The maths doesn’t lie. Rewind the clock back an incredible 35 years and you land on 1986; one of the greatest years in heavy metal history.
1986 (as you’ll already know) was the year that thrash slapped the mainstream in the chops, waking the world up to a new metal superpower in the process. It was the year that saw traditional heavy metal bands (NOT hair metal!) continuously striving for greatness, riffing like they’d never riffed before. It was the year that saw death metal (in its prototype form) take small but integral steps towards greatness.
35. Hallows Eve – Death & Insanity
Dialing down the frantic nature of 1985’s Tales Of Terror (a little), Hallows Eve‘s sophomore effort was a prime slab of power thrash and the finest of their three albums released in the 80’s.
Upping the ante from production to songwriting, all element of Hallow’s Eve‘s sound were finessed on an album that arrived just a mere year after their debut. Take the scuzzy stomp and aggression of “Lethal Tendencies” as a prime example of their controlled rage….a mid-tempo wrecking ball that’s lost none of its heft!
Hallows Eve may not have been the fastest, they may not have been the heaviest but, with Death & Insanity, they contributed an unsung classic to the scene.
34. Exorcist – Nightmare Theatre
A true cult classic, Nightmare Theatre may have sprung from the mind of David DeFeis (Virgin Steele) but its horror overtones and occult tendencies were far removed from Virgin Steele‘s power metal output.
Like an unholy coupling of Destruction and W.A.S.P, the appeal of Nightmare Theatre lay in its camp 80’s feel and video nasty sensibility that renders it oddly nostalgic whilst still kicking ass!
The only Exorcist release (to date) can lay claim to influencing death metal and black metal but needs to be remembered for being one hell of great mid-80’s thrash/speed metal record.
33. Exumer – Possessed By Fire
Exumer‘s Possessed By Fire is a perfectly executed exercise in bestial devastation and should have elevated these Germans to superstar status.
Completely unpredictable, Exumer’s sound is defiantly thrash but not as intimidatingly raw as the albums produced at the time by their peers Destruction, Sodom and Kreator. In fact, at this stage in their career Exumer were the more accomplished musicians; each track running the gamut of time changes and mood-swings and exhibiting an addiction to attention deficit that still makes Possessed By Fire nigh on impossible to resist.
A legendary cult item, Exumer’s debut is one outrageously ornate thrash album that will continue to attract new fans, its schizoid attitude and countless charms are just too damn addictable!
32. Deathrow – Riders Of Doom (aka Satan’s Gift)
In ’86, Germany’s Deathrow were a whirlwind of hyper thrash and almost unrecognisable to the band that would release the more refined Raging Steel and the challenging progression of Deception Ignored just a few years later.
At this stage, Deathrow had more in common with the flurries of violence administered by Exodus, Razor and Dark Angel than the blackened fury conjured by their peers and perhaps that’s why Riders Of Doom – for the most part – remains a sadly undiscovered gem. Lost in the mire of high profile releases such as Kreator’s Pleasure To Kill and Destruction’s Eternal Devastation, Deathrow seemingly bubbled away under the surface releasing quality albums but to little or no avail. However, fans will know that with Riders Of Doom the band had delivered an album strong enough to at least level the playing field!
31. Queensrÿche – Rage For Order
Home to a sound that legions of burgeoning melodic progressive metal bands would try to emulate in the wake of this release, Queensrÿche‘s second album, Rage For Order, was the album to propel them into the big leagues; with its scintillating mix of prog, glam metal, power metal and hard rock proving nigh on irresistible to the tune of half a million sales and counting.
While slightly lacking in punch, there’s no denying the quality on display throughout with relatively straight-forward opener “Walk in the Shadows” and the futuristic genius of “Screaming in Digital” arguably hitting the hardest, and while Queensrÿche‘s ascent to full prog mastery was yet to come (Operation: Mindcrime was two years away) Rage For Order remains a pivotal release.
30. Angel Dust – Into The Dark Past
Before they fully embraced power metal, Germany’s Angel Dust had a pop at thrash and as debuts go, Into The Dark Past was a fast, frantic, thrill ride! Resolutely obsessed with speed over finesse, these 8 ripping tracks were less Sodom and Kreator and more Iron Angel; a thrilling hybrid of speed and thrash that was equal parts melody and barbarity.
Romme Keymer’s vocals may have received a bit of stick over the years but they fit the music perfectly. Ugly, forceful, yet furnished with glimpses of power metal harmony, Keymer was actually an unorthodox yet perfect match-up.
Fans of Agent Steel, Grave Digger and Helloween should already be aware of Angel Dust‘s early output. Those who missed out the first time round should applaud the recent re-release of Into The Dark Past on No Remorse Records as this relatively unsung contribution to early German thrash is ripe for rediscovery.
29. Post Mortem – Coroner’s Office
A proto death metal cult classic, Post Mortem‘s incendiary collision of pioneering death metal, corrosive anarchic punk and experimental use of jazz led to an album that practically defied genre classification.
Thoroughly pissed of yet laced with pitch black humour, this cult curio is ungraceful, tempered with moments of songwriting genius – check out the thrashy immediacy of “Ready To Die”, the proto-grind of “Run Amok” and the aggro-doom of “It’s Just A Thought” – and brimming with ideas.
We’re still not sure what to think of this most unique album….even 35 years on!
28. Chastain – Ruler of the Wasteland
Unfairly ignored for the most part, Chastain were highly atmospheric, chillingly melodic and had a taste for the epic; resulting in a sophomore album that should have turned far more heads than it actually did 34 years ago.
Leather Leone, one of the greatest female vocalists in metal, is flawless throughout – matching the likes of the mighty David Wayne on the Metal Church-esque highlight, “Angel Of Mercy” – and Ruler Of The Wasteland exemplifies straight up, lightning fast metal at its finest; a riveting snapshot of what made pure 80’s metal so consistently thrilling!
With the band still going strong – 2015’s We Bleed Metal was a riff lovers dream – there’s no better time to retrace the footsteps left by Chastain; starting with the outstanding Ruler Of The Wasteland.
27. Elixir – The Son Of Odin
Almost eschewing the influence of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal entirely, Elixir favoured a more conventionally classic metal sound on The Son Of Odin that raged and pounded with the best of them.
While the ‘Maiden’ effect still loomed large – check out the irresistible gallop of “Treachery (Ride Like The Wind)” – Elixir had their own sound, categorised by a forlorn atmosphere, power-metal dynamics and the robust vocals of Paul Taylor.
Another cult classic that deserves re-evaluation, Elixir’s The Son Of Odin may have been a victim of thrash metal’s dominance (if this had been released just two years earlier Elixir would probably have become a household name) but that’s no excuse for ignoring it now!
26. Destruction – Eternal Devastation
Hot on the tails of the US thrash elite were Germany’s own teutonic terror’s and Destruction‘s Eternal Devastation was a bestial invasion that let the world know that the Germans were well and truly coming!
Perhaps not quite hitting the heights of 1985’s Infernal Overkill, Destruction were still conjuring greatness and classic thrashers can be found here. From the all-time great that is “Curse The Gods” to the still surprising folk-thrash opening of “United By Hatred” and the air-raid siren soloing of “Life Without Sense”, Destruction sounded confident, brash and capable of anything on only their second full length release.
Early European thrash consolidated Germany’s importance alongside the Bay Area acts, and Eternal Devastation remains beloved by thrash fans the world over and for bloody good reason; it’s as devastating as ever!