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Another day, another 'classic' unworthy of the name. Speed metal sure produced more than it's share of these, probably because its popularity peaked right as most metalheads were forging their identities, but before they were old enough to consistently make the critical distinction between genius and crap. This time, it's Megadeth's wildly praised (but utterly inconsequential) Rust in Peace.
First, let's take care of a little housekeeping. I'm not usually particularly concerned about production values, but Rust in Peace has, without a doubt, one of the worst mixes I've ever heard. The sound is open, echoing and empty, every instrument comes through clearly, but this is at the expense of any range of sound or even sounding like a band at all (as opposed to a collection of guys instruments at the same time). The rhythm guitar sound is, in particular, a godawful, tinny, and overprocessed, sounding like nothing so much as videogame music circa 1995. "Sterile" doesn't even begin to describe this abomination.
Equally frustrating is the content of the album itself. The skill of the band immediately leaps out at any listener. No doubt, these are talented musicians, and, what's more, musicians with a sense of restraint and an understanding of the fine line between complexity and noodling. But it doesn't matter, because none of this talent is ever put to effective use. There are interesting moments (like the little flamenco nod in "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due") that make you wonder what could have been had Dave Mustaine been possessed of any real imagination or creative talent. Unfortunately, all we are provided with are Dave Mustaine versions of ideas from other artists. In other words, songs distinguishable from the work of other bands only by the slight technical upgrade, Mustaine's irritating drawl, and the trademark paranoia/amature humor of Mustaine's lyrics.
So, we get Megadeth doing an Iron Maiden impression ("Hanger 18", which becomes even more derivative toward the end with musical paraphrases from "Master of Puppets" and "Paradise City"[!]), Megadeth doing Anthrax ("Take No Prisoners") and Megadeth doing South/Seasons era Slayer ("Five Magics", the album's standout track in that it is the only one that really expands any on its influences), along with sundry other musical borrowings sprinkled liberally throughout the album. The lone exception is "Dawn Patrol", basically a brief (1:50) spoken word interlude where Mustaine trades his affected snarl for an affected British-accented whisper (or is that Ellfeson, I've never been all that clear on this one), accompanied only by drum and bass. The (half) song achieves a measure of sinister charm precisely because it avoids the various speed metal cliches that litter the rest of the album.
In the end, Rust in Peace does not live up to its billing as a 'classic,' nor does it even manage to forge a creative identity of its own. Instead, we are 'treated' to a sophisticated tribute album, a talented band giving an album length survey of speed metal as a genre (which probably accounts for its enduring popularity). As an academic exercise, this offers a useful summation of what went before, as an album in its own right, Rust in Peace is an unmitigated failure.