Don’t panic….there’s neither a Black Album or Countdown to Extinction in sight!
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!
Metal Church – Blessing In Disguise (1989) [USA]
With vocalist Mike Howe (formerly of Heretic) bravely stepping into original Metal Church singer David Wayne’s considerable shoes, expectations for Metal Church’s 3rd album were tentative at best.
Fans needn’t have worried though, Metal Church were still well worth worshipping!
“Fake Healer”, “Rest In Pieces (April 15, 1952)”, “Anthem To The Estranged” (one of the finest thrash metal ballads ever conceived), “Badlands” and “The Spell Can’t Be Broken” were all incredible. Intelligent, powerful, heavy and home to a monumental vocal performance from Mike Howe, whose perfect balance of melodic muscle significantly contributed to setting Metal Church apart from their peers, Blessing In Disguise is the album that solidified their reputation for consistently delivering the goods.
It may have been 1989 but Metal Church still had time to squeeze in one of the most vital 80’s melodic American heavy metal / thrash albums of the decade!
Onslaught – In Search Of Sanity (1989) [UK]
Onslaught‘s In Search Of Sanity may be a UK thrash anomaly – in that it’s unrecognisable in comparison to the material that preceded it – but despite the fact that the satanic slayer-isms of 1986’s brutal The Force had been jettisoned entirely, In Search Of Sanity still stands proud as a cult item well deserving of high praise for its performances and ambition!
While In Search Of Sanity was more Metal Church than Slayer – and cleaner than a Nun’s saintly undercarriage in the process – its go-for-broke mentality should have been applauded; thrash was huge in ’89 and Onslaught shouldn’t apologise for wanting their own large slice of the thrash pie. The introduction of Grim Reaper’s Steve Grimmett on vocals may have upset the purists (and let’s be honest here,Onslaught aren’t really Onslaught without a gravelly-throated ‘screamer’ behind the mic) but the man lent a polished sheen to proceedings which few thrash bands (UK or otherwise) could match!
Quite possibly the finest commercial thrash album ever produced by a UK band, Onslaught were aiming for worldwide recognition when they released this melodic thrash masterclass at the tail end of the 80’s and ut should have led to greater things!
Paradox – Heresy (1989) [Germany]
Now here’s a band with more talent in one finger than most band’s hold in their entire body parts combined and Heresy was the album to bring Paradox to the attention of thrashers on a global scale!
A fully paid up concept album, Heresy re-told the tale of the Albigensian Crusade of the 13th century and in the process redefined the limits of thrash, ironically marching forth on their own crusade to combine elegance with destruction.
Approaching thrash with far less malice than the likes of Sodom, Kreator etc, Paradox instead embraced a power metal aesthetic, aligning themselves more with the likes of Metal Church, Anthrax (minus any silliness) and Onslaught circa In Search Of Sanity than with their Germanic brethren. It paid off too, helping Paradox to stand out from the pack and offering an accessibility that their teutonic peers simply didn’t offer at this point in time.
Featuring soaring twin harmonies, mind-frazzling solos and a rhythm section that could rival the tightest thrash acts around, Paradox were anything but their namesake; delivering instead a concise and melodic attack on the senses that was unrelenting in its clinical efficiency.