Thursday, February 8, 2024

Megadeth - Rust in Peace (1990)

When I often think of my favorite bands or albums, I notice a prevailing thread that runs through them; they've each created their own 'language' or musical voice that is entirely distinct and capable of being picked out from a lineup of peers. Sometimes this runs the course of their entire career, for example Voivod, a band that has maintained its unique, alien nature throughout numerous stylistic shifts, or others like Enslaved and Borknagar, who have kept their Viking philosophies through the black metal roots into more progressive or folk leanings. Other times it's down to a single record...for instance, Artillery's By Inheritance, with its charging, fraternal, melodic thrashing interchange which might have its DNA in the earlier records, but hasn't quite been replicated since, or Deathrow's brilliant Deception Ignored, totally standout even against the rest of their discography, a cautionary, clinical, consistent orchestra of technical thrash.

Rust in Peace is the point at which Megadeth mastered its own 'language'. Killing is My Business... was the equivalent of cave paintings, Peace Sells... started refining that onto written scrolls, but it was 1990 when the speed metal monks started transcribing it into a complete text, one as timeless as the Bible for any hesher in the congregation. I know several individuals who consider this the greatest metal album of all time, and while I might not go that far, it's difficult to pose an argument. 39 of its 41 minutes are total thrash perfection, taking all the techniques and ambition of its predecessors to new heights of riff quality, melody and musicianship. This is especially poignant as a contrast to So Far, So Good, So What!, an album that certainly had its moments, but felt misguided and transitional, where Rust in Peace moves in almost complete lockstep. Part of this is the roster quality, as Nick Menza and shred god Marty Friedman joined the ranks, creating what is even today considered the band's premiere lineup, along with the two Daves who have proven here that they are both incredible writers and players that rivaled anyone in the genre at this point.

The result: magnificence. Skip a rock across the heads of the rock radio-fed masses in your vicinity, and you'll strike quite a few people who know the epic "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due" or the more accessible, Roswell tribute "Hangar 18", but Rust in Peace is an incredibly deep record with amazing hooks and interesting lyrical fare. The speed and precision of the licks are on a new plateau, but there's always a lot of melody and emotion, explosive and complex chorus sequences in tunes like "Tornado of Souls" or "Five Magics". Dave's vocals are at a career high, and he manages to balance off some of that sneering attitude ("Rust in Peace...Polaris") with a little vulnerability. While the thrashing edge of the material is fully fresh for its time, even so late in the trending niche as 1990 was, there's always a pretty direct lineage to the classic British heavy/speed metal like the breakout riff in "Poison Was the Cure" which reminds me of groups like Satan, just taken to a new level (for the time, anyway). Or the burning grooves in the verse to "Lucretia". Tradition tempered with progression, packed with new ideas, or stretching older ideas to their limits.

The playing is out of control, and yet entirely under control, with so many notes flying around in cuts like "Holy Wars..." or "Take No Prisoners" that you could get dizzy. And I did. Melodic and mean at the same time, I remember sitting in stunned silence trying to emulate as many of the riffs as I could back in my teens when I was only about 3-4 years into playing the guitar myself. It's no wonder that this became such a guitar hero album, worshiped in countless magazines. Add to this some of the best bass playing on any metal album in history, complementing the Mustaine/Friedman interchange with ease, and often standing ABOVE them, and Nick Menza's performance which was taut and flexible, but also knew not to try and challenge the incredible guitar work flying above it. Another point I'd make is that the leads here were far superior to the three albums before it, they were finally becoming the sorts of earworms that could match the rhythms and become a pleasure to listen to on their own. Production is also a highlight...Rust in Peace does not sound a day older to me now than when I first heard it. Clean, vivacious, youthful, but still anchored by a steady low-end that still thumps in my speakers.

Now it's not a popular opinion, but the one thing that holds this record back from perfection for me is "Dawn Patrol", a sort of spoken/whispered word piece over some fat bass lines and a beat. It's not that the band is goofing off, there's a serious message here, and Ellefson's bass is pretty good, but I just don't think it really goes anywhere, and seems rather abrupt and out of place. Whereas the amazing bass intro to "Poison Was the Cure" really offers a lot of payoff once the guitars arrive, this one doesn't, and I've often taken "Dawn Patrol" off my playlist in iTunes and gone straight from "Tornado of Souls" into the finale title track and then it all felt 100%. Again, there's nothing terribly wrong with it, but I think it would have been stronger as an intro for a full-length track, maybe on a later album. As it stands it's just a little bit of a scuff on the otherwise flawless paint-job that is Rust in Peace, their most iconic, and my favorite Megadeth album. The one that goes with me to the desert island, although I'd probably wait until the last minute before I bailed out Peace Sells.... You don't need me to tell you how fucking awesome this album is, it's the most fluent in a tongue which has been fairly muddled ever since.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.75/10] (to slay all the giants)

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