I’m back to my normal posting schedule and I’m back to the album of the week with a no-doubter and an all-timer. It is the album that truly sucked me into heavy metal. It is one of my favorite albums of all-time, it is often considered the band’s magnum opus and it is hailed as one of the best offerings of the thrash genre. It is, without a doubt, one of the greatest pieces of recorded music in history.
Megadeth – Rust In Peace
Released September 24, 1990 via Capitol Records
My Favorite Tracks – Tornado Of Souls, Rust In Peace … Polaris, Hangar 18
Megadeth made waves on the up and coming thrash scene through the 1980’s. Dave Mustaine formed the band after being dismissed from Metallica and, well, all that’s had volumes written about it so on to the album.
Rust In Peace marked the dawn of Megadeth’s most stable line-up – Dave Mustaine on guitars and vocals, Marty Friedman made his Megadeth debut on lead guitar, then-trusty sidekick Dave Ellefson remained on bass and Nick Menza made his recording debut after joining the band a year prior.
All credit to Ellefson and Menza for holding down the backline with precision, but this album is known for one thing and it’s guitars. What Friedman and Mustaine got up to here is a master class in guitar performance. Even in the guitar-centric realm of thrash, this is unparalleled stuff.
There is one note to make before anyone goes running to Spotify to listen to this masterpiece – the album was remastered in 2004 and Mustaine made the curious choice to re-record some vocal tracks. The result was pretty awful and the 2004 remaster lives in infamy among Megadeth fans. The original version of this album is the one to seek out.
There are nine tracks with a time of 40 minutes to get to and there’s a fair bit to discuss, so off to it.
Holy Wars/The Punishment Due
Two singles were released and they are conveniently located as the first two tracks of the album. This dual-titled beast begins with some all-out thrash and sets the tone for the record to come. The topic here is conflict, the song was inspired by Mustaine seeing bootleg Megadeth merch that supported the IRA.
The song slows down for The Punishment Due, an interlude that was apparently inspired by The Punisher of Marvel comics. The song winds back up into a frenzy, featuring a great many guitars, before concluding.
Here the band offer a massive thrash tune about the alien crash landing theories surrounding Hangar 18 in Ohio and Area 51 in Nevada. A few brief verses roll off, followed by the very brief chorus and then – guitars. A whole hell of a lot of guitars as Mustaine and Friedman go off with something like 11 solos in the space of a few minutes. Even on an album full of guitar heroics, Hangar 18 stands out for them.
The song became iconic for the band and was a central focus of the imagery surrounding the record. Megadeth would go skydiving near Area 51 for an episode of Headbanger’s Ball on MTV and a sequel to the song would surface in 2001.
Take No Prisoners
This cut discusses the horrors of war by way of accounting its brutality. It is yet another fantastic slab of thrash. It was also the central focus of re-recording on the 2004 remaster and in my opinion it was totally botched.
Here Megadeth play Dungeons and Dragons on a tale of a wizard’s adventure to obtain the necessary magic to defeat a monster. While the song’s protagonist practices magic, Megadeth’s weapon of choice is – you probably guessed it – the guitar. Friedman uses the song’s first several minutes to just play solo after solo. Whatever monster that wizard is facing has no idea what’s coming for him.
Poison Was The Cure
A song about Mustaine’s long struggles with heroin. Ellefson’s bass opens the brief tune and then the band slams through the proceedings in a bit of groovy fashion. While still certainly thrash, there’s a good bit of rock and roll feel here.
Here we have a song composed about a ghost that Mustaine thought was in his attic. It’s a fittingly creepy tune that still keeps the thrash and guitar attack going full steam ahead.
Tornado Of Souls
Exiting the realms of war and fantasy for a moment, this song is simply about ending a relationship and getting back into the world with a winning attitude. It’s also, in my estimation, the ultimate expression of everything that works about this album. It’s a fantastic composition, with the guitars, lyrics and everything coming together to kick the ass of anyone listening.
Tornado Of Souls has become one of Megadeth’s most popular cuts, having been played live extensively and often hailed as one of their best overall tracks.
This very creepy, short song has Mustaine snarl through an Ellefson bass line to illustrate people living underground after an environmental disaster, such as the nuclear holocaust about to come in the next song. In a way it’s more of an interlude or intro piece, but it took on its own life as a curiosity from the album.
Rust In Peace … Polaris
The album closes with the title track and the song is inevitably about the subject the title confers – nuclear war. The lyrics are sung from what seems to be the perspective of a mad tyrant unleashing nuclear hell but the perspective is apparently that of the missile itself.
This track doesn’t feature any guitar solos in an effort to let the song communicate its own excellence. Still plenty of nice and nasty riffs to be had and the lyrics basking in the world-ending nuclear conflict make their points well.
Rust In Peace was hailed upon release as one of the finest moments in thrash metal. Megadeth would see their profile raise considerably during the album’s cycle. The album went platinum in the US and its legacy as a masterpiece has been cemented over the ensuing decades. People love making lists of “best of” thrash and metal, and people love putting Rust In Peace on those lists.
For me this was the album that truly hooked me on the heavier side of metal. I was already into Iron Maiden and I’d heard other thrash albums before, but this one just grabbed me and took my soul. From then on it was a race to find the heaviest stuff out there, and in many respects that race is still going 32 years later.
While Megadeth would go on with a lot of ups and downs over the years since 1990, there is no denying the place Rust In Peace holds in the band’s legacy. A whole new generation of musicians influenced by the album would revive thrash in the 2000’s and bring new life to the genre thought dead. It is a legacy secure in the riffs and plentiful solos.