Sure, The Big 4 released some of the greatest thrash metal albums ever recorded but what of those American thrash albums that fell largely by the wayside, those albums looked over in favour of Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax?
With that in mind, Worship Metal has selected 35 American thrash albums that deserved far more attention and should have been as successful (and sold as many copies!) as the likes of Slayer’s Reign In Blood, Metallica’s Master Of Puppets, Megadeth’s Rust In Peace and Anthrax’s Among The Living.
Exodus – Bonded By Blood (1985)
One of thrash’s most legendary albums comes from a band who hovered on the periphery of The Big 4 without ever making that leap into the big league. It’s fairly common knowledge that Bonded By Blood was actually recorded in 1984, but was held back for a ridiculous 9 months due to record label wrangling and that lost time proved to be more than just significant.
Instead of spearheading the scene they helped to create, Exodus found themselves endlessly playing catch up and they simply ran out of puff; forever chasing the pack and never actually gaining ground. But, Exodus were at the forefront of thrash, capable of out-riffing their Bay Area peers and, pound for pound, they were the heaviest, most dangerous, most unpredictable and most ferociously adept outfit on the block.
“Bonded By Blood”, “A Lesson In Violence”, “And Then There Were None”, “Piranha”, and “Strike Of The Beast” are all thrash gold, tarnished by bad timing but true treasures in thrash’s trove. While many bands would try to tap into the virulent violence that positively oozes from each track, none could match the intensity conjured by Paul Baloff, Gary Holt, Tom Hunting, Rick Hunolt and Rob McKillop.
Possessed – Seven Churches (1985)
On their debut album, Possessed took a cut and paste approach to their music by incorporating the viciousness of Venom, the speed of Motörhead and the thrashing, atonal guitars of early Exodus and Slayer.
The result was an innovative and primitive thrash metal sound which came to define death metal.
“The Exorcist”, “Burning In Hell” and “Seven Churches” are held together by Jeff Becerra’s unholy roar, simultaneously aping Lemmy from Motörhead yet producing a guttural tone that would go on to be the bread and butter of death metal.
Possessed take the honour of inventing death metal on their debut album. This is constantly up for debate but we’re standing by it; no Seven Churches, no death metal.
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!
Flotsam and Jetsam – Doomsday For The Deceiver (1986)
One of the greatest thrash debuts known to man, Flotsam and Jetsam’s Doomsday For The Deceiver led the world to believe that a new thrash superpower had arrived (not quite, unfortunately) with a collection of tunes both overwhelmingly powerful and expertly performed.
Taking the very best bits of speed metal, power metal and thrash metal and perfecting them amongst a flurry of cranking bass, warp-speed riffs and Erik A.K’s formidable pipes, the likes of the feral “Hammerhead”, the intense “Iron Tears” and the epic ability of the exquisite title track mark out Doomsday For The Deceiver as an undisputed all-time thrash classic.
Many will recall the rarely used 6K mark awarded by Kerrang back in ’86 but even that rating does this legendary release a disservice…this one truly does go up to 11!
Honourable mention: Flotsam & Jetsam’s follow-up, No Place For Disgrace, is another stone-cold classic from a band who, 35 years later, are still delivering the goods!
Metal Church – The Dark (1986)
Combining traditional metal with thrash, Metal Church had a powerhouse frontman in the shape of David Wayne and riffs most bands would skin their own mothers for. Their self titled debut is an undisputed classic and follow-up, The Dark, also hit the same heady heights!
Featuring all-time ‘Church’ classics “Ton Of Bricks”, “Start The Fire”, the intimidating power ballad – and minor hit – that was “Watch The Children Pray” and the creepy title track, The Dark may have been one of the more melodic thrash releases of ’86 but it was also one of the finest and the most accomplished.
Side 2 may have failed to maintain the velocity of the ‘5 for 5’ hit rate of side 1 but there’s no escaping the fact that both Metal Church’s The Dark was a monumental influence on the burgeoning thrash scene.
Honourable mention: You can’t go wrong with Metal Church’s self-titled debut album.
Nuclear Assault – Game Over (1986)
Nuclear Assault’s debut album saw Danny Lilker and his merry men release an unrefined and cataclysmic thrash metal assault on the world!
Still tapped in to the raw emotion and pure power over technical skill mentality of thrash metal’s early releases – that’s not to say these boys couldn’t play but it’s the attitude that shines through – Game Over bordered on a crossover release; revelling in gang vocals, thunderous bass and John Connoly’s unhinged and apocalyptic screeching diatribes.
From the blacker than black humour of “Hang The Pope” to the end of the world announcing “Nuclear War”, “After The Holocaust” and “Radiation Sickness”, Nuclear Assault hit like the proverbial atomic bomb in ’86 and instantly cemented their place amongst the greats of thrash metal.
Honourable mention: Nuclear Assault didn’t fuck with a winning formula on 1989’s, Handle With Care.
Death Angel – The Ultraviolence (1987)
Almost offensively talented, these teenage wunderkinds were a second-wave phenomenon who were 100% focused on thrashin’ your tits clean off!
Death Angel‘s debut release was a Bay Area revelation, an album designed to shake up the status quo that had only just been established. Understandably, The Big 4 were forced to watch their backs as the likes of “Evil Priest”, the aptly titled “Thrashers” and the stunning 10 minute self-titled instrumental marked out The Ultra-Violence as an instant classic.
Few albums in thrash made an immediate impact as forceful as this!
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.
Honourable mention: The aforementioned Mind Wars could, justifiably, take the place of Terror and Submission…it’s that good!
Sacred Reich – Ignorance (1987)
At this stage in their career Sacred Reich were a little more mean-spirited than in their later years and Ignorance was their politically-charged debut that attempted to educate whilst offering breakneck speed and thrashing anthems aplenty!
“Death Squad” remains one of the most impressive opening tracks in thrash metal history – a full on burst of rapid-fire riffing and ultra aggressive rhetoric – and the likes of “Victim of Demise” and the title track maintained the ferocity.
Worryingly prescient, the intelligent lyrics found on Ignorance foretold a world built on lies, false news, corruption and greed (sound familiar?) and was beyond angry…..it was fuckin’ burning with rage!
A highly prized masterpiece of thrash from a band who never quite received their dues.
Honourable mention: 1990’s The American Way may have had the ‘hits’ (the title track, “Who’s To Blame” and “The Way It Is”) but it pales in comparison to the ferocity of Ignorance.
Testament – The Legacy (1987)
Testament‘s debut, The Legacy, announced their arrival in an already crowded scene with an immediate attention-grabbing potency.
It was already clear that Testament had the necessary skill to challenge the big boys of thrash with an eerie, ominous atmosphere thankfully making amends for a thin, tinny production. Most noticeably, the band had musicians in their ranks who could really play and a vocalist who could scream, wail, growl and (whisper it) actually sing!
The guitar pairing of Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick was also inspired, Petersen’s solid, chugging rhythm work perfectly complimenting Skolnick’s jazz influenced shredding skills.
Official challengers to The Big 4 had arrived!
Whiplash – Ticket To Mayhem (1987)
Heralding World War III on opener “Perpetual Warfare”, New Jersey’s Whiplash were a 3-piece of considerable power and tenacity, making up in ferocity what they lacked in panache.
However, Ticket To Mayhem found Tony Portaro, Tony Bono and Joe Cangelosi balancing the relentlessly ferocious energy carried over from debut album Power and Pain with a few moments of considered introspection, no more so than on semi-ballad “Last Nail In The Coffin”.
Of course, all-out thrash anthems were still present and accounted for, with “Spiral Of Violence” and “The Burning Of Atlanta” unleashing merry hell, but Ticket To Mayhem showcased a more mature, more refined and focused Whiplash; one capable of delivering a more nuanced album than previously thought possible.
Honourable mention: 1986’s Power and Pain remains a vicious assault on the senses.
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!
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!
Overkill – Under The Influence (1988)
Taking the honour of never releasing a bad album (and they’ve released 18 of the buggers!), Overkill‘s 1988 effort, Under The Influence, remains a firm fan favourite and is home to some of these East Coast maniacs finest compositions.
The uncompromisable “Shred” and “Hello from the Gutter” (Overkill’s breakthrough which received heavy rotation on MTV’s Headbangers Ball) may be the most recognisable tracks but the whole album is filled with the same level of menace and high speed hostility.
High on energy and fuelled by aggression, it’s arguable that Overkill never sounded this raw and unpolished again, with these New Jersey boys’ punk roots still informing the core of their sound and ultimately transforming Under The Influence into Overkill’s most feral beast!
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!
Suicidal Tendencies – How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today (1988)
These American crossover thrash icons hit the big time with their 3rd album, How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today, an album which embraced metal without fully ditching Suicidal Tendencies‘ hardcore roots.
Mike Muir’s reflective social commentary was as barbed as ever, raging against the world while remaining blackly humorous, but it was the combination of Rocky George’s shredding solo’s and Mike Clark’s mighty metallic riffs which transformed Suicidal Tendencies‘ How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today into an all-time classic.
“Pledge Your Allegiance” may very well be the ultimate metal brotherhood anthem while ‘hit single’ “Trip To The Brain” and the likes of “If I Don’t Wake Up”, “The Miracle” and the title track remain crossover mainstays.
The result? A-grade crossover thrash from one of the scene’s most charismatic bands!
Testament – The New Order (1988)
We maintain that The New Order is Testament‘s greatest album, a full-bodied statement of intent from a band who knew they had an opportunity to not only compete with The Big 4 but surpass even their accomplishments!
History tells us that Testament would never quite break through to the same level as Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer but their recorded output defies that fact, and The New Order remains one of the most potent and consistently thrilling thrash albums in existence.
When an album reads like a greatest hits set you know you’re on to a winner and with the title track, “Trial by Fire,” “Disciples of the Watch and the iconic “Into the Pit” making up the core of this legendary album, The New Order‘s credentials speak for themselves.
Reeking of quality, Testament’s The New Order is mandatory listening for anyone with even a passing interest in thrash and epitomises why thrash dominated the 80’s like no other genre!
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’s 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.
As great thrash debuts go, Eternal Nightmare still takes some beating.
Wargasm – Why Play Around? (1988)
Fusing the sonic onslaught of all-out thrash with the melodic nous of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and the classic sounds of old-school heavy metal, Wargasm’s Why Play Around? is ignored by the majority but beloved by connoisseurs.
“Bullets & Blades” took the speed and aggression of Motorhead and Tank and thrashed the shit out of it, while “Revenge” harnessed a mid-paced crunch to drive home some truly catchy riffing and it’s “knee deep in blood” refrain.
So much potential, so much talent. Why Play Around? may have failed to stand out in a crowded scene of quality releases in 1988 (Metallica’s …And Justice For All, Anthrax’s State Of Euphoria, Exodus’ Fabulous Disaster, Flotsam’s No Place For Disgrace, Testament’s The New Order…) but that’s no reason for ignoring it now!
Exodus – Fabulous Disaster (1989)
Opening with a scathing attack on the prison system – the caustic “The Last Act Of Defiance” – Exodus were clearly in a bullish mood during Fabulous Disaster‘s creation and their third album would go down in thrash history as a classic of the genre!
The H-bomb of Holt and Hunolt were explosive throughout as the likes of the title track, the abrasive “Like Father, Like Son” and pit-inducing classic “The Toxic Waltz” unleashed a siege of 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’ Zetro-fronted 80’s and 90’s output and proved that thrash was more than just merely alive and well in 1989!
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 ‘also ran’ status.
Honourable mention: 1991’s As Above, So Below would prove to be a fitting swansong for this underrated band.
Overkill – The Years Of Decay (1989)
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!
Powermad – Absolute Power (1989)
With a sound that marries well with that of Metal Church, Flotsam & Jetsam and Forbidden – particularly in Joel Dubay’s powerful vocals – Powermad‘s only full length is 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.
Testament – Practice What You Preach (1989)
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)!
Atrophy – Violent By Nature (1990)
The one thing Atrophy‘s Violent By Nature had that many thrash releases seemed to forget, is choruses….shit loads of the catchy buggers!
“In Their Eyes”, “Slipped Through The Cracks”, “Violent By Nature”, “Forgotten But Not Gone”; all contain huge hooks and memorable choruses that once heard are never forgotten. A rare commodity in a genre that often favoured blinding speed and all out assault over actual songwriting and one that enabled Atrophy to stand out from the majority of the thrash pack.
Unconcerned with unnecessarily lengthy compositions and progressive noodling, Violent By Nature took the core ingredients of thrash and refused to mess with a winning formula. The result was an album that hit with immeasurable groove, cunning melody and some of the catchiest, bounciest, mosh-pit friendly thrash anthems ever to be found on one album.
Honourable mention: Atrophy’s excellent debut album, Socialized Hate (1988), is also worthy of your time!
Believer – Sanity Obscure (1990)
Technical but still infused with riffs that crushed as well as confused, Believer‘s Sanity Obscuremay well be one of thrash metal’s more ‘obscure’ albums but it’s also a minor classic and should appeal to any fans of the wildly experimental and progressive stylings of Death, Voivod, Atheist and Coroner.
The all encompassing chaos on display throughout Sanity Obscure‘s 8 furious tracks is punctuated by dissonant riffs, unpredictable stop-start rhythms and arrangements so complicated they must have been a bugger to perform live.
Without sacrificing that all important moshability, Sanity Obscure impressed most with it’s sheer unconformity, accomplished musicianship and tortured vocals courtesy of vocalist/guitarist Kurt Bachman.
Death Angel – Act III (1990)
By the time the tail end of the 80’s had rolled round, precocious young thrashers Death Angel had made quite the name for themselves and were beginning to push The Big 4 in the popularity stakes. They’d even attracted the interest of a major label (Geffen Records) and what followed should have seen them break into the big leagues!
Act III was a departure from the raucous thrash of 1987’s The Ultra-Violence and the experimental nature of 1988’s Frolic Through The Park with Death Angel maturing at a rate of knots and delivering one of the finest melodic thrash albums ever recorded.
The acoustic nature of “Veil of Deception” and ultra-thrash-ballad “A Room With a View” offered diversity but the likes of “Stop”, Disturbing The Peace” and “Ex-Tc” proved that Death Angel could still thrash with the best of ’em. This was the kind of album that really should have rivalled the commerciality of Metallica’s The Black Album and Megadeth’s Countdown To Extinction and sent Death Angel stratospheric.
Exhorder – Slaughter In The Vatican (1990)
Slaughter In The Vatican’s furious thrash and groove-metal establishing credentials rank it as an absolute thrash classic.
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 and not, we repeat not, a thrash album!)
Alternating between fast and slow tempos (the true ‘groove’ element of their sound), Exhorder‘s Slaughter In The Vatican still makes the majority of thrash bands sound utterly lost at sea.
Forbidden – Twisted Into Form (1990)
This 1990 follow-up to Forbidden’s iconic debut found these San Franciscans evolving into a true technical tyrannosaur of earth-shaking proportions!
Boasting stronger songwriting and tighter performances, Forbidden upped both the technicality and the melody with Twisted Into Form and created a second-wave thrash classic in the process. With ‘catchy’ choruses cosying up next to the deftly handled guitar work of ‘new boy’ Tim Calvert and band stalwart Craig Locicero, Forbidden’s true power lay in Russ Anderson’s soaring vocals (the lungs on the lad!) and a foreboding atmosphere which informs each and every majestical track.
An album which can still be considered a benchmark of speed, melody and technicality, Twisted Into Form sounds as fresh and exciting today as it did over 30 years ago!
Honourable mention: Forbidden’s debut release, Forbidden Evil (1988), remains one of the greatest debuts in thrash history!
Morbid Saint – Spectrum Of Death (1990)
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, Sodom and 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!
Devastation – Idolatry (1991)
Only with hindsight has Devastation‘s third, and their finest, opus been revered as a 90’s thrash milestone but be under no illusion, Idolatry is one of the greatest thrash albums of the decade and should have been hailed as an instant classic upon release.
Carefully straddling the fine line between death metal and thrash, Devastation were abrasively aggressive, technically adept, lightning-fast and heavy as all hell and fans of Dark Angel, Sepultura, Demolition Hammer and early-Death need this album…..if they don’t own it already!
A suffocatingly dense album, this shadowy beast favoured lurking in the corners of thrash’s darkest spaces as opposed to gleaming like much of the early 90’s clean, technically-obsessed thrash albums and it’s all the more distinctive for it. Murky and malevolent, Idolatry benefitted from its dank atmosphere and remains a violent, visceral experience.
Dark Angel – Time Does Not Heal (1991)
It’s fairly common knowledge that the sheer amount of riffs on this thing is mind-blowing (“9 songs, 67 minutes, 246 riffs!”, to be precise) and Dark Angel‘s Time Does Not Heal has, rightfully, gone down in thrash history as one of the most enduring feats of bravura musicianship ever committed to tape!
Ambitious to the point of lunacy, the sheer number of ideas on this early 90’s classic could have filled 3 further albums but, instead, Dark Angel decided to release a definitive statement; one that’s somehow rendered clean of fat, despite the excessive complexity on display.
Lyrically profound – and tackling a wide range of hard-hitting sociological subjects – there’s argument that Time Does Not Heal is also the most intelligent thrash album ever recorded….and who are we to argue with that?!
Mind. Still. Blown.
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!
Overkill – Horrorscope (1991)
One of the most prolific bands in thrash, Overkill have released a staggering 19 studio albums since their debut arrived in 1985 (compare this to Metallica’s measly 11 studio albums since 1983 and you see our point) and Horrorscope is an outstanding and enduring effort with quality stamped all over it.
Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth’s vocals can be an acquired taste – the best comparison being a harsher version of AC/DC’s Brian Johnson – but there’s no doubting the sheer quality of the song writing found on 1991’s Horroscope and Overkill were clearly thinking big with this release.
Ably balancing the unbridled aggression found on their early releases with just the right amount of experimentation, Horrorscope found the boys harnessing everything from acoustic intros (“Coma”), blinding speed (“Infectious”), thrash ballads (“Solitude”) and mid-tempo stomp (“New Machine”) and the result was an early 90’s masterpiece from a band operating at the very top of their game!
Demolition Hammer – Epidemic Of Violence (1992)
The second album from violent New York City thrash metallers Demolition Hammer, Epidemic of Violence is a cult classic of the highest order and remains one of the most ferocious thrash albums in existence!
Having the nerve to release one of the meanest thrash albums of all time during a period when thrash was all but forgotten by the metal masses took guts, but these guys were blatantly unconcerned with the arrival of death metal and groove metal. Instead, they took the elements they admired from both sub-genres and shackled them, kicking and screaming, bloody and bowed, to their own thrash metal framework.
Arguably as sonically devastating as any death metal album of the era, this undisputed epitome of pure thrash brutality was propelled by the pummelling drumming of Vinny Daze who excelled himself here (those kicks are lightning fucking fast) and the aptly titled “Skull Fracturing Nightmare” sums this album up perfectly.
Riffs that were both technical and built around brute force may have been the showcase but Daze’s skill behind the kit and the larynx-lacerating vocals of bassist Steve Reynolds were equally as important.