Thirty years ago, arguably the greatest thrash metal record of all-time was released – Megadeth’s Rust in Peace. The band’s fourth album, released Sept. 24, 1990, peaked at #23 on the Billboard charts, went gold in early 1991, and was certified platinum in 1994. The singles, “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” and “Hangar 18,” received heavy airplay on MTV, launching the band to new heights.
Joel Selvin, co-author with Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine of the new book Rust in Peace: The Inside Story of the Megadeth Masterpiece, said a big part of the story is heroin addiction and sobriety. Both Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson struggled with substance abuse. Selvin told 360° that while Ellefson was able to get sober for the recording of Rust in Peace, Mustaine was in and out of rehab “so many times he lost count.”
“It’s an intense and tumultuous chapter in [Mustaine’s] life when he tried to come to terms with a terrible addiction and career problems and all this enormous personal and professional pressure, and out of which comes this diamond,” Selvin said. “The book has some real blood and guts in it.”
Although the book is billed as a biography from Mustaine, it’s actually an oral history with quotes from the key figures behind the making of the album. Ellefson and guitarist Marty Friedman are quoted extensively. [Drummer Nick Menza, rounding out the quartet, died of heart failure in 2016].
“[Mustaine’s] recollection and his absence from the action meant that other people were going to have to fill in an awful lot of the story,” Selvin said. “Dave was a major source and he constantly figures in the oral history, but he doesn’t have the big picture on the story, so I had to go out and get the story.”
Writes Mustaine in the book: “Everybody should know the incredible journey of that album’s life, why I wrote the songs, how I fell in love with my bandmates, how heartbroken I was when I couldn’t get it back together, and the human side of everything behind Rust in Peace. It was not simply the recording of an album; it was the triumph over a lifetime of adversity, a coming together of powers greater than myself, and the culmination of earthly and cosmic forces white-hot enough to forge the mighty steel of which that album is made.”
Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, who wrote the foreword to the book, lets his Rust in Peace fandom be known. “It has really fucking cool songs on it,” he writes. “‘Hangar 18’ is awesome. Marty Friedman is great, obviously. I certainly understand why every important Rust in Peace anniversary is celebrated as a pivotal moment for both Megadeth and for heavy metal.”
Rob Pasbani, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Metal Injection, told 360° there’s an argument to be made that Rust in Peace is the greatest thrash record of all time.
“I feel the musicianship is very ahead of its time,” Pasbani said. “The songwriting is so good in the sense that I feel like it’s an album that you could play for non-metalheads and they could sort of get what metal is. The song structures have some traditional tropes they’re working with, but in a metal sphere to make it heavier.”
The addition of Friedman, who was with the band for five albums throughout the ‘90s, was huge, Pasbani said.
“His cadence with the guitar is just so beautiful, the things that he gets the guitar to do, it blows my mind,” he said. “The Megadeth records that he is on are the ones that are my favorites.”
As for what separated Megadeth from the other “Big Four” thrash bands – Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax, Pasbani said it was their technicality and Mustaine’s unique singing voice.
“I feel like for some metalheads [Mustaine’s voice] may have been a turnoff, but I think for most people, it was a draw because it sounded so unique and you could actually understand what he’s saying,” he said. “I feel like there’s this elitism with Megadeth fans where Metallica is like entry-level. Like, ‘yeah, we’ve all listened to Master of Puppets, but why don’t you pick up Rust in Peace for some real metal.’”
When asked what the legacy of Rust in Peace is, Pasbani said the music speaks for itself.
“It’s a very timeless record,” he said. “It’s one of metal’s all-time classic records, inarguably.”