Pariah – Blaze of Obscurity (1989) [UK]
A classic sounding thrash band before the term could even be applied, there was something inviting about Pariah’s thrashed up New Wave Of British Heavy Metal based output; of which Blaze Of Obscuritywas their finest hour.
Formed from the ashes of NWOBHM heroes Satan, Pariah would go on to donate Graeme English and Steve Ramsey to Skyclad but first came this magnificent slice of melodic thrash magnificence. The perfect companion piece to Onslaught’s equally ambitious In Search Of Sanity, Pariah’s astonishing array of complex riffs and expansive song writing should have found them beloved the world over.
As it transpired, Pariah were treated in a manner befitting their name and split after just two short years.
However, Blaze Of Obscurity is so ridiculously accomplished that it deserves nothing less than total reappraisal and should be considered a benchmark for 80’s speed metal and thrash metal guitar work.
Powermad – Absolute Power (1989) [USA]
With a sound that marries well with that of Metal Church, Flotsam & Jetsam and Forbidden – particularly in Joel Dubay’s powerful vocals – Powermad‘s debut full length remains 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. However, ample moments of speed metal frenzy are ably balanced with the kind of controlled yet expansive dynamism that Queensrÿche excelled at in the late 80’s.
Annihilator – Never, Neverland (1990) [Canada]
With Annihilator’s technical prowess still in place – and the introduction of new vocalist Coburn Pharr bringing ever more melody – Never, Neverland is arguably the quintessential Annihilator album and Jeff Waters’ greatest achievement.
With a clean, crisp sound and a more focused approach, the likes of “The Fun Palace”, “Road to Ruin” and “I Am In Command” were a shredders dream but came smothered in melodic muscle and an almost absurd theatricality. Catchy, memorable and overflowing with riffs, Annihilator may have audibly softened when compared to their rougher debut, Alison In Hell, but they were far from becoming the mainstream-baiting ‘sell-outs’ that released 1993’s Set The World On Fire (not a bad album in our book, but weak in comparison to Never, Neverland).
Instead, the more frantic, technically audacious rifferama’s of “Sixes and Sevens” and “Phantasmagoria” were tempered by the infectious melodies found on “Stonewall” and Annihilator’s first, and probably most triumphant, thrash ballad “Never, Neverland” itself.
Annihilator would never be this good again.
Death Angel – Act III (1990) [USA]
Act III was quite the departure from the raucous thrash of 1987 debut The Ultra-Violence and the more 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 in the process.
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……but fate would have other ideas
In 1991 – while on tour in support of Act III – the band suffered a serious bus crash in which drummer Andy Galeon was critically injured. Understandably, the band did not bounce back. Well, not until 14 years later when they released The Art Of Dying – one of the finest comeback albums in thrash history!
Testament – The Ritual (1992) [USA]
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. Disagree? Tell someone who cares.