- Author Steve Bidmead
- Published July 29, 2014
Why you should listen to… Thrash Metal
Following Metallica’s barnstorming set at Glastonbury, it’s time to welcome a bit of heaviness into your life. Feel free to do that devil-horns thing with your fingers as Steve Bidmead dives into the mosh pit…
Metallica’s performance at Glastonbury won them a horde of new fans from those who had previously dismissed the metal veterans’ stentorian sonic assault as testosterone-fuelled noise, to those who had heard the name but not the songs. There were even a few fuddy-duddy music journos forced to remove their earplugs and concede that the ageing thrash pioneers did good.
Today, Metallica sit astride the global metal scene like a slickly-marketed colossus and it’s easy to forget just how awesome the band’s early material was. At the start of the 1980s, Metallica were a bunch of spotty-faced, denim-clad rock fans who’d been brought up on Deep Purple and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which included Iron Maiden and Diamond Head.
The enduring appeal of this kind of music is in its dangerously overflowing, cathartic, addictive ENERGY. As thousands of Glasto revellers discovered while they played with the black beach-balls released into the crowd, there’s nothing sinister or subversive about the music that Metallica helped to define. Thrash metal was, and still is, just having a good time, letting off steam, blowing up a few amplifiers and, at worst, giving people a stinking headache in the morning.
UK envelope-pushers Motorhead and Venom had been heading towards something akin to thrash metal since the end of the 1970s but the genre truly took off in 1983 when Metallica unleashed their exciting debut album Kill ‘Em All. Classic releases ‘Ride The Lightning’, ‘Master Of Puppets’ and ‘And Justice For All’ quickly followed, setting the template for the genre and cementing Metallica’s position as the biggest metal band on the planet.
Meantime, fellow Californians Slayer had broadened the blood-soaked boundaries of thrash even further, while New York’s Anthrax added a grittier, streetwise edge. Exodus, Overkill, Nuclear Assault and Megadeth (founded by a snarling Dave Mustaine after Metallica fired him), all added their own brand of high-octane madness to the blossoming US scene, while in Germany a new, brutal force – Kreator – was emerging, and, in the jungle of Brazil, a thrash-metal monster known as Sepultura had stirred.
But in the early 1990s the bubble burst, big time. Grunge was in. Slow was cool. Kurt was king. Metallica had enjoyed huge mainstream success with their irritatingly untitled black album – ‘Nothing Else Matters’, ‘Enter Sandman’, etc – but now thrash seemed to have thrashed its last.
During the following decade, only Pantera and Machine Head, with their groovy take on the sound, could fly the flag. A legal dispute with Napster and a series of albums that moved away from their roots battered Metallica’s reputation.
Lying in wait
Dejected, legions of fans packed away their battle jackets with the Celtic Frost back patches and waited. The good times would surely return… And here they are! Thrash metal enjoyed the beginnings of its renaissance during the 2000s when loads of bands started paying homage to the greats.
Armed with silly logos and even sillier cover artwork, the likes of Skeletonwitch, Toxic Holocaust, Municipal Waste and Evile recaptured and reinvigorated the classic thrash sound. Razor-sharp riffs, aggressive vocals, muscle-popping drumming.
Adding weight to the resurgence, many of the great thrash metal bands have returned to the fray, sounding better than ever. The likes of Testament, Sodom, Destruction and Forbidden have all released strong albums in recent years, suggesting you’re never too old to thrash.
Start your collection with these thrash classics…
Metallica Ride The Lightning (1984) Master Of Puppets might have been more rounded, and the black album might have had the chart-friendly hits but Metallica’s second album was the one that set the standard for thrash metal bands. A huge leap forward from their debut, it remains as fresh and heavy today as when it was first unveiled 30 years ago.
Slayer Reign In Blood (1986) The most acclaimed of Slayer’s albums, this is fast, demonic and terrifying but still hugely enjoyable and accessible. As one of thrash metal’s Big Four alongside Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth, Slayer brought a new sense of extremity to the genre and have been credited with inspiring the concept of ‘death metal’.
Sepultura Beneath The Remains (1989) The best thing to come out of Brazil since Pele, Sepultura’s third album found the band establishing their classic sound; dense, heavy as hell and devastatingly more-ish. The band have gone on to sell more than 30 million records worldwide and are still going strong, albeit with a much-changed line-up.
Voivod Dimension Hatross (1988) The Canadians added a touch of experimentation to the world of thrash and this album combines some of the frantic fury of their early work with a quirky appreciation of the avant-garde. The sci-fi obsessed band, led by drummer and artist ‘Away’, also made a ferocious return to form in 2013 with the album Target Earth.
Sabbat Dreamweaver (1989) While most classic thrash came from the USA and Germany, Britain did its fair share, particularly thanks to Nottingham’s Sabbat. With the entertaining lyrical skills of Martin Walkyier and dizzyingly complex riffs of guitarist Andy Sneap, Dreamweaver is a captivating thrash metal concept album. And it kicks ass, sorry, arse.
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