This is one of the classics worthy of its praise, and should unite both casual listeners and underground connoisseurs in this opinion. It might feel rather fruitless to review a classic of this scale at this point, but after re-listening to it multiple times lately and learning to play some of the tracks I felt compelled. Most of everything that can be said about this album was probably already said but I figured I’d give some further analysis of the songwriting and tracks.
The album fuses thrash with speed and heavy metal, and creates what has since then been recognized as the signature Megadeth sound. Regardless of how Dave feels on the matter, him getting kicked out of Metallica literally benefited everyone in the metal world because it led to the creation of this album (and the rest of Megadeth). The album sees Megadeth (specifically the line up at the time) working as a united front of ultimate thrash metal deliverance.
Songs don’t follow a simple verse – chorus structure, although there are choruses in most of them. “Holy Wars” starts the album in an intense thrashing mood, and in itself is a journey that keeps on evolving and giving. The rhythm guitar blasts you with elaborate and fast single note (as opposed to power chord) riffs, as a slower melody begins playing on top of it, before continuing into the first verse that Mustaine manages to sing while playing these quick thrashing riffs. The song breaks into a halt at the memorable flamenco-inspired bridge, into a power chord focused breakdown riff, then continues developing the song in a mid-paced manner using motifs from before. The song then picks up the pace again and blasts you with a catchy thrash riff with the first solo of the album on top of it. One could think the aforementioned bridge is a nod to the rather gay interlude in the middle of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”, as another one of Mustaine’s efforts to constantly one up his former bandmates, although here it is much more brief as there is no time for flowery masturbation when there’s a speed metal song to complete.
This slowing down and later continuing into further escalation before the climax of the song is repeated a few times on the album, on “Hangar 18” the song starts in a more mid-paced and melodic manner and sounds more like a heavy metal song before the band reminds you who you’re dealing with. The song starts with a chord progression on the higher strings, and evolves into the simplistic slidy-bendy riff that everyone knows. Mustaine tells us about what really goes on in area 51, before diverging into a mid paced solo, before repeating the verse chorus and yet another short solo. The song rather abruptly jumps into a bouncier riff with a solo still going on top of it, then as the solo ends the riff naturally progresses into a heavier and thrashier riff with a more explosive lead phrase on top of it. It keeps going between the heavier riff and the previous one with these short solos on top of it. Despite the heavy focus on guitar wankery it never actually feels wankery in the way progressive metal tends to be. The solos play around in a duet with the thrashy riffs and they naturally accelerate together with the rest of the song.
“Take No Prisoners” on the other hand is just blasting at 110% intensity from the first second to the last. It’s the perfect thrash song. It keeps evolving and blasting you with riffs upon riffs, occasionally giving you a very brief pause that lasts for merely one bar, before blasting off into another riff. It’s like the guitars are having a highway speed dialogue with each other and Mustaine on top. Even this track that is constantly blasting at full speed manages to feel like a journey that keeps evolving. It never feels like a riff salad. The riffs progress in a way where two riffs are essentially interacting with each other and slowly getting more and more compressed towards each other, becoming separate by less bars until they burst into a different riff that’s derivative of the previous ones. This happens multiple times throughout the song. Just when you thought the riff at 0:38 is gonna be the main riff of this song (it kind of is), and it is a bouncy and intense thrash riff, the guitars suddenly run down the neck at max speed into a sort of groovy rock intermission riff, before exploding into an even faster riff that is made of power chords and rock n’ roll inspired licks on the lower strings with Mustaine singing every 2nd bar. The song continues into yet another riff from a similar style, and then changes it up a bit. The bouncy pseudo main riff returns towards the end just before evolving into an outro riff with solos on top of it. This song never lets go and is has no filler seconds in it, it’s perfect.
The following “Five Magics” starts with a much needed breather in the form of a bass intro that goes into the eerie sort of riffage Mustaine occasionally has, like on the intro to The Conjuring, sort of reminiscent of Sabbath but not too much. After a rather long 2 minute intro the song goes into a basic thrashy chugging riff with solos overlayed on it, and you remember that this is still Rust in Peace. The riff is suddenly broken up by a previous riff from the intro, with a slower solo on top. The solo isn’t too eerie sounding like the riff but isn’t as bombastic as the ones on before. The riff develops slightly before a heavy thrashing riff smashes into it, slowly beginning to escalate in a chord progression vaguely similar to the intro riff. The song keeps escalating introducing some galloping riffage, bridged by a drumless riff into yet another haunting solo piece that keeps going on top of a speedy thrashing riff as it occasionally is semi-interrupted by a galloped riff synced with the drums, until the end.
“Poison Was The Cure” starts again with a bass intro, building up into speedy-groovy Megadeth riffage by way of a temporary generic chugging riff. The fast riff is again beautifully halted for brief moments in the signature Megadeth way for Mustaine to sing using heavy drums and rhythmic power chords. It immediately goes into an escalating chord progression into a short release and further signature Megadeth escalation that reminds of “Looking Down the Cross” and “In My Darkest Hour”. The last 30 seconds have a solo overlayed on top as the chords keep escalating into a final release.
“Lucretia” is probably the weak point of the album, and is more mid-paced in its entirety. Or at least compared to the rest of the album. It starts with the same sort of riff as the intro of “Five Magics” and “The Conjuring”, before going into a mid-paced bouncy riff interluded with the intro again. It is followed by a climbing and descending riff in the vein of Take No Prisoners but much slower (so more akin to KIMB). The band goes on to play solos on top of a chord progression that’s vaguely based on the intro riff that ends up not going anywhere nor escalate like the rest of this album loves to do. It’s a decent track but misses the key ingredient of speed and the edge the rest of the album has.
“Tornado of Souls”, one of the more well known tracks and a track that has one of the most famous solos in metal, starts with a nice pinch harmonic based riff that goes into an escalating single note riff and into a chugged power chord version of that same riff. Despite also being a mid paced song like the previous one it feels a lot more impactfull in the deliverance of the groovy riffs and vocal lines. The song goes through the verse-chorus loop before again playing the intro riff, into a melodic progression that is reminiscent of Iron Maiden, and could be seen as proto-melodeath, and on to the solo. It starts out slow and bendy, progressing into a tapping section with lots of tremelo picking and some short sweep picking. This solo is a bit on the long part and is never split up or really interacts with the rhythmic guitar in an interesting way, but is a very formidable guitar solo as it stands. The song ends with the chorus riff repeated, but without the chorus being sun, as Megadeth are aware that repeating choruses too much is lame.
The final song is separated from the rest of the album with Dawn Patrol, a short bass intermission that is longer than the intros of tracks 4 and 5, with Mustaine spookily speaking over it about humanity’s doom.
“Rust In Peace… Polaris” is the culmination of all before, this time starting with a bouncy drum intro that advances into a dialogue between the drums and the guitars into a short lead that naturally turns into the main riff, which is of the signature groovy Megadeth variety, akin to the KIMB title track main riff. The riffs progress together with Mustaine’s singing into a beautiful groovy way adding slide-bend note pairs similar to what happened on “Hangar 18”, into the chorus which has multiple sections, going from a power chord progression into an up-and-down riff. After repeating the verse chorus sections, the song bursts into a heavier thrash riff that is derivative of the intro, and again shows the constantly escalation that stops briefly for short phrases and keeps going as the song ends on a burst.
Unlike their main peers, Metallica, there are no songs that drag on for too long (think 7-8 minutes). Songs like “Holy Wars” and “Hangar 18” feel longer than they are because they have so much in them and develop constantly without mundanely going back to the chorus just for the sake of it. Imagine how lame it would be if after “Hangar 18” escalates into thrashing/soloing insanity, Dave goes back to singing “Hangar 18 I know too much”. It would be so lame writing this induces embarrassment.
Another thing this album shows, as do a lot of the more extreme metal classics, is how pointless and frankly shit of a genre progressive metal is, seeing as this achieves being progressive without pointless noodling and wankery, or inferior songwriting.