25 Cult American Thrash Albums That Should Have Sold Millions (But Didn’t)
Rigor Mortis – Rigor Mortis (1988)
Rigor Mortis‘ self titled debut opened with a furious instrumental that pretty much set the scene for the entire record. Violently relentless, Rigor Mortis‘ raw production, animalistic tendencies and jugular-slashing riffs lent a kinship to Death‘s Scream Bloody Gore, Possessed‘s Beyond The Gates and Kreator’s absolute classic Pleasure To Kill.
Hard-as-nails thrash may have been the order of the day but these mad-as-fuck Texans were leading the charge into ever faster, darker and meaner territories. In fact, the formative years of death metal can be heard in guitar god Mike Scaccia’s (RIP) lightning-speed tremolo picking and the abrasive rasping vocals of Bruce Corbitt.
The whole record is nigh on flawless but if an introduction to these speed-freaks is required then listen to “Demons“….you’ll soil yourself!
Some may argue Rigor Mortis epitomised 80’s thrash metal….some people are right!
Exodus – Fabulous Disaster (1989)
Opening with a scathing attack on the prison system – the caustic “The Last Act Of Defiance” – Exodus were clearly in a bullish mood during Fabulous Disaster‘s creation and their third album would go down in thrash history as a classic of the genre!
The H-bomb of Holt and Hunolt were explosive throughout as the likes of the title track, the abrasive “Like Father, Like Son” and pit-inducing classic “The Toxic Waltz” unleashed a siege of combative riffs like they were going out of style.
At this stage, ‘new’ vocalist Steve “Zetro” Souza was well bedded in and his deliciously diabolical diatribes hit so much harder than on 1987’s middling Pleasures Of The Flesh. You certainly couldn’t imagine Paul Baloff singing the lyrics on the frog-ribbiting, harmonica-introducing “Cajun Hell” and, love him or hate him, Zetro was now the singer of Exodus.
A rabble-rousing, crowd-pleasing effort, Fabulous Disaster is the pinnacle of Exodus’ Zetro-fronted 80’s and 90’s output and proved that thrash was more than just merely alive and well in 1989!
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.
Intruder – A Higher Form of Killing (1989)
Intruder‘s second album was an aural assault that blew conceptions of thrash apart. Instrumental “Time of Trouble” aside, opener “The Martyr” had not one but three intro riffs before we even got to the meat of the piece, and each one ramped up the urgency and the expectancy like a catholic priest watching the new choir boys march in. And the pace did not let up. Shit, it’s heavy, even in 2021.
Guitarists Arthur Vinett and Greg Messick played their hearts out on this record, with their down-picked, string skipping madness played so fast your left hand will look like a Taiwanese prostitute giving a 30 second handjob. Anthrax were famous for the left-hand speed (picking, not handjobs. Well….) but this was another level.
There was humour too. “Mr Death is here!” exclaimed Mr. Death on the last track (Did he get paid for his guest appearance?). And we can’t speak about AHFOK without mentioning the awesome Monkees cover “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone” in which John Pieroni growled his way through a great Mickey Dolenz pastiche….but it’s the chorus harmony vocals that still make you sit up and take notice!
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!
Wait…no Darkness Descends by Dark Angel? SACRILEGE!! That one kills every entry on this list. Thrash after 1984 was getting kinda lame if Im being honest (most of the big four were no longer even playing straight thrash by ’86) but Darkness Descends is a total BANGER.
Are you mental? It’s the second entry!
Big thanks for this article! I’ve heard so much unknown cool stuff!
You forgot Artillery-By Inheritance. I put it on level with Heathen-Victims of Deception, some days I put it even higher.
Great band and a great album but they’re Danish….therefore not included in this list of American releases only.
Great list, but I miss Sanctuary 🙁
Fair point – they also deserve a mention \m/
Where is Lääz Rock it?!…
They popped to the shops….sure they’ll be back in a minute.
You forgot oppressing the masses by violence and death angels act 3 and art of dying.i’m a big fan of thrash metal
Could go on forever with these things, stopped at 25…there are of course plenty more fantastic American thrash albums out there. Death Angel’s Act III is already in there incidentally.