Without a doubt the 1980s were the hotbed of heavy metal and out of this golden era there emerged a variety of sub-genres, including my favorite thrash metal. Back then you were really into two camps either you were into underground acts like thrash metal, which soon made their way on the airwaves or you were listening to the glitz and glam of MTV. Really I am just generalizing here because I always liked both camps and the stuff in between, for it is really all heavy metal.
Thrash metal has always been dear to me because of its energy and attitude. The riffs and solos were always something that stood out for me most, it was such a different sound from anything else that was around at the time in the 80s and early 90s. I discovered thrash rather late in its movement but also rather early in my life time. For me it all began one Saturday morning back in 1993 watching Metallica's One on MTV. I was 9 at the time. It felt great the music was both atmospheric but also heavy half way, it was morphing from one thing to another, I was amazed.
I thought long and hard about compiling a list that reflects my tastes but also that adds an element of objectivity. It is a bit hard to not be biased but my intention was to share some of the bands that shaped my tastes in metal as well as remind readers of the glorious movement of yesteryear. There were many great bands and albums, not all could be mentioned here. The list is also about featuring lesser known acts as well as underrated albums for it should also contain something new (yet old) that readers may not know about.
There are some notable exceptions like Exodus or albums like Master of Puppets but if you are wondering it partly intentional as well, rather than making the same ol top 10 lists you find on any other website I thought I would compile something slightly unique. I must give credit to Retrojunk and various articles found on here for my inspiration, especially those articles featuring old school video games some of which I had never played or heard of so props go to all of you who wrote about that.
On a sad note, thrash metal unfortunately no longer exists in the form it once did. By the early-mid 90s when I began listening to the thrash the movement had ceased and had perhaps exhausted itself with an oversaturated scene. There have since been various permutations and off-shots blending various genres but none have captured the sound as it once was. In more recent times there has been a trend of bands reforming to their older line-ups or simply getting back together under a different line-up of musicians. Bands such as Exodus and Destruction have made solid come backs, releasing new albums on a regular basis and drawing newer fans to their music. There remain countless bands in the underground however who play this style of music and I applaud them for their efforts at keeping this genre alive in their own communities. While thrash may have faded out there are also several remaining bands from the original scene that have kept the fire burning such as Overkill, Testament, Sodom to name a few.
I hope you enjoy this top 10 list and I also hope there is something new here for you to check out too.
10. Metallica - Ride the Lightning, 1984 Megaforce
A band that needs no introduction and a name that has become synonymous with thrash metal but also with old time fans decrying Metallica as a sell out for their stylistic change. Whether you love them or loath them I think all can agree that this album is a staple thrash metal album blending various shades of aggressive riffing and melody. It simply has it, from the blazing apocalyptic opener Fight Fire with Fire to skull crushing numbers like Trapped Under Ice, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Creeping Death to haunting tracks like Fade to Black and Call of Ktulu, there that's about the whole album - ok so I didn't mention Escape and the title track - oh there we go I just did.
9. Sodom - Agent Orange, 1988 Steamhammer
Part of the teutonic trio, completed by Kreator and Destruction, Sodom have paved a warmongering thrash metal career for themselves. While in the early part of the 80s the band were playing to a more adrenalized and rawer version of Venom meets Slayer, by the time of Agent Orange the band had progressed and opened up to a varried selection of riffing and tempo changes. Agent Orange was a the break thru album for Sodom, it gets check marks for perfect timing, released at the peak of the thrash metal genre, and great musicianship blending fast riffs ala-Slayer with various mid tempo moments and more chugg-infused riffing. That's basically what I like about the album, it's not over the top yet it also gives the listener and taste of everything from the classic title-track opener to up n go songs like Magic Dragon.
8. Slayer - Show No Mercy, 1983 Metal Blade
When it comes to Slayer many will point to albums such as Reign in Blood or Seasons in the Abyss, while popular and classic thrash metal choices my personal preference has always been the fast and raw debut. Show No Mercy is one of the most underrated slabs of early thrash metal history, sure it lacks that traditional flat Slayer sound but the raw sound of marshall amps, screaming guitars mixing the likes of Venom and Maiden and silly comic book like lyrics is perfect for me. What the album has is atmosphere. Slayer may not have found their own style yet but the songs sounded like this sonic wave drilling out from the core of the earth.
7. Sepultura - Arise, 1991 Roadrunner
Hailing from Brazil, Sepultura had been causing head concussions for a number of years with their thrash assault. While Arise seems like a more restrained effort than earlier efforts it is nevertheless a classic piece of thrash. To me this album is a master piece of aggressive thrash, blending haunting atmospheric elements with crushing everything from frenzy drumming to those infectious riffs and killer solos. Every singe song here is a stand out. Sure there are the concert staples Arise, Dead Embryonic Cells and Desperate Cry but there's also the monsterious Meaningless Movements and Infectious Voice that add to the whole aggression. So long before Sepultura would turn towards tribal beats this album offers a last glimpse of what these four maniacs could really do with their instruments.
6. Anthrax - Persistance of Time, 1990 Island
As with Slayer, Anthrax had their fair share of popular releases such as Spreading the Disease and Among the Living but I prefered to go with one of their underdogs, simply because it's one of my favorites but it is also a tad more complex sounding than some of their preceeding efforts. When I say complex I do not mean Marty Friedman-like but the solos do seem to add more variety than before, sounding more melodic and identifiable than on some of their more popular albums while the riffs have the chuggy/crushing effect. There are plenty of stand out tracks, unfortunately not many are still performed live not even under the current reformed incarnation of the band. Songs like Time, Blood, Keep it in the Family but also Got the Time are perfect excellent energetic cuts blending the band's old attitude with an updated feel. This would also be the last album to feature Joey Beladona on the vocals.
5. Heathen - Victims of Deception, 1989 Roadrunner
Here we start threading into unknown territory for many. I'm sure those who have kept their ear close to the scene would know of Heathen but these guys were quite an underrated act with a very powerful sound. The band, like many others had the potential of making it big but perhaps the timing and the market simply didn't allow it. Whatever the case this album, being their 2nd release, is a mixture of what more popular bands like Anthrax, Megadeth and Testament were offering at the time but with an added level of quality not found elsewhere. Excellent riffs and breath-taking solo mixed with very melodic and attitude-fused vocals similar to Joey Belladona or Forbidden's Russ Anderson. The bad news is you won't find this album in stores or anywhere else as it is out of print (though you might be lucky) BUT good news you can download the whole damn thing for free, legally from the band's website: http://www.heathenmetal.com (click on Media).
4. Annihilator - Never Neverland, 1990 Roadrunner
A late bloomer in the tharsh metal scene. Canada is known for a number of unique bands including Voivod, Exciter, Strapping Young Lad, the likes of Sebastian Bach and the mighty Rush! To that list anyone can safely add Annihilator, led by guitar master Jeff Waters. While the debut Alice in Hell was a more direct razor-blade riff attack with psycho vocal delivery, Never Neverland opens up to more melodic and epic horizons yet sounding also more brutal in parts than its predecessor. As it has since been with Annihilator, every album tends to feature different vocalists and with Never Neverland the fans were treated to the more dynamic voice of Coburn Pharr (who had a brief stint with the cult metal band Omen). The orginiality of this album lays in the songwriting approach, with the title track have an epic vibe all the way thru, grand thick riff sections and very melodic soloing. The album centers around an interplay between Jeff's guitar and Coburn Pharr's vocals, going from melodic to more guttural passages. Never Neverland now comes packaged as a 2-disc with Alice in Hell, so really these are the definitive Annihlator albums to get. I would safely call it Annihilator's magnum opus.
3. Artillery - Terror Squad, 1987 Neat
Another obscure band and release. Artillery hailed out of Denmark and played a manic type of thrash metal combining skilled guitar work with a rather unique vocal approach. I must say the album covers are awful, just look at the one for Terror Squad it looks like someone drew that picture in kindergarten. Musically the band is absolutely fantastic. It can be best describe along the lines of Overkill, slightly rawer sounding and a little more energetic in places. Flemming Rosendorf's approach seems over the top at times, deliverying a mixture of styles with undertones of Exodus' Steve Souza yet in strange operatic fashion. The album has been re-released on CD in recent times so it must be heard!
2. Overkill - The Years of Decay, 1989 Atlantic
The interesting thing about Years of Decay is that the album can be described through it's song titles: Evil Never Dies and Skullcrusher. Well thrash never dies, despite the changing times and hence why we have retrojunk to come here, reminisce but also get an education in good taste! The album is an energetic aural assault. Every time it goes on I am moshing around the room, air guitaring because it has that perfect thrash metal vibe it just doesn't let go, even during the slower moments. The other thing I love about the album is the variety it has to offer. Often you'll find an album will use the same pattern song after song and it gets tiresome listening only to fast numbers. With Years of Decay apart from staples like Elimiation, Time to Kill, Evil Never Dies there are also slower, I'd venture saying doomy songs like the monster riffer Skullcrusher or the haunting Who Tends the Fire. There is also a rather unique ballad, being also the title track! The band obviously risked a lot in those times but this isn't a sappy Poison ballad! It's daaark and operatic all the way and picks the pace up half way through.
1. Megadeth - Rust in Peace, 1990 Capitol
Finally down to the masters! This album holds a personal meaning to me as it opened up the portal to other metal acts not just thrash but metal as a whole. I received it as a gift by my parents for my 16th birthday and I must admit being a metalhead, this is the best gift I've ever gotten for a birthday. Funnily enough I received it again as a gift from somebody else several years ago! So it seems like we belong together!
What captivates me about this album is how well Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman worked together, the chemistry is so well balanced between these two gutiarists, neither intrudes on their own space yet they work together as a unit. The album throws everything at the listener, tharshy riffing, melody and brilliant solos. Hangar 18 is a prime example of what I call solo-duelling something I scarcely heard in other metal bands. This album is really all about solos and subtle catchy riffs. It may not be the sort of thrash album that has a thousand drum beats a second and doesn't let go, in fact it's far from being anything that aggressive. It is a melodic attack wrapped around a thrash foundation. Songs like Five Magics and Tornado of SOuls are just brilliant headbanging guitar soloing albums.
You know that you've connected with an album when it moves you all the way, and this does it to me in the same way as Overkill's The Years of Decay. It is energetic, fun and intricate all at the same time. I also love the various subtle parts too, like the deeper vocal effects and you know I always thought that it's Vic Rattlhead saying that stuff so maybe someone can tell me.