The 80’s may have birthed it and the 90’s may have killed it, but the 90’s was also the decade that was home to some monumental thrash classics.
So, Worship Metal has selected our 10 greatest thrash albums of the 1990’s for your enjoyment/ridicule (delete where applicable).
Note: These selections are presented in order of year of release, not in importance!
Slayer – Seasons In The Abyss (1990)
Seasons In The Abyss is the one Slayer album which successfully combined the all-out assault of Reign in Blood with the more considered, ominous grooves of South Of Heaven and the result was arguably the most accessible album of Slayer’s illustrious career.
All out thrashers such as “War Ensemble” and “Hallowed Point” cosied up to ‘catchier’ material such as “Blood Red” and “Skeletons Of Society”, while on “Dead Skin Mask” and the epic title-track, Slayer proved they could stretch thrash metal’s boundaries without sacrificing their distinctive macabre sound.
Singer/Bassist Tom Araya also layid down the most accomplished vocals of his career, inflecting each vicious couplet with previously unheard harmony; the chorus of “Seasons In The Abyss” stands testament to his vocal ability, proving he was capable of more than just bark and bite.
Slayer achieved a deft balancing act on Seasons In The Abyss, with the fantastical, hellish themes of old jostling with our planet’s real life atrocities (War/Urban Gang Violence/Serial Killers) to create an atmosphere with as many peaks and troughs as their many varied riffs.
Seasons In The Abyss remains a mature thrash record from a band who would go on to wave the thrash metal flag high throughout the grunge dominated 90’s.
Their peers may have deserted them but Slayer held strong, defiant to the very end!
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 in the 90’s – 1992’s The Law is also worthy of note – but it’s Slaughter In The Vatican‘s furious thrash and groove metal establishing credentials which rank it as an absolute 90’s 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.
Aggressive, unpredictable and utterly remorseless, 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” did Exhorder dial back on the drubbing; alternating between fast and slow tempos (the true ‘groove element of their sound’) a sense of dynamics emerged that the likes of “Homicide” and “Anal Lust” (what a title!) avoided like the plague.
For a debut album, Exhorder excelled themselves and as far as influential goes, look no further.
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 nearly 30 years ago!
Megadeth – Rust In Peace (1990)
With Rust In Peace, Mega-Dave finally realised his vision for Megadeth by recording the pinnacle of precision thrash and attacking with a force to rival a nuclear detonation. Backed by a weapons-grade, crystal clear production job, Megadeth’s intricate riffing and earth-shattering speed created an album that was machine-like, yet never soulless.
Listing highlights would be unnecessary, the album is as clinical as a military operation and no track should be skipped.The band were at their peak in 1990, Mustaine recruited shred legend Marty Friedman (Cacophony) to provide the stunning guitar acrobatics while the rhythm section of Dave Ellefson and Nick Menza locked into a relentless groove; technique and ruthless artistry combining to produce incomparable thrash metal with no let-up and no mercy.
In 1990, the greatest line up in Megadeth’s history produced the greatest album in Megadeth’s long, distinguished career and, somehow, it still sounds futuristic today!
Anthrax – Persistence Of Time (1990)
Persistence Of Time was the last Anthrax album to feature vocalist Joey Belladonna until 2011’s Worship Music but at least he bowed out of the 90’s with a bang!
Persistence Of Time is a timeless thrash record which ranks as an all time classic in the genre. All but abandoning the recognisable goofy sense of humour which permeated throughout 1988’s State Of Euphoria album, Anthrax changed tact entirely and Persistence‘s tone was noticeably more mature. The only track to seem ill-fitting in this context is their insanely popular cover of Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time”, slightly out of place on an album intent on bludgeoning the listener with social commentary and a harder, more mature edge but their sense of humour inevitably had to bleed through somewhere.
Elsewhere, balls-out thrashers “Gridlock” and “Discharge” were powered, as always, by Charlie Benante’s inventive and powerful double kick drum patterns but the tracks which elevated this album to classic status were the dark and foreboding epics “Blood”, “Keep It In the Family” and “In My World”. Perhaps more reminiscent of Black album era Metallica than Anthrax’s power-inflected metal of old, these particular tracks highlighted the bands growing confidence and musicianship.
On Persistence Of Time, Anthrax demonstrated a social awareness previously hinted at (“Indian’s”, from their Among The Living Album springs to mind) but rarely employed as succinctly and with such righteous conviction; less comic book tomfoolery and more social realism, penned to exhilarating and challenging thrash metal!
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 particular summation?!
Mind. Still. Blown.
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.
It’s rather disappointing that just as Devastation were firmly finding their feet, they decided to disband. However, if you’re going to go out, better to go out with a bang!
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!
Heathen ended up being victims of circumstances but hindsight proves they were actually at the forefront of their chosen field…..incidentally, 2010’s comeback album, The Evolution Of Chaos, was equally impressive.
Not. Enough. Superlatives.
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.
Abject aggression in musical form!
Testament -The Gathering (1999)
Proof that thrash was truly going to be a dominant force once again can be laid at the feet of one of the greatest thrash bands to have ever walked this earth; the mighty Testament!
Recruiting two legendary thrash elder statesman in the considerable form of Dave Lombardo (Slayer) and Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus, Death), Testament’s core duo of Chuck Billy and Eric Petersen laid down the ultimate challenge to thrash metals’ revivalists; keep up with this they demanded, unsurprisingly most couldn’t.
From the virtually unparalleled ferocity of album opener “D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)” and the thrashy grooves of “Down For Life” to the demolition job death/thrash of “Legions Of The Dead” and the fiendish melodies of “Riding The Snake“, this supergroup signalled thrash’s rebirth in a manner that marks The Gathering out as an album that still sounds nothing less than magnificent 20 years later!
Honourable mentions: Annihilator – Never, Neverland (1990) / Artillery – By Inheritance (1990) / Atrophy – Violent By Nature (1990) / Believer – Sanity Obscure (1990) / Death Angel – Act III (1990) / Destruction – Cracked Brain (1990) / Morbid Saint – Spectrum of Death (1990) / Kreator – Coma Of Souls (1990) / Realm – Suiciety (1990) / Sacred Reich – The American Way (1990) / Vio-lence – Oppressing The Masses (1990) / Coroner – Mental Vortex (1991) / Overkill – Horrorscope (1991) / Sepultura – Arise (1991) / Defiance – Beyond Recognition (1992) / Despair – Beyond All Reason (1992) / Cyclone – Inferior To None (1992) / Aftermath – Eyes Of Tomorrow (1994) / Overkill – W.F.O (1994) / Slayer – Divine Intervention (1994) / Testament – Low (1994) / Tankard – The Tankard (1995) / Faustus – …and Still We Suffer (1996) / Deceased – Fearless Undead Machines (1997) / Sadus – Elements Of Anger (1997) / Infernal Majesty – Unholier Than Thou (1998) / Ritual Carnage – The Highest Law (1998)