Considering the UK invented heavy metal, it’s always frustrating to reflect on how seemingly unsuccessful we were at thrash metal!
Predominantly an American phenomenon (although the Teutonic trio of Destruction, Kreator and Sodom were equally as accomplished), British thrash caused a few waves over the years but this was nothing compared to the Tsunami caused by Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Testament, Death Angel, Overkill, Exodus etc.
In retrospect, British thrash bands actually had much to offer, album sales and general exposure may have been significantly lower than desired but the talent and musicianship was clear to see. Largely forgotten over the years, it’s time to re-address the balance and take a look at the British thrash albums that really mattered.
Virus – Lunacy (1989)
Forming in 1986, Virus would go on to release an album a year over the next 3 years culminating in 1989’s Lunacy; an album that deserved far wider acclaim than it received.
If you’re a fan of frenzied Vio-Lence-esque riffs, killer gang-vocals and hooks that’ll snag you square in the chops from a hundred yards, then Virus are the band for you and Lunacy could become your new favourite album. Capable of matching any of the 2nd tier American thrash bands, their bass-heavy, gritty and hyper-fast thrash should have reached a wider audience; a case of British thrash again being overlooked in favour of an American contingent.
Virus were a band with a fearsome live reputation – with the clout to make some serious noise within the thrash metal scene – and Lunacy was ample proof that they were fast evolving into serious contenders.
As infectious as ever, Virus are very much active (check out 2020’s career highlight, Evilution Apocalypse).
If you liked this, check out: Force Recon (1988), pure ferocity and a UK companion piece to the feral likes of Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends and Kreator’s Pleasure to Kill!
Slammer -The Work Of Idle Hands (1989)
Slammer‘s debut, The Work Of Idle Hands, has aged considerably well, with it’s professional production and solid foundations belying it’s semi-forgotten status. With a street-smart atmosphere pervading throughout, and Paul Tunnicliffe’s convincing raspy vocals giving each track an urbanised edge, the likes of “Tenement Zone” and the expansive “Hellbound” stand-out from the pack….but the entire album is worthy of your time.
Slammer‘s sound may not be original, but they were damn good at what they did and if consistently impressive and aggressive guitar work is your bag, you’d do well to hunt down a copy. But beware, this really is a lost classic and hard to track down at a reasonable price!
Highly reminiscent of Testament at their most accessible, Slammer had a sound that was tailor-made for the American market and should have lead to significant album sales and worldwide recognition. As it turned out, Slammer were just another British thrash band who should have made a big splash on both sides of the pond but failed to make more than a ripple; only with hindsight can we see they had much more to offer.
If you liked this, check out: Insanity Addicts (1990) was Slammer’s second EP and a decent stab at taking their sound into ever more marketable areas.
Re-Animator – Condemned To Eternity (1990)
Arriving a little later in the day, Re-Animator still had enough potential to cause a stir and 1990’s Condemned To Eternity is their greatest achievement.
Another band in thrall to Testament’s semi-melodic approach (particularly in Kev Ingleson’s Chuck Billy-aping vocals), Re-Animator still possessed the required skill to amount a convincing thrash attack; proof positive that us Brits could thrash like fuck when we wanted to!
“Low Life” and the instrumental title track are the real highlights, both demonstrating the bands knack for experimental and yet vertebrae-shattering riffs. While “Low Life” may rip off Metallica‘s “Creeping Death” in its opening bars, that can be forgiven as the song goes on to establish itself as a frenzied neck-breaker in its own right, and the title-track challenges Death Angel‘s “The Ultraviolence” in the epic instrumental stakes.
In the end, Condemned To Eternity may be one for thrash diehards….but it’s no less convincing because of it!
If you liked this, check out: The previous year saw the arrival of Deny Reality, an EP that merely hinted at what was to come!
Hydra Vein – Rather Death Than False Of Faith (1988)
Shit cover art aside, Hydra Vein were a ferocious and precocious late 80’s thrash band whose Rather Death Than False Of Faith debut deserves to be heralded as a minor classic.
Wallowing in the same dirty cess pool as early Onslaught and Venom, Rather Death Than False Of Faith stands toe to toe with the cream of late 80’s thrash metal. These guys could out slay Slayer when they put their filth-encrusted minds to it and the pure thrash carnage of “Crucifier” and “Rabid” (in fairness, this one’s a little too Slayer-esque for comfort at times) provides a welcome jolt to the system and may take newcomers by surprise!
Regardless of tempo – and Hydra Vein were as adept at blinding speed as they were mid-paced stomp – the key to Hydra Vein’s success (we use that term loosely) hinges on quality over quantity. Featuring just the 8 tracks, it’s notable that all 8 tracks have their moment, whether that’s a shout from the rooftops chorus, face-ripping solo or neck-wrecking riff , each and every song slams hard and features at least one highly memorable moment.
Hydra Vein may have been left in the thrash wilderness but fans of Onslaught’s The Force, Sacrilege’s Behind the Realms Of Madness, Venom’s Black Metal and Slayer’s Hell Awaits need this album…. and that’s despite the cover art which looks like it was painted by a partially sighted 4 year old!
Liked that? Try this: Hydra Vein’s sophomore effort, After The Dream, almost matched the intensity of Rather Death Than False Of Faith.
Acid Reign – Obnoxious (1990)
Alongside Lawnmower Deth, Harrogate’s Acid Reign were another British band to often embrace the sillier side of thrash. However, Acid Reign reined in the lunacy on Obnoxious and the result was an album that embraced a previously untapped progressive edge.
Slowing down, slightly, Acid Reign adopted a more focused attitude, imbuing their intricate riffs and clever lyrics with a keener eye for detail and the results were impressive to say the least.
“Thoughtful Sleep” remains the album’s highlight, a technical excursion into a story of child neglect which surprises with its schizophrenic myriad of time changes and personalities. Intelligent, complex and highly original, in an ideal world this song alone would have elevated Acid Reign into the big leagues. As it turned out, they were unjustly overlooked and imploded shortly after Obnoxious‘ release.
Recent reappraisal of Acid Reign resulted in an eagerly awaited reformation (albeit without 3 of the members who penned Obnoxious) and the band released ‘The Apple Core Archives’ – a box set retrospective that was an absolutely essential purchase for anyone with even a passing interest in thrash. One of the finest thrash albums in recent history then followed in 2019, with The Age Of Entitlement blowing the competition out of the water!
If you liked this, check out: Many will (quite rightly) bemoan our inclusion of Obnoxious over 1989’s The Fear….but it’s our list and we’re sticking with it. How do you like them apples?! (The Fear is brilliant though).
Anihilated – The Ultimate Desecration (1989)
Anihilated‘s second album is a British thrash milestone, incorporating Exodus‘ brash brutality and Slayer‘s knack for intimidating menace and groove to form an album worthy of serious attention.
The grisly grooves of instrumental “Desolation” set the scene as Anihilated‘s malevolent, sickle-sharp riffing crunches straight into high gear on “Into The Flames Of Armageddon”. The album never lets up from here on in; quality track follows quality track with raspy, sandpaper vocals, wall-of-sound drums and Hell Awaits era Slayer riffs combining furiously to thrash your face clean off.
The Slayer comparisons can be a little too familiar at times but if you’re gonna be inspired, be inspired by one of the best and if being the British Slayer is a bad thing, then we’ll be damned!
Of all the bands to arise during thrash’s recent re-birth, Anihilated truly showcased the breadth of talent the UK have to offer, culminating in Anti Social Engineering, one of the finest UK thrash albums ever recorded….and we ain’t fuckin’ kidding….this album absolutely slayed the competition in 2015!
If you liked this, check out: Anihilated’s debut album, Created In Hate; one of the most furiously feral thrash albums to ever emerge from the shores of the UK.
Deathwish – Demon Preacher (1988)
How the actual fuck were Deathwish not bigger?
With opener “Death Procession” leading us on a morbid march through bell-tolling, doom-inflected pathways, the classic sounds of 70’s UK heavy metal soon meets the crunch of Bay Area thrash on the Slayer-esque title track and Deathwish’s inspirations are immediately apparent.
A marriage made in heaven (or should that be hell), this juxtaposition of the UK’s world-conquering 70’s output and the equally successful US thrash sound pioneered by Metallica, Slayer et all is best exemplified on Deathwish’s gritty thrashed-up reworking of Sabbath’s all time classic, “Symptom Of The Universe”. Cover version’s by their very nature are generally disappointing but this updated version of Iommi’s classic riff-fest for a thrash audience remains recognisable but utterly feral.
However, the 70’s worshipping song structures weren’t all Deathwish had in their locker, “Wall Of Lies” and the unfathomably epic “Prey To The Lord” were a sonic boom of rabid riffing fulfilling the hype this underrated band had once generated. A nod to the future and a nod to the past in essence, Deathwish were happy to complete the circle by closing with the acoustic Zeppelin-esque instrumental “Past Life”, restoring balance and a sense of closure in the process.
As a coherent whole, Demon Preacher should be considered a minor masterpiece, the sounds of the pioneering 70’s combining flawlessly with the fresh and vital thrash attack from across the Atlantic. Rediscover it!
Liked that? Try this: You only have one other option, the rough and ready – but equally as impressive – At The Edge Of Damnation (1987).
Xentrix – For Whose Advantage (1990)
Touted as Britain’s answer to Metallica (not quite), Xentrix embraced an Americanised sound which should have seen them rapidly rise to the very top of thrash metal’s ranks.
In reality, their relatively ‘safe’ sound was only ever going to take them so far, and they eventually found themselves lumped in with the plethora of identikit bands who arrived late in the thrash game. Sadly, it’s only with the luxury of hindsight that For Whose Advantage? reveals its true worth and it’s undoubtedly an essential addition to any thrash collection.
Cold, crisp riffing, mid-paced thrashing and Chris Astley’s confident bellow elevated album highlights “Questions?” and “The Bitter End”, and the entire album benefited from a crystal clear production job to rival the genres greats. For Whose Advantage? may tread familiar territory but it’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with reliability – Motörhead and AC/DC built entire careers on it! – and Xentrix were fast becoming Britain’s most consistent band.
Grunge would curtail any further progress as thrash became a dirty word, but for a short while Xentrix appeared to be the one British band who would infiltrate the big leagues.
If you liked this, check out: Shattered Existence, Xentrix‘s outstanding debut that matches For Whose Advantage? in virtually every department!
Onslaught – The Force (1986)
The first band to truly raise hell in the name of British thrash, Onslaught turned heads with their punk-infused debut, Power From Hell, but it was with 1986’s The Force that they truly announced their arrival in the scene.
The Force was an appropriate title, as Onslaught‘s forceful and vitriolic sound hit you like a ten ton hammer; thrashing harder than most and with as much conviction as the likes of Dark Angel and early Slayer.
Still considered an all-time thrash classic, The Force is probably the most convincing thrash album ever recorded by a British band. Capable of ripping your head clean off, Onslaught were a powerhouse who unleashed a multitude of sinister, stabbing riffs without even breaking a sweat. It all seemed too easy and their place in the thrash elite should have been virtually guaranteed.
If you liked this, check out: The aforementioned Power From Hell (1985) was a game-changer. Not just for UK thrash but as a more than notable influence on death metal.
Sabbat – History Of A Time To Come (1988)
There are too few superlatives to convey the true majesty of Britain’s finest ever thrash album. Sabbat were one of the most unique bands in thrash history, regardless of origin, and although short-lived, their overall contribution to the scene remains unparalleled.
Propelled by the ingenious riffs of producer extraordinaire Andy Sneap (Arch Enemy, Nevermore, Testament) and Martin Walkyier’s uniquely unfettered and untameable vocals, Sabbat‘s philosophically pagan take on religion was groundbreakingly raw and real; an honest summation of the world and it’s failings.
The opening tracks, “A Cautionary Tale”, “Hosanna In Excelsis” & Behind The Crooked Cross” are exemplary, an unholy triumvarite of trailblazing thrash that perfectly encapsulated Sabbat‘s religion-baiting sound. However, it was the intelligence on display that truly ranked them as one of the genre’s greats. Here was poetry set to furious thrash, the likes of which has never been seen again.
History Of A Time To Come is mandatory listening for every thrasher on the planet and has barely aged; its place in the thrash history books permanently set in stone!
Also recommended: 1989’s Dreamweaver is, of course, just as mandatory with Sabbat venturing ever further into singer / lyricist Martin Walkyier’s strong interest in Wyrdism, Celtic mysticism, Anglo-Saxon spirituality and paganism.
Also more than worthy of a mention: Cerebral Fix – Tower of Spite / D.A.M – Inside Out / Detritus – If But For One / English Dogs – Forward Into Battle / Hellbastard – Natural Order / Lawnmower Deth – Ooh Crikey It’s… Lawnmower Deth / Pariah – Blaze Of Obscurity / Sacrilege – Behind The Realms Of Madness / Seventh Angel – Lament For The Weary / Skyclad – A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol
Check out our other related thrash features in this series: