Revisiting A Classic: Rust In Peace

“Humanity Still Producing New Art As Though Megadeth’s ‘Rust In Peace’ Doesn’t Already Exist”

-The Onion

Pretty Much.

Over 30 years later, the fourth installment in Megadeth’s catalog remains as iconic as ever. Its praise has been sung from every corner of metal as elitists and gatekeepers join hand in hand with casuals and dad rockers in shared admiration.  

This is old news.

Every superlative has already been said, and rightfully so. 

In and of itself, Rust In Peace is a phenomenal album, and in some respects, marked the peak of Megadeth. It’s regarded by many as Dave Mustaine’s finest work as a songwriter and was also our introduction to unknown guitar hero Marty Friedman. 

Once again, old news.

The album’s legacy is already cemented, strictly based on musical standards alone. But the process leading up to September 24th, 1990 was an absolute catastrophe. Drugs, infighting, and a career-threatening injury had all but dismantled the band. The greatest and most polished lineup in the history of Megadeth was decaying before the introduction.

That’s the story.

In 1988, Megadeth had to cancel their remaining shows for the Monsters Of Rock festival (replaced by Testament) due to bassist David Ellefson’s severe heroin withdrawals. However, he wasn’t the only one. Upon their arrival back in the United States, Ellefson and frontman Dave Mustaine both checked into rehab.

Ellefson lasted three days, Mustaine a little longer. But even while in rehab, they smuggled in heroin and continued to get high.

After their lackluster sobriety attempt, they began to rehearse and demo for what became Rust In Peace. During that time, David Ellefson struck up a kinship with Slash of Guns N’ Roses, who was already friendly with Mustaine. The kinship eventually led to the trio of Dave, Dave, n Slash: Heroin and Guitars.

In their friendly sessions of drugs and music, Mustaine asked Slash to join Megadeth. Guns N’ Roses already had two albums to their name, and Appetite for Destruction had captivated the entire country, yet Slash had considered the move, briefly.

Mustaine then shifted his interest in guitar phenom Dimebag Darrell (Then still known as Diamond Darrell) of Pantera. Had Mustaine allowed Dime’s brother Vinnie to join Megadeth on drums, it would have been a done deal. This was also pre-Cowboys From hell and Pantera was still the Van Halen-inspired hair metal unit.

What a butterfly effect that could have been.

By 1989, to say that the wheels of Megadeth were falling off would have been a gross understatement. The band was without a drummer and a second guitarist, Ellefson had just gone back into rehab, and Mustaine continued to spiral out of control.

The two Daves had moved into an apartment together, whereupon Ellefson’s return from rehab, spawned a debaucherous routine of heroin to fall asleep, then coke just to make it out of the door and off to rehearsal the next day (when they managed to wake up in time).

Chuck Behler was in just as bad shape and was essentially faded out of the band.

Enter Nick Menza.

Menza had served as the drum tech and roadie for the band for their last album. The drum tech replacing the current drummer was beginning to be a Megadeth staple, as Chuck was the drum tech for original percussionist Gar Samuelson.

The final piece of the Megadeth puzzle took form in the shape of a borderline homeless, malnourished, and—unknowingly at the time—deteriorating guitar phenom Marty Friedman.

Megadeth had already exhausted themselves auditioning numerous guitarists that ranged from flamboyant shredders playing on their own time, primadonnas that refused to learn the songs prior, and scorned musicians that claimed to have written Megadeth songs in their childhood.

Friedman showed up, no vehicle of his own, a cheap red Carvin guitar, and no amps or cabinets.

Mustaine had then set up Marty with two Marshall amplifiers. One for the rhythm and one for the lead, the most important aspect of the audition. Friedman excelled at the rhythm, though he wasn’t perfect, noted Mustaine, but he immediately won the job when it came time for the solo.

Upon Friedman’s entry to Megadeth, the band rented him an apartment, a Mercedes-Benz, and instructed him to change his orange and black hair. His life had changed in an instant.

Had Friedman not won the job that day, the struggling musician had another audition lined up with Madonna the following week. 

At this point, the members of Megadeth were in the midst of a fierce attempt at sobriety (to the point that they even quit smoking cigarettes). They were lean, mean, and clean. But once Marty joined the band, Dave Mustaine became so intimidated by Marty’s talent that it completely extinguished his confidence in his playing.

He quickly relapsed.

Marty wasn’t the well-rounded player that Dave was, Dave was still one of the greatest players in the world with his abilities at rhythm, lead, acoustic, and his prowess as a songwriter. But Marty’s proficiency at lead was so staggering that his lack of skill in other areas (despite there not being any true skill deficiency) did not matter.

Dave Mustaine began to show up to recording sessions completely loaded. He antagonized members and lusted for confrontation. Second opinions and suggestions aside from his own ignited arguments instantaneously. It became so emotionally taxing for the rest of the band that he went off to treatment again, but for the first time, under his desire.

However, Dave wasn’t the only one struggling with some form of physical detriment. Marty Friedman was suffering from a serious arm injury in silence. The nerves in his right arm were so damaged that a doctor had ordered him to quit playing guitar or risk complete and permanent loss of use in that arm.

Megadeth was recording the album of their career—one that eventually put the exclamation point on an entire genre—while their frontman was deteriorating in rehab, and their lead guitarist was deteriorating in silence.

In hopes to preserve his arm, Marty played as little as necessary. He would bypass warming up and try to nail the complex rhythm sections and solos in one take. When he wasn’t playing, he wore a sling, which he attempted to hide under a sweatshirt.

Eventually, he confessed his injury, but not the severity of it, to the rest of the band. Post-confession, he spent his downtime icing his arm.

Dave emerged from rehab a month later, completely energized. He returned to the studio, away from his guitar for a month, and recorded his solo for Holy Wars…The Punishment Due in one take.  

The vocals, one take.

Holy Wars became a mainstay on the Mount Rushmore of Megadeth. A song that was spawned after Dave unintentionally ignited a religiously fueled crowd in Northern Ireland, Holy Wars has been the closing song for their live shows for the last 20+ years

Hangar 18, on the other hand, has been the leadoff song ever since Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul suggested it be. The song they replaced? Holy Wars! Before Megadeth, and even before Metallica, Dave’s first band Panic was playing this song in their setlist under the title “N2RHQ”. Dave saw the text on the tail fin of a plane and was inspired to write a song about a mysterious space military base.

The Rust In Peace rendition, however, featured a Shaq and Kobe-like performance by Dave and Marty, dueling back and forth with solo after solo. The song has since been featured in video games such as Guitar Hero, and a 16-bit inspired version was on the Doom II: Hell on Earth Soundtrack.

Tremendous.

To support the album, Megadeth would embark on a massive co-headlining tour with fellow Big Four member Slayer. Thrash comrade Testament and hardcore punk outfit Suicidal Tendencies would join in support. This stacked lineup was eventually dubbed the Clash of the Titans Tour.

To build a report with the new band members and organize their setlist, Megadeth had a small five venue circuit around Southern California. It was here where the beast finally began to come to life.

Once again, they were lean, mean, and clean.

Megadeth carried their momentum into the Clash Of Titans tour, which became a massive success. But it did not go off without a few headlines: Mustaine and Suicidal Tendencies frontman Mike Muir developed a feud that brewed until Mustaine approached Muir looking to settle it in a fight when they returned home.  

They immediately became friends.

Then, later on, Dave had walked right into a lighting truss, drawing blood. The press speculated that Chuck Billy of Testament had hit Dave.

The initial success of Rust In Peace rewarded Megadeth with their first gold record as well as their first Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. In the story of Megadeth, this was the peak. The band found a chemistry that Mustaine later stated they would never capture again.

Mustaine is the only remaining member from Rust In Peace, yet its legacy remains untouchable over 30 years later.

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