Rust in Piece

Poor old Dave Mustaine. In 1982, he was unceremoniously booted out of his first band for excessive drinking and drug abuse. He was furious, and got his act together, at least enough to start Megadeth; one of the seminal trash-metal bands, they quickly climbed to the pantheon of gods of such matters. His achievements were impressive, yet it was as much to get back at his old bandmates as for his own glory. After conquering the world, selling millions of albums and being hailed as one of the great innovators of the genre, one could forgive his former band for regretting his termination — unless, of course, that band happens to be Metallica.

In the recent Metallica documentary, Some Kind of Monster, Mustaine admits that being booted out of that band was the worst day of his life. But, to be quite honest, I can’t say that I’m too broken up over dave’s predicament. After all, there’s nothing that says the sum of these parts would have amounted to something greater than the sum of what we already had. And let’s face it, if Mustaine was still with them rather than in Megadeth, we the public would likely have been cheated of both Rust in Peace and Countdown to Extinction. And that, dear reader, would be a loss: It’s difficult for me to verbalize exactly what it is about Rust that I find appealing, but I suppose that to summarize, I could say: Holy flippin’ fuck!!!

The first time I heard Holy Wars, I was bowled over. I mean, holy Christ, what was that?! The cascading guitars, the thundering drums and Mustaine’s pained yelping over it all — this was unlike anything I’d heard before. It was great. Unlike most of their peers, Megadeth always seemed to have sly sense of humour about them, as if they knew it was partly a joke. Hangar 18, whilst also swirling like a dervish (I’m told dervishes swirl) also deftly anticipates the X-files, with its space ships and hidden fortresses. One supposes that the lyrics as such is unimportant — the skill on display renders lyrical shortcomings irrelevant anyway — also, Mustaine is too smart a guy — and too funny — to really take this stuff all that seriously.

Thrash metal mostly did away with ghost n’ goblins and all that fairy bollocks that thanks to the hippies were the lyrical pinnacle, (At least until Limp Bizkit came around and it was all suburban angst, all the time.) and Mustaine always did have a knack for a political lyric. I won’t claim he’s written great poetry, but still: Bob Dylan wrote his share of clunkers, and given the choice, I’d go for this sort of technicolour extravaganza over early Dylan monochrome dirges most days. Mustaine sings lines like “Don’t look now/to Israel/it might be your homeland” with an urgency that belies the sometimes clumsy lyrics. And a line like “They killed my wife and my baby/first mistake/last mistake” is more clever than one surmises at first look. Mustaine is ppresumably singing about the Palestine/Israeli conflict (Nutshell problem: They’re all nuts. Quick solution: Fence ’em all in, let them fight amongst themselves and leave the rest of us out of it) in a clever way. He neglects to state who’s singing, it could be from either side. While deep analysis of the lyrics might ot yield too much, Mustaine deserves credit for trying to say something more than the usual crap: Hell, lines like “Don’t ask/what you can do/for your country/ASK/what your country/can do for yoooouuu” are priceless. Dave Mustaine, nihilist, flying a bright red flag.

Lyrically, it doesn’t really matter. Sophomoric, yes, but as stated, the music is what it’s all about. Thrash metal does not have trappings in which it’s easy to do anything interesting except play really, really fast. Rust In Peace is such a great album because it is unflappably melodic, heavier than a lead enema and faster than the roadrunner on speed. But the fact that the melodicism is so effortless within this sort of grind is nothing short of spectacular.

The line-up of Dave Mustaine (guitar), Nick Menza (drums), David Ellefson (bass) and Marty Friedman (guitar/big hair) is considered THE Megadeth line-up by most, and it’s not difficult to understand why. We have here the four virtuosi of the apocalypse, and it certainly sounds like it. Weird time signatures, changes in pace, and layered solos that almost reminds me of — dare I say it? — jazz. More precise than laser-guided missile and tighter than a chickens bum, very little can measure up to this.

Megadeth recently came to an end when Dave Mustaine sustained injuries in his hand. It was unclear whether or not he would ever play again, but he’s nothing if not a survivor (the guy’s even been clinically dead! Not one to do anything by halves, he fell off the wagon with a vengeance and died. Obviously, they revived him.). After some pretty extensive surgery and retraining, he apparently can play again. Sadly, Megadeth are to remain a closed chapter. Still, it was fun when it lasted.

UPDATE: Megadeth are back on the road.

07.01.2005 • Permalink