1986 has gone down as arguably the greatest year in thrash metal history but we’ve always had a soft spot for those albums released in 1989; a year in which thrash was still developing at a rate of knots and knocking out an obscene amount of exceptional albums from bands across the globe! Here’s our pick of the 25 albums that made 1989 one of the greatest years in thrash metal history (listed in alphabetical order)…..
Accuser – Who Dominates Who
Approaching their brand of thrash metal with an eye for experimentation and a flurry of time-changes, Accuser‘s Who Dominates Who may have arrived at the tail end of the 80’s but it still had something new to say.
Each track on Who Dominates Who slams hard with colossal choruses, hardcore shouts and a grinding sound that relentlessly pummels its way into your brain. It’s pretty safe to say that Metallica’s stop-start chug and elaborate song-structures were Accuser’s main inspiration and that’s no surprise considering the year it was recorded.
On an album spilling over with epic thrash tracks it’s “Symbol Of Hate” and the title-track that pack the biggest one-two punch; each song meandering through endlessly inventive machine-gun riffs and full-force battery.
Accuser may never have been spoken off in the same breath as the genre’s greats but Who Dominates Who is the one album in their back catalogue that rises high above the status of also-rans.
Annihilator – Alice In Hell
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 sheen, and more panache and ability than virtually anyone outside of the mighty 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
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
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 thrash albums on the market and its impact has not diminished in the intervening years.
Overall, Leave Scars isn’t in the same league as Darkness Descends and Time Does Not Heal….but it’s damn close!
Deathrow – Deception Ignored
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 very early in the game.
Instead, obscurity beckoned with Deception Ignored initially receiving a lukewarm response and ironically ignored by 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
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!
Evildead – Annihilation Of Civilisation
“Annihilation Of Civilisation”, “Future Shock” and “Living Good” indicate the high level of thrashin’ prowess this band held in abundance and serve as accomplished aural evidence that for a short while Evildead stood toe to toe with the greats of thrash Metal’s second wave; Sacred Reich, Forbidden and Vio-Lence.
Although in 1989 Annihilation Of Civilisation practically broke Evildead into the thrash mainstream, its obvious qualities seem to have been largely forgotten in the preceding years. Evildead’s direct approach to the fundamentals of thrash and consistently varied, and consistently catchy, song structures conspired to create a high calibre thrash album that still sounds formidable today.
Exodus – Fabulous Disaster
Opening with the caustic “The Last Act Of Defiance” – a scathing attack on the prison system – Exodus were clearly in a bullish mood during Fabulous Disaster‘s creation and their third album would go down in thrash history as a bona fide classic of the genre!
The H-bomb of Holt and Hunolt were explosive throughout as the likes of the title track, “Like Father, Like Son” and pit-inducing classic “The Toxic Waltz” unleashed combative riffs like they were going out of style.
At this stage, ‘new’ vocalist Steve “Zetro” Souza was well bedded in and his deliciously diabolical diatribes hit so much harder than on 1987’s middling Pleasures Of The Flesh. You certainly couldn’t imagine Paul Baloff singing the lyrics on the frog-ribbiting, harmonica-introducing “Cajun Hell” and, love him or hate him, Zetro was now the singer of Exodus.
A rabble-rousing, crowd-pleasing effort, Fabulous Disaster is the pinnacle of Exodus’ 80’s and 90’s output and proved that thrash was more than just merely alive and well in 1989!
Forced Entry – Uncertain Future
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.
Gammacide – Victims Of Science
Gammacide‘s only album, Victims Of Science, may not be well known (except to the thrash die-hards, of course) but it’s a late 80’s release far more deserving of simply also ran status!
Fans of Vio-lence and Exodus will appreciate Gammacide’s technically skilled but aggressively direct approach and their no nonsense attitude elevates Victims Of Science to a level which far surpasses the majority of their peers.
Built around that age-old thrash chestnut of nuclear war and falling victim to mankind’s technological ‘progress’, Gammacide were the thrash equivalent of armageddon and their ripping, snarling vocals, high-speed riffs, outstanding solos and whip-crack tempos were refreshingly direct and as remorseless as a nuclear winter.
Mankind has always been doomed…..and Gammacide’s Victims Of Science will always provide the soundtrack!
Kreator – Extreme Aggression
With their 4th record, Germany’s thrash giants Kreator finally coupled their frenzied attack with hooks and choruses catchy enough to make even your Great Gran nod furiously along!
With each track on Extreme Aggression maintaining a ridiculously high tempo, the Kreator boys ripped through 9 tracks of Teutonic fury featuring vicious, stabbing riffs and Mille Petrozza’s sandpaper vocals. They even scored an MTV hit with their video for “Betrayer”, gaining them valuable exposure in America; a considerable achievement for music as harsh and unrelenting as this.
Kreator’s second album, Pleasure to Kill, may be revered as a death / thrash colossus but Extreme Aggression was the sound of a band working at their absolute peak…..and is arguably Kreator’s finest moment!
Metal Church – Blessing In Disguise
With vocalist Mike Howe bravely stepping into original Metal Church singer David Wayne’s considerable shoes, expectations for Metal Church’s 3rd album were tentative at best.
Fans needed hadn’t worried though, Metal Church were still well worth worshipping!
“Fake Healer”, “Rest In Pieces (April 15, 1952)”, “Anthem To The Estranged” (one of the finest thrash metal ballads ever conceived), “Badlands” and “The Spell Can’t Be Broken” were all incredible. Intelligent, powerful, heavy and home to a monumental vocal performance – the perfect balance of melodic muscle – from Mike Howe contributed to setting Metal Church apart from their peers and Blessing In Disguise is the album that solidified their reputation for consistently delivering the goods.
It may have been 1989 but Metal Church still had time to squeeze in one of the most vital 80’s American heavy metal / thrash albums of the decade!
Nuclear Assault – Handle With Care
After being ousted by Anthrax back in ’86, bassist Dan Lilker formed the explosive Nuclear Assault and they arguably peaked with their third album, Handle With Care.
Leaving Anthrax quaking in their boots, Nuclear Assault had always thrashed harder, faster and with more conviction than Scott Ian and co. and they didn’t fuck with a winning formula on the likes of “Critical Mass”, “Surgery” and “When Freedom Dies”.
One of East Coast thrash’s greatest achievements and Nuclear Assault’s most successful and best-selling album for a damn good reason!
Onslaught – In Search Of Sanity
Onslaught‘s In Search Of Sanity may be a UK thrash anomaly – in that it’s unrecognisable in comparison to the material that preceded it – but despite the fact that the satanic slayer-isms of 1986’s brutal The Force had been jettisoned entirely, In Search Of Sanity still stands proud as a cult item well deserving of high praise for its performances and ambition!
While In Search Of Sanity was more Metal Church than Slayer – and cleaner than a nun’s saintly undercarriage in the process – its go-for-broke mentality should have been applauded; thrash was huge in ’89 and Onslaught shouldn’t apologise for wanting their own large slice of the thrash pie.
The introduction of Grim Reaper’s Steve Grimmett on vocals may have upset the purists (and lets be honest here, Onslaught aren’t really Onslaught without Sy Keeler behind the mic) but the man lent a polished sheen to proceedings which few thrash bands (UK or otherwise) could match!
Quite possibly the finest commercial thrash album ever produced by a UK band, Onslaught were aiming for worldwide recognition when they released this melodic thrash masterclass at the tail end of the 80’s and it should have led to greater things.
Overkill – The Years Of Decay
Overkill‘s last album of the decade – and the last Overkill album to feature guitarist Bobby Gustafson (he would be missed) – has gone down in thrash history as one of their finest and with the likes of “Time to Kill’, “Elimination” and “Birth Of Tension” in its arsenal, it’s not hard to see why!
With technical prowess and raw energy colliding head-long, Overkill were arguably at their peak on The Years Of Decay, with the “”the Motörhead of thrash metal” fully realising their punk meets speed metal sound via 9 exceptional tracks that oozed supreme confidence and stunning variety.
Unique and compelling, this was East Coast thrash at its best…..delivered by a band whose unbelievable longevity can be attributed to releasing classics such as this!
Paradox – Heresy
Now here’s a band with more talent in one finger than most band’s hold in their entire body parts combined and Heresy was the album to bring Paradox to the attention of thrashers on a global scale!
A fully paid up concept album, Heresy re-told the tale of the Albigensian Crusade of the 13th century and in the process redefined the limits of thrash, ironically marching forth on their own crusade to combine elegance with destruction.
Approaching thrash with far less malice than the likes of Sodom, Kreator etc, Paradox instead embraced a power metal aesthetic, aligning themselves more with the likes of Metal Church, Anthrax (minus any silliness) and Onslaught circa In Search Of Sanity than with their Germanic brethren. It paid off too, helping Paradox to stand out from the pack and offering an accessibility that their teutonic peers simply didn’t offer at this point in time.
Featuring soaring twin harmonies, mind-frazzling solos and a rhythm section that could rival the tightest thrash acts around, Paradox were anything but their namesake, delivering instead a concise and melodic attack on the senses that was unrelenting in its clinical efficiency.
Pariah – Blaze of Obscurity
A classic sounding thrash band before the term could even be applied, there was something inviting about Pariah’s thrashed up New Wave Of British Heavy Metal based output; of which Blaze Of Obscurity was their finest hour.
Formed from the ashes of NWOBHM heroes Satan, Pariah would go on to donate Graeme English and Steve Ramsey to Skyclad but first came this magnificent slice of technical thrash excellence. The perfect companion piece to Onslaught’s equally ambitious In Search Of Sanity, Pariah’s astonishing array of complex riffs and expansive songwriting should have found them beloved the world over.
As it transpired, Pariah were treated in a manner befitting their name and split after just two short years.
However, Blaze Of Obscurity is so ridiculously accomplished that it deserves nothing less than total reappraisal and should be considered a benchmark for 80’s speed metal and thrash metal guitar work.
Powermad – Absolute Power
With a sound that marries well with that of Metal Church, Flotsam & Jetsam and Forbidden – particularly in Joel Dubay’s powerful vocals – Powermad‘s debut full length remains a strangely alluring hybrid of thrash, speed metal, power metal and core traditional metal values that sucks you in with humungous hooks, unforgettable melodies and a clear, concise sound that’s impressively executed.
“Slaughterhouse” may be a title that conjures images of a typical horror-show bloodbath but – just like the majority of Absolute Power – there’s a refreshing ‘light’ touch and upbeat, bouncy feel to this storming opener that defied the standard unbridled aggression of the day.
That’s not to say that these guys didn’t know how to thrash!
The high tempo and satisfyingly crunchy staccato palm-muted riff-fest of “Test The Steel (Powermad)” stands as testament to their thrash credentials. Ample moments of speed metal frenzy are ably balanced throughout with the kind of controlled yet expansive dynamism that Queensrÿche excelled at in the late 80’s.
Sabbat – Dreamweaver (Reflections of Our Yesterdays)
The second full-length album from British pagan thrashers Sabbat swiftly followed their outstanding debut, History of a Time to Come, and this all-time classic follow-up ventured ever further into singer / lyricist Martin Walkyier’s strong interest in Wyrdism, Celtic mysticism, Anglo-Saxon spirituality and paganism.
Dreamweaver – a concept album based on the 1983 book The Way of Wyrd: Tales of an Anglo-Saxon Sorcerer by British psychologist Brian Bates – ably demonstrated the sheer poetry conjured by this most unique of thrash bands. Not least in Walkyier’s expansive lyricism but in Andy Sneap’s ability to conjure magic from his epic and progressively technical compositions.
Exceptional doesn’t quite do this album justice.
Sepultura – Beneath the Remains
An all-time death/thrash classic, Beneath The Remains fully marked the emergence of one of metal’s most enduring talent’s and laid down the gauntlet to thrash metal bands the world over. According to vocalist Max Cavalera, Sepultura had “really found [their] style” on that album and you’d be a fool to argue with that particular sentiment.
The epitome of all killer, no filler, a de riguer acoustic intro gave way to Beneath The Remains’ incendiary title track and the Seps were off and running; thrashing with more aggression, and more intensity than the majority of their peers could ever hope to muster. “Inner Self” and “Stronger Than Hate” then offered the ‘hits’ before the riff-fest of “Mass Hypnosis” garnered Sepultura ultimate technical bragging rights!
Produced by renowned death metal producer Scott Burns (Obituary, Death, Morbid Angel) it was evident, when compared to their previous releases, that a monumental leap forward in Sepultura’s musicianship and composition skills had occurred. A brutal indictment of growing up in the favelas of Brazil, the ‘Seps’ harnessed their experiences and produced a visceral, primitive sound, bringing world music to the thrash scene and setting themselves up as one of extreme metal’s finest ever bands.
Sodom – Agent Orange
Bidding a fond farewell to the knuckle-dragging sound of their Obsessed By Cruelty debut and harnessing the considerable progress made on Persecution Mania, Sodom tickled the fancy of the mainstream with their 3rd album, Agent Orange, and the world stood up and took notice.
Think of a superlative and it applies to this album; originality, quality, intensity, variety and technicality all ring true. Still capable of thrashing up a storm it was on the mid-paced chug of “Remember The Fallen” and “Magic Dragon” where Sodom’s monumental progress took form. Revelling in a confidence that allowed Agent Orange’s compositions to breathe, their less is more approach reaped endless rewards with thrillingly expansive dynamics well and truly achieved.
As deadly effective as the title would suggest, Agent Orange stood out in what was (obviously) a banner year for thrash.After all, to hold your own against the might of the already mentioned Annihilator’s Alice In Hell, Sepultura’s Beneath The Remains and Kreator’s Extreme Aggression takes some doing….but Sodom proved more than worthy of the challenge!
Testament – Practice What You Preach
Practice What You Preach, the third studio album from American thrash metal royalty Testament, took these Californians to the next level as Chuck Billy and the boys attempted to crack the stranglehold The Big 4 held on late 80’s thrash!
This was the album that should have done it as well, with the likes of the title track, “Greenhouse Effect” and “The Ballad” showcasing a more mature band; one who were turning their attention away from occult themes and to socio / political / environmental concerns instead.
Mediative they may have been but this hardly dampened the fiery thrash spirit that burned inside, and with a flurry of thrash anthems that bristled with raw energy and aggression, it’s unsurprising that Practice What You Preach has gone down in thrash history as one of Testament’s greatest ever achievements (and there’s been a few)!
Viking – Man Of Straw
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.
Voivod – Nothingface
Nothingface is not only Voivod‘s most successful album, it’s also a critically worshipped progressive thrash classic.
Home to Voivod’s universally adored cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Divine”, these unconventional Canadians wore their prog influences proudly on their sleeves and its testament to the quality of the album that the bulk of Nothingface maintains the credibility of Floyd’s classic composition.
Voivod arguably never bettered Nothingface‘s distinct brand of progressive thrash and tracks such as the confusingly obtuse “Pre–Ignition” and “Into My Hypercube” are as mesmerisingly alien as ever; obscure riffs and vocal lines somehow melding perfectly!
Voivod have returned to the complex rhythms of Nothingface in the preceding years – check out 2014’s exceptional Target Earth – but this is the album that still resonates with both the fans and the band alike!
Watchtower – Control And Resistance
Bands in the late 80’s, thrash or otherwise, 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 thrash metal.
Kudos to the astonishingly gifted Ron Jarzombek (Spastic Ink, Blotted Science) whose 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!
That was our pick of just 25 albums that made 1989 one of the greatest years in thrash….there were, of course, many more that could have ben included here. Pop your suggestions in the comments below!