Essential Series - 2017 Thrash Metal Vol 1

DaveTDaveT Buenos Aires, Argentina
edited June 7 in Essential Series

ARTICLE: The Essential Series - Thrash Metal (Volume 1), by Dtabachn
YEAR: 2017



Thrash Metal was the most extreme form of music in the mid 80's. It still is in a way today, albeit through more contemporary relatives like Black and Death Metal. Its roots can be simplified by the formula New Wave Of British Heavy Metal + Hardcore Punk. However, it is much more than that.

Perfunctorily, we can talk about something forged as an alloy of British influences such as Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Saxon and Diamond Head plus the likes of the Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, TSOL and Agnostic Front among others.

But who can deny, on the one hand, the either direct or indirect impact caused by American bands such as Kiss, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, and Blue Oyster Cult on proto thrashers.

Or the influence of guitar heroes Uli Jon Roth, Michael Schenker, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Ace Frehley and Ted Nugent on the other hand.

Moreover, songs like Deep Purple's 'Fireball' or 'Highway Star' and Queen's 'Stone Cold Crazy' are said to have pioneered the movement.

Thrash is the realm of impressive fast tempos, galloping helicopter-like guitars, percussive muted rhythms, lava-like distortion, desperate shouted and sometimes guttural vocals, and last but not least double kick, cymbal chokes, and sheer rimshots.

It is also the home of gifted guitarists Alex Skolnick, Marty Friedman, Chris Poland and Jeff Waters, and some of the most amazing drummers such as Dave Lombardo, Charlie Benante, Gene Hoglan and the unforgettable Gar Samuelson and Nick Menza.

This is a mix of essential and favorite albums organized by release dates. I had a blast putting the article together. Enjoy and share your comments.

The Albums


Exciter - 1983 Heavy Metal Maniac

This Canadian power trio from Ottawa is responsible for one of the most throbbing debuts ever. Considered by some as more speed metal than thrash and in some instances sounding as more accelerated and updated NWOBM, it is however influential to the point that many thrash bands wouldn't have existed without this milestone.

'Stand Up And Fight', the proud title track, 'Under Attack', 'Rising Of The Dead' and 'Cry Of The Banshee' are living proof of guitar pyrotechnics and piercing vocals, the latter provided by singer-drummer extraordinaire Dan Beehler.

Other recommended albums: Violence & Force (1984), Long Live The Loud (1985)


Metallica - 1983 Kill 'Em All

Considered the first thrash metal album of all time, the fact is up for debate. Undeniable is that all the elements that characterize thrash as a unique genre are already here, all together for the first time.

The relentless energy, the wall of riffing and the aggressive vocals soak up early thrash gems such as opener 'Hit The Lights', 'Motorbreath', 'Whiplash', 'Metal Militia', and genre-defining classics 'The Four Horsemen' (rewritten as 'Mechanix' by Megadeth in 1985) and 'Seek & Destroy'.

Metallica developed their own style in their following two albums, releasing what arguably are their best releases, but this is where it all started.

Other recommended albums: Ride The Lightning (1984), Master Of Puppets (1986)


Anthrax - 1984 Fistful Of Metal

Anthrax's debut was heavily influenced by the NWOBM in general and especially Judas Priest. However, fueled by Charlie Benante's superhuman drumming, Neil Turbin's aggressive vocals and headbanging-sized guitars, it turned into a thrasher's delight. The crossover leanings and Joey Belladonna's melodic-powerful pipes were yet to come.

Still, this is as genuine as thrash was back in 1983, year zero for the genre (and the year this was recorded). There was some room for improvement in the production department, a fact that was more than offset by firecrackers like 'Panic', 'Metal Thrashing Mad', 'Deathrider' and 'Subjugator'. The first East Coast thrash classic.

Other recommended albums: Among The Living (1987) Spreading The Disease (1985)


Exodus - 1985 Bonded By Blood

This is a true underground classic, raw, primitive and abrasive. The chopper-sounding guitars and the non-stop pounding are to be found everywhere, with a special mention to the twin lead-rhythm guitar work.

Recorded in a mere two-week timeframe and ready for release by mid 1984, it got delayed due to their label's admin issues as well as tape leaking issues, according to guitarist Gary Holt (yes, that used to happen way before the Internet).

This is the only Exodus-fronted Paul Baloff's studio recording, and his fiery vocals, although an acquired taste for some listeners, gives the album its unique appeal.

Hugely influential on both Death and Black Metal circles, 'Bonded By Blood' is an essential listening to truly understand the thrash movement.

Other recommended albums: Fabulous Disaster (1989), Another Lesson In Violence (1997).


Megadeth - 1986 Peace Sells, But Who's Buying

Notwithstanding the masterpiece that is 'Rust In Peace', this is my personal favorite Megadeth album. Metallica's output by 1986 was monolithic, whereas Megadeth's style incorporated nuances such as shocking, vital rhythm changes, surprising guitar solos and jazzy drum feels into its early technical thrash vocabulary.

The bottom end provided by Dave 'Junior' Ellefson and the great late Gar Samuelson (who built some of the most creative double kick patterns with only just one foot) is always reliable and sometimes superb, like the title track signature intro or 'Devil's Island'.

Mustaine's cynical sharp lyrics helped shape classics like 'Wake Up Dead' and the aforementioned 'Peace Sells', the latter being the first music video ever for a thrash band, and what a classic shot it was. Essential listening that has aged amazingly well.

Other recommended albums: Rust In Peace (1990), 'Killing Is My Business. And Business Is Good' (1985)


Annihilator - 1989 Alice In Hell

Canada's Annihilator is in fact Jeff Waters' creature as he wrote all songs and performed all guitars and bass.

Waters was even offered the guitar slot in Megadeth by a certain Dave Mustaine who acknowledged Jeff's talent. Waters put his brainchild ahead of fame and fortune.

The album, whose title is a joke on 'Alice in Wonderland', is a lesson on technical thrash much more accessible than, say, Watchtower.

The main track 'Alison Hell' - based on a true story, is the vehicle for Waters arpeggios and complex guitar journey while the cleverly named Randy Rampage's vocals sit in between Savatage's Jon Oliva and King Diamond.

Other rampant (no pun intended) offerings are 'Human Insecticide', 'Burns Like A Buzzsaw Blade' and the poignant acoustic piece 'Crystal Ann'. A superb debut.

Other recommended albums: Never, Neverland (1990)


Death Angel - 1990 Act III

Can a thrash band actually evolve, incorporate new elements, grow up as musicians and subtly get rid of the 'Thrash Metal' label without compromising?

Act III is the answer. After the exceptional classic thrash of 1987's Metallica-influenced debut 'The Ultra-Violence' and the brilliant-yet-transitional sophomore 'Frolic Through The Park', Act III is Death Angel's masterpiece IMO.

Produced by Max Norman (Ozzy, Megadeth), the fury and the speed were still there, joined by the right dozes of funk, harmonies (4 out of 5 members were potential singers) and acoustic ventures, the latter recorded even before the unplugged rage started with Tesla's 'Five Man Acoustical Jam' and not far from the likes of 'Led Zeppelin III' ('Veil Of Deception) and Rush circa 'A Farewell To Kings' ('A Room With a View').

Stunning release by lads whose ages ranged, at that time, from 17 to 20. Unfortunately, a tour-bus accident prevented Death Angel from being part of the Clash of The Titans tour along with the 'Big Four' (minus Metallica, as they were not part of any of the legs of that 1990/91 tour), and put their career on hold up until 2001's reunion.

Other recommended albums: The Ultra-Violence (1987)


Artillery - 1990 By Inheritance

Artillery are, in a way, a well-kept secret. Thrash pioneers since their 1982 demo 'We Are The Dead' and Denmark's metal finest along with the likes of Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, they fully realized their sound (helped by fellow-countryman producer Flemming Rasmussen, of Metallica fame) and songwriting in this fantastic third effort.

There's a Hindu/Arabic atmosphere to the tunes that sits beautifully between the galloping and some intricate passages of technical thrash. The singing has become refined but yet aggressive and the dual-guitar-harmonies shine throughout the ten songs.

The smart social/political-related lyrics are another asset. A perfect album for the uninitiated as a first approach to the genre's beauties.

Other recommended albums: Terror Squad (1987)


Slayer - 1990 Seasons In The Abyss

Whether 1986's 'Reign In Blood' is the best thrash album of all time or not is up for debate. I could have chosen either 'Reign..' or my personal favorite, the Venom-on-steroids+Punk excellent debut 'Show No Mercy'.

The musicianship and the songwriting had developed through the band's first four full-lengths. In 'Seasons', Slayer found the right balance between the aggression and the melodies.

Driven by Dave Lombardo's out of this world skins, songs like the storming 'War Ensemble', the more melodic 'Dead Skin Mask' (inspired by serial murderer Ed Gein) and the haunting title track - Slayer's first ever music video, are clear examples of a perfect synthesis.

On a personal note, seeing them live around the early 90's was a real treat, albeit a bleeding experience for the ears of the not-so-used to this kind of mayhem around me.

Other recommended albums: Show No Mercy (1983), Reign In Blood (1986)


Sepultura - 1991 Arise

Produced by Scott Burns and recorded at the legendary death metal factory of Morrisound Studios in Tampa, this is the pinnacle of Brazilian greats Sepultura.

A revered album in both Thrash and Death Metal circles, the songs and the crystal-clear production perfected all that had already been hinted at for 1989's astonishing 'Beneath The Remains'.

Max Cavalera's caveman monotonic yet vibrant grunt, his brother's Igor thundering drumming and Andreas Kisser torrid riffs, all found their place into this Slayer-meets-Motorhead 90's classic.

Sepultura moved onto Groove Metal pastures in subsequent efforts 'Chaos A.D.' and 'Roots', adding some ethnic elements to the mix. 'Arise' (the song) music video was censored by MTV back in the day 'because of its apocalypse oriented religious imagery'.

Other recommended albums: Beneath The Remains (1989)

In Summary

This is a tribute to a sometimes underestimated musical movement (interestingly, just like most of 80's Metal is undeservedly bashed these days) that, nonetheless, requires high musical and technical proficiency to be performed.

Thrash Metal is also the ancestor of Black Metal, Death Metal and Groove Metal (where Pantera sits). When I started writing the article, I realized I could cherry-pick ten albums just out of the 'Big Four' (Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth) discographies. All recordings mentioned as 'recommended' could have also made it to the list.

Last, but certainly not least, I would like to mention some bands and albums that rightfully deserve being part of any serious list on the subject: Testament ('The Legacy', The New Order'), Dark Angel ('Darkness Descends'), the 'German Big Four' (Kreator, Sodom, Destruction and Tankard plus my favorites Exumer), Possessed ('Seven Churches'), Violence ('Eternal Nightmare'), Overkill, Nuclear Assault, Flotsam & Jetsam, Voivod, Coroner, Forbidden and many more. Again, have fun as I did and share your comments.

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