Anthrax – Persistence Of Time (1990) [USA]
All but abandoning the recognisable goofy sense of humour which permeated throughout 1988’s State Of Euphoria, Anthrax changed tact entirely with album number 5 and Persistence of Time‘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”.
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!
Artillery – By Inheritance (1990) [Denmark]
Simply put, there is no other thrash record quite like Artillery’s By Inheritance and it’s a relatively unsung, stone-cold classic of early 90’s technical thrash!
Brutality wasn’t the key here, instead it was jaw-dropping technique that proved to be Artillery’s primary focus. Totally unique and consistently brilliant, the Middle Eastern flourishes amazed throughout but it was Artillery’s adventurous spirit which cemented them, for a short while at least, as true greats of the technical thrash scene.
An album of unfathomable depth, the use of melody, drama and Flemming Rönsdorf’s histrionic vocals may take a moment to come accustomed to0, but there’s soon just one word to describe Artillery’s finest hour……”masterpiece”.
Atrophy – Violent By Nature (1990) [USA]
The one thing Violent By Nature had that many thrash releases seemed to forget, is choruses, shit loads of the catchy buggers!
“In Their Eyes”, “Slipped Through The Cracks”, “Violent By Nature”, “Forgotten But Not Gone”; all contained huge hooks and memorable choruses that once heard are never forgotten…..a rare commodity in a genre that often favoured blinding speed and all out assault over actual songwriting and one that enabled Atrophy to stand out from the majority of the thrash pack.
Unconcerned with unnecessarily lengthy compositions and progressive noodling, Violent By Nature took the core ingredients of thrash and refused to mess with a winning formula. The result was an album that hit with immeasurable groove, cunning melody and some of the catchiest, bounciest, mosh-pit friendly thrash anthems ever to be found on one album.
Believer – Sanity Obscure (1990) [USA]
Technical but still infused with riffs that crushed as well as confused, Believer‘s Sanity Obscure may well be one of thrash metal’s more ‘obscure’ albums but it’s also a minor classic and should appeal to any fans of the wildly experimental and progressive stylings of Death, Voivod, Atheist and Coroner.
The all encompassing chaos on display throughout Sanity Obscure‘s 8 furious tracks is punctuated by dissonant riffs, unpredictable stop-start rhythms and arrangements so complicated they must have been a bugger to perform live.
Without sacrificing that all important moshability, Sanity Obscure impressed most with it’s sheer unconformity, accomplished musicianship and tortured vocals courtesy of vocalist/guitarist Kurt Bachman.
Cyclone – Inferior To None (1990) [Belgium]
Cyclone‘s sophomore effort is the greatest thrash album ever produced by a Belgian band, so you probably should give it a spin, right?!
Suffering from severe underexposure dented Cyclone’s chances of escaping the underground but Inferior To None (a convincingly apt title if ever we’ve head one!) should have been the album to achieve it. Embracing a technical thrash aesthetic, Cyclone upped their game considerably with some of the tightest playing around and a gamut of ear-pleasing solos.
Four years on from their Brutal Destruction debut and these guys had used the time well, finding their groove and improving on every aspect of their sound with universally stunning results.
Inferior To None is perfect thrash.
Why isn’t it more well known?
Death Angel – Act III (1990) [USA]
Act III was a departure from the raucous thrash of 1987’s The Ultra-Violence and the experimental nature of 1988’s Frolic Through The Park with Death Angel maturing at a rate of knots and delivering one of the finest melodic thrash albums ever recorded.
The acoustic nature of “Veil of Deception” and ultra-thrash-ballad “A Room With a View” offered diversity but the likes of “Stop”, Disturbing The Peace” and “Ex-Tc” proved that Death Angel could still thrash with the best of ’em. This was the kind of album that really should have rivalled the commerciality of Metallica’s The Black Album and Megadeth’s Countdown To Extinction and sent Death Angel stratospheric……but it wasn’t to be.
In 1991 – while on tour in support of Act III – the band suffered a serious bus crash in which drummer Andy Galeon was critically injured. Understandably, the band did not bounce back. Well, not until 14 years later when they released The Art Of Dying – one of the finest comeback albums in thrash history!
Exhorder – Slaughter In The Vatican (1990) [USA]
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.
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.
Forbidden – Twisted Into Form (1990) [USA]
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 3 decades ago!
Hellbastard – Natural Order (1990) [UK]
Newcastle’s Hellbastard may have started life as a crusty old group of grinders but by the time 1990’s rowdy Natural Order arrived, things had turned defiantly and indefatigably thrashy! Featuring the kind of unhinged vocals that made Paul Baloff so beloved, Hellbastard’s grizzled throat of ‘Scruff’ Lewty were aided and abetted by the nastiest slice of European thrash riffs this side of Kreator.
Few UK thrash acts sounded as raw as Hellbastard and they were just as happy in the company of Carcass, Bolt Thrower, Godflesh and Napalm Death as they were with their thrashier comrades. “Justly Executed” was quite rightly included in Earache’s 1991 sampler Grindcrusher, nestling Hellbastard comfortably alongside those extreme metal legends just mentioned. However, with blinding speed, an arsenal of riffs and a dab hand at attention-maintaining tempo changes, Natural Order remains a damn fine thrash album and an underground cult classic.
Throwing a curveball every now and then by incorporating tender acoustic moments (“TAF” & “A Minor Point”) that were, admittedly, commonplace – but never as medieval in sound as here – die hard fans of the band may have balked when they first heard this transition to thrash in 1990 but Natural Order still reeks of the streets. Hellbastard’s crust punk beginnings were still evident, intrinsically linking Natural Order to the movement they pioneered and, in essence, cementing their place alongside fellow UK crust-thrashers Amebix and Sacrilege; an unholy triumvirate of crustcore/thrash pioneers.
Kreator – Coma Of Souls (1990) [Germany]
In 1990, thrash was still a powerful force to be reckoned with and Kreator would unleash one last tirade of terrifying teutonic thrash before succumbing to inevitable change. Fortunately, fans were treated to one of the finest thrash releases of 1990, in the formidable shape of Coma Of Souls.
Following Extreme Aggression was always going to a challenge but, in 1990, Kreator were still a rampaging thrash machine, more than capable of surpassing the majority of their peers and delivering one last hurrah in the name of bestiality!
Elements of groove and Priest/Maiden-esque melody may have seeped into the the achingly catchy “People Of The Lie” and “Terror Zone” but there’s no denying that the likes of “Twisted Urges” and the appropriately titled “Agents Of Brutality” were frenetic bursts of feral thrash.
Megadeth – Rust In Peace (1990) [USA]
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!
Morbid Saint – Spectrum Of Death (1990) [USA]
Morbid Saint‘s Spectrum Of Death is an unapologetically vicious and violent attack on the senses and arguably the most brutal 100% thrash record ever recorded!
Clattering drums, rapid riffing and vocals belched from the gullet of a Satan-obsessed psychopath, Morbid Saint were the perfect combination of Dark Angel‘s all-encompassing power, Whiplash‘s speed and grit and the blackened riffing of those teutonic masters, Sodom and Destruction.
Few bands could compete with the intensity found on Spectrum Of Death and if your heart bleeds black for Venom, early Kreator and Darkness Descends era Dark Angel then tracks such as “Assassin” and “Beyond the Gates of Hell” are ample proof that Morbid Saint sit proudly alongside these legendary purveyors of pure filth!
Razor – Shotgun Justice (1990) [Canada]
Canadian thrash’s answer to Slayer’s all-conquering Reign In Blood, Razor’s Shotgun Justice is as potent as ever and remains a balls-to-the-fucking-wall shotgun blast of ultra-aggressive, high speed thrash!
Fuck your technical/progressive thrash bollocks, Razor specialised in working man’s thrash that hit hard and hit fast and not only were they plenty pissed, they were operating at the top of their game. It’s no stretch to suggest that the likes of the relentlessly abrasive “Meaning Of Pain and “Parricide” should be considered career highlights.
Beloved original frontman Stace “Sheepdog” McLaren may have departed but the throat-shredding shouts of the incoming Bob Reid were more than capable of delivering the goods and Razor were arguably never as hostile as they were here.
Slayer – Seasons In The Abyss (1990) [USA]
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.
Xentrix – For Whose Advantage (1990) [UK]
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 – Motorhead and AC/DC built entire careers on it! – and Xentrix were fast becoming Britain’s most consistent band.