Megadeth – Rust in Peace
Released in 1990, ‘Rust in Peace’ is an iconic metal album that touches on topics such as warfare and the military, comic books, the “hidden” elements of the human condition, existentialism, and more. Main songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist Dave Mustaine created the band in 1983 after being ousted from Metallica for partying too hard, and he created Megadeth to prove he could carry the metal torch without Metallica.
Rust in Peace is the band’s masterpiece, combining elements of thrash and progressive metal into one blazing, labyrinthine journey through the genius and often disturbed mind of Mustaine. To this day, many consider the album among the best heavy metal creations of all time, named alongside other genre juggernauts like Slayer’s ‘Reign in Blood,’ Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets,’ Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid,’ and Iron Maiden’s ‘The Number of the Beast.
I first heard about Megadeth during the summer/fall of 2004. It was around that time that I had just started dipping my toes into the metal world. I was infatuated with the first four Metallica albums, but I still considered myself more of a rock guy than a metalhead. One of those albums had the name Mustaine in the liner notes, and after some research, I learned the story of Megadeth. A few months later I listened to the opening riff of Hangar 18 from Rust in Peace, and now I’m 15 years into my love affair with the heaviest music in the planet.
The second that riff blasted from my high school laptop, I was hooked. The sound combines melody, intensity, and technique in a way I had never experienced before. There are many who say metal is similar to classical music, and that’s always made sense to me.
Beethoven wrote music that captured the aggression of Germanic culture, but it also had the beauty and tenderness of the romantic landscape that permeated Europe in the 19th century. His symphonies reflected the glory of that era, while also marking a spike in intensity compared to predecessors Bach and Mozart (who greatly influenced him). His work was loud, highly technical, elaborate, and it took you on a journey through Beethoven’s mind.
Similarly, Megadeth captured the anti-establishment rebellious feeling of the 1980s and early 1990s in a consumerist society with loud, aggressive, and technical music. Mustaine drew from the early metal tradition laid down by the guys from the 1970s British metal scene, but he took it to the next level.
His voice had the grizzled disturbance of Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne, his guitar the lightning speed of the Priest’s axe duo K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, and the grandiosity of Diamond Head (which Metallica’s Lars Ulrich cited as “the blueprint for Metallica’s sound” that vocalist James Hetfield and Mustaine created in the early 1980s).
The “x factor” that made Megadeth unique was taking these elements and combining them with Mustaine’s displeasure over being ousted from Metallica, and his desire to exact revenge on them by writing metal that was faster, more aggressive, and more intelligent than ‘tallica.
I listened to plenty of Beethoven as a boy, and I consider it the soundtrack of my childhood. If that is true, then Megadeth was for sure the sound of my adolescence, and I believe understanding the latter led to the former. Enough on Mustaine’s story though, let’s get deeper into the album.
The Hangar 18 lyrics aren’t exactly at the level of a Hemingway or Kerouac, but they fit the song well, and they include the timeless line, “Military intelligence, two words combined that can’t make sense.” What makes that song a thrash gem is the twin guitar riffage of Mustaine and lead guitarist Marty Friedman. These were the MySpace days, and my top 8 spots included 7 of my real-life friends and Friedman on the number 1 spot.
Rust in Peace was Megadeth’s fourth album, but it was the first one with Marty, and he’s a large part of the reason why that album is such a classic. He’s a guitar virtuoso who was heavily influenced by Eastern musical motifs, which he incorporated into his solo instrumental metal music and neoclassical metal classic ‘Speed Metal Symphony’ (buy that shit).
Marty then went to Megadeth and brought his technical prowess and mysticism from the Orient into Mustaine’s thrash metal framework. And in Hangar 18, the two guitarists trade guitar solos throughout the song, spacing them with tense metal riffs in unison, almost as if they’re mythical heroes battling each other to the death, with each passing moment building in intensity.
But the real gem of the album is the first track ‘Holy Wars… The Punishment Due.’ The first half of the song is about the senseless nature of religious warfare with lines such as:
Brother will kill brother
Spilling blood across the land
Killing for religion
Something I don’t understanding
Holy Wars also takes a dig at the empowered, egomaniac political leaders who carry forth such atrocities, with Mustaine putting himself in their seat:
Upon my podium, as the
Know it all scholar
Down in my seat of judgement
Gavel’s bang, uphold the law
Up on my soapbox, a leader
Out to change the world
Down in my pulpit as the holier-
Than-thou-could-be-messenger of God
The second half of the song is about the comic book ‘The Punisher,’ with Mustaine playing the role of a man who’s lost his family, and will now seek revenge on those who crossed him.
Marty’s playing stands out in this song, especially in between ‘Holy Wars’ and ‘The Punishment Due’ when his guitar sounds like a sitar in an Arabian desert, adding an exotic flair to the tune. His Eastern influence is also apparent in ‘Tornado of Souls,’ which features one of the greatest metal guitar solos of all time.
The blistering drumming of Nick Menza (RIP) and foreboding, yet crushing bass riffs of David Ellefson round out the album.
What makes Rust in Peace such an important album for me is that it opened the door for hundreds of other great metal records that would shape my thinking, writing, and actions for the next decade and a half. That gateway has led to me learning about ancient Egyptian history, Norse mythology, Western literature, what life in 16th century Hungary was like, and much more.
But it’s real importance in my life comes from the fact that it’s given me an avenue to channel my life’s pain and trauma in a cathartic manner. And that’s what I think metal is ultimately about—helping people get through life, while also connecting them with likeminded individuals. It offers a path towards peace and joy, and Rust in Peace was the beginning of that for me.