25 Cult American Thrash Albums That Should Have Sold Millions (But Didn’t)
Heathen – Victims Of Deception (1991)
Absolutely, mind-bogglingly brilliant: That’s a fair summation of Heathen’s piece de resistance, a riff-fest of such magnitude and scope that these Bay Area thrashers should be a household name. The fact they’re not is another example of an album of such astounding quality and consistency falling by the wayside while The Big 4 marched on to greater glories.
Recorded by musicians of insane ability – and a singer who could, gulp, actually fuckin’ sing! – this progressive thrash masterpiece practically surpasses Metallica, Megadeth and co. in each and every area.
The riffs are crunchier and the progressive elements are better suited to the melodic manifestations that make up this magnum opus, allowing the band to pen heavy, aggressive tunes capable of impressing the most obtuse prog lover!
Heathen ended up being victims of circumstances but hindsight proves they were actually at the forefront of their chosen field.
Overkill – Horrorscope (1991)
One of the most prolific bands in thrash, Overkill have released a staggering 19 studio albums since their debut arrived in 1985 (compare this to Metallica’s measly 11 studio albums since 1983 and you see our point) and Horrorscope is an outstanding and enduring effort with quality stamped all over it.
Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth’s vocals can be an acquired taste – the best comparison being a harsher version of AC/DC’s Brian Johnson – but there’s no doubting the sheer quality of the song writing found on 1991’s Horroscope and Overkill were clearly thinking big with this release.
Ably balancing the unbridled aggression found on their early releases with just the right amount of experimentation, Horrorscope found the boys harnessing everything from acoustic intros (“Coma”), blinding speed (“Infectious”), thrash ballads (“Solitude”) and mid-tempo stomp (“New Machine”) and the result was an early 90’s masterpiece from a band operating at the very top of their game!
Defiance – Beyond Recognition (1992)
Beyond Recognition – a technical thrash masterclass from the Bay Area’s Defiance – proved to be a fitting swansong to thrash’s heyday!
At this stage in their career, Defiance were now trying to out ‘heavy’ the likes of Testament (by way of fellow Bay Area brethren Heathen) and found themselves forging ahead in an ever more progressive thrash direction….and they were damn good at it too!
“Inside Looking Out” entertained a decidedly warped take on typical chugging riffs (and featured vocal contributions from aforementioned Heathen frontman David White) and the heady thrash-fest of “Promised Afterlife” rivalled Justice-era Metallica for complexity, while remaining staunchly ‘heavy’. The remainder of Beyond Recognition’s tracks offered diversity, complexity and enough ideas to fill a further three albums!
Beyond Recognition is Defiance’s greatest achievement and one of the most impressive moments in 90’s thrash, even though it remains ironically unrecognised by those clearly not ‘in the know’. Of course, the rest of us recognise the moment when Defiance excelled themselves and if thrash hadn’t died on its arse in the 90’s, this outstanding album surely would have sent Defiance stratospheric!
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 still ain’t 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. For a short while there, Exhorder were the most exciting band on earth.
Intrinsic – Nails (2015) [originally recorded between 1991 and 1992]
Take Savatage, Nevermore, Iced Earth, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and try and imagine a glorious mix of all those influences and your conclusion should match the incredibly diverse delights of Intrinsic’s sophomore album, originally recorded between 1991 and 1992.
Inconceivably ‘lost’ for nearly 25 years, Nails is so much more than just a mere curiosity, it’s a revelation! It’s hard to imagine how this album wouldn’t have made an impact in the early 90’s – such is its uncanny knack for bridging progressive thrash and the grunge sound that proved all-conquering as the 90’s went on – but history was unkind.
The speed/thrash contingent are kept happy with “State Of The Union”, “Die Trying”, “Pillar Of Fire” and “Too Late But Not Forgetten” while “Inner Sanctum” is a highly immersive mix of classic acoustic Zeppelin-isms, sumptuous violin, glorious harmonies and exquisite songwriting. “On Gossamer Wings” perfectly recalls mid 70’s Judas Priest – think the calmer moments of “Victim Of Changes” – stalking the mid 80’s sounds of Artillery. Histrionic one minute, flowing like liquid gold the next, this epic marrying of disparate styles is just one of many endless surprises on offer.
That’s the wonder of this unearthed gem, Nails has everything.
One of those ‘lost classics’ that actually lives up to its name, how this exquisite little number lay dormant for so long is a crime and any thrash/progressive metal fan worth their salt owes it to themselves to pick this up, immediately!
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.