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25 of the Greatest Sophomore Thrash Albums of the 1980’s

Only the finest sophomore thrash albums of the 80s will do.....

Second albums. Difficult for some. But not for these talented bastards.

Presented in order of release as opposed to any kind of ranking….

Metallica – Ride The Lightning (1984) [USA]

Metallica – Ride The Lightning (CD) - Discogs

Released almost a year to the day after their genre defining debut, Kill ‘Em All, hit the shelves, Metallica’s monumental progression was palpable and Ride The Lightning should be revered as Metallica’s greatest achievement (Yes, we rate it above Master Of Puppets).

From the misleading medieval acoustic intro to “Fight Fire With Fire” – which culminates in one of Metallica’s most neck wrecking songs – to “Creeping Death”, a song that deserves its place in the metal hall of fame, Ride The Lightning remains virtually untouchable.

This album slayed the competition during the genre’s formative years and laid down an insurmountable challenge to their peers; this is thrash, Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Burton roared in your face…..can you beat it? Unsurprisingly, not many could!

As electrifying today as it was 40(!) years ago.

Anthrax – Spreading The Disease (1985) [USA]

Anthrax – Spreading The Disease (1985, Vinyl) - Discogs

Spreading The Disease is an undeniable thrash classic. Sophisticated and controlled – yet bouncy and energetic enough to get any mosh-pit jumping – it was on this album that Anthrax found their melodic yet crunching sound; a sound that catapulted them to the forefront of the then fledgeling thrash metal scene.

Benefitting from Joey Belladonna’s relatively unique-to-thrash singing style, Spreading The Disease is home to some of Anthrax’s greatest tracks with “A.I.R”, “Madhouse”, “Medusa” and “Gung Ho” still registering high on the thrash richter scale.

If 1985 was renowned for anything it was for AnthraxSlayer and Megadeth making their mark on the thrash scene and Spreading The Disease was an undeniably important release. Metallica had some serious competition to contend with and The Big 4 were upon us!

Razor – Evil Invaders (1985) [Canada]

Razor – Evil Invaders (1985, Vinyl) - Discogs

Canada’s Razor released 2 albums in 1985 but with its sharp riffing and bone-crushing songs, sophomore effort Evil Invaders just edges Executioner’s Song as the better of the two.

Thrash metal doesn’t come thrashier – or more metallic for that matter – than this auditory assault on the senses that can literally strip skin from bone (or endo-skeleton, if the cover art is anything to go by).

“Tortured Skull” and “Instant Death” are the highlights but the whole album hits warp speed for the majority of its running time so you may as well just sit back, crack open a beer and consume it all (beer and album)!

Slayer – Hell Awaits (1985) [USA]

Slayer – Hell Awaits (2016, Vinyl) - Discogs

Slayer‘s Hell Awaits was conceived to shock and awe…..and it worked, perfectly!

In 1985, Hell Awaits was the sound of pure evil filtered through squealing feedback, archaic chanting and progressively technical dark-thrash odes to Satan and his happy home. The ghastly and terrifying title-track remains one of Slayer’s defining moments while “Necrophiliac” and “Kill Again” foreshadowed Reign In Blood‘s oncoming speed and ferocity.

Slayer were arguably never this progressively minded again and Hell Awaits has stood the test of time as a cornerstone in thrash metal and extreme metal’s development.

Dark Angel – Darkness Descends (1986) [USA] 

Dark Angel – Darkness Descends (2016, Clear / Blue / Orange Splatter,  Vinyl) - Discogs

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!

Destruction – Eternal Devastation (1986) [Germany]

Destruction – Eternal Devastation (1998, CD) - Discogs

Hot on the tails of the US thrash elite were Germany’s own teutonic terror’s and Destruction’s Eternal Devastation was a bestial invasion that let the world know that the Germans were coming!

Perhaps not quite hitting the heights of 1985’s Infernal OverkillDestruction were still conjuring greatness and classic thrashers can be found here. From the all-time great that is “Curse The Gods” to the still surprising folk-thrash opening of “United By Hatred” and the air-raid siren soloing of “Life Without Sense”, Destruction sounded confident, brash and capable of anything on only their second full length release.

Early European thrash that consolidated Germany’s importance alongside the Bay Area acts, Eternal Devastation remains beloved by thrash fans the world over and for bloody good reason; it’s as devastating as ever.

Kreator – Pleasure To Kill (1986) [Germany]

Kreator – Pleasure To Kill / Flag Of Hate (1988, CD) - Discogs

This precociously vicious shit-storm instantly struck a chord with thrashers worldwide and, with Pleasure To KillKreator found themselves leading the way in the Teutonic scene. Unhinged to the point of incarceration, Pleasure To Kill‘s track-list borders on a greatest hits selection with the wall of noise maelstrom of “Ripping Corpse”,  the unforgettable “Pleasure To Kill”, the death metal influencing “Riot Of Violence” and the epic and surprisingly complex “The Pestilence” all meriting classic status.

An inspiration to countless bands, death metal and grindcore legends Napalm Death covered “Riot Of Violence” and even they couldn’t match the intensity and ferocity of its original incarnation!

Kreator altered the German thrash landscape with Pleasure To Kill and mayhem of this calibre never sounded so good again!

Megadeth – Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? (1986) [USA]

Megadeth – Peace Sells... But Who's Buying? (CD) - Discogs

In terms of musicianship and compositional skill, Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?, represented a monumental leap forward from the previous years Killing Is My Business… album. This time around, Dave Mustaine’s assembled posse of musicians (Ellefson, Poland, Samuelson) were truly matching his knack for melody and dead-shot metal marksmanship and the results were uniformly stunning.

The first four tracks on this album remain untouchable (tracks 5-8 ain’t bad either). “Wake up Dead” kicked off proceedings with enough riffs and tempo changes to pad out an entire album, while “The Conjuring” was a devilishly diabolical ode to the power of black magic. However, it was on track 3 where Megadeth stamped down their mark on the thrash scene. ”Peace Sells” was the colossal hit that slapped the mainstream round the face with its badass bass line, heavy yet accessible approach and sneering, snarling lyrics spat out by Mustaine using his inimitable delivery. In stark contrast, “Devil’s Island” was a state of the art thrash showcase of predatory power and scintillating speed.

Over 35 years on and Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? remains a thrash metal milestone and a highpoint in Megadeth‘s incredible career!

Metal Church – The Dark (1986) [USA]

Metal Church – The Dark (1986, Vinyl) - Discogs

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, hit those same heady heights.

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 its 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 Metal Church and The Dark were a monumental influence on the then burgeoning thrash scene.

Onslaught – The Force (1986) [UK]

Onslaught – The Force (2019, Vinyl) - Discogs

The first band to truly raise hell in the name of British thrash, Onslaught turned heads with their punk-infused debut, Power From Hell, but it was with 1986’s The Force that they truly announced their arrival in the scene.

The Force was an appropriate title, as Onslaught‘s forceful and vitriolic sound hit you like a ten ton hammer; thrashing harder than most and with as much conviction as the likes of Dark Angel and early Slayer.

Still considered an all-time thrash classic, The Force is probably the most convincing thrash album ever recorded by a British band. Capable of ripping your head clean off, Onslaughtwere a powerhouse who unleashed a multitude of sinister, stabbing riffs without even breaking a sweat. It all seemed too easy and their place in the thrash elite should have been virtually guaranteed.

Holy Moses – Finished With The Dogs (1987) [Germany] 

Holy Moses – Finished With The Dogs (2016, CD) - Discogs

On an album that never fails to impress, it was the attitude of Holy Moses that hit hardest; a fearless, punk and grindcore-infused, middle-finger to the face of mainstream sensibilities that set them miles apart from many of their contemporaries.

Each track snapped and snarled but it’ was “Current Of Death” that hit hard enough to put you into a coma (Death Angel nicked Sabina Classen’s irrefutably catchy “whoah, whoah, whoah” delivery on 2004’s “Thrown to The Wolves” incidentally) while “Fortress Of Desperation” settled into a groove that’ll have you bangin’ ’till you puke.

In 1987, these dogs didn’t just bite, they sank rabies-infected fangs deep into your neck and tore out chunk after chunk of bloodied flesh; brutal, uncompromising and utterly merciless.

Growl. Grrr. Woof!

Overkill – Taking Over (1987) [USA]

<br />Overkill - Taking Over

Taking the honour of never releasing a bad album (and they’ve released 20 of the buggers!), Overkill‘s 1987 effort, Taking Over, remains a firm fan favourite and is home to some of these East Coast maniacs finest compositions.

The uncompromisable “Wrecking Crew” and “Deny The Cross” 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 Taking Over into one of Overkill’s most feral releases!

Sacrifice – Forward To Termination (1987) [Canada]

Sacrifice - Forward To Termination | Pubblicazioni | Discogs

Part of Canada’s “big four” alongside the potentially more recognisable names of RazorVoivod and AnnihilatorSacrifice‘s 2nd album, Forward To Termination, was a fast and ferocious shit-storm of an album.

A marked improvement on their admittedly decent debut Torment In Fire, 1987’s Forward to Termination upped the ante in almost every department while also maturing at an astonishing rate. A virtually perfect amalgamation of snarling attitude, ingenious riffs and diverse song structure, Forward To Termination – and the likes of the cult favourite “Re-Animation” in particular – have gone down in history as an all time classic of Canadian thrash!

With this outstanding album, Sacrifice proved once and for all that Canada had thrash bands that could rival those found in the USA and Germany and they should have found themselves at the top of the thrash pile.

Sodom – Persecution Mania (1987) [Germany]

Sodom – Persecution Mania (1987, Vinyl) - Discogs

Sodom‘s second full length album marked a notably drastic change of sound from the clattering black metal of 1986’s Obsessed By Cruelty, to the kind of thrash metal that continues to define Sodom’s persona 35+ years later.

Opening with the vicious “Nuclear Winter”, Persecution Mania instantly set out its stall as Tom Angelripper (vocals and bass), Frank Blackfire (guitars) and Witchhunter (drums) looked to political, social and war themes for inspiration. This would become a consistent motif as time went on but was arguably perfected at the first time of asking with “Electrocution”, the title track itself and, particularly, “Bombenhagal” delivering the goods as Sodom went about delivering the tightest, meanest, leanest, collection of songs in their career.

However, for all the plaudits and notable progression in maturity, Persecution Mania would be considered Sodom’s greatest achievement if it weren’t for the arrival of the outstanding Agent Orange just 2 years later…. but, as sophomore albums go, Persecution Mania still takes some beating!

Tankard – Chemical Invasion (1987) [Germany]

Tankard – Chemical Invasion (1987, CD) - Discogs

Tankard have never strayed from their beer and whiskey soaked path but they’re so much more than a mere gimmicky joke band…. and Chemical Invasion was the one album to prove their indelible importance to the Teutonic thrash scene.

Like the mad scientist depicted on the album artwork, Tankard throw everything into their heady brew of intense drumming, barely controlled riffs and histrionic vocals. Seemingly just one more drink away from careening out of control entirely, Tankard’s hellish fury occasionally calms, the open acoustic guitar strum of “For A Thousand Beers” providing ample proof that these guys could play and play well.

Chemical Invasion is an album that demands to be listened to drunk with the room spinning and projectile puke just one more whirlwind head-bang away…true party thrash!

Whiplash – Ticket To Mayhem (1987) [USA]

Whiplash – Ticket To Mayhem (1986, Vinyl) - Discogs

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.

Coroner – Punishment For Decadence (1988) [Switzerland]

Coroner - Punishment For Decadence (LP) - Muziker

Coroner‘s pure riff nirvana was a byname for technical thrash perfection and their innate ability to write astoundingly aggressive, ever-surprising songs in such a succinct manner made them leaders of their field…..and, for many, Punishment For Decadence was the pinnacle of their achievements.

These pioneering Swiss tech thrashers didn’t give two-fucks about genre convention – such was the intensity in which they carved their own path – and Punishment For Decadence confirmed, once and for all, that we were dealing with three individuals of unfathomable skill. “Masked Jackal” may have been the ‘hit’ (we use that term loosely) but the whole album is indispensable.

The most consistently impressive technical thrash band of the 80’s. 


Deathwish – Demon Preacher (1988) [UK]

Deathwish - Demon Preacher | Releases | Discogs

With opener “Death Procession” leading us on a morbid march through bell-tolling, doom-inflected pathways, the classic sounds of 70’s UK heavy metal soon meets the crunch of Bay Area thrash on the Slayer-esque title track and Deathwish‘s inspirations are immediately apparent.

A marriage made in heaven (or should that be hell), this juxtaposition of the UK’s world-conquering 70’s output and the equally successful US thrash sound pioneered by MetallicaSlayer et all is best exemplified on Deathwish‘s gritty thrashed-up reworking of Sabbath‘s all time classic, “Symptom Of The Universe”. Cover version’s by their very nature are generally disappointing but this updated version of Iommi’s classic riff-fest for a thrash audience remains recognisable but utterly feral.

However, the 70’s worshipping song structures weren’t all Deathwish had in their locker, “Wall Of Lies” and the unfathomably epic “Prey To The Lord” were a sonic boom of rabid riffing fulfilling the hype this underrated band had once generated. A nod to the future and a nod to the past in essence, Deathwish were happy to complete the circle by closing with the acoustic Zeppelin-esque instrumental “Past Life”, restoring balance and a sense of closure in the process.

Flotsam and Jetsam – No Place For Disgrace (1988) [USA]

No Place for Disgrace by Flotsam and Jetsam on Apple Music

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! 

Target – Master Project Genesis (1988) [Belgium]

Target – Master Project Genesis (2017, CD) - Discogs

Target‘s sophomore release, Master Project Genesis, was the greatest Belgian thrash album of the 80s, bar none! Light years ahead of their contemporaries, Target’s technical thrash prowess was writ large over Master Project Genesis‘ 8 scintillating tracks, with the band improving on their already impressive debut, Mission Executed (1987) and delivering a succession of tracks that sounded like the next gen of thrash bands had arrived. 

Once you’ve picked your jaw up from the floor upon hearing the stop-start riff-a-rama of the surprisingly melodic “Ultimate Unity”, the sheer brilliance of “Digital Regency” smacks you around the chops are you’re left reeling from the sheer scope and breadth of it all! The quality never lets up either. 

As important a cult item as Deathrow‘s Deception Ignored and Realm‘s SuicietyTarget‘s Master Project Genesis deserves far more than the mere footnote in thrash history placing it currently holds. After all, this truly is some of the best technical thrash you’ll ever hear!

Testament – The New Order (1988) [USA]

Testament – The New Order (1987, CD) - Discogs

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 MetallicaMegadethAnthrax 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.

Vendetta – Brain Damage (1988) [Germany]

Vendetta - Brain Damage - Amazon.com Music

They don’t come more unique than Vendetta‘s Brain Damage, an album that retained the required thrash crunch of the era while significantly maturing and offering unparalleled diversity to the discerning thrash fan.

This was the sound of a band that should have left the underground, seriously skilled and home to such consistently impressive songwriting that a breakthrough seemed inevitable. Alas, it just wasn’t to be. But, that’s no reason to overlook its merits now as Brain Damage‘s fiendishly catchy melodies and exquisite guitar work are as impressive now as they were back in 1988!

Vendetta’s technical prowess and crystal clear clarity showcased a band whose merits were writ large. After all, Brain Damage truly is an unsung masterpiece from the golden era of thrash!

Intruder – A Higher Form Of Killing (1989) [USA]

Intruder - A Higher Form Of Killing | Veröffentlichungen | Discogs

Intruder‘s second album was an aural assault that blew conceptions of thrash apart. Instrumental “Time of Trouble” aside, opener “The Martyr” had not one but three intro riffs before we even got to the meat of the piece, and each one ramped up the urgency and the expectancy like a catholic priest watching the new choir boys march in. And the pace did not let up. Shit, it’s heavy, even in 2023.

Guitarists Arthur Vinett and Greg Messick played their hearts out on this record, with their down-picked, string skipping madness played so fast your left hand will look like a Taiwanese prostitute giving a 30 second handjob. Anthrax were famous for the left-hand speed (picking, not handjobs. Well….) but this was another level. 

There was humour too. “Mr Death is here!” exclaimed Mr. Death on the last track (Did he get paid for his guest appearance?). And we can’t speak about AHFOK without mentioning the awesome Monkees cover “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone” in which John Pieroni growled his way through a great Mickey Dolenz pastiche….but it’s the chorus harmony vocals that still make you sit up and take notice!

Paradox – Heresy (1989) [Germany]

Paradox – Heresy (CD) - Discogs

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 SodomKreator and Destruction etc, Paradox instead embraced a power metal aesthetic, aligning themselves more with the likes of Metal ChurchAnthrax (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.

Sabbat – Dreamweaver (Reflections of Our Yesterdays) (1989) [UK]

The second full-length album from British pagan thrashers Sabbat swiftly followed their outstanding debut, History of a Time to Come, and this all-time classic follow-up ventured ever further into singer / lyricist Martin Walkyier’s strong interest in Wyrdism, Celtic mysticism, Anglo-Saxon spirituality and paganism.

Dreamweaver –  a concept album based on the 1983 book The Way of Wyrd: Tales of an Anglo-Saxon Sorcerer by British psychologist Brian Bates – ably demonstrated the sheer poetry conjured by this most unique of thrash bands. Not least in Walkyier’s expansive lyricism but in Andy Sneap’s ability to conjure magic from his epic and progressively technical compositions.

“The Clerical Conspiracy”, “Wildfire”, “Do Dark Horses Dream of Nightmares?”….. all solid gold (but then you know that already)!

Exceptional doesn’t quite do this album justice.

About Chris Jennings (1978 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/

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