Thrash is great. Technical thrash is better!
To that end, Worship Metal has selected 20 of the greatest technical thrash albums of the 80’s for your delectation.
Presented in order of release as opposed to any kind of ranking….
Watchtower – Energetic Disassembly (1985) [USA]
Technical progressive thrash written by a band so far ahead of their time they probably already knew how Avatar 3 is going to end, Watchtower‘s Energetic Disassembly borders on impossible to describe….but we’ll give it a go anyway.
Overflowing with complexity, neck-shredding tempos and banshee solos, Energetic Disassembly is a consistently impressive listen but one let down by a tinny, sub-standard production.
Production woes aside, Watchtower set the bar so high on this release that they probably spilt their drinks and any fan of progressive metal unfamiliar with Energetic Disassembly‘s riches are encouraged to seek it out.
Target – Mission Executed (1987)
Utterly obscure yet teeming with raw talent, Target‘s debut album, Mission Executed, was a technical blast of feral thrash that, in 1987, was way ahead of the pack in terms of ideas and execution.
Drawing on the likes of Artillery, Mekong Delta and Living Death for inspiration, a welcome dose of intensity backed Target’s technical verve as these Belgians went about destroying ear-drums over 8 tracks of nerve-shredding THRASH!
Although Mission Executed lacked anything approaching filler, it was actually the opening one-two of “Mission To The Andes” and “Hordes Of Insanity” that hit the hardest; a double-whammy of fiendish grooves and whip-crack time changes that marked Target out as potential world-beaters.
Make no mistake, Mission Executed was technical Euro-thrash at its absolute finest….and to deliver an album of this quality and remain so unrecognised is a crime that deserves to be tried in The Hague!
Destruction – Release From Agony (1987)
Destruction may have started life as a rough ‘n’ ready blackened thrash band but by the time their third full length album, Release From Agony, arrived in 1987, they’d transformed themselves into a technical thrash act par excellence.
The mad butcher didn’t just strike back with this album, it hacked and sliced its way through the competition and while (originally) the quality of Release From Agony‘s production left a lot to be desired, the likes of “Sign Of Fear” and “Survive To Die” indicated that Destruction were now operating on a higher level than the majority of their peers.
A thrilling combination of insanely technical riffs and abstract song structures marks out Release From Agony as a true masterpiece of Teutonic thrash……and Destruction would, arguably, never be so wilfully obscure again!
Anacrusis – Suffering Hour (1988)
The only album in Anacrusis‘ formidable back catalogue to be classifiable as true ‘thrash’, Suffering Hour remains an overlooked moment in thrash history.
Joining the likes of Watchtower, Voivod and Mekong Delta in constructing complex arrangements and schizophrenically unique songs that flow through dozens of exhilarating tempo changes, Anacrusis’ youthful exuberance and disjointed clamour exhibitied nothing but an alluring charm and a desire to challenge thrash’s boundaries.
Anacrusis’ debut had it all; intelligence, alarming momentum, hollowed-out groove, fiendish rhythms, atonal experimentation, a forebodingly dark and dense sound and a character all of its own; precious few albums are capable of surprising the listener with each repeat listen but Suffering Hour achieved this and more.
45 minutes to spare? Soak up the whole damn thing!
Blind Illusion – The Sane Asylum (1988)
Blind Illusion‘s debut is a cult item of considerable aplomb, growing in stature as the years roll by and claiming its place as one of thrash metal’s unsung gems!
Featuring guitarist Larry LaLonde (Possessed) and bassist Les Claypool (before they went on to form Primus) and produced by Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, The Sane Asylum is one of those unique recordings which practically defies categorisation, such is its idiosyncratic nature and distinct lack of conformity.
An alchemic brew of jazz-influenced, progressive time changes and abstract song structures, The Sane Asylum was conveniently wrapped up in a technical thrash bow, a description which doesn’t even come close to describing the sheer madness at work here.
Quite unlike anything recorded before or since!
Doom – Complicated Mind (1988)
At this stage in their formidable career, Doom were defiantly daring Voivod to go ‘weirder’ and were ably conjuring up the same kind of dissonant, off-kilter melodies and warped ideas as Canada’s favourite sons. That’s not to say that Doom were ripping off Piggy and Snake and co. wholesale but you could throw Complicated Mind‘s title track onto Killing Technology and no one would have batted an eyelid!
Still, inevitable comparisons with Voivod aside, Doom were their own beast and 1988’s Complicated Mind remains one of their greatest achievements. With Koh Morota’s incredible fretless bass work drawing comparisons with the genius that is Steve Di Giorgio, and the tightly-wound, futuristic riffing of Takashi Fujita blind-siding all but the most dedicated of progressive/tech thrash enthusiasts, it’s crystal clear that Doom have always been a very special band.
Highly intricate and telepathically linked, the minds behind Complicated Mind were operating on a different sphere to us ‘mere mortals’ and this progressive/technical thrash masterclass still resonates today!
Metallica – …And Justice For All (1988)
This album is rightfully celebrated as a milestone in thrash history….and Metallica would never be this expansive and this experimental again.
…And Justice For All rivalled technical thrashers Heathen, Realm and Believer in the progressive thrash metal stakes, as Metallica recovered from the death of Cliff Burton by proving they could not only survive without his guidance, they could flourish! While it may have its flaws (bone-dry production and Jason Newsted’s mostly inaudible bass spring instantly to mind) it remains a milestone of technical/progressive thrash.
With a clinical approach bordering on maniacal obsession the likes of the epic “…And Justice For All” and “One” were the epitome of surgical precision and it was left to “Dyers Eve” to remind fans that this was the band that once penned “Whiplash”!
“Do you hear what I hear?”, snarled James Hetfield on the absurdly catchy, stop-start rifferama of “Eye Of The Beholder”.
We did James, and we still like it!
Realm – Endless War (1988)
Another technical/progressive thrash masterclass, Realm’s histrionic, kinetic and brain-scrambling debut still pummels the senses with its falsetto vocals and stampeding rhythms; ever threatening to career off the precipice of plausibility!
The guitars are virtually impossible to pin down, a cacophonous aural caning containing endless shredding, lightning-quick picking, intricate leads, the odd surprising acoustic section and more sickle-sharp rhythm’s and hair-raising solo’s than seems humanly possible to assimilate.
The frenetic pace of the entire album only shifts into a (slightly) lower gear for the likes of the slow-burning “Eminence” and the borderline balladry of “Second Coming“, while the classic sound of “All Heads Will Turn To The Hunt” helps to calm the pace of the attention deficit soloing and endless shifts in tempo that permeate through this accomplished debut.
Sieges Even – Lifecycle (1988)
Sieges Even may have gone on to become a more considered, melodic progressive metal act but their debut was a beast of technical/progressive thrash, powered by the almost falsetto delivery of Franz Herde.
Comparisons with Watchtower remain rife but to dismiss Lifecycle as a mere clone of Control And Resistance would be missing the point. This was an era of exploration and of pushing boundaries, which is exactly what Sieges Even were doing from the outset.
Sure, both bands were influenced by the prog giants of the 70’s – alongside the thrash boom led by Metallica – but Sieges Even took everything that much further, splicing the DNA of prog and thrash to create a new, extreme, version of both. The results were extraordinary, dazzling the mind with a series of labyrinthine structures that were brooding, malevolent and practically beyond judgment!
Vendetta – Brain Damage (1988)
They don’t come more unique than Vendetta’s Brain Damage, an album that retained the required thrash crunch of the era while significantly maturing and offering unparalleled diversity to the discerning thrash fan.
This was the sound of a band that should have left the underground, seriously skilled and home to such consistently impressive songwriting that a breakthrough seemed inevitable. Alas, it just wasn’t to be. But, that’s no reason to overlook its merits now as Brain Damage‘s fiendishly catchy melodies and exquisite guitar work are as impressive now as they were back in 1988!
On a par with the awe-inspiring work found on Artillery’s By Inheritance and Annihilator’s Alice In Hell (more on that later!), Vendetta’s technical prowess and crystal clear clarity showcased a band whose merits were writ large. After all, Brain Damage truly is an unsung masterpiece from the golden era of thrash!
Voivod – Dimension Hatröss (1988)
One of thrash metal’s most distinctive bands, Canada’s Voivod have spent their entire career releasing music that barely stays within the confines of thrash and purposefully flaunts the rules. However, Dimension Hatröss was arguably the first time Voivod perfected their noise and channeled their unearthly visions into their most wilfully obscure – yet somehow coherent – collection of songs ever.
Atypical and abstract, the riffs of Piggy and vocal delivery of Snake remain utterly unique and otherworldly and this twisting, turning, tumultuous sci-fi nfever-dream made flesh still sounds like absolutely nothing else on earth. With the likes of “Tribal Convictions”, “Brain Scan” and (the aptly titled) “Experiment”, Voivod were lightyears ahead of the pack and their peers (if they truly have ever had any) are still frantically trying to keep up.
Not too shabby for an album that’s well over 30 years of age!
Annihilator – Alice In Hell (1989)
A simple and often stated fact: Jeff Waters is one of the finest metal guitarists of all time. You can’t argue with such a statement and his prodigious, precocious talent first came to the world’s attention on Annihilator‘s stunning debut.
In 1989, Alice In Hell represented technical thrash of the highest order, an album overflowing with ideas and executed with more panache and ability than virtually anyone outside of Megadeth.
The unforgettably monikered Randy Rampage (R.I.P) led the charge – delivering one of the dirtiest, unrefined and downright unpredictable vocal performances in thrash metal history – and when welded to Waters’ exquisite riffs, thrash metal magic was inevitable.
Check out the blistering speed of “Human Insecticide” and the incredible interplay and sheer bravado of “Alison Hell”, for ample proof that an on-fire Jeff Waters and an-on fire Randy Rampage were a formidable partnership forged in the bowels of hell!
Coroner – No More Color (1989)
Each and every one of Coroner‘s 3 albums released in the 80’s deserve to be on this list, but something’s gotta give (for diversity’s sake, ok!) so it’s to 1989’s No More Color we turn.
Coroner’s brand of pure riff nirvana has gone down in history as a byname for technical thrash perfection and their innate ability to write astoundingly aggressive, ever-surprising songs in such a succinct manner made them leaders of their field…..and No More Color was the pinnacle of their achievements.
These pioneering Swiss tech thrashers didn’t give two-fucks about genre convention – such was the intensity in which they carved their own path – and No More Color confirmed, once and for all, that we were dealing with three individuals of unfathomable skill.
The most consistently impressive technical thrash band of the 80’s.
Dark Angel – Leave Scars (1989)
Sitting in between 2 monstrous, all-time classic thrash albums such as Darkness Descends and Time Does Not Heal is no easy task but then Dark Angel‘s Leave Scars is no easy album in the first place!
An album that’s as claustrophobic as it is brutal, Dark Angel were clearly beginning to embrace a more progressive aesthetic (particularly on the labyrinthine “The Promise of Agony) while maintaining the ferocity that marked out their debut as one of the all-time great thrash albums (get a load of “Never to Rise Again”).
The result was an uncomfortable experience (not least due to its muddied production) that was extreme in every sense of the word. In fact, for the time, Leave Scars was one of the most overwhelmingly aggressive technical thrash albums on the market and its impact has not diminished in the intervening years.
Deathrow – Deception Ignored (1989)
After the relatively no-thrills thrash found on Deathrow’s Riders Of Doom aka Satan’s Gift and Raging Steel, there was virtually no indication that Deathrow would break boundaries with their 3rd full length release!
Complex and rhythmically confounding – but never at the cost of a satisfying sense of structure – the likes of “Narcotic” were insane blasts of technical thrash wizardry and should have marked Deathrow out as pioneers of prog metal/tech thrash this early in the game.
Instead, obscurity beckoned with Deception Ignored initially receiving a lukewarm response from a legion of confused fans. Fortunately, this outstanding album has gone on to be revered as a work of almost labyrinthian art, misunderstood by many but now beloved by those in the know.
A technical thrash masterpiece from a band way ahead of the curve….this is one album that truly has to be heard to be believed!
Dyoxen – First Among Equals (1989)
Taking the Voivod path to obscure-town, Canada’s Dyoxen were a surprisingly melodic yet highly skilled set of technical thrashers.
While the Voivod comparisons are semi-apt, Dyoxen actually had more in common with Peace Sells-era Megadeth; such was their penchant for unveiling skilful and sickle-sharp, complex and caustic blasts of sophisticated thrash, replete with umpteen tempo changes and a shed-load of killer riffs.
These guys sure had the chops, but they just didn’t have the clout to shift them into the big leagues. Which is a crying shame, as First Among Equals was the equal of anything Annihilator, Megadeth, Forbidden etc. were serving up in the late 80’s!
Forced Entry – Uncertain Future (1989)
Forced Entry‘s debut album arrived in 1989 and their full throttle thrash – belying the fact they were a three piece – ironically should have predicted a certain future, one that would have seen them rise to the upper echelons of the thrash hierarchy!
Opening track “Bludgeon” did exactly that, hammering home Forced Entry’s way around a steamroller riff and a penchant for turning on a sixpence. Undeniably progressive in nature, this trio could out-muscle Testament (and Tony Benjamin’s vocals were straight from the Chuck Billy rulebook!) while throwing in as many tempo changes as humanly possible.
The results were generally fantastic, with the likes of the hideously violent “Anaconda” and the twisting and turning “Kaleidoscope Of Pain” providing enough technically complex thrills to endear them to both the Exodus/Vio-Lence/Dark Angel and the Coroner/Voivod/Watchtower crowd.
A towering achievement from a band who deserved way more than their ‘cult’ status.
Mekong Delta – The Principle Of Doubt (1989)
Another band with an 80’s discography which all warrants mention here, we’ve actually gone with 1989’s The Principle Of Doubt; an album which wilfully took Mekong Delta’s more obscure elements further than ever before.
Mekong Delta often operated on another level entirely and this, their 3rd full length album, was certainly no exception!
The chug of Anthrax-esque riffs may have provided the core of their sound but Mekong Delta stood out from the pack via their otherworldly solos, frantic percussion and abstract background noise; resulting in a sonic maelstrom often inconceivable in its complexity.
To sound like you’re playing a different song to your bandmates and still fashion these sounds into something resembling a recognisable song structure is a feat in itself…..and yet, Mekong Delta managed it time and time again.
Just give the title track a spin and try telling us your head isn’t left spinning from the sheer madness of it all!
Viking – Man Of Straw (1989)
A classic slice of technical thrash, Viking‘s Man Of Straw had all the necessary ingredients to propel them into the upper echelons of thrash’s hierarchy but would prove to be their last album before regrouping with Dark Angel’s Mike Gonzalez and Gene Hoglan and Vindicator’s Justin Zych to record 2015’s excellent No Child Left Behind.
A massive improvement on their Do Or Die debut, the incendiary guitar work of Brett Eriksen (Dark Angel) and the improved songwriting and performances across the board marked out Viking as a thrash metal band to be reckoned with.
From the barely in control thrash attack of “They Raped The Land” to the riff-fests of “White Death” and “Man Of Straw”, and the truly epic Sodom-esque “Winter”, Viking rarely faltered on an unsung classic custom built for fans of Vio-lence and Dark Angel.
It speaks volumes that Brett Eriksen went on to ply his trade with Dark Angel – and contribute massively to their classic album Time Does Not Heal – as Man Of Straw is the perfect precursor to the exhausting number of riffs and vocal patterns found on Dark Angel’s seminal 4th album.
Watchtower – Control And Resistance (1989)
Bands in the late 80’s seemed to tap into an inexhaustible well of experimentation and progressive attitudes and Watchtower were no exception.
Twisting thrash into to ever more contorted forms, Control And Resistance was the bastard son of Bay Area thrash and jazz-fusion (“The Eldritch” perfectly encapsulates their approach in just 3 concise minutes) and remains a confounding and technically astonishing slice of futuristic progressive metal.
Kudos to the astonishingly gifted Ron Jarzombek (Spastic Ink, Blotted Science) who’s incendiary guitar work is simply mind-blowing and whose split-second time changes and elaborate solos were undoubtedly a massive influence on the technical djent scene that thrives today.
So ahead of it’s time, Control And Resistance still maintains the power to shock and surprise….imagine how it sounded 31 years ago!
Honourable mentions: Coroner – R.I.P (1987) / Juggernaut – Baptism Under Fire (1987) / Mekong Delta – Mekong Delta (1987) / Wolf Spider – Wilczy Pjąk (1987) / Toxik – World Circus (1987) / Agony – The First Defiance (1988) / Erosion – Mortal Agony (1988) / Forbidden – Forbidden Evil (1988) / Hexenhaus – A Tribute To Insanity (1988) / Mekong Delta – The Music Of Erich Zann (1988) / Sadus – Illusions (1988) / Savage Steel – Do Or Die (1988) / Target – Master Project Genesis (1989) / Believer – Extraction From Mortality (1989) / Bezerker – Lost (1989) / Defiance – Product Of Society (1989) / Equinox – Auf Wiedersehen (1989) / Intruder – A Higher Form Of Killing (1989) / Midas Touch – Presage To Disaster (1989) / Toxik – Think This (1989)