had wanted when it was recorded, but from a fan’s point of view, it was a damn sight heavier than this album or the first two. It had some grunt to it, even if it was a bit fuzzy. ‘Rust In Peace’ seems to have had most of the bottom end grunt removed in favour of crunchy mid-range tones to show off the crunchy riffs, and has a crystal clear high-end for leads and solos. That is fine, if that is the effect desired, but ‘Rust In Peace’ was released in the same year as Anthrax and Slayer both released their heaviest, most uncompromising albums. If those two bands could both get clear and heavy sounds, why did Megadeth have to sacrifice the heavy?
The songs? The fucking songs! Some of them aren’t even songs, but just collections of ill-fitting riffs. Metallica fell into the same trap on ‘…And Justice For All’, but covered their mistakes more effectively. On this album, some of the transitions from one riff to the rest are quite jarring, like a high school metal band not quite knowing how to put a song together.
There is the odd high point, like ‘Poison Was The Cure’, with a brooding intro dominated by Ellefson’s bass, before cracking into a bouncy, choppy main riff, like the best parts of the ‘Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?’ album. However, three thrilling minutes hardly make up for 37 minutes of frustration.
The maturity of ‘So Far, So Good…So What’ had gone west. Think of the emotional bitterness of “In My Darkest Hour”. What do we get instead? “Rust in Peace... Polaris”. Supposedly about nuclear war, it’s full of lame penis puns. What about the venomous attack of “Liar”? Try "Holy Wars…The Punishment Due", about the conflict in Northern Ireland, a situation Mustaine understood poorly. Oh yeah, and the second part of the song is about The Punisher comic. And the righteous anger of “Hook In Mouth”? Take your pick from a variety of half-arsed songs about UFOs, witchcraft, drugs, and apparently a ghost living in Dave’s attic (“Lucretia”).
This is a great album for aspiring metal guitarists to study. A forensic examination of the techniques used, and how the separate components of the music were constructed should be essential. However, as a whole, it fails. It is an egotistical dick waving contest, with the two guitarists showing how they can outdo each other, to the detriment of the overall effect. That this album is considered a classic is a perfect example of the emperor’s new clothes effect. Because it is so over-hyped and sharply executed, no one wants to be the first to listen to it with a critical ear and say, no, this album does not work.
No. This album does not work.