Megadeth: Rust Never Sleeps
Originally published in Guitar World, July 2010
Dave Mustaine reflects on Megadeth’s mega-successful 20th anniversary Rust in Peace tour and talks about the thrash metal classic that continues to eat the competition.
"I love being onstage,” Megadeth main man Dave Mustaine says. “For me, there’s nothing better than looking out at the faces of our fans and seeing how happy we make them.” Indeed, over the past year, Megadeth fans have had good reason to be plenty pleased. In 2009, the legendary metal act, armed with a new lineup that includes hotshot shredder Chris Broderick, released its strongest album in more than a decade, Endgame. More recently, there was the unexpected news that Mustaine had welcomed estranged original bassist Dave Ellefson back to the fold after an eight-year absence, in the process restoring the core duo behind the band’s classic albums from the Eighties and Nineties.
And speaking of classic albums, Megadeth has been on the road for much of this year celebrating the 20th anniversary of the recording that many consider to be not only the band’s masterpiece but also one of the pinnacles of the first wave of thrash metal: 1990’s Rust in Peace, their fourth full-length effort. For the first time, the band has been performing the entire disc, front to back, giving fans a chance to hear not only such metal staples as “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” and “Hangar 18,” the album’s two most enduring cuts, but also lesser known Rust tracks like “Five Magics,” “Lucretia” and “Rust in Peace….Polaris,” some of which are being performed onstage for the first time in the band’s career.
A defining quality of Megadeth’s sound—and the one that perhaps most sets them apart from their “Big Four” thrash brethren, Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax—has always been the band’s fiery mix of speed-metal ferocity and progressive instrumental virtuosity. Over the course of their 12 studio albums, nowhere has this combination been displayed better than on Rust in Peace. The labyrinthine, finger-twisting riffs and melodically inventive and technically dazzling leads embedded within the album’s nine tracks have influenced countless metal acts that have followed in Megadeth’s wake. But Rust in Peace also served as a landmark moment for Megadeth as a band. The album was an authoritative exclamation point on the speed-and-technique-dominated sound that characterized Eighties thrash. In the following decade, Megadeth and many of their peers went on to embrace a more radio-friendly approach, as exemplified on the band’s 1992 mainstream breakthrough, Countdown to Extinction.
But Rust in Peace was not only the end of something—it also signaled a new beginning for Megadeth. The album marked Mustaine and Ellefson’s first effort with drummer Nick Menza and lead guitarist Marty Friedman, a partnership that stands as the band’s longest lasting and, for many fans, most beloved lineup. Friedman’s introduction into the band was particularly pivotal. His astounding technique, combined with a melodic sense that leaned toward the use of exotic and eastern-sounding scales and modes, served to further separate Megadeth from the hordes of like-minded speed-metal acts emerging at the tail end of the Eighties. The fleet-fingered leads on Rust tracks like “Tornado of Souls” and “Hangar 18” catapulted Friedman, a former Shrapnel gunslinger renowned in underground guitar-geek circles, to genuine guitar-god status, and stand today as some of the most recognizable and celebrated in the metal genre.
Friedman and Menza both departed Megadeth in the late Nineties, and Mustaine has continued to record under the Megadeth name, save for a brief hiatus in the early 2000s when he was recovering from a nerve injury to his left hand. In a career that has already lasted more than a quarter century, he continues to move forward with new musicians, new albums and new tours. At the same time, he is happy to be revisiting Rust in Peace, a milestone moment in Megadeth’s history.
Mustaine sat down with Guitar World prior to his band’s American and Canadian Carnage summer tour with Slayer and Testament—for which Megadeth will continue to perform Rust in Peace in full—to talk about the making of the 1990 album and the 20th anniversary celebration. He also discusses how Marty Friedman came to join (and why he will possibly never rejoin) Megadeth, the return of Dave Ellefson and how Rust in Peace’s leadoff track and most famous song, “Holy Wars,” was inspired by a tense ride in a bulletproof bus.
GUITAR WORLD How has it been to recreate Rust in Peace in concert?
DAVE MUSTAINE It’s actually been pretty fun for us. Rust in Peace was not one of those records where we thought, One day, we’re going to be playing this all the way through in concert. We knew there were certain gems on it that would become live staples, but it was already Megadeth’s fourth record and we had a lot of material to choose from even then. Obviously, I had a feeling that a couple of songs, like “Holy Wars” and “Hangar 18,” would be with us to the end. And then there were songs like “Take No Prisoners” and “Tornado of Souls” that are a little more aggressive. I didn’t really know whether they would endure, but they have actually been part of our set for the last 20 years.
Now, the five other songs—“Five Magics,” “Poison Was the Cure,” “Dawn Patrol,” “Rust in Peace…Polaris” and “Lucretia”—they were just part of the record, and I thought that was where they’d stay. But it’s been refreshing for us to come back to them when we’ve performed the album all the way through. The bummer is that, at the time of the Rust in Peace 20th anniversary tour, we were right in the middle of supporting Endgame, one of our best records since Rust. So it’s kind of frustrating on one hand, but it’s also really exciting to have people come out to the shows saying, “Well, let’s see if he can still do it,” and then I go out there and do it. Because there are a lot of little pricks out there that think I can’t play like that anymore.
GW That said, the Rust in Peace material is rather complicated. The guitar work, in particular Marty Friedman’s soloing and your rhythm playing, is incredibly advanced from a technical standpoint.
MUSTAINE Well, you know, by the time we went into the studio with Marty, the album was already completely written. And one thing that most people don’t realize is that on every Megadeth record, I play the majority of the rhythm parts, with only a little embellishment from the other guitarist. So all Marty had to do was put the solos on the top of everything, and he did a great job. Now, as far Chris [Broderick] having to play Marty’s parts on this current tour, the fans are losing their minds, because hearing him do those solos is just like hearing Marty. That’s how good Chris is.
GW What was your impression of Marty when he auditioned?
MUSTAINE Well, I liked Marty when I first met him, because he was a gentle guy and was really dedicated to his craft. But I was kind of put off by his appearance. Our manager had his CD [Friedman’s 1988 solo album, Dragon’s Kiss] on his desk for months, and I would look at it and just be like, “No way.” But one day, I put in the CD and was just like, “Wow! This guy wants to play with us? Let’s bring him in.” And Marty showed up, and he was pretty funny looking—he had the two-color hair and all that stuff. He was living hand-to-mouth in Hollywood, you know? But he was great.
GW How did you and Marty work together in the studio?
MUSTAINE We just did what we did. And it worked because of the differences in the dynamics of our playing. You had “the fire and the ice,” as people used to say about us. Love and hate, you know? And I thought it was really cool to have a player who was so different from me but who was also coming from a similar place. Because the guy that was there before Marty [Jeff Young] was a big fan of Tony MacAlpine, and I wasn’t. And the guy before him [Chris Poland] was a big fan of Mahavishnu Orchestra, who I did like, but still… So we had had a bunch of different types of guitar players in Megadeth. When Marty came in it was like, “This is what we like. This is what we need.”
GW A classic guitar moment between you and Marty is the second half of “Hangar 18,” where you trade solos during an extended instrumental section. Were those leads improvised in the studio or composed beforehand?
MUSTAINE My parts were off the cuff. I think his were written out. But I’m a self-taught guitar player, so I just kinda let it rip.
GW How did you come to write the album’s other big song, “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due”?
MUSTAINE That’s an interesting story: We were on tour in ’88 for So Far, So Good…So What!, and we played a gig in Antrim, Ireland. And before the show, I’m relaxing backstage, having a beer, and I find out that there’s a guy selling bootleg Megadeth T-shirts inside the venue. So I tell my people to go get him. They bring him in, and he says he’s selling the shirt for “the Cause.” Now, I don’t know what the Cause is. And the guy goes, “Well, the Cause is about trying to have equality between the Protestants and the Catholics.” And I think, Ah, that sounds pretty fair, you know? One religion’s no better than another; God has authority over all, and all that.
By the time I go up onstage, I’m pretty inebriated. And near the end of the set I go, [in slurred voice] “This one’s for the Cause! Give Ireland back to the Irish!” The audience split into two halves, with the Catholics on one side and the Protestants on the other, and it gets ugly. We had to be escorted out of town in a bulletproof bus. The next morning I see Dave Ellefson at breakfast, and he won’t even look at me. And I go, “What’s the matter with you?” And he says, “We had to be followed out of town by a tank with a machine gun turret on top of it!” But I didn’t even realize. And the next day I started writing “Holy Wars.”
GW A handful of songs on Rust in Peace—“Holy Wars,” “Take No Prisoners,” the title track—were overtly political in nature.
MUSTAINE It was a time in the world when the Cold War was still a real issue. We were pointing toward the East with our nukes out. Reagan was our president when the album was being penned, and by the time it came out George Bush senior was sitting in office. So everything about the record was very politically charged.
GW Musically, a few of the songs had their origins in a much earlier period.
MUSTAINE That’s right. The song “Rust in Peace” was written back during my Panic days [Mustaine’s pre-Metallica band]. It used to be called “Child Saint.” Another one from back then was “Hangar 18.” Those two, along with songs like “Jump in the Fire” and “Mechanix,” were all written before I even joined Metallica.
GW You recorded Rust in Peace with Mike Clink, who at the time was coming off huge success with Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction.
MUSTAINE Nah, you know what? Mike Clink is listed as the producer on Rust in Peace, but we really didn’t make the record with him. Mike was there intermittently because he was working with Guns N’ Roses at the same time [on what would become Use Your Illusion I and II]. Also, Mike had a puppy, and one day I went into the studio and the dog had knocked over my guitar and eaten a hole through the soundproofing. So that was the end of Mike Clink. He was a nice guy, but the record was really done by [engineer] Micajah Ryan, [mixer] Max Norman and myself. And because of the great job Max did with the mixing, he went on to produce the next few Megadeth records.
GW What gear did you use in the studio?
MUSTAINE I was playing my Jackson King V. And my amps were mostly Marshall JCM800s. When I did my leads, I had every single knob dimed. When I opened the volume knob, the amp would just be groaning with harmonics, which you can hear at the beginning of my solo in “Holy Wars.”
GW Rust in Peace is generally considered to be the album where the notoriously hard-partying Megadeth got sober. Is that accurate?
MUSTAINE The truth is that it was written while we were still pretty out of control. In fact, I remember coming up with the lyrics to “Lucretia” while driving around the Griffith Park Observatory, in the hills by the big Hollywood sign, trying to score drugs.
But by the time we went in and recorded the album, Dave Ellefson had gotten cleaned up. I was trying to, though I was still struggling with the idea of never being able to have a beer again for the rest of my life. But around that time I went into a program. And I liked it a little bit, but then I started to notice that whatever I would say in those meeting places would get out. There was no anonymity with me. So I figured, Screw it, I’m outta here. What really helped me was when I became a Christian in 2002, after my arm was injured and I thought I’d never play again and I broke up the band. That experience gave me the necessary power to find peace within myself.
GW When you reformed Megadeth around 2004, you initially attempted to resurrect the Rust in Peace lineup. How close was that to becoming a reality?
MUSTAINE Not too close, really. I called up Nick Menza first and told him I was going to try to put the band back together, and he said, “Okay, I’m in.” And then I talked to Marty, and Marty had a bunch of questions that frankly he just didn’t need to know the answers to—things about marketing, recording budgets…stuff like that, that was none of his business. And then when I talked to Dave Ellefson, he had concerns too, and after I hung up the phone, I just had this feeling inside me, like, I’m not going to be able to do this. I’m not going to be able to make these guys happy, and I don’t think they’re going to be able to make me happy.
GW Do you still speak with Marty?
GW How has it been having Dave Ellefson back in the band?
MUSTAINE It’s been wonderful. He was my best friend, and when this whole thing went down between us, what people didn’t see is that I went out to Phoenix and had dinner with him and forgave him. [In 2004, Ellefson filed suit against Mustaine claiming, among other things, breach of fiduciary obligation, libel and emotional distress.] And forgiveness is more about the person doing the forgiving than the person being forgiven. Because the person being forgiven could care less sometimes. But this has been a healing process, and it’s something that Dave and I had talked about several times before he actually came back. And it’s great to have him back. David Ellefson belongs in Megadeth.
GW You’ll continue playing Rust in Peace during this summer’s American and Canadian Carnage dates with Slayer and Testament. Have you considered giving similar treatment to any of your other records?
MUSTAINE [laughs] No! Because it’s not easy. With some of these songs, there are certain nuances where I have to play a syncopated polyrhythm and then sing something completely different over the top of it. It would help if I were schizophrenic, ’cause then one guy could play the guitar and the other could sing. But in all seriousness, we have talked about it. I mean, next summer will be the 25th anniversary of Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? And then the following year is the 20th anniversary of Countdown to Extinction, which is an album that would be interesting to revisit. So we’ll see.