After the release of some seminal thrash albums in the early 90’s (Megadeth’s Rust In Peace / Dark Angel’s Time Does Not Heal / Annihilator’s Never, Neverland / Death Angel’s Act III/ Vio-lence’s Oppressing The Masses / Heathen’s Victims Of Deception to name a few) those flannel-wearing whinge-bags of grunge took over and thrash kinda died on its arse, seemingly overnight.
While some bands split and others adapted their sound to meet the demands of a new audience – Metallica went all country on Load/Reload, Anthrax swapped thrash for straight-up heavy metal on Sound Of White Noise, Megadeth took the mainstream hard rock option on Risk, Exodus and Forbidden turned to groove metal on Force Of Habit and Green respectively, Nuclear Assault went AWOL entirely, Kreator went goth on Outcast and Sepultura embraced nu-metal on Roots – a few belligerent bastards refused to bow down to changing trends and thrashed like never before!!
Here’s 12 albums by bands that didn’t give a flying fuck that thrash’s glory days were behind them, keeping thrash alive until its long-awaited resurgence in the early 00’s….
Overkill – W.F.O (1994)
After a successful excursion into Groove Metal on 1993’s I Hear Black – a vastly undervalued album incidentally – just a year later Overkill returned to their good ol’ Thrashin’ ways with W.F.O. The result was an old-school blast of furious Thrash that reminded fans why they fell in love with these New Jersey noiseniks in the first place.
Home to killer opener “Where It Hurts” (these boys never fail to deliver an absolute belter of an opening track) and Thrash juggernauts “Fast Junkie” and “Up To Zero” it was the ridiculously infectious “Bastard Nation” that stood out from the pack; faithfully thrashy yet surely designed to be a monster ‘hit’ if the bastards had just paid attention!
W.F.O. (or Wide Fucking Open for its full title) proved to be the last hurrah for Overkill’s glory days as the 90’s all but stalled their progress. Nevertheless, W.F.O should be celebrated as a classic 90’s Thrash album that bucked prevailing trends and thrashed like a mutherfucker!
Slayer – Divine Intervention (1994)
While Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax were pratting around with their sound, trying desperately to maintain the attention of an apathetic audience, Slayer ignored changes in trends completely and released a no holds barred Thrash album; no ballads, no groove metal, no rapping, no country music crap….just 100% THRASH!!
Proving to be the bands last truly great album – don’t argue, their releases have been undeniably patchy since Divine Intervention‘s release – Kerry King took the lion’s share of the songwriting duties and swapped the accessible nuances of Seasons In The Abyss for ferociously corrosive short-bursts of barely controlled rage.
Re-familarise yourselves with “Sex.Murder.Art” and “Dittohead“, songs that are as rough and ready as they are clinically effective as ample proof that this was one 90’s Thrash album that hadn’t even noticed Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains etc quietly stealing their audience. But then that’s a contradiction in terms as Slayer fans are, always were, resolutely loyal and MTV abandoning Thrash for Grunge was never a scenario any Slayer fan worth their salt would ever contemplate doing.
Slayer didn’t need to worry about changing trends in 1994, they just needed to keep on Thrashing; which is exactly what Divine Intervention did!
Tankard – The Tankard (1995)
Containing the most diverse set of songs of the German’s 29 year career, The Tankard may not be as instantly infectious as their classics Zombie Attack, Chemical Invasion and The Morning After but it arguably contains the finest songs these Teutonic beer-lovin’ terrors have ever penned (or regurgitated). From the insanely catchy chorus of “Minds On The Moon” to the Punky tempos of “Close Encounter“, Tankard’s 7th album may still be the most streamlined and immediately accessible of their entire career.
The fact they delivered their most complete album slap bang in the middle of a decade that didn’t give a fuck about Thrash proves their commitment to the cause. Tankard will always Thrash, they’re as reliable as the result of mixing grain, hops, yeast and water!!
Sodom – Masquerade In Blood (1995)
Opening with the frantically raw “Masquerade In Blood“, Sodom‘s return to Thrash after their dalliances in Death Metal on 1992’s Tapping The Vein and Hardcore Punk on 1994’s Get What You Deserve was a courageous attempt to keep the Thrash flag flying in the virtually Thrash-free 90’s.
The Death Metal and Hardcore Punk influences do remain on Sodom’s 7th studio effort but are explored via a more faithful Thrash framework. The result was a Thrash album that recalled Motörhead at their heaviest while exhibiting a total disregard for Thrash’s diminishing appeal. Check out Murder In My Eyes for a quick fix of Sodom’s relentless battery during an era that was embracing contemplation and soul-searching over machismo and aural assault.
Resolutely heavy and as ugly as a bus full of Ronaldinho look-a-likes, Masquerade In Blood made up in Thrashy mid 90’s goodness what it lacked in songwriting skill and subtelty. Bludgeoning.
Iced Earth – Burnt Offerings (1995)
As enamoured with Power Metal as Thrash, Iced Earth’s 3rd album undoubtedly counts as a 1990’s trend-defying Thrash experience that added oodles of depth to its powerhouse musicianship.
Dramatic and terminally unfashionable, it’s incredible such histrionic and horror-indebted Heavy Metal ever found an audience but Iced Earth have always been capable of releasing trend-defying Thrash/Power Metal albums that appeal to those who long for immersive narrative, palpable atmosphere and epic songwriting alongside their staccato riffs and soaring vocal lines.
An often forgotten classic in Iced Earth’s formidable back catalogue, the dark and foreboding self titled track , the Thrash balladry of “Last December” and the bold, brave and adventurous closer “Dante’s Inferno” help to form an experience that may not be the greatest Iced Earth have delivered but in a decade that looked down upon this sort of Progressive Thrash with disdain, should be revered as a middle finger in the face of 90’s corporate Metal.
Witchburner – Witchburner (1996)
Who launches a Thrash career in the mid 1990’s? Witchburner that’s who!
Ignoring the fact that Thrash was as dead as dead gets, these German miscreants took the Teutonic influence of Kreator, Destruction, Darkness and Necronomicon and unleashed some of the most brutally evil Thrash noise heard in years.
The fact that no one paid a blind bit of attention was moot. Thrash was still alive screamed Witchburner and be it primitive, lo-fi and completely devoid of panache and variation, it’s worth acknowledging that Witchburner’s debut at least attempted to go against the tide of public opinion and keep Thrash alive.
Check out the mid-tempo harassment of “Hammer Of Destruction” for evidence of Witchburner’s defiantly simple homage to the genre’s greats; it may be barbarically uncomplicated but in 1996 this kind of Thrash was a putrid breath of much-needed fresh air.
Razor – Decibels (1997)
Launching a comeback in 1997 was a brave move for Canada’s Razor and this urban Thrash onslaught – their first release in 6 years – Thrashed hard regardless of the fact that Thrash was not exactly en vogue in the late 90’s. Intimidatingly menacing, the title track, “Jimi The Fly” and “Great White Lie” showed no mercy either at high speed or mid-paced bludgeoning; Razor reassuringly adopting an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude to their punishing arrangements.
Heavy on the distorted riffs and vocals, Decibels may not have been vintage Razor – check out Evil Invaders and Shotgun Justice for prime examples of their finest work – but the chainsaw’s ripping through flesh guitars are admirably crunchy and Razor bowed out gracefully (or should that be disgracefully) with their last album to date.
Sadus – Elements Of Anger (1997)
One of the most unique Thrash bands ever to exist, Sadus’ thrilling amalgamation of Thrash, Death and Progressive Metal reached an arguable peak with the mid-paced stomp of 1997’s Elements Of Anger.
Steve DiGiorgio’s fretless Bass wizardry impressed as always but it was the experimental song structures Sadus were renowned for that marked out their 4th album as a Prog-Thrash monster in the latter half of the 90’s.
“Words Of War” and “Power Of One” may be streamlined when compared to the frankly bonkers nature of the tracks found on Swallowed In Black (1990) and Illusions (1988) but this semi-accessible approach stood in Sadus’ favour; their unique songwriting style and technically astonishing avenue of Thrash gifting real hooks and subtle melody alongside the aggressive savagery.
Eye-opening stuff no matter what the decade.
Whiplash – Thrashback (1998)
The album title alone lays out Whiplash‘s stall from the outset….it was time to bring Thrash back and Whiplash were the band to take the bull by the horns and start Thrashin’ like it was the 1980’s again!
Reuniting the acclaimed line-up that delivered the 80’s classics Power And Pain and Ticket To Mayhem, Whiplash may not have matched the highs of those two albums but their endeavour to return Thrash to it’s rightful place at the very top of the Metal hierarchy was a commendable and frankly necessary stepping-stone to the genre’s inevitable comeback a few short years later.
The tin-can widdly riffs (that’s the only description that seems to fit Whiplash’s signature guitar sound) of old were back on “Stab” and “Thrash ‘Til Death‘s” can’t-be-argued-with lyric of “no compromising we’ll Thrash ’til death” cemented Whiplash’s place as one of the few bands fearless enough to kickstart Thrash’s long awaited resurgence.
The Haunted – The Haunted (1998)
Often labelled as Melodic Death Metal, The Haunted’s debut album may warrant such a comparison but at heart this Swedish collective – and particularly the opening track “Hate Song” – were Thrash at heart and the seeds for Thrash’s comeback in the preceding decade were resolutely sown on this debut release.
Barely taking a breather, The Haunted constructed an emphysematous modern Thrash sound that leapt out of the gates like a rabid dog; ushering in an era of Death/Thrash in the process that the likes of Testament would harness as the genre re-established it’s dominance in the new millennium.
We could debate whether this is Thrash until the cows come home but it’s position as an album that kept Thrash alive should not be argued. The Haunted’s insanely fast and aggressive songwriting took Thrash Metal’s blueprint and added a modern twist, technically fooling their audience into thinking they were hearing something new when the backbone of Thrash was so blatantly at the core of their sound.
Divisive this may be, but credit where credit’s due. Without The Haunted, Thrash’s comeback may not have been so seamlessly executed and for that we remain eternally grateful!
Annihilator – Criteria For A Black Widow (1999)
Annihilator‘s 7th album announced the return of former frontman Randy Rampage and Annihilator found their voice again, releasing their strongest set of tunes since Alice In Hell and Never, Neverland caught the world’s attention a decade prior.
Why Randy Rampage and Jeff Waters decided to wait until the tail end of the 90’s to have another crack at it is anyones guess but the quality of the material on display hinted at a productive partnership that deserved a second chance to shine.
One of the few bands to remain staunchly active during the 90’s, Annihilator were never really away but Criteria Of A Black Widow was a real return to form and “Back To The Palace“, “Nothing Left” and “Bloodbath” proved once and for all that an on-fire Jeff Waters and an on-fire Randy Rampage were a formidable partnership made in Thrash heaven!
Testament – The Gathering (1999)
Now we’re talking!
Proof that Thrash was truly going to be a dominant force once again can be layed at the feet of one of the greatest Thrash bands in existence; 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 21 years later.
With this release it was clear Thrash had well and truly returned and within just a few short years the likes of Destruction, Death Angel, Exodus, Kreator and Heathen would release monumental modern thrash albums in the shape of The Antichrist, The Art Of Dying, Tempo Of The Damned, Enemy Of God and The Evolution Of Chaos respectively; thrash was back and it’s still as relevant as ever!