Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Break Out


Roll call!

Dave Mustaine--vocals, guitar
Marty Friedman--guitar*
Dave Ellefson--bass
Nick Menza--drums

So long, Jeff Young and Chuck Behler.  While it is a wonderful bit of trivia that a Megadeth drummer has been replaced by his tech for the second consecutive record, it is the ignominious ouster of the second guitarist which provides us with the juice and the dirt.  Sounds like a terrible drink, but makes for a great interview.

Friedman and Menza turned out to be stupendous additions.  They exude supreme comfort with all the meter-madness that distinguishes the record, and Marty's work especially flat-out elevated Megadeth, his unique style (influenced heavily by Asian and Middle Eastern playing) flavoring an already-tasty gumbo till each bite is almost obscenely delicious.

And he's originally from Maryland.  

And his extreme talents were a "catalyst" in Dave Mustaine relapsing, per the latter's autobiography.


After a run of album titles with more ellipses than an Ultimate Warrior comic book, Megadeth kick off the new decade with the intriguingly-blunt Rust In Peace.  (Even Vic Rattlehead has come up in the world, check the spiffy attire he dons and the super-important company he keeps!)  More than just a second phase of their career, RIP can realistically be dropped into a number of pertinent discussions:  Best Megadeth Album, Best Thrash Album Ever, Best Thrash Album of the 1990s, Best Album Recorded At the Studio Owned By Captain and Tennille, Best Album Recorded With a Producer Who Was Fired As The Project Was Winding Down Because He Brought His Mischievous Puppy Into the Studio Owned By Captain and Tennille.  Nine songs here, and not one is skippable, not even that one everybody seems to skip.  Every song contains a number of jaw-dropping moments.  Its success--both commercial (platinum in the US) and critical--was well-deserved.   Out of the forty-six records I'm reviewing for the Big 4 series, three are three complete classics that I can listen to anytime anywhere:  Reign In Blood, ….And Justice For All, and Rust In Peace(Sorry, Charlie.)

Maybe I'm not being clear enough here, so lemme state it thusly:  I played two albums to near-death in 1990.  Rust In Peace and Goo by Sonic Youth.  Fucking immense year.

"Holy Wars/The Punishment Due"--The so-called "Gulf War" between U.S. and Iraqi forces was in full swing just as the video for "Holy Wars" was getting solid play, so the natural tendency was to correlate the two.  Mustaine's actual inspiration was the pandemic of wars incited by religious belief, with specific mention of a hilarious-in-hindsight gaffe he made during a show in Northern Ireland two years prior.  Before getting onstage, Mustaine noticed a guy selling bootleg shirts.  He was about to take action when someone close by informed him that the proceeds from the shirt sales would benefit "The Cause," which was blithely explained to the clueless guitarist as an organization trying to end the prejudice between Catholics and Protestants in the United Kingdom.  Having no qualms with the extermination of schism, Dave decided to dedicate "Anarchy in the U.K." to "the cause." 

Turned out "the cause" was a euphemism for the Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary organization that over the course of nearly one hundred years has sought the unification of Ireland into a single state independent of Britain.  It remains such a sensitive subject that I spent several minutes wording and re-wording that last sentence.  And that ginger prick Mustaine just goes up in front of thousands of people and states his support for the IRA. In Northern Ireland.  The audience rioted, and the band had to leave in a bulletproof bus.  (The percentage of audience members who were actually IRA members or sympathizers rioting because he'd dedicated such a shit cover to them was never determined, but is thought to be substantial.)

Hence, "Fools like me/Who cross the sea."  The More You Know. 

The song itself is nothing less than outstanding.  The name of the game is "Fretworks."  Listen up as they light up the sky.  Arguably Megadeth's most mesmerizing minutes on record, six and a half with no filler whatsoever.  Precision can be acquired by years of practice, but emotion cannot.  The transitions are dizzying and brilliant.  The solos?  Help me.  Hold me.  I do not know if my system can take it.  I know I know, it's been 24 years damn near, but guys, I can't take that chance!

"Hangar 18"--Marty was brought on board after undergoing a process Mustaine calls "Rock School 101."  He almost didn't get the chance to fail; when a mutual friend first suggested Friedman as a good fit for Megadeth, and showed Dave a picture of Marty, Mustaine took one look at his two-toned hair and said, in essence, "Get the fuck outta here."  (That's what I call "Douchefuck 101.")  Let's linger on that one for a few--Megadeth almost missed out on the best musician that's ever been in their ranks because of fucking hair dye.

Without Marty around to push Dave to God-level wankery, we would not have this glorious bastard of a guitar-gasm.  "Hangar 18" contains no less than 500 solos, 492 of which are integral to the song  (That is a 98.4% integrity rating!)   You want more?  Um…okay.  "Hangar 18" received a Grammy nomination.  That's good!  It lost out to Metallica.  That's bad!  An underground hip hop duo named themselves after it.  That's good!  (Trust me, it is.  The monosodium glutamate is what's bad.)

And without Nick Menza, we wouldn't have a song about an Air Force base that allegedly houses aliens retrieved from Roswell!  Drummers, am I right?  (Always said SY shoulda let Steve Shelley pen a tune or two....)

"Take No Prisoners"--Where we at?  Someplace barren, surely, with no friendly faces for miles.  Death by collapsed lung?  Not heroic.  Death by collapsed oil rig, that is the stuff of legend.  Unfortunately, the choice is not yours.

What can you say about someone who zig-zags the battlefield beating up the soldiers who've been shot but didn't have the decency to die within a minute.  Nastier than Ann Coulter's smegma, that's what.

The gang vocals are the inverse of intimidation, but that's a small matter.

"Five Magics"--Based on Lyndon Hardy's novel Master of the Five Magics.  Alchemy is really the paramount magic here, pulsing and glowing a myriad of color combinations.  Megadeth understand that it takes tremendous effort to get the results you desire; they could have easily named the song "Four Magicians."  Each man contributes ingredients doled out in precise amounts, and if the measurements had been off by even a tiny bit, a masterpiece would have become a mess.

With a minute or  so left, the book of spells catches fire.  Whether by the tome's own volition or by the wizards own wands, I never could figure.

"Poison Was the Cure"--This one comes in just under three minutes, the first of which is spent brushing what few teeth it has left, but when the door opens up and the world is faced…good stuff, kids.

I won't be dishonest, as easily as "Cure" enticed me into its torrent, I could not understand a word (except the final two) for years and years.  I guessed it was about drug addiction, an assumption that turned out correct.  My second guess--cancer treatments--was not accurate, but as the book of my life has grown thicker, I find this misinterpretation hits home hardest.  My third and final guess at what the hell Dave was talking about--healing a hangover with a sticky stack of sumptuous pancakes--was always the least likely but also my favorite.  (1:35 seems to support this wild breakfast theory, as it sounds more like devouring a plate of crispy sausages swimming in a sea of crispier hash browns than any other piece of music I can remember.)

Life is hell--take hard drugs to feel better.  Drug addiction is hell--take softer drugs to feel better.  Simple!

Sobriety can be quite nice, if done well.  Remember that poem?  "I have chosen the path less vomited upon/And that has made all the difference."  Lots of truth going on there.

"Lucretia"--There's a specter in the house, oh my God oh my God. 

In context, "Lucretia" is a light-hearted romp.  I'm sure that opening riff, bright and happy as a newborn babe being bounced on a friendly tummy, made erstwhile Megadeth member Kerry King quite displeased.  (More so than usual, anyway.)  Well fuck him and fuck his face.  Best song about talking to your dead grandma's ghost since "YMCA."

"Tornado of Souls"--Dave's long-time co-dependent relationship was to credit/blame for a number of songs in the Megadeth catalog.  By the time of RIP, the by-all-accounts toxic pairing had split up, and "Tornado of Souls" is the kiss-off.  The rancorous attitude exuded here is to be expected, but Mustaine has enough venom for his ex and himself, and proves a harsh, ultimately fair, judge.

Marty Friedman kinda rules this one, though, no words required.  His solo is legendary, and my word is not the one you have to take.  After playback in the recording studio, Mustaine shook his friggin' hand in congratulations for being such a god of his chosen instrument.  Metal fans all over the world marvel at it, whether they're just listeners in thrall or burgeoning musicians working their fingers to virtual disfigurement.  It truly is an extension of the song itself, instead of just impressive wailing.  Everything Dave didn't or couldn't say with mere words, Marty did it for him.

This song exhausts me.  I'm grateful for that.

"Dawn Patrol"--I wonder how frequently Mustaine faps to the fact that he wrote a song about global warming in 1990.  He probably listens to "Dawn Patrol" every time he gets down to business, and I'd bet "With the greenhouse in effect" is the line that gets him there without fail.  I dunno if he sounds like a wizened talking head on the BBC when he climaxes, but that's what he sounds like here.

"Dawn Patrol" ain't nowhere near the shit-pack some fans proclaim.  How can you not dig that loping baseline?  Still…I can understand how a "sucking teeth" solo might lose some listeners.

"Rust In Peace…Polaris"--Ending your album perfectly is easier said than done.  Megadeth did it, with the hardy epitome of the "take no prisoners" ethos.   Exquisite aggression harnessed and steered.  The world is being obliterated!  Fuck yeah!

Gut-simple:  if you crave mind-spinning fret-acrobatics in the service of actual songcraft, Rust In Peace will satisfy.  Dave Mustaine looks at this music shit like a fist fight…and he not only has to win, but win big….for the first few rounds he was wasting blows to the back and shoulders.  But at some point the corner got some words of wisdom through his addled brain and he emerged smarter and stronger, determined to make every blow land on the head or square to the chest.   Poor schlub standing across from him never stood a chance.

(Warning:  Of all the Megadeth remasters, Rust In Peace is far and away the most unnecessary.  Thanks to misplaced master tracks, Dave had to re-record his vocals for "Take No Prisoners," and use so-called "B-takes" for "Five Magics," "Lucretia," and the title track.  Furthermore, in keeping with the audio trends of the century, the compression makes me want to claw my ears off.  The original is perfection.  It is not rare.  You can find it easily, and for relatively cheap.  Just say no to "Lucas-ing.")

*This spot was almost filled by "Diamond" Darrell Abbott (still a few years away from renaming himself "Dimebag").  If the young enthusiastic Texan had not insisted his drummer brother Vinnie Paul be hired as well, the history of heavy music would have been altered profoundly.  As future reviews in this series will attest. 

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