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American Thrash: The 10 Greatest Old-School Albums

The kings of THRASH!

America gave us The Big 4 and it also gave us some of the greatest old-school thrash albums ever heard. Let’s face it, the Americans are the kings of thrash; they basically invented it, popularised it and took it global.

With that in mind, Worship Metal has selected the cream of old-school American thrash and popped it into a convenient list.


Overkill – The Years Of Decay (1989)

Overkill – The Years Of Decay (1989, CD) - Discogs

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 “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!

Honourable mention: Take your pick from Taking Over (1987), Under The Influence (1988) or Horroscope (1991) as they’re all tippity fuckin’ top!

Anthrax – Among The Living (1987)

Anthrax – Among The Living (1987, Vinyl) - Discogs

With Among the Living, all the ingredients that made Anthrax a fantastic proposition came together to form the perfect whole. Joey Belladonna was firmly ensconced at the helm and his melodic yet powerful vocals were exceptional throughout. Scott Ian and Dan Spitz combined thrillingly and cemented their reputation as one of the most skilled guitar partnerships in metal and Charlie Benante’s stunning, highly influential bass drum work propelled the band forward at breakneck speed throughout.

Lyrically and thematically, Among the Living combined the comic book/horror movie aesthetic, which can be found on Spreading the Disease and State of Euphoria with the social commentary found on Persistence Of Time, resulting in a near-perfect thrash album which holds it’s own against the greatest albums the genre has to offer.

Heavy on comic book, pop culture and horror movie imagery, (the cover artwork depicts the diabolical Rev. Henry Kane character from Poltergeist II & III), the most iconic reference is “I Am the Law”, their tribute to comic book enforcer Judge Dredd. This head-crushing stomp through nearly 6 minutes of coruscating riffs, courtesy of rhythm master Scott Ian, remains a fan favourite an incredible 33 years after it was written.

Honourable mention: The aforementioned Spreading The Disease (1985) and Persistence of Time (1990) are just as mandatory.

Vio-Lence – Eternal Nightmare (1988)

Vio-Lence – Eternal Nightmare (1988, Vinyl) - Discogs

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, ExodusBonded By Blood and Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends!

Originally home to Machine Head men 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!

Exodus – Bonded By Blood (1985)

Exodus – Bonded By Blood (CD) - Discogs

Exodus should have had it all; the fame, the fortune and their fair share of thrash metal’s spoils.

As it turned out, 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. A bullshit situation! 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.

Honourable mention: 1989’s Fabulous Disaster found Steve “Zetro” Souza fully bedded-in and Exodus were back to their best!

Testament – The New Order (1988)

Testament – The New Order (1988, CD) - Discogs

We maintain that The New Order is Testament‘s greatest album, 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.

Reeking of quality, Testament’s The New Order is mandatory listening for anyone with even a passing interest in thrash and epitomises why thrash dominated the 80’s like no other genre!

Honourable mention: Both Testament’s debut, The Legacy, and 1989’s Practice What You Preach are also beyond reproach and utterly essential.

About Chris Jennings (1986 Articles)
I love metal. Always have. Always will. As editor of Worship Metal - a site dedicated to being as positive about metal and its myriad of sub-genres as possible - my aim is to 'worship' metal through honest reviews, current news and a wide variety of features; offering the same exposure to underground bands as we do to mainstream/well known acts. Our mantra; the bands are partners and we exist to serve the bands \m/

3 Comments on American Thrash: The 10 Greatest Old-School Albums

  1. Derek Trujillo // December 8, 2020 at 7:24 pm // Reply

    I loved Time Does Not Heal by Dark Angel. The addition of Brett Eriksen was great and each song was a journey. I wish they’d have stayed together – I was really excited to see where they went next.

  2. No Forbidden????

    • Chris Jennings // November 28, 2021 at 6:21 pm // Reply

      May I direct you to the “More honourable mentions” at the bottom of the second page which clearly states…. “Every album you feel should be included and hasn’t been! We fully acknowledge that no Nuclear Assault, no Death Angel, no Sacred Reich, no Suicidal Tendencies, no Possessed (more death than thrash), no FORBIDDEN, no Flotsam and Jetsam and no Heathen etc will upset many of you. And, you’d be right. But there’s just too many milestones of American thrash to squeeze into one Top 10 list!”

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