Essential Series - 2019 Thrash Metal Vol 2

edited November 2020 in Essential Series

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ARTICLE: The Essential Series - Thrash Metal Volume 2, by Dangerzone
YEAR: 2019

Background

Two years ago Dave compiled a list of essential thrash albums, many of which you wouldn't usually read about here. I promised back then to compile a Volume Two and although it's taken a while, I've finally got around to it.

Long time readers will be aware of my fondness for thrash, having jotted down various reviews here over the years, mostly comprised of Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax reviews. I recall interviewing Gary Holt of Exodus, Frank Bello of Anthrax, and Slayer many moons ago also.

Most of these albums would be included in many top ten lists and the inclusion of three Slayer albums to me seems necessary in the context of 'essential' albums.

Picking just ten is almost impossible of course and there could be a dozen volumes, but at that point the 'essential' tag would become worthless wouldn't it? Still there's room for maybe one or two more.

Regardless, here is a compilation of albums I have found indispensable over the decades, ones I still play with regularity to this day.


The Albums

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Megadeth - 1990 Rust In Peace

For my money the best Megadeth album and one Dave Mustaine has never come close to equalling. My review of the album here summed my thoughts up comprehensively, but the manic aggression, crazed time signatures and speed have rarely been matched by any band. It was the first appearance of Marty Friedman and Nick Menza in the band and a lineup that would last most of the decade, to ever declining musical effect. It's all been said before, but one of the greatest moments in thrash history, the key tracks being all of side one, 'Poison Was The Cure' and the title track. It simply doesn't get any better.

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Megadeth - Poison Was The Cure


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Sepultura - 1989 Beneath The Remains

Dave beat me to 1991's 'Arise' which for me is the definitive Sepultura album and one of the best of all time. Close behind is their 1989 breakthrough, which put the Brazilians on the map permanently. A pummeling, non-stop thrash assault, this sounds just as good as the day it was released. Following the album, Sepultura started being mentioned in the same breath as the 'Big Four' and with good reason. It's as heavy as thrash gets, with one of the best drum sounds ever recorded. It's a shame the Max Cavalera era lineup fell apart the way it did, but in reality, they would never better this or 'Arise.'

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Sepultura - Inner Self


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Slayer - 1994 Divine Intervention

In the pantheon of Slayer albums 'Divine Intervention' is usually overlooked. It came after an absence of several years, with Paul Bostaph replacing Dave Lombardo, who many thought irreplaceable. That wasn't the case, as Slayer unleashed one of the heaviest, ugliest and ferocious albums ever committed to disc. I'll never forget hearing this for the first time and wondering what hit me. The musical landscape Slayer produced here is so dirty and brutal, it's almost unmatched. I must have listened to it thousands of times over the years, the likes of 'Killing Fields' 'SS-3', 'Mind Control', 'Dittohead' and 'Circle Of Beliefs' the cream of the crop. One day people will look back at this period in history and wonder what was going on to influence music like this being created. That's how crazed it is.

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Slayer - Killing Fields


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Pantera - 1994 Far Beyond Driven

Is this a true thrash album? Maybe not, but it has the attitude and brutality down to a fine art. Pantera was easily one of the biggest metal bands of the 90's and the fact this album went to number one proved just how massive they'd become. This album defines 90's metal, with the band's heaviest and maniacal work, both musically and lyrically. How they came to this point seems incredible, given their origins, but this has stood the test of time and is as punishing as it was in 1994. The speed-driven moments of 'Strength Beyond Strength' and Use My Third Arm' are on Slayer levels, with 'Slaughtered' 'Throes Of Rejection' and 'Five Minutes Alone' close behind. Just a vicious, uncompromising slab of metal, which defines an era like few others.

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Pantera - I'm Broken


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Exodus - 1987 Pleasures Of The Flesh

Dave rightfully included Exodus' classic 1985 debut 'Bonded By Blood' in his list, but I've always favored its follow up, with Steve DeSouza making his first appearance on vocals. This is an underrated thrash classic that is always overlooked, something I fail to understand. To be specific, the likes of 'Deranged', 'Faster Than You'll Ever Live to Be', 'Seeds Of Hate' and 'Choose Your Weapon' are the best thrash tracks the band ever penned, if only to me. The mid-tempo tracks also work and the band is on fire throughout. Exodus really suffered with the vocalist change and delay in putting out product to compete with Metallica, Slayer etc. Otherwise, they'd have been right up there, instead of the perennial championship outfit they became.

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Exodus - Deranged


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Anthrax - 1985 Spreading The Disease

I reviewed this here some years back and for me it still stands as Anthrax's finest thrash era album and one of the best of the 80's. Many would cite 'Among The Living' from 1987 as their defining thrash moment, but I feel this breakthrough album captures the energy, vitality and heaviness Anthrax possessed from the beginning. The addition of Joey Belladonna certainly helped, giving an impetus to the material. Every song is a classic, 'A.I.R', 'Gung Ho', 'Madhouse', 'Armed and Dangerous', you can't go wrong with any of them. The youthful exuberance of the band is impossible to ignore, a thrash statement for the ages.

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Anthrax - Madhouse


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Metallica - 1984 Ride The Lightning

Originally I had '…And Justice For All' penciled in for this list, but in all fairness ignoring 'Ride The Lightning' is impossible. It took me a long time to appreciate this album in my younger years, but the influence and sheer impact of the album is staggering. The leaps made by the band in one year defies belief and what I find fascinating is this isn't a full-on thrash album at all, with almost progressive and slower moments like 'The Call of Ktulu' and 'Fade To Black.' The opening onslaught of 'Fight Fire With Fire' is where it's at however and try finding a more advanced thrash approach than this in 1984. There's no way. Naturally every track is a classic and it seemed the race had already been won that early in the game. Many would cite 'Master Of Puppets' as their definitive statement, but for me this is why Metallica are undisputed legends.

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Metallica - Trapped Under Ice


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Slayer - 1986 Reign In Blood

There were moments when I almost decided not to include this in my list, due to two other Slayer albums being here, but let's face it, this helped redefine thrash to what it continues to be today. Slayer truly hit their stride here after two fairly crude albums by comparison. It's all been said before, but the 28-minute assault Slayer conjured here is still amazing to this day. It hasn't aged at all. The speed is devastating, the combination of the dual guitar attack of Hanneman and King reaching critical mass. Lombardo's drumming catapulted him to another level, making tracks like 'Reign In Blood', 'Altar Of Sacrifice', 'Raining Blood' and 'Criminally Insane' sound like the work of total madmen.

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Slayer - Raining Blood


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Slayer - 1988 South Of Heaven

The third Slayer inclusion is one that many people have disregarded over the years, accused as an average response to 1986's 'Reign In Blood.' Nothing could be further from the truth. I have listened to this hundreds more times, finding the mixture of slower and faster tracks more satisfying stylistically. Slayer realized they couldn't make a carbon copy of the previous album, but managed to retain the heaviness and then some. For me tracks like 'Silent Scream', 'Live Undead', 'Ghosts Of War' and 'Cleanse The Soul' represent Slayer at their thrash best, with more measured classics like the title track, 'Mandatory Suicide' and 'Read Between The Lies' just as forceful. I could do without 'Spill The Blood' but that's a minor complaint. This is an album which defined just how great Slayer had become, masters of their craft.

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Slayer - South Of Heaven


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Kreator - 1992 Renewal

Now for a bit of controversy. Kreator are undoubtedly among the most premier European thrash acts, their 80's work considered the most influential in the genre. Why has it always left me lifeless and bored then? Something was always missing to me, the melodic aesthetic of the U.S. acts perhaps. But in 1992 they struck with the modern sounding 'Renewal' and its industrial thrash tinge. This album is stark and brutal, redefining the band for a new decade. Main man Mille Petrozza knew he had to change and tracks like 'Winter Martyrium', 'Brainseed', 'Zero To None' and 'Europe After The Rain' display a warped menace, bruising thrash containing a level of satisfaction I've never gained from the rest of their work. Obscure? Perhaps, but certainly a must-hear.

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Kreator - Renewal


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Comments

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    You could've had all five Slayer albums from 85-94 in this list and I wouldn't have said a word against it. No thrash band comes close to the level of consistency they maintained for close to a decade, they really were/are the ultimate masters of thrash. And a shout out to Lombardo's drumming on Reign In Blood while I'm at it. Has any drummer laid it down as hard and brutal as that? They say John Bonham is the king of hard hitters, but If Lombardo and him were prison cellmates then good old John would be his punk, pure and simple as that.
  • Options
    I've been listening to 'Hell Awaits' quite a bit recently and that definitely belongs in the list. It's true the production wasn't quite there yet, but it doesn't get any faster or heavier for 85. If I made another list that would be in there, along with SOD, the first Carnivore album and maybe a Dark Angel album. Too many to pick from. It has to be said however that the likes of Testament, Overkill and the like don't make the cut.
  • Options
    Yeah, I've been overdosing on all five albums from 85 to 94 the last couple of weeks, playing them in order, one after the other, and Hell Awaits is definitely a great way to kickstart the trip. I can't think of any other band laying it down so relentlessly grim, gory and relentless in that timeframe. There was the odd hardcore band out there laying down grind like stuff which was out there for the time, only thing is, unlike Slayer those bands didn't have the melody to go along with the speed and heaviness. You listen to that stuff and after three or four songs you've had enough, are bored by the lack of hooks to sink your teeth into. Also a lot of those bands were only really good for one album or a couple of ep's. But Slayer, man. They kept up a standard of thrash excellence for close to a decade, five classics in a row. The only other band I can think of near that level is Pantera from 1990 - 2000. They might not be true thrash band in the technical sense, but every album had enough top class thrashers for them to be considered up there with Slayer.
  • Options
    As for Testament, Overkill, and all those lot. Yeah, they don't make the cut, man. Those bands have always remained true to the cause, but for every decent album there's three or four duds in the mix. They just don't have the the chops to really hammer down the thrash like a prime Slayer or Megadeth, it generally comes off weak and unfocused in comparison.
    I will say, though, the Testament album from 95, Demonic, that's a true thrash classic. If I was making this list, I'd seriously have to consider having it in there. Man, does that album crush.
  • Options
    Some of those Anthrax albums don't do it either, especially 'State of Euphoria' and 'Persistence of Time.' They fell short on both. By the time they bought Bush in, it was too late.
  • Options
    edited December 2020
    Yeah, I thought the same about Anthrax, Megadeth too. Both bands could lay down proper thrash but they just weren't consistent enough. Metallica came close with their four in a row, true thrash trailblazers. Then you've got all the death metal bands from the late 80s, early 90s, of which I'd say Morbid Angel were the most consistent in the brutal stakes. They had a fairly hot streak from 89 to 95, four good ones in a row, especially Covenant. It's weird when you think about thrash. It's a hard art form to master, probably the hardest out of all the metal genres. I mean, there's plenty of bands who you'd say were masters of heavy metal or death metal, but barely a handful who you'd say have ever mastered thrash, even though thousands of thrash albums have been released since 83. And it's not even something you can easily put your finger on as such, what makes the grade or not. But you just know in your gut when you're hearing the real deal, though thrash speed and the tightness of it are important factors. It's a big reason why Slayer are the thrash kings, their thrash during the prime years was tight as shit and perfectly paced for headbanging. It was wild yet controlled, whereas b division bands like Testament were too loose and fast, they didn't have the knockout factor to beat your brain into submission, at least until they came into their own in the mid 90s, by which time, sadly, no one gave a bloody stuff.
  • Options
    And a shout out to a couple of Euro thrash bands from the early to mid 80s, Bathory and Celtic Frost, who, alongside Slayer, laid down some of the filthiest blackened thrash during the era, for sure. You can't go wrong with
    Bathory's first two albums, or all of Celtic Frost's pre 88 output. Great stuff.
  • Options
    edited December 2020
    Good list - I went to see Slayer in Manchester in 1988 on my own strangely enough as no-one else I knew was into them, I was only 26 and I felt like an old man - loads of younger thrashers there.
  • Options
    Me and Smokey went and saw them back in early 95. Memories are fading fast, but I recall it being the loudest gig I’ve been to. We were starved for shows like that in New Zealand.
  • Options
    dtabachndtabachn Buenos Aires, Argentina
    I saw Slayer supporting Kiss on a South American Monsters Of Rock, September 3 1994.

    I absolutely loved their set with Paul Bostaph on drums. They were so loud even in a 55 thousand people stadium (River Plate, where AC/DC recorded a live album) that I vividly remember shouting 'turn up the volume' when Kiss opened with Creatures Of The Night after Slayer. Loved Kiss show also, by the way.
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    Yeah, that Slayer 95 gig was louder than bloody hell, it deafened me for close to a week. The only band I've seen who could compare to Slayer's sonic nightmare is Motorhead. I saw them at Brixton Academy in either 99 or 2000, was stood just left of centre stage, against the barrier, and the shit coming out of the stacks was just pure noise distortion. They'd start a new song and I'd wonder what the hell it was, I just couldn't make anything out, not even a hoary warhorse like 'Ace Of Spades'. It was a ridiculous state of affairs, man, Spinal Tap like. Cos by the time I did latch onto a lyric or riff the bloody song was over and I was guessing all over again. In the end I gave up trying to figure the songs out and just watched the crusty punks behind me body slamming and throwing plastic cups of booze at the stage. The stuff was flying first minute to last, I walked out of the gig drenched and stinking to high heaven.
  • Options
    I ended up seeing Slayer again in 99 and 04, but neither were a patch on the 95 gig. They’d reached their peak at that point I think.
  • Options
    I saw Slayers first UK gig at the Marquee, back in 1985. All I can remember is that it was loud and hot.
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