The 1980s were an exciting time for heavy music. The early ’80s were a breeding ground for the burgeoning punk scene in both the U.S. and in U.K., with bands like the Misfits and Discharge carrying the torch of rebellious behavior set forth by Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols several years earlier and churning out anthems of civil unrest that would inspire the generations to come. On the metal front, bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in the U.K. would spearhead the musical movement that would become known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, an exciting evolution of classic heavy metal that placed a strong emphasis on speed and musicianship.
Around this same time, various regions of the world including the California Bay Area, Germany and even Brazil were catching wind of these two exciting new styles of music, and taking these influences, budding musicians in these parts of the world and more would unknowingly give birth to a style of metal that would become the bedrock for pretty much all of the metal to come after it: thrash metal. From Metallica to Slayer, to Sepultura to Kreator, old school thrash metal had a profound impact on metal and music as a whole, and it’s safe to say that without it, modern metal would look much different than it does now.
So without further adieu, we present to you Heavy Blog Is Heavy’s Best of Old-School Thrash Metal. Give it a read, and as always, sound off in comments to let us know how wrong we are.
Let’s not even waste any time acting like you don’t already know plenty about the world’s biggest and arguably most influential metal band, Metallica. Their legacy is undeniable and their back catalog is frequently cited as one of the finest strings of albums by any band under the umbrella of rock music, blah blah blah. Bottom line is, Ride the Lightning, the band’s second batch of incendiary insanity, was one of the most vicious, memorable, and forward-thinking metal albums of the early 80s. This album was the biggest leap in maturity from one album to the next at any point in the band’s lengthy career and showed Metallica at their ideal middle-ground of punk aggression (“Fight Fire With Fire, “Trapped Under Ice”) and lofty, proto-prog metal goals (“Fade to Black, “The Call of Ktulu”). When even the album’s more obscure cuts like “Escape” still trounce most of their peers at the time, you know that’s the true sign of a bonafide thrash classic. Late bassist Cliff Burton’s affinity for flashy musicianship and unwavering adrenaline is also in full display on Ride the Lightning and is still being hosed by teens worldwide. We’re pretty sure that you can already hum back most of the riffs on this album and are currently headbanging just thinking about the furious bridge of “Creeping Death” right now, but in case you missed this, get it immediately.
Recommended Track: “Creeping Death”
Younger metal listeners such as myself live beyond a time when thrash, death and black metal were all burgeoning genres without explicitly defined sounds with countless subgenres distorting them. Infernal Overkill is a clear testament to that time period, with a sound demonstrating Destruction’s desire play thrash as sinisterly as possible. If the production were not so much clearer, it would be easy to mistake the compositions of guitarist Mike Sifringer and drummer Tommy Sandmann as more technical adaptations of Bathory and Venom tracks. Hell, vocalist/bassist Marcel Schirmer even seems to emulates Quorthorn and Cronos to varying degrees. Still, Destruction clearly have a unique and punishing sound, as Sifringer’s riffs flash and glide across his fretboard atop Schrimer’s thumping bass and Sandmann’s careful percussion. The Big 4 may have exclusively North American membership, but albums like Infernal Overkill indicate that this pantheon should be extended to include the golden boys of the teutonic thrash scene.
Recommended Track: “Bestial Invasion”
The year is 1985. The California Bay Area is buzzing with the excitement of a brand new, cutting edge brand of metal that fuses the incredible musicianship of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal with the speed, ferocity and attitude of punk rock. A select few bands are spearheading the movement, but a lesser-known underdog is really the only band who best embodies all that thrash metal is and will do so for the duration of their career: the one and only Exodus. Their debut album Bonded By Blood often gets forgotten in the conversation when names like Metallica and Slayer are being thrown around, but let’s not forget that Kirk Hammett’s humble beginnings were in Exodus, and that Exodus riff-master Gary Holt is currently slinging the late and great Jeff Hanneman’s coveted position in Slayer. Bonded By Blood is where it all began for this band, and as with any thrash metal band worth its weight, it’s all about the riffs. The unstoppable guitar duo of Holt and Rick Hunolt gave way to some of the most classic riffs in the history of the genre, and Paul Baloff gives an unforgettable performance as the pipes of the band. In short, Bonded By Blood is more than deserving of being mentioned alongside the rest of the thrash classics, and I don’t care what anybody says: Exodus remains the best thrash band on the planet to this day.
Recommended Track: “And Then There Were None”
Apparently when listening to Darkness Descends, it makes a point to turn up the tempo to perpetual overdrive. Even when drummer Gene Hoglan pauses for some mid-paced percussion, it seems as though it requires the entirety of his being not to punish his kit once again. Indeed, with Hoglan’s feet and hands respectively glued to his kick pedals and sticks respectively and guitarists Eric Meyer and Jim Durkin apparently equipped with wrist steroids, Dark Angel easily prove why they have been dubbed the “L.A. Caffeine Machine.” Yet, through one of the fastest paces in thrash history, Dark Angel never once sacrifices the need for excellent songwriting. Complete with an intro of Rob Yahn’s stalking bass and lurking guitars, “Merciless Death” show the band introducing listeners to their assault as handily as when they toss them directly into the fray without warning. And of course, none of this would be truly complete without vocalist Don Doty and his keen desire to not be drunk under the table by his bandmates in a manic music battle. His frantic vocals screech and soar as often as they hiss and gargle, making for a continuously varied performance. Darkness Descends may not receive as much attention as it rightfully deserves, but thrash fans willing to sift past the obvious classics have a hidden gem awaiting them.
Recommended Track: “Merciless Death”
Reign In Blood may not have been thrash’s impetus, nor did it provide the first hints toward the formation of black and death metal. However, without Slayer’s third album and major label debut, all of the aforementioned genres would have had a vastly different – and diminished – trajectory. From the the moment that “Angel of Death” catapults into being with impenetrable syncopation, it is impossible to deny that the band’s original quartet arrived on the 80s thrash scene prepared to cement themselves among the greatest bands in the genre. As with any of Slayer’s essential albums, the stars of the show are drummer Dave Lombardo and the late Jeff Hanneman, with the latter’s ahead-of-his-time drumming and the former’s incomparable riff-writing ability helping to mold some of the most vicious and memorable thrash songs ever laid to tape. By the time that “Rain in Blood” concludes the album in its morosely epic fashion, it is quite clear why Slayer are second only to Metallica in the Big 4 and their influence on the genre.
Recommended Track: “Angel of Death”
Often the most overlooked band in the Big Four of Thrash, Anthrax were the East-Coast thrashers who often had a lighter outlook on things. Often accompanied by their live antics, the band has a great sense of humor to them, and often times worked that into their music. Aside from that, nobody can deny their sense of seriousness when it came to making some absolutely blistering metal music, and Among The Living is where the band really seemed to hit their stride. Starting off with the title track and working down all the way to the album’s super fast closer, “Imitation Of Life”, the album is chock full of memorable moments.
The highlighting factor of this album is the band’s ability to really blend singer Joey Belladonna’s spoken-sung vocals with some great grooving riffs, most notably on the song “I Am The Law”, where his vocals almost take an alternative metal route. It’s an underappreciated part of the band’s sound from the 80s, and most people didn’t realize how much it influences bands that came after them. Lest we forget, this is also the band that pioneered rap-rock by doing a collaboration with Public Enemy in the 1990s. Scott Ian’s guitar work is also worth appreciating, and he meshes really well with Frank Bello and Charlie Benante in the rhythm section. It also features leads from their best second axe-man in Dan Spitz.
Among The Living is often overshadowed by the successes that Master Of Puppets, Reign In Blood, and Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? had, but to be honest, it’s just as solid as all of them, and it really goes to show just how talented the band are. It’s been almost 30 years since it came out in 1987, and we can only hope it will experience a revival in the coming years. The music has stood the test of time, and that’s really what outlines its greatness.
Recommended Track: “I Am The Law”
Rightfully lumped in with the “Big Four” of thrash metal, Testament is an inimitable band whose impact on the genre cannot be overstated. They’ve released countless classics in their almost 30 years as a band, but it all started with their ripping debut album, The Legacy. Faster and more ferocious than anything that had been heard in thrash metal up to that point, The Legacy was a battle cry of sorts from Testament, an unbridled display of their adeptness as a band and a warning to the rest of the world that they were coming and nothing was going to stop them from becoming one of the biggest metal bands in the world. Opening track “Over the Wall” was the first proper introduction Testament gave to the world, and what a way to burst onto the scene. The riffs churned out by tag team guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson are downright lethal, and Chuck Billy firmly established himself as one of the most iconic vocalists in all of thrash. What’s even more impressive is the fact that all these years later, Testament have essentially the same core line-up as they did on The Legacy. Whether they knew it at the time or not, The Legacy was an aptly-titled album that was a foreshadowing of Testament’s own legacy, but judging by the way they played and still play today, it’s no surprise that Testament are as legendary as they are.
Recommended Track: “Over the Wall”
In all honesty, this spot was a toss-up between Beneath the Remains and Arise; both are typically held in equal regard when discussing thrash’s formative albums. However, anyone familiar with Sepultura knows the wide variety of sounds present within their catalogue, and while Arise hinted at the stylistic shift of Chaos A.D., it is very apparent when listening to Beneath the Remains that this is a thrash album through and through. Well…almost, for Sepultura’s footing within thrash borders very prominently into the the pupil stages of death metal. While the eminent Max Cavalera was at the helm, Sepultura produced some of the most viciously heavy thrash out there, sounding more like Death than Metallica. Of course, this is still a thrash album; the emphasis on impeccable riff-writing leads to an album full of riffs clearly thrash with just enough of an edge of death to maximize the album’s crushing impact. Indeed, Beneath the Remains will remain a towering testament demonstrating that before Cavalera smoked too much native herb in the forests of Brazil, his primary goal was giving his thrash brethren to the north a significant run for their money.
Recommended Track: “Inner Self”
Since its inception, Kreator has been a band that challenged the technicalities of metal and pushed them forward into uncharted territories. This is evident throughout their early releases up to Coma of Souls, but it was this album that presented the perfect amalgamation of ruthless, bludgeoning thrash technicality and socio-economically critical lyrics. It also features some of the finest riffs to be put to a Kreator disc to date. The riff in the middle of ‘Terror Zone’ for example is a proverbial slap in the face while ‘People of the Lie’ continues to be a staple in the band’s live set to this day.
‘When the Sun Burns Red’ and ‘Material World Paranoia’ are perfect examples of the lyrical maturity on this record, tackling heavy topics like global warming and mass corporate greed. In addition to the depth provided by the lyrics, Coma of Souls is arguably Kreator’s best effort in terms of writing, performance and production quality, at least amongst the first half of their career, making it an overall thrash masterpiece for the history books.
Recommended Track: “Terror Zone”
-Aly Hassab El Naby
While albums like Reign in Blood and Master of Puppets may have had a bigger influence on metal as a whole, almost no album in the entire history of thrash was purely as much fun as Overkill’s 1991 barnburner, Horrorscope. The band’s fifth album was really their final album of their golden years in the genre but showed the band cranking out circle-pit riff after circle-pit riff with some of the gnarliest and crunchy bass and drum tones of the day. Practically every second of this album’s eleven exhausting tracks are loaded with more moments to stomp around in your Nike hi-tops than you’ll know what to deal with, whether it’s the apeshit opening of “Coma,” the hard-rock swagger of “Thanx For Nothin’,” or the pummeling chugs of “Nice Day…For A Funeral.” Pair all this with one of the most over-the-top vocal performances in the history of heavy metal, courtesy of psycho/badass Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a winning recipe. Sure, it has every single familiar trait that the genre is known for, but the album’s charisma and confidence is simply undeniable. This is definitely one of the most criminally underlooked albums to come out of the early 90s.
Recommended Track: “Infectious”
The mind boggles just how far removed this album is from anything else Megadeth have created. One of the legendary Big Four, thrash gods to many, and yet no matter where you turn there are discerning metalheads who treat them like they have a bad taste in their mouths. Yes you can’t ignore Mustaine’s antics but even his biggest critics have to admit he got it right with this bad boy. Not even Rust In Peace comes close. When you consider that most bands struggle to stick two cracking songs side by side, it blows your mind to learn that Countdown’s opening salvo manages five. Five of the greatest songs you’ll ever hear, one after another. Its jagged lines thrill; its dark purpose and masterful use of hooks send shivers up the spine. And this thing doesn’t even seem to wane with age. It’s still as staggering as it was 23 years ago. Hand on fucking heart.
Recommended Track: “Architecture Of Aggression”