Thrash….there’s a lot of it out there! And, it’s very easy to overlook the lost classics amongst the onslaught of The Big 4 etc.
So, following on from our 80’s spotlight, Worship Metal has attempted to turn attention to those thrash albums from the 1990’s that may have snuck under the radar without receiving the respect, or acknowledgment, they blatantly deserved……
Cyclone – Inferior To None (1990)
Cyclone‘s sophomore effort is the greatest thrash album ever produced by a Belgian band, so you probably should give it a spin, right?!
Suffering from severe underexposure dented Cyclone’s chances of escaping the underground but Inferior To None (a convincingly apt title if ever we’ve head one!) should have been the album to achieve it. Embracing a technical thrash aesthetic, Cyclone upped their game considerably with some of the tightest playing around and a gamut of ear-pleasing solos.
Four years on from their Brutal Destruction debut and these guys had used the time well, finding their groove and improving on every aspect of their sound with universally stunning results.
Inferior To None is perfect thrash. Why isn’t it more well known? Go figure!
Morbid Saint – Spectrum Of Death (1990)
Sharing a sonic kinship with Rigor Mortis’ self titled debut, Morbid Saint‘s Spectrum Of Death is another unapologetically brutal and viciously violent attack on the senses and arguably the most brutal 100% thrash record ever recorded!
Clattering drums, rapid riffing and vocals belched from the gullet of a Satan-obsessed psychopath, Morbid Saint were the perfect combination of Dark Angel‘s all-encompassing power, Whiplash‘s speed and grit and the blackened riffing of those teutonic masters, Sodomand Destruction.
Few bands could compete with the intensity found on Spectrum Of Death and if your heart bleeds black for Venom, early Kreator and Darkness Descends era Dark Angel then tracks such as “Assassin” and “Beyond the Gates of Hell” are ample proof that Morbid Saint should sit proudly alongside these legendary purveyors of pure filth!
Pyracanda – Two Sides Of A Coin (1990)
Pyracanda‘s debut full length remains somewhat of an oddity but it’s an album that deserves accolades, not just for its melodic sensibilities – which ably recalled the majesty of Mike Howe-era Metal Church and fellow countrymen and label mates Grinder – but for its technical aptitude and supreme songwriting skill.
In fact, with their occasional speed metal tendencies, huge vocals and galloping riffs, Two Sides Of A Coin arguably delivers a timeless sound; easily fitting in with the current trend for trad metal/speed metal making Pyracanda more relevant than ever.
These melodic thrashers were absolute class, pure and simple!
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.
Assorted Heap – Mindwaves (1992)
Assorted Heap‘s second album is a minor masterpiece. Pure and simple.
Hitting the prog ramp at high speed, Assorted Heap finessed their already impressive sound (1991’s far more aggressive The Experience Of Horror is also well worth checking out) and delivered an unsung classic of progressive thrash; the kind of calling card that should have seen them attain more than mere ‘cult’ status.
Transcending genre trappings with ease, Assorted Heap mirrored the wholesale changes and ‘anything is possible’ mentality of Sarcofago circa The Laws Of Scourge, ultimately delivering an album that lived and died by its palpable atmosphere and unique, often ornate, clarity of sound.
A distinctive moment in thrash….German or otherwise!
Chemical Breath – Fatal Exposure (1992)
An unsung technical death/thrash classic, Chemical Breath‘s astonishing Fatal Exposure can be uttered in the same breath as Pestilence’s Consuming Impulse and Death’s Human and should be revered as a monumental achievement, regardless of geographical location!
Precious few bands can match the intensity and skill of these awe-inspiring Belgians and anyone with a penchant for labyrinthine song structures, baffling tempo shifts and the pioneering spirit of early 90’s death/thrash will fall in love with Chemical Breath’s exquisite debut.
Admittedly, Fatal Exposure is a little more death than thrash – and squeezing it on to this list may prove to be divisive – but any opportunity to wax lyrical about this astonishing piece of work should be grasped with both hands. After hearing it, you’ll thank us for it!
Chemical Breath were incredible and you’d also do well to check out 1994’s follow up, Values.
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!
Despair – Beyond All Reason (1992)
Technical German thrash doesn’t come much better than Beyond All Reason, the 3rd album from Despair and a milestone of the genre!
Superlatives come thick and fast when describing this unsung classic with Despair shredding with maximum intensity one minute, delivering keyboard-laden atmospherics the next and delivering nothing but virtuoso guitar work throughout.
In fact, it’s a crime that Beyond All Reason isn’t discussed with nearly as much enthusiasm as it should. This is a staggering piece of work, dazzlingly complex and rife with an advanced sense of barrelling chord progressions and off-kilter time changes.
There was something in the water in Germany during the late 80’s and early 90’s and Despair were the equal of Deathrow, Mekong Delta, Sieges Even, Vendetta and their ilk!
Exhorder – The Law (1992)
Exhorder‘s follow-up to their blistering debut Slaughter In The Vatican found the band harnessing grooves like no other band on earth (and we ain’t even gonna go into the Pantera comparisons, right!) and delivering a sophomore effort that arguably bettered its predecessor.
Quite simply, you cannot fuck with the likes of “Unforgiven”, “I Am The Cross” and “Un-Born Again”, as Exhorder’s groove-heavy thrash set about removing your spleen via your asshole. Ferocious and unpredictable, Exhorder fully utilised their unique gut-punch grittiness to drive home serrated grooves at a mostly ferocious pace. Mostly? By its very nature, Exhorder’s stunning cover of Sabbath’s “Into The Void” momentarily slowed things down but Vinne LaBella and the boys still found time to ‘crunch’ it up and make it their own!
With Kyle Thomas sounding as furiously feral and as expressive as ever – spitting out a series of vignettes over more caustic riffs than should be humanly possible – it’s a crying shame that this pioneering band have never released a third album because, for a short while there, Exhorder were the most exciting band on earth.
Believer – Dimensions (1993)
Home to the kind of syncopated riffs which must have had the guys in Meshuggah scheming their own eventual rise to dominance, Dimensions was the third album from Christian progressive thrash metal band Believer and it shook the very foundations of progressive metal to its very core!
While 1990’s Sanity Obscure runs it a close second, Dimensions should be considered Believer’s masterwork with bewildering tempo changes and psychic interplay transforming 3 mere musicians into a colossal force of heavenly
Nonchalantly throwing in the violin/viola of Scott Laird and Julianne Laird Hoge’s exquisite soprano/operatic vocals added even more layers. Take, for instance, the sheer audacity of “The Trilogy of Knowledge,” a 20-minute excursion into pure brilliance inspired by the greats of progressive rock such as Pink Floyd, Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer which somehow surpassed the majority of them; a series of ‘movements’ which need to be heard to be believed!
An uncompromising, labyrinthian progressive metal milestone, Dimensions‘ ability to send your brain into orbit remains undiminished.
Aftermath – Eyes Of Tomorrow (1994)
Aftermath may have first turned heads with the thrash assault of their speed-of-light, full-throttle demo Killing The Future but it’s their only full length album to date, released in 1994, that showcased this undervalued bands full potential and proved to be a total reinvention of their sound.
Frankly, Eyes Of Tomorrow was progressive thrash incarnate and its off kilter rhythms and mind-boggling complexity jostled with infectious melody, ingenious hooks and heads-down thrashing. Creatively eccentric and filled with fluid leads, accomplished solos and dark ambience, the incredible technicality and progressive nature of Eyes Of Tomorrow remains clear for all to hear.
After the likes of Heathen, Anacrusis and Coroner had given up the ghost, it was down to Aftermath to carry progressive thrash into the mid 90’s!
Overkill – W.F.O. (1994)
After a successful excursion into groove metal with 1993’s I Hear Black – another vastly undervalued album incidentally – just a year later Overkill returned to their good ol’ thrashin’ ways with W.F.O.
The result was an old-school blast of furious thrash that reminded fans why they fell in love with these New Jersey noiseniks in the first place!
Home to killer opener “Where It Hurts” (these boys never fail to deliver an absolute belter of an opening track) and Thrash juggernauts “Fast Junkie” and “Up To Zero” it was the ridiculously infectious “Bastard Nation” that stood out from the pack; faithfully thrashy yet surely designed to be a monster ‘hit’ if the bastards had just paid attention!
W.F.O. (or Wide Fucking Open for its full title) proved to be the last hurrah for Overkill’s glory days as the 90’s all but stalled their progress. Nevertheless, W.F.O should be celebrated as a classic 90’s thrash album that bucked prevailing trends and thrashed like a mutherfucker!
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.
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 – Closure (1996)
At this stage in their career, Intrinsic had ditched much of the power metal and traditional thrash metal stylings of their debut and were now sharing a kinship with the groove heavy of thrash of Exhorder, Pantera and Machine Head. However, never one’s to turn their back on the classics, Intrinsic retained the Nevermore-esque progressive edge which informed much of their lost album Nails (you can read all about that here) to provide some much needed diversity.
“Up For The Slam” was the true winner, a chest-beating exercise in hyper-grooves which bled positivity but Intrinsic were always much more than a one-trick pony. “Falling In” would have been right at home on Alice In Chain’s seminal Dirt while the left-field Zeppelin meets Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young-isms of the semi-acoustic “Nothing Special” may take more thank a few listeners by surprise. As is probably evident, these extreme departures in sound don’t necessarily make for a ‘fluid’ listening experience but, as a result, you could never certainly never label Closure as boring!
Closure may have originally suggested that Intrinsic knew their time was coming to an end but they returned in 2015 and a new album is on its way…..you can expect something special…..and unpredictable!
Sadus – Elements Of Anger (1997)
One of the most unique thrash bands ever to exist, Sadus’ thrilling amalgamation of thrash, death and progressive metal reached an arguable peak with the mid-paced stomp of 1997’s Elements Of Anger.
Steve DiGiorgio’s fretless Bass wizardry impressed as always but it was the experimental song structures Sadus were renowned for that marked out their 4th album as a progressive thrash monster in the latter half of the 90’s.
“Words Of War” and “Power Of One” may be streamlined when compared to the frankly bonkers nature of the tracks found on Swallowed In Black (1990) and Illusions (1988) but this semi-accessible approach stood in Sadus’ favour; their unique songwriting style and technically astonishing avenue of thrash gifting real hooks and subtle melody alongside the aggressive savagery.
Eye-opening stuff no matter what the decade!
Of course, this shit is subjective….so pop your suggestions (if they differ from ours) in the comments below!