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.
Nearly 35 years later and Endless War is still one of the greatest examples of technical thrash you’ll have the pleasure of hearing.
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.
Other articles in this series: