Don’t panic….there’s neither a Black Album or Countdown to Extinction in sight!
Anthrax – Spreading The Disease (1985) [USA]
Anthrax found their melodic yet crunching sound on this, only their second full length album, and it catapulted them to the forefront of the then fledgeling thrash metal scene.
Containing perennial favourites “A.I.R”, “Madhouse” and “Gung Ho”, this record never lets up from start to finish and ranks as one of the best thrash metal records to emerge from the genre’s infancy.
Joey Belladonna impressively sings, screams, shouts and wails his way through 9 tracks of seriously consistent material which elevated Anthrax to the top of the thrash pack. Belladonna stood out as a vocalist who incorporated significantly more melody than the the generic bark adopted by lesser thrash bands.
Anthrax were fortunate to be blessed with a classic metal vocalist in the vein of Rob Halford and Ronnie James Dio as opposed to the gruff, no-thrills approach adopted by the barking and screeching vocalists of many lesser thrash bands. More importantly, he was a full-time frontman. Unlike Metallica and Megadeth who’s singers also had to play guitar, Belladonna, unencumbered by playing an instrument, could concentrate on singing and his showmanship and subsequently the band benefitted greatly.
Heathen – Breaking The Silence (1987) [USA]
With the progressive / technical nature of future albums yet to fully materialise, Heathen’s debut album instead focused on razor-sharp melodic power/thrash (as sharp as a “Goblin’s Blade” at the very least).
Blessed with supreme riff writers in the shape of Lee Altus (Exodus / ex-Angel Witch / ex-Die Krupps) and Doug Piercy (Blind Illusion / Anvil Chorus / ex-Ulysses Siren), and with the powerful lungs of David White (ex-Blind Illusion / ex-Defiance) at the helm, Heathen were the equal of their Bay Area brethren without ever really receiving their dues. Why remains a mystery as they had a cracking cover in their arsenal (“Set Me Free”), a singer to rival the likes of Anthrax’s Joey Belladonna and Testament’s Chuck Billy and songs – quality songs! – in abundance.
Any perceived lack of aggression was in Heathen’s favour, with the band perfectly mixing melody, muscle and an often mid-tempo stomp to deliver a succession of uber-catchy tracks.
An 80s melodic metal classic….regardless of genre!
Flotsam And Jetsam – No Place For Disgrace (1988) [USA]
Following up debut album and instant classic Doomsday For The Deceiver was never going to be an easy task for the then Jason Newsted-less Flotsam and Jetsam. So what did they do? They knocked it out of the fucking park, that’s what they did!
Embracing a sound that was ever more melodic but still laced with grit and crunch, Flotsam and Jetsam didn’t try to one-up their corrosive debut, instead they simply finessed their sound and emerged as a more confident band; one with a shit ton of quality songs in their arsenal. Seeking to push thrash away from mindless violence into ever more expansive realms, Flotsam’s welcome addition of more melodic riffs – alongside Eric A.K. Knutson’s falsetto screams and altogether more varied range – resulted in an album that was epic in scope while still hitting that thrash sweet spot.
While a few harder cuts – such as “Hard On You” and “I Live, You Die” – had the ability to nail you to the wall, it was Flotsam’s more considered and balanced moments that left a lasting impression – check out the magisterial beauty of the title track (from the 3 minute mark) if you need convincing that No Place For Disgrace was melodic thrash at its absolute finest!
Forbidden – Forbidden Evil (1988) [USA]
Forbidden‘s ridiculously accomplished debut hit like a freight train upon release and announced the arrival of some serious top-tier contenders!
With Russ Anderson’s formidable pipes, Paul Bostaph’s considerable skill behind the kit and Glen Alvelais and Craig Locicero peeling off the kind of riffs that had us cacking our khakis, Forbidden were instant crowd-pleasers and quickly became cult favourites.
Kicking off with the none more mighty 1-2-3 of “Chalice of Blood,” “Off the Edge,” and “Through Eyes of Glass” had these guys leaping to the top of the thrash pile and with such technical expertise, and melodic nous, at their disposal, their frantic, dynamic, full-tilt thrash assault was nigh on irresistible to resist!
Forbidden are back! Recently announced as a ‘re-birth’, the band may be without Russ Anderson at the helm but their return is still something to celebrate.
Lȧȧz Rockit – Annihilation Principle (1989) [USA]
While Lȧȧz Rockit may have lagged slightly behind the likes of Exodus, Testament, Death Angel, Heathen, Forbidden and Vio-lence, their back catalogue represented the sheer wealth of talent that resided in the Bay Area….and Annihilation Principle was arguably their finest hour!
Despite starting out as a relatively pure metal band on their 1984 debut, City’s Gonna Burn, each successive release found Lȧȧz Rockit moving into ever thrashier waters and by the time their 4th album, Annihilation Principle, rolled in, their brand of high energy and melodic thrash had reached its zenith.
Opener “Fire In The Hole” was provocative and combustible – a sure fire way of gaining attention and building momentum from the outset – while the increasingly catchy likes of “Chain Of Fools” added a Metal Church-esque power/thrash aesthetic to Lȧȧz Rockit‘s overall tuneful yet powerful sound.