Forget The Big 4 and their million selling behemoths, these 10 cult American thrash albums were equally as accomplished, equally as ferocious and equally as groundbreaking and fully deserved to sell as many copies as Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax!
Dark Angel – Darkness Descends (1986)
Unbridled ferocity, technical supremacy and relentless aural battery….is there a more succinct description of what is arguably the greatest thrash metal album of all time?
Featuring the likes of the rampaging “Merciless Death”, the incendiary “The Burning Of Sodom” and the progressively minded “Black Prophecies“, the first indication of the 100+ riffs per song and epic song length mentality the band would explore on later releases was writ large on Dark Angel‘s terrifyingly tenacious, genre-defining, sophomore effort.
The eerie yet elegant bass intro to the aforementioned “Merciless Death” aside, moments of respite were few and far between on Darkness Descends, as Dark Angel focused on thrashing harder, faster and with more gritted teeth malevolence than any other band on the planet…..and that includes the mighty Slayer!
This immortal entry in the history of thrash metal has lost absolutely none of its power and should have been HUGE!
Holy Terror – Terror And Submission (1987)
Holy Terror’s debut from 1987 remains one of the more aggressive albums from thrash’s golden age and this cult band deserved far greater acclaim for this and its equally accomplished follow-up, Mind Wars.
One of the most original sounding thrash bands of the 80’s, Terror And Submission recalls the classic clatter of Venom and Possessed and retains the filthy sound that thrash originally pioneered before Metallica and Megadeth etc bought a commercialised sheen to the genre. Still indebted to the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, “Evil’s Rising” particularly paid homage to the classic sounding, harmonised riffs of Diamond Head and Tygers Of Pan Tang while “Blood Of The Saints” updated Judas Priest’s British Steel for speed obsessed thrash enthusiasts.
Caught between speed metal’s barely in control histrionics and the melody of the NWOBHM, it’s the insanely varied vocals that push Terror And Submission into the realms of ‘classic’ status. Delivering a tour-de-force of ear-shattering shrieks and screams, melodic high’s and deathly low’s and thrash metals’ obligatory mid-range rasp, Keith Deen should be revered as one of the finest vocalists in thrash metal history; precious few could compete with his sheer skill and diversity.
Acknowledged as a semi-obscure classic among thrash die-hards, Terror And Submission remains a unique and under-appreciated entry in the history of thrash metal.
Vio-Lence – Eternal Nightmare (1988)
Quite simply one of the most fearless, ferocious and downright feral thrash albums ever recorded, Vio-Lence‘s debut, Eternal Nightmare, is the thrash connoisseur’s album of choice and ranks as high in both the aggression and sheer insanity stakes as Slayer’s Reign In Blood, Exodus’ Bonded By Blood and Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends!
Originally home to Machine Head men Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel (but you knew that already), just 7 tracks of thrash perfection was all it took to announce that a new breed of thrash maniacs were in town – that ‘town’ being, of course, San Francisco’s Bay Area – and with the likes of “Kill On Command”, “Bodies On Bodies” and “Calling In The Coroner” in their arsenal, Vio-Lence were on a collision course with underground notoriety and unending acclaim.
Sean Killian’s vocals remain an acquired taste but those ‘in the know’ understand that without him, Vio-Lence were nowhere near as unique nor as thrilling a prospect (and it’s fantastic to hear that hopefully his recent health problems and that Violence-Lence have reunited for a one-off show)!
As great thrash debuts go, Eternal Nightmare still takes some beating.
Incubus (aka Opprobrium) – Serpent Temptation (1988)
Not those digerideroo-blowing nu metal wombats, this is the real Incubus; a towering death/thrash colossus who annihilated their 80’s competition with debut album, Serpent Temptation!
Incubus were extreme (in every sense of the word) and they were absurdly talented, tempering their ferocity with intricate riffing and a superb sense of dynamics. It has to be said, this shit was astonishingly heavy back in ’88; a savage re-appropriation of thrash metal’s fundamental’s strapped to death metal’s still to be completed blueprint. The results were almost beyond comprehension, with Incubus paving the way for countless acts who took thrash/death into ever heavier realms as the 90’sdawned and death metal took hold.
A hyper-speed, proto-death metal classic, Serpent Temptation deserves to be considered an equal of Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends, Slayer’s Reign In Blood and Kreator’s Pleasure To Kill and should have been heard by everyone!
Opprobrium’s latest album, The Fallen Entities, is due for release on February 22nd – read Worship Metal’s full review here.
Rigor Mortis – Rigor Mortis (1988)
Rigor Mortis‘ self titled debut opened with a furious instrumental that pretty much set the scene for the entire record. Violently relentless, Rigor Mortis‘ raw production, animalistic tendencies and jugular-slashing riffs lent a kinship to Death‘s Scream Bloody Gore, Possessed‘s Beyond The Gates and Kreator’s absolute classic Pleasure To Kill.
Hard-as-nails thrash may have been the order of the day but these mad-as-fuck Texans were leading the charge into ever faster, darker and meaner territories. In fact, the formative years of death metal can be heard in guitar god Mike Scaccia’s (RIP) lightning-speed tremolo picking and the abrasive rasping vocals of Bruce Corbitt.
The whole record is nigh on flawless but if an introduction to these speed-freaks is required then listen to “Demons“….you’ll soil yourself!
Some may argue Rigor Mortis epitomised 80’s thrash metal….some people are right!
Exhorder – Slaughter In The Vatican (1990)
Exhorder were not only a huge inspiration on the world-conquering Pantera (we won’t go into it, most of you will already be more than familiar with their ‘similarities’, if not….look it up) they also delivered two exceptional albums – 1992’s The Law is also a stone-cold, mid-tempo groove monster – while Slaughter In The Vatican‘s furious Thrash and Groove-Metal establishing credentials rank it as an absolute Thrash classic….even if it is perennially under-appreciated.
Stripped down to the raw basics, Slaughter In The Vatican‘s 8 tracks never once come up for air. The low-end rumble, buzzsaw riffing and Kyle Thomas’ ravaged vocals culminating in a primal Thrash experience that comes perilously close to utter perfection. One of the most unique Thrash albums in existence, Slaughter should be revered as a landmark in Metal; at the very least it should be spoken about with the same reverential tones reserved for Pantera’s Vulgar Display Of Power (an ironic yet unfortunately necessary comparison).
It’s aggressive, unpredictable and utterly remorseless and it still makes the majority of Thrash bands sound utterly lost at sea. As a non-stop thrash assault it’s up there with the likes of Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends, Slayer’s Reign In Blood and Razor’s Shotgun Justice. Only on closing track “Slaughter In The Vatican” do Exhorder dial back on the drubbing. Alternating between fast and slow tempos (the true ‘groove element of their sound’) a sense of dynamics emerges that the likes of “Homicide” and “Anal Lust” (what a title!) practically avoid like the plague.
For a debut album, Exhorder excelled themselves and as far as influential goes, look no further.
Heathen – Victims Of Deception (1991)
Absolutely, mind-bogglingly brilliant: That’s a fair summation of Heathen’s piece de resistance, a riff-fest of such magnitude and scope that these Bay Area thrashers should be a household name. The fact they’re not is another example of an album of such astounding quality and consistency falling by the wayside while The Big 4 marched on to greater glories.
Recorded by musicians of insane ability – and a singer who could, gulp, actually fuckin’ sing! – this progressive thrash masterpiece practically surpasses Metallica, Megadeth and co. in each and every area.
The riffs are crunchier and the progressive elements are better suited to the melodic manifestations that make up this magnum opus, allowing the band to pen heavy, aggressive tunes capable of impressing the most obtuse prog lover!
Heathen ended up being victims of circumstances but hindsight proves they were actually at the forefront of their chosen field…..incidentally, 2010’s comeback album, The Evolution Of Chaos, was equally as impressive.
Not. Enough. Superlatives.
Defiance – Beyond Recognition (1992)
Beyond Recognition – a technical thrash masterclass from the Bay Area’s Defiance – proved to be a fitting swansong to thrash’s heyday!
At this stage in their career, Defiance were now trying to out ‘heavy’ the likes of Testament (by way of fellow Bay Area brethren Heathen) and found themselves forging ahead in an ever more progressive thrash direction….and they were damn good at it too!
“Inside Looking Out” entertained a decidedly warped take on typical chugging riffs (and featured vocal contributions from aforementioned Heathen frontman David White) and the heady thrash-fest of “Promised Afterlife” rivalled Justice-era Metallica for complexity, while remaining staunchly ‘heavy’. The remainder of Beyond Recognition’s tracks offered diversity, complexity and enough ideas to fill a further three albums!
Beyond Recognition is Defiance’s greatest achievement and one of the most impressive moments in 90’s thrash, even though it remains ironically unrecognised by those clearly not ‘in the know’. Of course, the rest of us recognise the moment when Defiance excelled themselves and if thrash hadn’t died on its arse in the 90’s, this outstanding album surely would have sent Defiance stratospheric!
Testament – Low (1994)
Testament may be the most well known band on this list but 1994’s Low often receives little recognition when compared to their 80’s output and it’s well known that they hovered on the periphery of The Big 4 without ever quite breaking through that particular glass ceiling!
This was the first album the band released without founding member and guitar god Alex Skolnick and to be fair it takes a little getting used to. Testament blatantly missed his classical style flourishes but once you get past his glaring absence, Low is a bruising thrash-fest that does not disappoint.
Chock full of top quality thrash tunes from “Hail Mary” to “All I Could Bleed” to album highlight, the pulverising “Dog Faced Gods”, in which man mountain Chuck Billy unleashes his truly hellacious roar, Low maintained the high standards Testament had set themselves over the years. They also found time to slow the pace down with the fantastic “Trail Of Tears”, just one of a number of Testament tracks to address the plight of Native Americans.
All in all, Low is a fantastic thrash album with death metal leanings, that should have had the likes of Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield frantically taking notes; Testament were still thrashin’ hard while 50% of The Big 4 were busy softening their sound.
Intrinsic – Nails (2015) [originally recorded between 1991 and 1992]
Take Savatage, Nevermore, Iced Earth, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and try and imagine a glorious mix of all those influences and your conclusion should match the incredibly diverse delights of Intrinsic’s sophomore album, originally recorded between 1991 and 1992.
Inconceivably ‘lost’ for nearly 25 years, Nails is so much more than just a mere curiosity, it’s a revelation! It’s hard to imagine how this album wouldn’t have made an impact in the early 90’s – such is its uncanny knack for bridging progressive thrash and the grunge sound that proved all-conquering as the 90’s went on – but history was unkind.
The speed/thrash contingent are kept happy with “State Of The Union”, “Die Trying”, “Pillar Of Fire” and “Too Late But Not Forgetten” while “Inner Sanctum” is a highly immersive mix of classic acoustic Zeppelin-isms, sumptuous violin, glorious harmonies and exquisite songwriting. “On Gossamer Wings” perfectly recalls mid 70’s Judas Priest – think the calmer moments of “Victim Of Changes” – stalking the mid 80’s sounds of Artillery. Histrionic one minute, flowing like liquid gold the next, this epic marrying of disparate styles is just one of many endless surprises on offer.
That’s the wonder of this unearthed gem, Nails has everything.
One of those ‘lost classics’ that actually lives up to its name, how this exquisite little number lay dormant for so long is a crime and any thrash/progressive metal fan worth their salt owes it to themselves to pick this up, immediately!