These days, if one talks about Megadeth, it’s more likely to be a conversation about what a pompous prick frontman Dave Mustaine publicly continues to be than about the actual music. However, once upon a time, Megadeth released the heaviest, most technically sound thrash metal record of the 1990s (and possibly of all time). I am here to tell you fine Spork readers why, regardless of your position on metal, you need this record in your life.
First of all, a short history lesson for those novices among us. Dave Mustaine was an original member of Metallica. Since all four of my grandparents had heard of Metallica and used them as an entry point for trying to relate to me when I was a pre-teen, I’m going to assume I don’t need to explain who they are. Mustaine was thrown out of Metallica for being too drunk and terrible all the time, itself an impressive feat considering Metallica had been given the nickname ‘Alcoholica’ by friends and press. Defeated but undeterred, Mustaine formed Megadeth with bass player and friend David Ellefson.
Mustaine and Ellefson spent much of the mid-to-late ‘80s trying to match Metallica’s success, Metallica always remaining three steps ahead. Perhaps it was the rampant drug abuse or the semi-frequent personnel changes that kept them from receiving the level of acclaim that Mustaine’s former band was receiving. Finally in 1990, just as thrash metal was beginning to fade into obscurity, Megadeth released their fourth album Rust in Peace, and in doing so took thrash to a whole new level.
Rust in Peace wasn’t just about heaviness and speed. It had those things in spades, but what set Rust in Peace apart from many of the other thrash records of the day was its melodicism and its technical efficiency. Mustaine stepped up the creativity that we all knew he had (if the riffs he wrote on Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All are any indication), got clean and sober (relatively speaking) and wrote some of the most personal songs of his career, dealing with such topics as war, alien conspiracies and his own chemical addiction. The songs themselves tended to be longer with frequent and abrupt time changes. Newly added lead guitarist Marty Friedman, himself an accomplished virtuoso, helped up the intensity and progressive nature of the songs. The record is so filled with guitar solos that it can sometimes feel like a call-and-response wank-fest between Mustaine and Friedman. However, structurally the solos fit well within the epic proportions of the compositions.
Another reason this record is so mind-blowingly incredible is the addition of drummer Nick Menza. Menza was the drum tech for former drummer Chuck Behler and ended up taking over his job when Behler was fired. A former session drummer, Menza had experience in not only metal but gospel and funk as well. These influences all shine through on Rust in Peace, as his style is both angular and jazzy in addition to being lightning fast. Hiring Friedman and Menza was the smartest decision Mustaine ever made or would ever make again. This lineup would be known as the “classic lineup” and would remain together for three more records, the longest any incarnation of Megadeth has ever stayed together.
I had already been playing drums myself for a year or two when Rust in Peace was released. I was a Megadeth fan, but I wouldn’t say I was crazy about them at the time. One day, I was watching a VHS tape of MTV’s The Headbangers’ Ball that I recorded off the TV the night before. When the video for the single “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” came on, it instantly changed my life. I went out and bought the album that day, and it’s remained one of my favorite albums not just in metal, but overall. Menza’s playing in particular changed both the way I listen to and the way I play music. I maintain that you need not be a metal fan to regard Rust in Peace as an instant classic or at the very least a genre milestone. Its release spawned many tech-metal bands coming out of the woodwork and its influence can even be heard in many recorded works from seasoned veterans such as Slayer and Carcass.
Shortly after Rust in Peace came out metal in general suffered a lapse in popularity with the rise of grunge and “Buzz Bin” bands. Many bands faded away, while others (*cough* Metallica *cough*) would embarrassingly try to embrace the change in the mainstream landscape and release their own version of it. Megadeth even had their share of flops and mishaps in later years. But Rust in Peace will always stand as a true masterpiece and, above all, the point in history when Megadeth finally outdid their biggest rivals.
- Jonathan Eagle