Review Summary: Like many other albums, Rust in Peace has its great moments and poor moments. To some, those poor moments may occur more frequently, especially when the expectations are so high.
Since I know that backlash from fans of this record is inevitable regardless of how the review is written, I’ll start by saying that my rating is sincere and not forced upon by some weird rating rule imposed by this website. Rust in Peace is a good album, and when it comes to technical playing on all instruments (save for vocals, if you count that), this album is a classic in the heavy metal genre.
As a metal album, Rust in Peace certainly offers more than most other albums in its time could. Dave Mustaine delivers on the thrash riffs, fellow guitarist Marty Friedman shreds his way into metal history with his astounding solos, Dave Ellefson’s bass rocks right up there with the guitars, and drummer Nick Menza could roast Lars Ulrich in a drum duel any day. So why then would I rate this album so low compared to the usual acclaim it gets?
Part of the reason lies in the ambition of the band. In its attempt to rival fellow thrashers Metallica, Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine seems to have put more emphasis on making technically challenging compositions for the purpose of showing off instead of making something more accessible (and more enjoyable to an extent). While this is not the case for every song, this element is present on a considerable portion of the album. Perhaps the best examples can be found on the songs Five Magics and Take No Prisoners.
Five Magics suffers early on by beginning with intense riffing and drumming for a few seconds before moving on to an overlong two-minute instrumental which tries to set an eerie, mystical mood. However, because of the intense opening and the faster main portion of the song after the instrumental, any atmosphere built in this section is quickly expunged and the song feels awkward and disjointed for its remainder. Take No Prisoners suffers simply by attempting to jam too many ideas into its short three-and-a-half-minute running time. Its aggressive, fast-paced composition does not compliment the complexity of the music well, and in the end, it leaves the listener confused and disoriented, literally “taking no prisoners”. On a positive note, Dave Ellefson has a great presence on this song, which includes an excellent bass fill halfway through its brief time.
Although for a different reason, another particularly weak track on the album is Dawn Patrol. Upon looking at its short duration, I immediately thought for some reason that it was an intro to the considerably longer title track. However, all it is is an eerie bassline and accompanying drums, both of which sit beneath Dave Mustaine’s grunts on global warming, and as a result the only thing it does is break up the continuity of the heavy metal songs before it. To pretty much every Megadeth fan, this is common knowledge, but to those who thought Dawn Patrol would be something akin to Iron Maiden’s “The Ides of March”, you are sadly mistaken.
Another trend found on this album is a tendency for some songs to be overlong. In particular, Five Magics (which I already discussed), the title track, and Hangar 18 (God help my soul) are guilty of this trend. Rust in Peace...Polaris, after a drum intro followed by some guitars, settles into a rather accessible verse-bridge-chorus song structure which is oddly catchy at first. However, this cycle repeats three times for a total of three minutes, and by the time it breaks for its concluding section, any listener would probably be tired, and maybe even bored. Hangar 18, in contrast to the title track, spends too much time on its extended solo section. While in the first half of the song it’s not a problem, in the second half, when Marty and Dave go all out for nearly two-and-a-half minutes of soloing, the listener can’t help but begin to check the time halfway through, wondering when all of this will end. It would not be this way if there were variations in the solo breaks, but no. It’s these repetitive solo breaks which take away from the solos themselves which are without a doubt spectacular. It’s too bad, because ambitious as it is, one can’t help but feel that this was written for a live show and not as a studio track.
My last critique lies with Dave Mustaine’s vocals. Obviously, this isn’t a shock to many Megadeth fans, but if you’re new to the band, you should be warned that his voice is rather terrible. For most of this album though, his voice is bearable, especially compared to most death metal vocalists. Put frankly, his voice is at its best on album openers Holy Wars...The Punishment Due and Hangar 18 and at its worst on Tornado of Souls and Dawn Patrol. Fortunately, after listening to Megadeth for awhile, you start to get used to his growling, uneven voice. Just don’t listen to Dave’s singing after hearing a Judas Priest record or an Iron Maiden record (that tip comes from personal experience).
And now, after what seems like an endless amount of time criticizing Rust in Peace, it’s time to end on a positive note and explain why this album gets a ‘good’ rating. On Rust in Peace there are several superb tracks which easily deserve classic status not just among other Megadeth songs but in thrash metal in general. Album opener Holy Wars is the best of these tracks, perfectly blending the intense thrash riffs that made Megadeth famous with plenty of superb technical playing from everyone as well as great lyrics.
After the classic Holy Wars, starting about halfway through the album are three great songs, the first of which is Poison Was The Cure. The aforementioned song may take a minute to warm up, but it pays off well with two minutes of blistering, head-banging metal. The next two songs, Lucretia and Tornado of Souls, don’t have Mustaine’s greatest vocal moments, but the music more than makes up for it. Lucretia has a nice melodic intro before moving on to some mid-tempo, catchy riffing. Lucretia also has an extended solo section, but it is not nearly as overlong as Hangar 18’s. Tornado of Souls benefits from its brisk pace and riffs which don’t try to impress as much as others on the album and are better for it.
Let it also be said before my inevitable execution that despite my previous criticisms, Hangar 18 is still a good song, especially with its intense melodic opening and interesting lyrics about aliens and Area 51. Particularly enjoyable is the line “Military intelligence/two words combined that can’t make sense,” a line seemingly out of the mind of Hawkeye Pierce which unfortunately holds more truth than we would expect. To be honest, if it weren’t for the overlong solo section, I’d truly be ready to accept this song as the classic everyone says it is.
In the end, Rust in Peace is an album whose enjoyment depends on your tastes. If you don’t mind poor singing in metal music, than this may be your album. If you’re looking for a combination of great thrash riffs and technical playing, this album is definitely for you. And if you would rather listen to more accessible metal (if you get more enjoyment from that), than you may only be into some of this album. Rest assured, Rust in Peace may not be for everyone, but for metal fans everywhere, Rust in Peace will always have something to offer.