Sure, The Big 4 released some of the greatest thrash metal albums ever recorded but what of those American thrash albums that fell largely by the wayside, those albums looked over in favour of Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax?
With that in mind, Worship Metal has selected 50 American thrash albums that deserved far more attention and should have been as successful (and sold as many copies!) as the likes of Slayer‘s Reign In Blood, Metallica‘s Master Of Puppets, Megadeth‘s Rust In Peace and Anthrax‘s Among The Living etc.….
Exodus – Bonded By Blood (1985)
One of thrash’s most legendary albums comes from a band who hovered on the periphery of The Big 4 without ever making that leap into the big league. It’s fairly common knowledge that Bonded By Blood was actually recorded in 1984, but was held back for a ridiculous 9 months due to record label wrangling and that lost time proved to be more than just significant.
Instead of spearheading the scene they helped to create, Exodus found themselves endlessly playing catch up and they simply ran out of puff; forever chasing the pack and never actually gaining ground. But, Exodus were at the forefront of thrash, capable of out-riffing their Bay Area peers and, pound for pound, they were the heaviest, most dangerous, most unpredictable and most ferociously adept outfit on the block.
“Bonded By Blood”, “A Lesson In Violence”, “And Then There Were None”, “Piranha”, and “Strike Of The Beast” are all thrash gold, tarnished by bad timing but true treasures in thrash’s trove. While many bands would try to tap into the virulent violence that positively oozes from each track, none could match the intensity conjured by Paul Baloff, Gary Holt, Tom Hunting, Rick Hunolt and Rob McKillop.
Overkill – Feel The Fire (1985)
Overkill‘s full length debut was an instantly satisfying fix for those thrash fans looking for an East-Coast band to rival the Bay Area’s dominance.
Feel The Fire is an absolute classic from a band who have spent the best part of 40 years defiantly thrashing their guts out for the metal masses. It’s fair to say that consistency and Overkill literally go hand in hand.
“Rotten To The Core”, “Hammerhead” and “Kill At Command” thrill with wild abandonment and earth-shaking riffs buffered by Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth’s shrill vocals.
If Overkill had only released this record they still would be revered as thrash pioneers, as it turns out we have a further 18(!) records to relish as well!
Possessed – Seven Churches (1985)
On their debut album, Possessed took a cut and paste approach to their music by incorporating the viciousness of Venom, the speed of Motörhead and the thrashing, atonal guitars of early Exodus and Slayer.
The result was an innovative and primitive thrash metal sound which came to define death metal. “The Exorcist”, “Burning In Hell” and “Seven Churches” were held together by Jeff Becerra’s unholy roar, simultaneously aping Lemmy from Motörhead yet producing a guttural tone that would go on to be the bread and butter of death metal as the late 80’s bled into the early 90’s.
Possessed take the honour of inventing death metal on their debut album. This is constantly up for debate but we’re standing by it; no Seven Churches, no death metal.
Related content: 80s American Death Metal: The 5 Greatest Albums
S.O.D – Speak English Or Die (1985)
S.O.D were completely devoid of tact, politically incorrect, full of humour (very black humour) and capable of thrashing your nuts clean off!
One of the first bands to throw hardcore punk and thrash into a blender, S.O.D were just some young punks letting off steam (Anthax’s Scott Ian and Charlie Benante reuniting with ex-bassist Dan Lilker and recruiting vocalist Billy Milano) but turned out to be one of the 80’s most influential bands.
S.O.D invented crossover thrash and systematically crushed your head in with heavy-hitters such as “Sargent D and the S.O.D.”, “Milano Mosh” and “Identity”. In hindsight, much of Speak English Or Die’s lyrical content is dubious at best but that doesn’t detract from the fact it remains a crossover thrash masterpiece!
Cro-Mags – The Age Of Quarrel (1986)
A legendary debut, The Age Of Quarrel saw the Cro-Mags define the hardcore movement in 15 easy lessons!
A sickle-sharp, metallic sound that was rooted to a blue-collar sensibility, the concise delivery of the hard-hitting “World Peace”, “We Gotta Know”, “Street Justice” and “Hard Times” brawled their way into your head, insistent, impossible to ignore and delivered with brass-knuckles on.
Few albums can capture pure rage and emotion as perfectly as this, the reality of street life rampaging through the very heart of each track and through each vocal frustration delivered by the incomparable John Joseph.
Consider The Age Of Quarrel the crossover equivalent of Slayer’s Reign In Blood….because it’s that influential and that genre-defining!
Dark Angel – Darkness Descends (1986)
Unbridled ferocity, technical supremacy and relentless aural battery….is there a more succinct description of what is arguably the greatest thrash metal album of all time?
Featuring the likes of the rampaging “Merciless Death”, the incendiary “The Burning Of Sodom” and the progressively minded “Black Prophecies“, the first indication of the 100+ riffs per song and epic song length mentality the band would explore on later releases was writ large on Dark Angel‘s terrifyingly tenacious, genre-defining, sophomore effort.
The eerie yet elegant bass intro to the aforementioned “Merciless Death” aside, moments of respite were few and far between on Darkness Descends, as Dark Angel focused on thrashing harder, faster and with more gritted teeth malevolence than any other band on the planet…..and that includes the mighty Slayer!
This immortal entry in the history of thrash metal has lost absolutely none of its power and should have been HUGE!
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 but even that rating does this legendary release a disservice…this one truly does go up to 11!
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, also hit the same heady heights while being more defiantly thrash than their debut!
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 both Metal Church‘s The Dark was a monumental influence on the burgeoning thrash scene.
Nuclear Assault – Game Over (1986)
Nuclear Assault’s debut album saw Danny Lilker and his merry men release an unrefined and cataclysmic thrash metal assault on the world!
Still tapped in to the raw emotion and pure power over technical skill mentality of thrash metal’s early releases – that’s not to say these boys couldn’t play but it’s the attitude that shines through – Game Over bordered on a crossover release; revelling in gang vocals, thunderous bass and John Connoly’s unhinged and apocalyptic screeching diatribes.
From the blacker than black humour of “Hang The Pope” to the end of the world announcing “Nuclear War”, “After The Holocaust” and “Radiation Sickness”, Nuclear Assault hit like the proverbial atomic bomb in ’86 and instantly cemented their place amongst the greats of thrash metal.
Whiplash – Power and Pain (1986)
Whiplash really should have been huge.
Featuring hoarse vocals, widdly fucking riffs and (the incessant intro chug of “Red Bomb” aside) a pace that rarely dipped, Power and Pain was the real fuckin’ deal.
Forever threatening to careen clear of the rails, Whiplash‘s brand of thrash was the most feral and frantic of its kind. Thre was no fuckin’ atound to be found with these guys biting down hard and gnashing and thrashing their way through 9 tracks of amped up Motörhead meets Venom worship. Exhilarating and insanely visceral, the results speak themselves.
Whiplash were the masters….WITH THE IRON FIST!!!
Death Angel – The Ultra-Violence (1987)
Almost offensively talented, these teenage wunderkinds were a second-wave phenomenon who were 100% focused on thrashin’ your tits clean off!
Death Angel‘s debut release was a Bay Area revelation, an album designed to shake up the status quo that had only just been established. Understandably, The Big 4 were forced to watch their backs as the likes of “Evil Priest”, the aptly titled “Thrashers” and the stunning 10 minute self-titled instrumental marked out The Ultra-Violence as an instant classic.
Few albums in thrash made an immediate impact as forceful as this.
Precocious little shits.
Heathen – Breaking The Silence (1987)
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.
Related content: Heathen: Ranking All 4 Of Their Studio Albums!
Holy Terror – Terror And Submission (1987)
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.
One of the most original sounding thrash bands of the 80’s, Terror And Submission recalls the classic clatter of Venom and Possessed and retains 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 and 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; precious few could compete with his sheer skill and diversity.
Sacred Reich – Ignorance (1987)
At this stage in their career Sacred Reich were a little more mean-spirited than in their later years and Ignorance was their politically-charged debut that attempted to educate whilst offering breakneck speed and thrashing anthems aplenty!
“Death Squad” remains one of the most impressive opening tracks in thrash metal history – a full on burst of rapid-fire riffing and ultra aggressive rhetoric – and the likes of “Victim of Demise” and the title track maintained the ferocity.
Worryingly prescient, the intelligent lyrics found on Ignorance foretold a world built on lies, false news, corruption and greed (sound familiar?) and was beyond angry…..it was fuckin’ burning with rage!
A highly prized masterpiece of thrash from a band who never quite received their dues.
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!
Whiplash – Ticket to Mayhem (1987)
Heralding World War III on opener “Perpetual Warfare”, New Jersey’s Whiplash were a 3-piece of considerable power and tenacity, making up in ferocity what they lacked in panache.
However, Ticket To Mayhem found Tony Portaro, Tony Bono and Joe Cangelosi balancing the relentlessly ferocious energy carried over from debut album Power and Pain with a few moments of considered introspection, no more so than on semi-ballad “Last Nail In The Coffin”.
Of course, all-out thrash anthems were still present and accounted for, with “Spiral Of Violence” and “The Burning Of Atlanta” unleashing merry hell, but Ticket To Mayhem showcased a more mature, more refined and focused Whiplash; one capable of delivering a more nuanced album than previously thought possible.
Blind Illusion – The Sane Asylum (1988)
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 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!
Flotsam and Jetsam – No Place For Disgrace (1988)
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)
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.
Kicking off with a 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 pile and with such technical expertise a their disposal, their frantic, dynamic, full-tilt thrash assault was nigh on irresistible to resist!
Opprobrium (aka Incubus) – Serpent Temptation (1988)
Not those digerideroo-blowing nu metal wombats, this was the real Incubus; a towering death/thrash colossus who annihilated their 80’s competition with debut album, Serpent Temptation!
Opprobrium / Incubus (name change sadly enforced) were extreme in every sense of the word and they were absurdly talented, tempering their ferocity with intricate riffing and a superb sense of dynamics. It has to be said, this shit was astonishingly heavy back in ’88; a savage re-appropriation of thrash metal’s fundamental’s strapped to death metal’s still to be completed blueprint. The results were almost beyond comprehension, with Opprobrium / Incubus paving the way for countless acts who took death / thrash into ever heavier realms as the 90’s dawned and death metal took hold.
A hyper-speed, proto-death metal classic, Serpent Temptation deserves to be considered an equal of Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends, Slayer’s Reign In Blood and Kreator’s Pleasure To Kill and should have been heard by everyone!
Overkill – Under The Influence (1988)
Taking the honour of never releasing a bad album (and they’ve released 19 of the buggers!), Overkill‘s 1988 effort, Under The Influence, remains a firm fan favourite and is home to some of these East Coast maniacs finest compositions.
The uncompromisable “Shred” and “Hello from the Gutter” (Overkill’s breakthrough which received heavy rotation on MTV’s Headbangers Ball) may be the most recognisable tracks but the whole album is filled with the same level of menace and high speed hostility.
High on energy and fuelled by aggression, it’s arguable that Overkill never sounded this raw and unpolished again, with these New Jersey boys’ punk roots still informing the core of their sound and ultimately transforming Under The Influence into Overkill’s most feral beast!
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 it 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!
Suicidal Tendencies – How I Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today (1988)
These American crossover thrash icons hit the big time with their 3rd album, How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today, an album which embraced metal without fully ditching Suicidal Tendencies‘ hardcore roots.
Mike Muir’s reflective social commentary was as barbed as ever, raging against the world while remaining blackly humorous, but it was the combination of Rocky George’s shredding solo’s and Mike Clark’s mighty metallic riffs which transformed Suicidal Tendencies‘ How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today into an all-time classic.
“Pledge Your Allegiance” may very well be the ultimate metal brotherhood anthem while ‘hit single’ “Trip To The Brain” and the likes of “If I Don’t Wake Up”, “The Miracle” and the title track remain crossover mainstays.
The result? A-grade crossover thrash from one of the scene’s most charismatic bands!
Testament – The New Order (1988)
We maintain that The New Order is Testament‘s greatest album (Practice What You Preach runs it a very close second); a full-bodied statement of intent from a band who knew they had an opportunity to not only compete with The Big 4 but surpass even their accomplishments!
History tells us that Testament would never quite break through to the same level as Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer but their recorded output defies that fact, and The New Order remains one of the most potent and consistently thrilling thrash albums in existence.
When an album reads like a greatest hits set you know you’re on to a winner and with the title track, “Trial by Fire,” “Disciples of the Watch and the iconic “Into the Pit” making up the core of this legendary album, The New Order‘s credentials speak for themselves.
Vio-Lence – Eternal Nightmare (1988)
Quite simply one of the most fearless, ferocious and downright feral thrash albums ever recorded, Vio-Lence‘s debut, Eternal Nightmare, is the thrash connoisseur’s album of choice and ranks as high in both the aggression and sheer insanity stakes as Slayer’s Reign In Blood, Exodus’ Bonded By Blood and Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends!
Originally home to Machine Head‘s Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel (but you knew that already), just 7 tracks of thrash perfection was all it took to announce that a new breed of thrash maniacs were in town – that ‘town’ being, of course, San Francisco’s Bay Area – and with the likes of “Kill On Command”, “Bodies On Bodies” and “Calling In The Coroner” in their arsenal, Vio-Lence were on a collision course with underground notoriety and unending acclaim.
Sean Killian’s vocals remain an acquired taste but those ‘in the know’ understand that without him, Vio-Lence were nowhere near as unique nor as thrilling a prospect.
As great thrash debuts go, Eternal Nightmare still takes some beating.
Wargasm – Why Play Around? (1988)
Fusing the sonic onslaught of all-out thrash with the melodic nous of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and the classic sounds of old-school heavy metal, Wargasm’s Why Play Around? is ignored by the majority but beloved by connoisseurs.
“Bullets & Blades” took the speed and aggression of Motorhead and Tank and thrashed the shit out of it, while “Revenge” harnessed a mid-paced crunch to drive home some truly catchy riffing and it’s “knee deep in blood” refrain.
So much potential, so much talent. Why Play Around? may have failed to stand out in a crowded scene of quality releases in 1988 (Metallica’s …And Justice For All, Anthrax’s State Of Euphoria, Exodus’ Fabulous Disaster, Flotsam’s No Place For Disgrace, Testament’s The New Order…) but that’s no reason for ignoring it now!
Dark Angel – Leave Scars (1989)
Sitting in between 2 monstrous, all-time classic thrash albums such as Darkness Descends and Time Does Not Heal is no easy task but then Dark Angel‘s Leave Scars is no easy album in the first place!
An album that’s as claustrophobic as it is brutal, Dark Angelwere clearly beginning to embrace a more progressive aesthetic (particularly on the labyrinthine “The Promise of Agony) while maintaining the ferocity that marked out their debut as one of the all-time great thrash albums (get a load of “Never to Rise Again”).
The result was an uncomfortable experience (not least due to its muddied production) that was extreme in every sense of the word. In fact, for the time, Leave Scars was one of the most overwhelmingly aggressive thrash albums on the market and its impact has not diminished in the intervening years.
Evildead – Annihilation of Civilisation (1989)
These L.A. thrashers were just as capable as Anthrax and Slayer etc at penning some seriously shred-heavy crossover thrash and Annihilation Of Civilisation is a second-tier, stone-cold classic!
“Annihilation Of Civilisation”, “Future Shock” and “Living Good” indicate the high level of thrashin’ prowess this band held in abundance and serve as accomplished aural evidence that for a short while Evildead stood toe to toe with the greats of thrash metal’s second wave; Sacred Reich, Forbidden and Vio-Lence.
Although in 1989 Annihilation Of Civilisation practically broke Evildead into the thrash mainstream, its obvious qualities seem to have been largely forgotten in the preceding years. Evildead’s direct approach to the fundamentals of thrash and consistently varied, and consistently catchy, song structures conspired to create a high calibre thrash album that still sounds formidable today.
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.
Honourable mention: 1991’s As Above, So Below would prove to be a fitting swansong for this most underrated band.
Lȧȧz Rockit – Annihilation Principle (1989)
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.
Related content: 15 Of The Greatest Old-School Melodic Thrash Albums in Existence!
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!
Related content: The 5 Essential OVERKILL Albums
Powermad – Absolute Power (1989)
With a sound that marries well with that of Metal Church, Flotsam And Jetsam and Forbidden – particularly in Joel Dubay’s powerful vocals – Powermad‘s debut full length is a strangely alluring hybrid of thrash, speed metal, power metal and core traditional metal values that sucks you in with humungous hooks, unforgettable melodies and a clear, concise sound that’s impressively executed.
“Slaughterhouse” may be a title that conjures images of a typical horror-show bloodbath but – just like the majority of Absolute Power – there’s a refreshing ‘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. 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.
Testament – Practice What You Preach (1989)
Practice What You Preach, the third studio album from American thrash metal royalty Testament, took these Californians to the next level as Chuck Billy and the boys attempted to crack the stranglehold The Big 4 held on late 80’s thrash!
This was the album that should have done it as well, with the likes of the title track, “Greenhouse Effect” and “The Ballad” showcasing a more mature band; one who were turning their attention away from occult themes and to socio / political / environmental concerns instead.
Mediative they may have been but this hardly dampened the fiery thrash spirit that burned inside, and with a flurry of thrash anthems that bristled with raw energy and aggression, it’s unsurprising that Practice What You Preach has gone down in thrash history as one of Testament’s greatest ever achievements (and there’s been a few)!
Believer – Sanity Obscure (1990)
Technical but still infused with riffs that crushed as well as confused, Believer‘s Sanity Obscuremay well be one of thrash metal’s more ‘obscure’ albums but it’s also a minor classic and should appeal to any fans of the wildly experimental and progressive stylings of Death, Voivod, Atheist and Coroner.
The all encompassing chaos on display throughout Sanity Obscure‘s 8 furious tracks is punctuated by dissonant riffs, unpredictable stop-start rhythms and arrangements so complicated they must have been a bugger to perform live.
Without sacrificing that all important moshability, Sanity Obscure impressed most with it’s sheer unconformity, accomplished musicianship and tortured vocals courtesy of vocalist/guitarist Kurt Bachman.
Death Angel – Act III (1990)
By the time the tail end of the 80’s had rolled round, precocious young thrashers Death Angel had made quite the name for themselves and were beginning to push The Big 4 in the popularity stakes. They’d even attracted the interest of a major label (Geffen Records) and what followed should have seen them break into the big leagues!
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.
Demolition Hammer – Tortured Existence (1990)
Few bands would ever compete with the sheer, unbridled ferocity of Demolition Hammer‘s ultra-aggressive debut, Tortured Existence.
Walking a very thin line between thrash and death metal meant that Demolition Hammerwere instantly one of the heaviest bands around, and when you’re packing heat as powerful as album opener (and all-time thrash classic) “.44 Caliber Brain Surgery”, thrash fans are gonna sit up and listen!
To be this barbarically brutal yet stay on the right side of accessible is a feat in itself….but then Demolition Hammer were no ordinary band. They were born to THRASH and thrash harder and faster than 99% of their peers. In fact, the likes of “Crippling Velocity” and “Neanderthal” will pummel you senseless, even 32 years after the fact.
Related content: The 10 Greatest Thrash Metal Debuts Of The 1990’s
Exhorder – Slaughter In The Vatican (1990)
Slaughter In The Vatican’s furious thrash and groove-metal establishing credentials rank it as an absolute thrash classic.
Stripped down to the raw basics, Slaughter In The Vatican‘s 8 tracks never once come up for air. The low-end rumble, buzzsaw riffing and Kyle Thomas’ ravaged vocals culminating in a primal thrash experience that comes perilously close to utter perfection. One of the most unique thrash albums in existence, Slaughter should be revered as a landmark in metal. At the very least it should be spoken about with the same reverential tones reserved for Pantera‘s Vulgar Display Of Power (an ironic yet unfortunately necessary comparison and not, we repeat not, a thrash album!)
Alternating between fast and slow tempos (the true ‘groove’ element of their sound), Exhorder‘s Slaughter In The Vatican still makes the majority of thrash bands sound utterly lost at sea.
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!
Morbid Saint – Spectrum Of Death (1990)
Morbid Saint‘s Spectrum Of Death is an unapologetically brutal and viciously violent attack on the senses and arguably the most brutal 100% thrash album ever recorded!
Clattering drums, rapid riffing and vocals belched from the gullet of a Satan-obsessed psychopath, Morbid Saint were the perfect combination of Dark Angel‘s all-encompassing power, Whiplash‘s speed and grit and the blackened riffing of those teutonic masters, Sodom and Destruction.
Few bands could compete with the intensity found on Spectrum Of Death and if your heart bleeds black for Venom, early Kreator and Darkness Descends era Dark Angel then tracks such as “Assassin” and “Beyond the Gates of Hell” are ample proof that Morbid Saint should sit proudly alongside these legendary purveyors of pure filth!
Sacred Reich – The American Way (1990)
Sacred Reich were thinking big on their follow-up to 1987’s aggressive Ignorance and with bonafide ‘hits’ “Who’s To Blame” and “The American Way” in their arsenal, the big leagues surely beckoned.
At the expense of the thrashin’ intensity found on their debut, Sacred Reich had chosen to channel their rage into more commercially-viable songs and were reaching a far wider audience as a result. But, despite semi-cleaning up their act, Sacred Reich‘s formidable crunch and collection of proper tunes (“31 Flavors” aside) failed to fully push them into the upper echelons of thrash metal’s hierarchy.
Mostly mid-tempo and pulsating with socio / political awareness, The American Way was purpose built for success. Why it didn’t sell millions remains a mystery.
Sanctuary – Into The Mirror Black (1990)
Seattle’s finest thrashers launched themselves onto the scene with their Dave Mustaine produced debut, Refuge Denied (1988), and while having the immutable Warrell Dane (Nevermore) as your frontman was always going to be Sanctuary‘s ultimate selling point, that’s not to say that the band were reliant solely on the great man’s siren-like wail for exposure. Instead, they settled on releasing a sophomore album that took everything that was great about their debut, increased the technicality, and fair released one of the finest power/thrash albums ever penned.
Into The Mirror Black took the best bits of Bay Area thrash, 80s traditional metal – and the kind of power metal us Europeans had been developing for a few years – and fashioned one hell of a technically-infused progressive masterpiece out of it!
“Future Tense” and “Taste Revenge” packed a hell of a power/thrash wallop while the more dark and epic approach taken with “Eden Lies Obscured” showcased a band maturing at an alarming rate.
Vio-Lence – Oppressing The Masses (1990)
Following up such an incendiary debut as Eternal Nightmare was always going to be a tough task. How do you follow perfection? You don’t. So, Vio-Lence simply set about penning another collection of suitably erratic, unabashedly heavy, and technically-savvy thrash metal tunes!
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Oppressing The Masses isn’t as openly revered as its illustrious predecessor but its reputation has, rightfully, grown over the years. While not quite as fast and feral as Eternal Nightmare, you could hardly label Oppressing The Masses ‘refined’ and with messrs Flynn and Demmel peeling the paint off the walls with their cavalcade of vicious riffs, Vio-Lence were still one of the heaviest thrash bands on the block.
We’ll be damned if “I Profit” isn’t one of the best tracks Vio-Lence ever recorded and “Officer Nice” has gone down as an all-time thrash classic.
Vio-Lence couldn’t improve on Eternal Nightmare….but they sure as hell gifted us a sophomore album for the ages!
Devastation – Idolatry (1991)
Only with hindsight has Devastation‘s third, and their finest, opus been revered as a 90’s thrash milestone but be under no illusion, Idolatry is one of the greatest thrash albums of the decade and should have been hailed as an instant classic upon release.
Carefully straddling the fine line between death metal and thrash, Devastation were abrasively aggressive, technically adept, lightning-fast and heavy as all hell and fans of Dark Angel, Sepultura, Demolition Hammer and early-Death need this album…..if they don’t own it already!
A suffocatingly dense album, this shadowy beast favoured lurking in the corners of thrash’s darkest spaces as opposed to gleaming like much of the early 90’s clean, technically-obsessed thrash albums and it’s all the more distinctive for it. Murky and malevolent, Idolatry benefitted from its dank atmosphere and remains a violent, visceral experience.
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?!
Mind. Still. Blown.
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!
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!
Demolition Hammer – Epidemic Of Violence (1992)
Having the nerve to release one of the meanest thrash albums of all time during a period when thrash was all but forgotten by the metal masses took guts, but Demolition Hammer were blatantly unconcerned with the arrival of death metal and groove metal. Instead, they took the elements they admired from both sub-genres and shackled them, kicking and screaming, bloody and bowed, to their own thrash metal framework.
Arguably as sonically devastating as any death metal album of the era, this undisputed epitome of pure thrash brutality was propelled by the pummelling drumming of Vinny Daze who excelled himself here (those kicks are lightning fucking fast) and the aptly titled “Skull Fracturing Nightmare” sums this album up perfectly.
Riffs that were both technical and built around brute force may have been the showcase but Daze’s skill behind the kit and the larynx-lacerating vocals of bassist Steve Reynolds were equally as important.
Sadus – A Vision Of Misery (1992)
Sadus, one of the most forward-thinking, ahead of the curve, extreme metal bands on the planet often find themselves consigned to the also-ran pile when, in actuality, they were leading the charge!
In 1992, Sadus were firing on all cylinders and A Vision Of Misery was an instantaneous reminder that metal was moving ever-onward. Steve Di Giorgio’s Rickenbacker was as elastic as ever – stepping up to practically take the lead on the intimate(!) “Echoes Of Forever” – while the ferocious flurry of riffs peeled off by Darren Travis & Rob Moore were insanely complex yet always memorable; a feat precious few bands could ever attempt to emulate.
Progressive, technical, brutal and unique, Sadus have always been an awe-inspiring proposition and A Vision Of Misery remains a breath-snatching technical thrash / death masterpiece.
Testament – The Ritual (1992)
Testament’s last gasp attempt at cracking the mainstream was the equal of anything being released by Metallica, Megadeth etc at the time. With Chuck Billy once again proving his versatility as a vocalist, Alex Skolnick laying down his claim as the finest guitarist of his generation and the band, as a whole, proving they could deliver mature thrash that didn’t skimp on power and grit, The Ritual really should have been the album to force The Big 4 to become The Big 5.
Why it failed to do so is one of life’s cruellest twists of fate because The Ritual had everything. Highly melodic and filled with sublime song writing, the aggression of old may have been subdued but Testament’s overwhelming talent remained – just give “Return to Serenity” a spin and try denying that it’s one of the finest thrash ballads ever penned. You can’t. Because it is.
Fact: Alongside Death Angel’s Act III, Testament’s The Ritual was the finest mainstream thrash album of the 90’s and not even Metallica‘s Black Album or Megadeth‘s Countdown To Extinction could touch ’em!