Welcome to the first installment of Manny’s Magical Genre Guide. The idea here is to provide a primer for people that are interested in getting into thrash but haven’t really ever taken the time to get a proper foundation. Through my own history with metal, a bunch of research and talking to some people that are well versed in the subject, I put together this compact genre guide. What it should provide is self-conscious-free learning about metal genres that more people should be aware of. Basically, I do the research and you reap the benefits. In our first installment we are going to hit up Metal’s awesome roots: Thrash.
So how this works is that once a quarter (every three months) I will pick a genre to delve into. When we run out of main genres we can delve into sub-genres and, eventually, geographical specifics of each sub-genre. Each offering will provide there categories: roots, second-tier and current. First we will examine five seminal, foundation albums of the genre. Next we will look a bit deeper into the genre at a few second-tier favorites. Finally, I will make a few recommendations for what’s going on in that genre today. So, let’s delve into some thrash metal.
Warning: Thrash usually induces vicious headbanging so please make sure you are properly stretched out before proceeding.
Thrash metal is one of the earliest forms of what we know today as “extreme” metal and was quite popular at one time. Growing out of British punk and hardcore, thrash exploded in the early 1980s as a reaction to glam rock. Eschewing feathered hair and tight pants, thrash bands threw caution to the wind and wrote straight-forward, blazing metal with characteristically shreddy soloing and equally shreddy falsetto vocals. Interestingly, when it comes down to talking about pure heavy metal, thrash is usually what people end up talking about, but it’s not true heavy metal roots; it’s an off shoot of bands like Black Sabbath, Diamond Head, Iron Maiden and Queen. It’s likely that you will know at least three of the first five albums we are going to talk about in the roots section but they are nonetheless crucial to the discussion.
Metallica – Master of Puppets (1986): This is probably the most important metal album ever recorded. It’s in almost everyone’s collection regardless of what kind of music you enjoy. But, it’s still, at its root, a thrash album (albeit it with progressive aspects). Say what you will about Metallica’s post 1988 output, even the snootiest of Pitchfork reviewers would be forced to give Metallica’s first four albums a perfect 10 or suffer the consequences. And those first four have now been remastered for your aural pleasure.
Slayer – Reign in Blood (1986): For many metal fans Slayer’s early output would be on par (or even ahead of) Metallica’s. They are second here simply because I’m not one of those people. Slayer wrote some of the absolute best, most basic thrash metal on the planet. And, unlike Metallica, they have at least five early albums that are top notch. Reign in Blood is their third album and likely their masterpiece. Produced by none other than Rick Rubin himself, Reign in Blood was controversial, loud and in your face. Pretty much everything metal is about.
Megadeth – Rust in Peace (1990): This was going to be the 1985 release Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! but then Nick Manza passed away and I had to switch it to his be. Of course, the drummer on Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good!, Gar Samuelson, also passed away back in 1999. Dave Mustaine eventually put his issues with his former band (Metallica) behind him and got back to the business of writing killer thrash. Luckily, for Rust in Peace, Megadeth didn’t blow the production budget on booze and drugs. The result was an absolute thrash masterpiece. While Mustaine may be more useful as clickbait today than he is a guitarist/composer, there was a time where he had every opportunity to rock the metal crown.
Anthrax – Among the Living (1987): Full disclosure, this album is here because to make this guide and not include Anthrax would be criminal. It has nothing to do with my personal preference. Guitarist, Scott Ian might be the single most recognizable face in the history of heavy metal due to his personality and wit. Founded in New York City in 1981, Among the Living was Anthrax’s third studio release and their signature album. The album has since made numerous lists as a “must own” thrash album. For those inclined to positive partying and gang vocals, Anthrax will be just the remedy you seek.
Testament – The Legacy (1987): In reality, a dozen or so albums could have filled this spot (and a few of those will be in the next section). Testament’s debut album is cleverly titled to pay homage to their prior incantation as a band known as Legacy. While bowing to pressure from a jazz act to change their name might not be the most “metal” thing they could do, luckily Testament put out music to back up their metal cred. The Legacy is a raw album with production better only than the Megadeth album above. But, for all it’s raw, treble heavy sound, The Legacy also sets the foundation for what is easily one of America’s best thrash bands.
Kreator – Endless Pain (1985): Germany had it’s own big four when it comes to their thrash movement (known as Teutonic thrash) but that’s another discussion for another one of these adventures. Representing Germany in this post is Kreator, possibly one of the most diverse and influential bands to ever grace the metal scene. So why not start at the beginning? Endless Pain, like it’s followup Pleasure to Kill, also features drummer Ventor on lead vocals (for some tracks) and man do both of those albums rip. So check out their debut below and then take a spin through Kreator’s career. New album due out in 2017!
Overkill – Horrorscope (1991): If this album had come out even two years earlier Overkill would have forced the big four to make room for a fifth. (Coincidentally, Horrorscope is Overkill’s fifth studio release.) Their prior releases are also brilliant although, Horrorscope is a touch above—more of a complete work from the group despite the departure of Bobby Gustafson (although it took two to replace him). Interestingly enough, Overkill might have put out the strongest album of any band on this list after 2009. Their modern catalog is exceptional. They are a band very worthy of delving into completely.
Dark Angel – Darkness Descends (1986): As far as raw power, aggression and violence go, it’s very hard to beat LA’s Dark Angel. Unfortunately nicknamed “the L.A. Caffeine Machine” (why LA? WHY!?), Dark Angel are relentless in their pace and fury and no album better displays that better than Darkness Descends. Now on what is their third reunion tour (after some vocal issues and a 1992 breakup) Dark Angel continues to delight fans with their balls to the wall live show.
Forbidden – Twisted into Form (1990): OK. So Forbidden might not have the greatest overall career of any band on this list. Their first two LP’s, both with founding vocalist Russ Anderson, are absolutely phenomenal. And, you might find more serious thrash fans pushing their debut, Forbidden Evil, on you than their sophomore release that I am pushing here. In reality, they are both worthy of your time and attention. Anderson’s unique delivery and ability to nearly melodically rap the lyrics while annunciating with rhythmic punctuality makes Forbidden a completely radical, catchy experience. Pay special attention to the interplay between the guitar solos and Anderson’s falsetto vocals.
Nuclear Assault – Handle With Care (1989): This is one of those bands where every fan has a story about “the time they got to meet them.” And, without fail, that story is positive, warm and reassuring. Hell, as recently as 2014 Nuclear Assault had a mailing list, a physical mailing list, to send souvenirs to fans. Talk about never losing touch! Well they also kick a whole bunch of butt as a thrash outfit. Handle With Care is the third album by the American band and their highest ranking (Billboard-wise) to date. When it comes to thrash albums not released by the big four (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax) Handle With Care is an all-timer.
Feeling a bit like you missed the boat? Don’t! Thrash hasn’t gone anywhere (physically speaking) since it’s inception in the 1980s. People are still playing the same style of equipment and banging out some hard hitting craziness. A band not discussed above is Sepultura and, while it’s an argument that they are more specialized than merely thrash, they influenced a whole bunch of Latin American thrash acts (some of whom are featured below). The point is: thrash metal is a global phenomenon.
With that in mind, here are a few acts currently killing it:
Ripper – Experiment of Existence (2016): Speaking of Latin America, Chile is home to newcomers Ripper. Now with two full lengths under their belt, Ripper are poised to make a massive breakthrough thanks to their brilliant 2016 release, Experiment of Existence. With just a touch of death metal sprinkled throughout, Ripper’s brand of thrash is uncompsomisingly barabrous and cutthroat. If this is what the future looks like then sign me right up.
Deathhammer – Evil Power (2015): Norway has always had quite a metal scene. But a thrash scene? Their thing was always more progressive, viking and black metal. But, bands like Deathhammer, now in their tenth year, are paying homage to the roots of thrash while updating the themes to include more negative, satanic and generally dark lyrics. But, whatever the lyrical theme, Sergeant Salsten’s vocals are a very welcome throwback to the days of falsetto vibrato.
Inculter – Persisting Devolution (2015): Also hailing from Norway, and ranging between the ages of young and younger, Inculter take no prisoners and hold nothing sacred. Their no holds barred version of thrash leans towards the blackened thrash monicker but it still is, at its foundation, thrash metal. These little guys are part of a very promising future.
Municipal Waste – Massive Aggressive (2007): Frontman Ryan Waste is likely one of the most knowledgable thrash conneisseurs on the planet. The Richmond, VA based band culls influences from across the board to produce what is essentially a crossover style of thrash. Waste’s other project BAT is another great example of some crossover speed metal (thrash influenced) that is being bandied about in the modern age.
Speedtrap – Straight Shooter (2015): Coming all the way form the frigid north (Lappeenranta, Finland) Speedtrap are primarily a speed metal band dealing with classic heavy metal influences. But, as such, they make a great example of some of the directions in which thrash is spreading nowadays. Speedtrap is a genuinely fun band put together by some guys that truly love heavy metal.
Vektor – Terminal Redux (2016): I know I said only five in each category but it’s hard to resist throwing these guys in here. So… BONUS. They are near faultless in their production of updated thrash metal. These Americans keep it 100% real, 100% progressive and literally nothing ever goes wrong. Although the second American band in this mix, they present a much different take on thrash metal (more technical and progressive) than the aforementioned Municipal Waste. So, if this is your thing, there are boatloads of progressive thrash bands out there for you to enjoy. Just ask!
And thus concludes our very first edition of Manny’s Magical Genre Guide. This is a judgment free zone (at least unilaterally). The hope is that if you’re curious about thrash, this should be a great jumping off point. Please feel free to find us on twitter (@_ninecircles) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) suggestions for the next edition and please feel free to join in the discussion in the comments section. Suggest your favorite thrash metal albums. Metal is about making friends (or at least it can be if we want it to).