Metal, like any current history, is a neverending story — a songbook perpetually revising its denouement in the storm of new releases shattering our ears and expectations by the month. But as exciting as it is to experience the history unfolding before us, that work is already done by listeners and blogs like this one on a daily basis. Vitally important and critically overlooked, I think, is the history of metal — the first chapters yellowing in the forty-odd years since they were bound in black and leather. This post, then, will serve as a continuation of this article detailing the early days of metal, and particularly the incredible importance of Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast to the fledgling genre.
Lately, I’ve spent time thinking about 1990-91’s Clash of the Titans tour and the icons of thrash metal that necessitated such a tour. Thinking about the kinds of machinations that had to take place before that tour would coalesce and how much the press attention as much as the mutual…
It’s March of 1987. Anthrax has been around long enough to have released two other full-lengths that cemented the band as a fixture in the emerging thrash metal scene. The band had been in the studio recording after lengthy touring in support of Spreading the Disease. What was recorded and released would become one of their most iconic works. One which 30 years later they would be touring on once again to packed houses. That album would become a canonical work of, not just thrash, but all of heavy metal. Among the Living would go on to achieve Gold sales status in 1990 catapulting the band into the upper echelon of metal’s hierarchy and continues to find itself added to the collections of music fans today.
As Immolation proved earlier this year, one can age with power and magnitude, only increasing one’s stature as the past becomes a launch pad to an even more nuanced and aggressive future. Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer also tested this theorem in 2016, to mixed results. Age does not always sit well with metal bands, but many try to use their longevity to their advantage, releasing albums 25+ years into their career. This month, Obituary, equally loved and reviled death metal legends, join the ranks of veteran bands trying their hand at perfection through age.
Welcome back to our Taxonomy series, where we break down umbrella genres like progressive metal, post rock and doom metal and outline all of the progressions and subgenres that have matriculated over the past few decades. The dissection of thrash metal you’ll find below contains a detailed dissection of the most crucial genre in extreme metal style. Thrash led to incredible innovations over the years, and in turn, a multiplicity of styles has made its way back into the genre’s core traits to form some of the most forward thinking metal coming out today. Seriously, many of the bands mentioned below have released records less than a year ago, and in some cases, less than a month. There’s a ton of ground to cover here, so without further ado, let’s riff on some of the best thrash you can use to mosh in your bedroom.
With our general list for 2016 out of the way, we can now shift the focus from our aggregate opinion to individual ones. Both outlooks have their own merit; the former provides us with an overview of our year in music. However, the latter shines a light on something we’re extremely proud of and that’s the varied and eclectic nature of our staff these days. We used to have a very certain type of music associated with Heavy Blog and while we still have a long way to go, we feel like we’ve done a good job at expanding our palettes and the representation of different kinds of music and metal in our staff. The lists below reflect that; you’ll find black metal, avant-garde, technical thrash metal, hip hop, rap, noise, ambiance, post metal and rock, melodic death metal and much more throughout these lists.
Thrash metal. It’s the archetypal sub-genre of metal. It wasn’t the first one on the scene, nor is it particularly representative of what metal music means today. Yet, it was the genre which served as the gateway into metal for a huge proportion of our community. When those unfamiliar with metal are asked to name any metal bands that they may know, you can bet that Metallica would be one of the most popular answers. And it’s not surprising to learn why. Thrash metal exploded all across the USA and Europe in the mid 80’s, dominating the metal landscape with its speed, aggression and technicality. Fast, furious and pissed the fuck off, it was exactly what people wanted. Bands quickly rose to bona fide rock-star status, and we’ll be focusing, initially, on the big four: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax. Through the early-to-mid 90’s some sought, and found, mass crossover appeal when turning to a more commercial style of music. Charts were topped, and millions of records were sold. Yet, this commercial zeitgeist was paradoxical in nature. Yes, some bands had scaled the mountain. They had made it. But they also had nowhere else to go, nowhere but down. It was an achievement, but it was also the beginning of the end.
Slayer, Anthrax and Death Angel
Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, Austin, Tx.
The 2,750 capacity Moody Theater feels like a miniature version of an arena, with a general admission floor and two mezzanines. The sold-out venue provided Slayer fans with a contradictory experience: seeing an arena-sized production with an arena vibe… in a small room. Like an 80s scale model, Slayer, Anthrax and Death Angel took concertgoers back to thrash metal’s heyday not by simply cranking up the nostalgia time machine, but by reminding listeners of what it was like when classic metal bands were releasing their classic albums and were eager to present their newest tunes to fans. Both Slayer and Anthrax accomplished this by putting new songs in key spots in their sets, something almost unheard of for bands that are 30+ years old.
Way back in 2012, Paul Mazurkiewicz (drummer for Cannibal Corpse) sat down with Billboard (via Metal Injection) and was posed an interesting question: who are death metal’s Big 4? Now, boiling any genre down to a definitive group of four is realistically impossible – as important as the Big 4 of thrash are to the genre, bands like Sepultura, Overkill, Kreator and Destruction deserve just as significant a portion of credit. So too was the case with Mazurkiewicz’s naming of Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Deicide and Suffocation as the Big 4 of death metal, which leaves out a whole slew of bands seminal to the genre’s evolution (Death, Bolt Thrower, Obituary, Autopsy, Carcass and innumerable others). Yet, in terms of balancing popularity, influence and an active status, it’s hard to argue with Mazurkiewicz’s picks; all four bands are nothing short of genre pioneers who played pivotal roles in defining death metal from its post-thrash transitional stage. However, when we fast forward to the genre’s current landscape, it’s clear time hasn’t been as kind to the infamous blasphemers from the Sunshine State as it has for the rest of DM’s Big 4. Despite being near the top of the pack in terms of influence and album sales, Deicide has experienced a noticeable fall from grace from their prime in the early-nineties. But the question is – why? What caused these luminaries to become lost?
My last Starter Kit (on Contemporary Thrash) brought in more recent bands and albums that cranked their amps past 11 and shredded faces with their speed. However, any genre is (to quote Shrek), like an onion; there are layers and layers of difference all balled up in one, and thrash metal is no different. While most people are at least aware of the genre’s staples (Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, etc.), they might not know of the lesser known bands that speed even past the big names.