As we trawled through the vaults of thrash history it came as no surprise that the sheer wealth of quality American thrash releases over the years was simply staggering.
If there’s a particular thrash classic you feel has been lost to the annals of time then pop it in the comments below and we’ll look to include it in future articles.
Let’s get thrashed! \m/
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 debut full length album that showcased this undervalued bands full potential and proved to be a total reinvention of their sound.
Eyes Of Tomorrow is progressive thrash incarnate. Off kilter rhythms and mind-boggling complexity jostling with infectious melody, ingenious hooks and heads-down thrashing. Creatively eccentric, it’s the likes of “Being” and the epic “Experience” that still surprise the most. Filled with fluid leads, accomplished solos and dark ambience, the technicality and progressive nature of Eyes Of Tomorrow is clear to hear and stands as the perfect counterpoint to the moments of up-tempo thrash and staccato riffing that remind the listener that this is still a thrash record after all.
While Kyriakos Charlie Tsiolis’ vocals may prove to be an acquired taste – although we challenge anyone to try spitting out lyrics at a pace that matches the frenzied patterns Aftermath conjure – the borderline spoken word nature of his delivery is actually the perfect fit for the schizophrenic aural battery his words accompany. Conventional structure be damned! When music is this undeniably accomplished and genuinely thrilling, the tried and tested formula’s seem relatively passé; the technicality and individuality of Aftermath proving infinitely more rewarding than the meat ‘n’ potatoes thrash trotted out by far too many bands in the early 90’s.
If the likes of Heathen, Anacrusis, Coroner and Voivod float your boat then Aftermath are your next port of call….if you haven’t discovered them already of course!
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.
An unsung classic, Absolute Power may not be the most aggressive, in-your-face 80’s thrash release but it’s one of the most consistent.
Hirax – Raging Violence (1985)
An anorexic production job does little to dent the ferocious nature of Hirax‘s powerful debut released during thrash metal’s infancy. A blistering crossover thrash / speed metal exercise in full-throttle riffing, Hirax may have been a little rough around the edges but their often undervalued contribution to the scene is actually undeniable.
With one of the most distinctive voices in thrash – as an ambassador for the genre as well as a vocalist – frontman Katon W. De Pena is a Thrash icon. His melodic John Cyriis (Agent Steel) meets Eric A.K. (Flotsam And Jetsam) wail was the perfect foil for his bandmate’s hardcore punk infused bouts of maddening metal.
14 tracks in just over 30 minutes signals just how fast these guys actually played and precious few could match them for speed in ’85! Trading finesse for brute force, the likes of “Bombs Of Death” – an all time thrash classic – still managed to drip-feed a little melody into the mix, enabling Hirax’s barely in control barbarity to warrant repeat listening.
It’s raw, it’s passionate, it is thrash circa 1985 and Raging Violence still relishes using your head as a punching bag nearly 35 years later!
Realm – Endless War (1988)
Another technical 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!
Straddling the fine line between thrash, power metal and speed metal (Toxik are a fitting comparison) Realm’s supreme confidence in finessing the core ingredients of these sub-genres is only outweighed by their sheer technical virtuosity. 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.
Also home to one of the greatest thrash cover versions in the shape of The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby”, this theatrical blast through such a usually melancholic song screams insanity and sums up the hyperactive approach Realm adopt for the majority of Endless War.
32 years later and Endless War is still one of the greatest examples of techinical thrash you’ll have the pleasure of hearing, it may be hard to find but it’s well worth searching for!
Epidemic – Decameron (1992)
Skirting around the periphery of being more death metal than thrash it still seems appropriate to highlight this early 90’s skull-splitter from San Francisco’s Epidemic.
Arriving rather late on the scene, Epidemic’s fusing of thrash and death was understandable as, by ’92, death metal had already begun to ensnare those fans looking for ever heavier sounds.
With complete disregard for the level of melody the majority of thrash bands had been playing with – this was around the time of Testament’s ultra-melodic The Ritual, Death Angel’s mainstream courting Act III and the behemoth that was Metallica’s Black Album – Epidemic’s death/thrash was relentless in it’s attack.
Remember the first time you were fronted by Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends? Well, Decameron warrants the same ‘run for cover’ response and only on “Witches Brew” do Epidemic settle into a familiar mid-placed thrash metal groove. The remainder of the album is a throat-slicing onslaught who’s sheer ferocity never fails to surprise.
An often forgotten gem from the early 90’s, this incensed body of work shunned the expected formula of the day and went straight for the jugular with quick-fire bursts of pure rage.
Exhorder – Slaughter In The Vatican (1990)
Exhorder were not only a huge inspiration on the world-conquering Pantera (we won’t go into it, most of you will already be more than familiar with their ‘similarities’, if not….look it up) they also delivered two exceptional albums – 1992’s The Law is also a stone-cold, mid-tempo groove monster – while Slaughter In The Vatican‘s furious thrash and groove metal establishing credentials rank it as an absolute thrash classic….even if it is perennially under-appreciated.
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).
It’s aggressive, unpredictable and utterly remorseless and it still makes the majority of thrash bands sound utterly lost at sea. As a non-stop thrash assault it’s up there with the likes of Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends, Slayer’s Reign In Blood and Razor’s Shotgun Justice. Only on closing track “Slaughter In The Vatican” do Exhorder dial back on the drubbing. Alternating between fast and slow tempos (the true ‘Groove Element of their sound’) a sense of dynamics emerges that the likes of “Homicide” and “Anal Lust” (what a title!) practically avoid like the plague.
For a debut album, Exhorder excelled themselves and as far as influential goes, look no further. These 4 guys from New Orleans ushered in the era of groove metal which would go on to take over the globe.