80s thrash may have more than its fair share of classic albums (do we really need more talk of Metallica‘s Master Of Puppets, Slayer‘s Reign In Blood, Sepultura‘s Beneath The Remains, Testament‘s The Legacy, Anthrax‘s Among The Living, Voivod‘s Dimension Hatröss, Kreator’s Extreme Aggression, Megadeth‘s Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?, Overkill’s The Years Of Decay …. the list goes on!) so we like to shine a light on the often unsung heroes and classic albums of 80s thrash that often go forgotten!
Presented in order of release as opposed to any kind of ranking….
Holy Terror – Terror And Submission (1987) [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 (1988).
One of the most original sounding thrash bands of the 80’s, Terror And Submission recalled the classic clatter of Venom and Possessed by retaining 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, 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; as precious few could compete with his sheer skill and diversity.
Acknowledged as a semi-obscure classic among thrash die-hards, Terror And Submission remains a unique and often under-appreciated entry in the history of thrash metal.
Target – Mission Executed (1987) [Belgium]
Utterly obscure yet teeming with raw talent, Target‘s debut album, Mission Executed, was a technical blast of scintillating thrash that, in 1987, was way ahead of the pack in terms of ideas and execution.
Drawing on the likes of Artillery, Mekong Delta and Living Death for inspiration, a welcome dose of intensity backed Target’s technical verve as these Belgians went about destroying ear-drums over 8 tracks of nerve-shredding THRASH!
Although Mission Executed lacked anything approaching filler, it was actually the opening one-two of “Mission To The Andes” and “Hordes Of Insanity” that hit the hardest; a double-whammy of fiendish grooves and whip-crack time changes that marked Target out as potential world-beaters.
Make no mistake, Mission Executed was technical Euro-thrash at its absolute finest….and to deliver an album of this quality and remain so unrecognised is a crime that deserves to be tried in The Hague!
Violent Force – Malevolent Assault Of Tomorrow (1987) [Germany]
Something of a cult curio, Violent Force‘s Malevolent Assault Of Tomorrow deserves to be revered instead of forgotten and it’s high time this agonisingly aggressive and frantic thrash gem was rediscovered by the thrash masses.
Opening with the heavily Motörhead-indebted “Dead City”, the album actually improved after this bout of hero worship was finished with and, settling into a groove of their own, it was on “Sign Of Evil”, “Vengeance And Venom” and “S.D.I” where Violent Force really proved their mettle. 100% committed to thrashing you senseless, Violent Force‘s salaciously filthy riffs and demented drumming may have been highly reminiscent of comrades Kreator, but Malevolent Assault Of Tomorrow was straight-to-the-face thrashing with absolutely no effort to confound tradition or break new ground. Which should be taken as a compliment!
Sometimes thrash needs to be simple, brutal and devoid of remorse and, on their one and only full-length album, Violent Force ticked all three boxes while living up to their name perfectly.
Blind Illusion – The Sane Asylum (1988) [USA]
Blind Illusion‘s debut is a cult item of considerable aplomb, growing in stature as the years roll by and claiming its place as one of 80s thrash metal’s unsung gems!
Featuring guitarist Larry LaLonde (Possessed) and bassist Les Claypool (before they went on to form Primus) and produced by Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, The Sane Asylum is one of those unique recordings which practically defies categorisation, such is its idiosyncratic nature and distinct lack of conformity.
An alchemic brew of jazz-influenced, progressive time changes and abstract song structures, The Sane Asylum was conveniently wrapped up in a technical thrash bow, a description which doesn’t even come close to describing the sheer madness at work here.
Quite unlike anything recorded before or since!
Deathwish – Demon Preacher (1988) [UK]
With opener “Death Procession” leading us on a morbid march through bell-tolling, doom-inflected pathways, the classic sounds of 70’s UK heavy metal soon met the crunch of Bay Area thrash on the Slayer-esque title track and Deathwish’s inspirations were immediately apparent.
A marriage made in heaven (or should that be hell), this juxtaposition of the UK’s world-conquering 70’s output and the equally successful US thrash sound pioneered by Metallica, Slayer et all was best exemplified on Deathwish’s gritty thrashed-up reworking of Sabbath’s all time classic, “Symptom Of The Universe”. Cover version’s, by their very nature, are generally disappointing but this version of Iommi’s classic riff-fest was updated for a thrash audience and remained recognisable yet utterly feral.
However, the 70’s worshipping song structures weren’t all Deathwish had in their locker, “Wall Of Lies” and the unfathomably epic “Prey To The Lord” were a sonic boom of rabid riffing fulfilling the hype this underrated band had once generated. A nod to the future and a nod to the past in essence, Deathwish were happy to complete the circle by closing with the acoustic Zeppelin-esque instrumental “Past Life”, restoring balance and a sense of closure in the process.
As a coherent whole, Demon Preacher should be considered a minor masterpiece, the sounds of the pioneering 70’s combining flawlessly with the fresh and vital thrash attack from across the Atlantic. Rediscover it!
Deathrow – Deception Ignored (1989) [Germany]
Where this came from is anyone’s guess! After the relatively no-thrills thrash found on Deathrow’s Riders Of Doom aka Satan’s Gift and Raging Steel, there was virtually no indication that Deathrow would break boundaries with their 3rd full length release!
Complex and rhythmically confounding – but never at the cost of a satisfying sense of structure – the likes of “Narcotic” were insane blasts of technical wizardry and should have marked Deathrow out as pioneers of progressive metal this early in the game. Instead, obscurity beckoned with Deception Ignored initially receiving a lukewarm response from a legion of confused fans. Fortunately, this outstanding album has gone on to be revered as a work of almost labyrinthian art, misunderstood by many but now beloved by those ‘in the know’.
A technical masterpiece from a band way ahead of the curve….this is one album that truly has to be heard to be believed!
Dyoxen – First Among Equals (1989) [Canada]
Taking the Voivod path to obscure-town, Canada’s Dyoxen were a surprisingly melodic yet highly skilled set of technical thrashers.
While the Voivod comparisons are semi-apt, Dyoxen actually had more in common with Peace Sells-era Megadeth; such was their penchant for unveiling skilful and sickle-sharp, complex and caustic blasts of sophisticated thrash, replete with umpteen tempo changes and a shed-load of killer riffs.
These guys sure had the chops, but they just didn’t have the clout to shift them into the big leagues. Which is a crying shame, as First Among Equals was the equal of anything Annihilator, Megadeth, Forbidden etc. were serving up in the late 80’s!
Forced Entry – Uncertain Future (1989) [USA]
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.
Mortal Sin – Face Of Despair (1989) [Australia]
The greatest Australian thrash band to ever have thrashed ™ fully deserve a inclusion here and, with their second album Face Of Despair, Mortal Sin fair gave us a second wave classic!
Opening with an absolute all-time thrash monster is always a good thing and “I Am Immortal” was a thrash fuckin’ behemoth! Rammed with hooks, tempo changes and all manner of thrashy goodness, Mortal Sin should have gone down in history as one of the greats by virtue of this one track alone.
However, Face Of Despair is no one-trick pony, with the crunch of “The Infantry Corps” (very …and Justice For All in construct) and the more experimental rhythms of “Martyrs Of Eternity” (with its strong Sacred Reich vibe) proving equally as incendiary.
It’s fair to say that Face Of Despair is the greatest old-school Aussie thrash album in existence and Mortal Sin were Australia’s premier thrash act. Arguments against this opinion gladly received.
Powermad – Absolute Power (1989) [USA]
With a sound that married well with that of the melodically-inclined Metal Church, Flotsam & Jetsam and Forbidden – particularly in Joel Dubay’s powerful vocals – Powermad’s full length debut was a strangely alluring hybrid of thrash, speed metal, power metal and core traditional metal values that sucked you in with humungous hooks, unforgettable melodies and a clear, concise sound.
“Slaughterhouse” may be a title that conjures images of a typical horror-show bloodbath but – just like the majority of Absolute Power – there was a refreshingly ‘light’ touch and upbeat, bouncy feel to this storming opener that defied the standard unbridled aggression of the day.
That’s not to say that these guys didn’t know how to thrash!
The high tempo and satisfyingly crunchy staccato palm-muted riff-fest of “Test The Steel (Powermad)” stands as testament to their thrash credentials and ample moments of speed metal frenzy are ably balanced throughout, with the kind of controlled yet expansive dynamism that Queensrÿche excelled at in the late 80’s. Absolute Power may not be the most aggressive, in-your-face 80’s thrash release but it was certainly one of the most consistent.