Forget The Big 4 and their million selling behemoths, these 10 cult American thrash albums were equally as accomplished, equally as ferocious and equally as groundbreaking and fully deserved to sell as many copies as Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax!
Flotsam And Jetsam – Doomsday For The Deceiver (1986)
One of the greatest thrash debuts known to man, Flotsam and Jetsam‘s Doomsday For The Deceiver led the world to believe that a new thrash superpower had arrived (not quite, unfortunately) with a collection of tunes both overwhelmingly powerful and expertly performed.
Taking the very best bits of speed metal, power metal and thrash metal – and perfecting them amongst a flurry of cranking bass, warp-speed riffs and Erik A.K’s formidable pipes – the likes of the feral “Hammerhead”, the intense “Iron Tears” and the epic ability of the exquisite title track mark out Doomsday For The Deceiver as an undisputed all-time thrash classic.
Many will recall the rarely used 6K mark awarded by Kerrang back in ’86 and that laughable sentiment surprisingly rings true. From intense bursts of thrashing rage (“Desecrator,” the aforementioned “Iron Tears”) to almost progressive metal, multi-tentacled epics, Doomsday For The Deceiver had everything!
Metal Church – The Dark (1986)
Combining traditional metal with thrash, Metal Church had a powerhouse frontman in the shape of David Wayne and riffs most bands would skin their own mothers for. Their self titled debut is an undisputed classic and follow-up, The Dark, almost hit those same heady heights.
Featuring all-time ‘Church’ classics “Ton Of Bricks”, “Start The Fire”, the intimidating power ballad – and minor hit – that was “Watch The Children Pray” and the creepy title track, The Dark may have been one of the more melodic thrash releases of ’86 but it was also one of the finest and the most accomplished.
Side 2 may have failed to maintain the velocity of the ‘5 for 5’ hit rate of side 1 but there’s no escaping the fact that Metal Church and The Dark were both a monumental influence on the burgeoning thrash scene.
Testament – The Legacy (1987)
Testament‘s debut, The Legacy, announced their arrival in an already crowded scene with an immediate attention-grabbing potency.
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, Petersen’s solid, chugging rhythm work perfectly complimenting Skolnick’s jazz influenced shredding skills.
Official challengers to The Big 4 had arrived!
Forced Entry – Uncertain Future (1989)
Forced Entry‘s debut album arrived in 1989 and their full throttle thrash – belying the fact they were a three piece – ironically should have predicted a certain future, one that would have seen them rise to the upper echelons of the thrash hierarchy!
Opening track “Bludgeon” did exactly that, hammering home Forced Entry’s way around a steamroller riff and a penchant for turning on a sixpence. Undeniably progressive in nature, this trio could out-muscle Testament (and Tony Benjamin’s vocals were straight from the Chuck Billy rulebook!) while throwing in as many tempo changes as humanly possible.
The results were generally fantastic, with the likes of the hideously violent “Anaconda” and the twisting and turning “Kaleidoscope Of Pain” providing enough technically complex thrills to endear them to both the Exodus/Vio-Lence/Dark Angel and the Coroner/Voivod/Watchtower crowd.
A towering achievement from a band who deserved way more than their ‘also ran’ status.
Nuclear Assault – Handle With Care (1989)
After being ousted by Anthrax back in ’86, bassist Dan Lilker formed the explosive Nuclear Assault and they arguably peaked with their third album, Handle With Care.
Leaving Anthrax quaking in their boots, Nuclear Assault had always thrashed harder, faster and with more conviction than Scott Ian and co. and they didn’t fuck with a winning formula on the likes of “Critical Mass”, “Surgery” and “When Freedom Dies”.
One of East Coast thrash’s greatest achievements and Nuclear Assault’s most successful and best-selling album for a damn good reason!
Overkill – The Years Of Decay (1989)
Overkill‘s last album of the decade – and the last Overkill album to feature guitarist Bobby Gustafson (he would be missed) – has gone down in thrash history as one of their finest and with the likes of “Time to Kill’, “Elimination” and “Birth Of Tension” in its arsenal, it’s not hard to see why!
With technical prowess and raw energy colliding head-long, Overkill were arguably at their peak on The Years Of Decay, with the “”the Motörhead of thrash metal” fully realising their punk meets speed metal sound via 9 exceptional tracks that oozed supreme confidence and stunning variety.
Unique and compelling, this was East Coast thrash at its best…..delivered by a band whose unbelievable longevity can be attributed to releasing classics such as this!
Death Angel – Act III (1990)
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!
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 over 30 years ago!
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.
Exhorder – The Law (1992)
Exhorder‘s follow-up to their blistering debut Slaughter In The Vatican found the band harnessing grooves like no other band on earth (and we ain’t even gonna go into the Pantera comparisons, right!) and delivering a sophomore effort that arguably bettered its predecessor.
Quite simply, you cannot fuck with the likes of “Unforgiven”, “I Am The Cross” and “Un-Born Again”, as Exhorder’s groove-heavy thrash set about removing your spleen via your asshole.
Ferocious and unpredictable, Exhorder fully utilised their unique gut-punch grittiness to drive home serrated grooves at a mostly ferocious pace. Mostly? By its very nature, Exhorder’s stunning cover of Sabbath’s “Into The Void” momentarily slowed things down but Vinne LaBella and the boys still found time to ‘crunch’ it up and make it their own!
With Kyle Thomas sounding as furiously feral and as expressive as ever – spitting out a series of vignettes over more caustic riffs than should be humanly possible – it’s a crying shame that this pioneering band have never released a third album because, for a short while there, Exhorder were the most exciting band on earth.
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