1987 proved to be a tougher year to whittle down to just 10 defining thrash metal releases than we had initially anticipated but perseverance was the key and, after much deliberation, the following list was compiled.
Feel free to bemoan the lack of your personal favourite 1987 thrash album(s) in the comments section below. Note that our honourable mentions are full of equally impressive entries that could, quite easily, have made the cut!
10. Tankard – Chemical Invasion [Germany]
Tankard are the German equivalent of New Jersey’s Overkill; with both bands taking the honour of being the most consistent and productive thrash bands of their respective continents.
Tankard have never strayed from their beer and whiskey soaked path but they are much more than a mere gimmicky joke band and Chemical Invasion is the one album to prove their incredible importance to the Teutonic thrash scene.
Like the mad scientist depicted on the album artwork, Tankard throw everything into their heady brew of intense drumming, barely controlled riffs and histrionic vocals. Seemingly just one more drink away from careening out of control entirely, Tankard’s hellish fury occasionally calms, the open acoustic guitar strum of “For A Thousand Beers” providing ample proof that these guys could play and play well.
Chemical Invasion is an album that demands to be listened to drunk with the room spinning and projectile puke just one more whirlwind head-bang away…true party thrash!
9. Sodom – Persecution Mania [Germany]
Sodom‘s second full length album marked a notably drastic change of sound from the clattering black metal of 1986’s Obsessed By Cruelty, to the kind of thrash metal that continues to define Sodom’s persona some 30+ years later.
Opening with the vicious “Nuclear Winter”, Persecution Mania instantly set out its stall as Tom Angelripper (vocals and bass), Frank Blackfire (guitars) and Witchhunter (drums) looked to political, social and war themes for inspiration. This would become a consistent motif as time went on but was arguably perfected at the first time of asking with “Electrocution”, the title track itself and, particularly, “Bombenhagal” delivering the goods as Sodom went about delivering the tightest, meanest, leanest, collection of songs in their career.
However, for all the plaudits and notable progression in maturity, Persecution Mania would be considered Sodom’s greatest achievement if it weren’t for the arrival of the outstanding Agent Orange just 2 years later…..and there’s more on that particular masterpiece further on in this feature!
8. Holy Terror – Terror and Submission [USA]
Holy Terror’s debut from 1987 remains one of the more aggressive albums from thrash’s golden age and this cult band deserved far greater acclaim for this and its equally accomplished follow-up, Mind Wars.
One of the most original sounding thrash bands of the 80’s, Terror And Submission recalls the classic clatter of Venom and Possessed and retains the filthy sound that thrash originally pioneered before Metallica and Megadeth etc bought a commercialised sheen to the genre. Still indebted to the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, “Evil’s Rising” particularly paid homage to the classic sounding, harmonised riffs of Diamond Head and Tygers Of Pan Tang while “Blood Of The Saints” updated Judas Priest’s British Steel for speed obsessed thrash enthusiasts.
Caught between speed metal’s barely in control histrionics and the melody of the NWOBHM, it’s the insanely varied vocals that push Terror And Submission into the realms of ‘classic’ status. Delivering a tour-de-force of ear-shattering shrieks and screams, melodic high’s and deathly low’s and thrash metals’ obligatory mid-range rasp, Keith Deen should be revered as one of the finest vocalists in thrash metal history; precious few could compete with his sheer skill and diversity.
7. Sacred Reich – Ignorance [USA]
At this stage in their career Sacred Reich were a little more mean-spirited than in their later years and Ignorance was their politically-charged debut that attempted to educate whilst offering breakneck speed and thrashing anthems aplenty!
“Death Squad” remains one of the most impressive opening tracks in thrash metal history – a full on burst of rapid-fire riffing and ultra aggressive rhetoric – and the likes of “Victim of Demise” and the title track maintained the ferocity.
Worryingly prescient, the intelligent lyrics found on Ignorance foretold a world built on lies, false news, corruption and greed (sound familiar?) and was beyond angry…..it was fuckin’ burning with rage!
A highly prized masterpiece of thrash from a band who never quite received their dues.
6. Infernal Majesty – None Shall Defy [Canada]
Despite the cartoonish artwork which adorns their debut album, Infernäl Mäjesty were an undeniably savage act and they made an immediate impact on the underground with the release of None Shall Defy.
The antithesis of Razor, Annihilator and their ilk, Infernäl Mäjesty specialised in the sounds of the underworld and had more in common with the unholy terror of Slayer’s Hell Awaits and Possessed’s Seven Churches than anything released by fellow countrymen Exciter and Anvil.
A key release in the ongoing development of death metal, None Shall Defy‘s march towards Satan came replete with a vile and ultimately evil aesthetic; one characterised by the unnerving sounds of blackened death/thrash perfection found on “S.O.S” and the scintillating title track.
Don’t let the sub-par cover art fool you, Infernäl Mäjesty meant serious business…..the devil’s business!
5. Voivod – Killing Technology [Canada]
One of thrash metal’s most distinctive bands should need no introduction – with Voivod having spent their entire career releasing music that barely stayed within the confines of thrash and purposefully flaunted the rules at every step – and Killing Technology should be considered their pinnacle thrash release. That’s not to say that future albums wouldn’t usurp this title, but this is, arguably, the last time Voivod were 100% thrash.
Atypical and abstract, the riffs of Piggy and the vocal delivery of Snake remain were always utterly unique and otherworldly and this twisting, turning, tumultuous sci-fi fever-dream made flesh still sounds like absolutely nothing else on earth.
The likes of “Tornado”, “Ravenous Medicine” and “Cockroaches” were light years ahead of the pack and their peers (if they have ever really had any) are still frantically trying to keep up.
4. Destruction – Release From Agony [Germany]
Destruction may have started life as a rough ‘n’ ready blackened thrash band but by the time their third full length album, Release From Agony, arrived in 1987, they’d transformed themselves into a technical thrash act par excellence.
The mad butcher didn’t just strike back with this album, it hacked and sliced its way through the competition and while (originally) the quality of Release From Agony’s production left a lot to be desired, the likes of “Sign Of Fear” and “Survive To Die” indicated that Destruction were now operating on a higher level than the majority of their peers.
A thrilling combination of insanely technical riffs and abstract song structures marks out Release From Agony as a true masterpiece of Teutonic thrash……and Destruction would, arguably, never be so wilfully obscure again!
3. Death Angel – The Ultra-Violence [USA]
Almost offensively talented, these teenage wunderkinds were a second-wave phenomenon who were 100% focused on thrashin’ your tits clean off!
Death Angel‘s debut release was a Bay Area revelation, shaking up a status quo that had only just been established. The Big 4 were forced to watch their backs as the likes of “Evil Priest”, the aptly titled “Thrashers” and the stunning 10 minute self-titled instrumental marked out The Ultra-Violence as an instant classic and it remains a beloved album from one of the most consistent bands in all of thrash metal.
Few albums in thrash made an immediate impact as forceful as this!
2. Anthrax – Among The Living [USA]
Among The Living is one of the greatest thrash records of all time, with all the ingredients that made Anthrax world-beaters coming together to form the perfect whole.
But what made it so good?
It was simple really. Joey Belladonna had truly bedded in and his melodic yet powerful vocals were exceptional throughout, while Scott Ian and Dan Spitz were now a lethal combination with Among The Living cementing their reputation as one of the most skilled guitar partnerships in metal. Finally, there was Charlie Benante’s stunning, highly influential bass drum work which propelled the band forward at breakneck speed throughout the entire album.
The songs contained within can still stand toe-toe with the best tracks thrash metal has to offer (“Caught In a Mosh” anyone?) and are as thrilling today as they were back in 1987!
1. Testament – The Legacy [USA]
The Legacy – Testament‘s debut and very nearly their greatest achievement – announced their arrival in an already crowded scene with considerable force.
It was already clear that Testament had the necessary skill to challenge the big boys of thrash with an eerie, ominous atmosphere thankfully making amends for a thin, tinny production. Most noticeably, the band had musicians in their ranks who could really play and a vocalist who could scream, wail, growl and (whisper it) actually sing!
The guitar pairing of Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick was also inspired, with Petersen’s solid, chugging rhythms complimenting Skolnick’s jazz influenced shredding skills perfectly.
The Legacy was just the start of a journey that should (SHOULD) have seen them become as big as Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax!
Honourable mentions: Artillery – Terror Squad / Coroner – R.I.P / Deathrow – Raging Steel / DBC – Dead Brain Cells / D.R.I – Crossover / Exodus – Pleasures of the Flesh / Heathen – Breaking The Silence / Holy Moses – Finished With The Dogs / Intruder – Live To Die / Kreator – Terrible Certainty / Living Death – Protected From Reality / Mekong Delta – Mekong Delta / Nasty Savage – Indulgence / Overkill – Taking Over / Target – Mission Executed / Sacrifice – Forward To Termination / Sepultura – Schizophreinia / Slaughter – Strappado / Vendetta – Go and live…stay and die / Whiplash – Ticket To Mayhem (and many more).
Also in this series: