Following our mailbag post last week, Pete and I thought we’d get further antiquated with a good old-fashioned Heavy Blog is Heavy playlist swap. We each put together a list of the songs that we thought best defined our personal thrash metal tastes and where we think the genre is headed.
Pete’s List with Josh’s Comments:
Metallica – “Master of Puppets” (Master of Puppets, 1986)
I felt compelled to start off my playlist with what I consider to be the cream of the crop. While I’m always debating whether Master of Puppets or Crack the Skye is my favorite metal album, there’s no question that “Master of Puppets” might be my favorite metal song. I first heard Master when I was 12. I was a budding metal head at the time with limited access to this side of the music realm. While ‘90s metal was a bit of a graveyard, Metallica was still quite popular and had just put out S&M which exposed me to much of Metallica’s back catalog. I was also just starting out on guitar, so much of what I was thinking about revolved around, “How the hell did he do that?” “Master” is, in my opinion, a metal magnum opus. It’s an excellent metaphor that tries to teach a lesson which scratches the more artsy side of my brain. But it’s equally the most progressive song that’s mega popular in our realm. This song taught me how to be patient when listening to music, and I think it’s required listening.
There’s little I can say about “Master of Puppets” that hasn’t already been said. Still, whenever I hear anyone talk of “perfect songs”, this is the first place my mind goes. Everything about “Master of Puppets” is perfectly calculated and expertly deployed. The first, melodic lead section might be my favourite lead section of any song ever. But it’s also some of the more overlooked parts that really make this song work. The palm-muted section coming out of the second solo, with its rolling hammer-ons hits as hard as any moment of any other thrash song I can think of, and Cliff Burton’s bass playing just underpins everything so expertly. If anyone wants to hold up “Master of Puppets” as the apex of thrash metal—or even just metal music in general—you won’t get any objections from me.
Slayer – “War Ensemble” (Seasons in the Abyss, 1990)
Picture this: a teenager in exurb Georgia plays guitar and likes metal and punk. His parents take him to church on Sundays, but that’s just interrupting his ability to play guitar and listen to punk and metal. In an act of rebellion, the boy buys a Slayer record. Seasons in the Abyss, specifically. From the very first track, the boy’s blood is rushing through him. Never before has such aggression been blasted at him at ferocious speeds with extreme belligerence. Even thinking about it now, I’m getting goosebumps. To me, this is the epitome of thrash metal. Specifically when Tom Araya screams, “WAR” at the top of his lungs. 13/10, always be blasting Slayer.
Is there any song sure to get you fired up as quickly as “War Ensemble”? It’s opening note hits you like a gunshot and the unrelenting onslaught that follows ensures that your heart rate never drops from there. Seasons in the Abyss has a reputation for being more subdued compared to Reign in Blood (1986) (to be fair, what wouldn’t?) but you’d never be able to tell it from this song. Seasons is my favourite Slayer album and I’m glad to see it represented here; it’s the moment when Slayer’s songwriting peaked, when they proved they were capable of more than just sheer, evil aggression. However, “War Ensemble” only goes to show that they hadn’t lost one iota of the pace or power by which they made their name.
Megadeth – “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” (Rust in Peace, 1990)
If you want to get a great idea of the breadth of the thrash sound, Megadeth is the far left end of progessive thrash. Dave Mustaine and crew are known widely for their complexity and for taking the thrash sound in a very academic direction. Mustaine loves playing with new chords and scales that are really uncommon and, therefore, far more interesting to hear. If we all thought that thrash metal was about playing with reckless abandon, Megadeth flies in the face of that. Out of the Big 4, Megadeth is by far the most intellectually stimulating band to listen to.
I don’t know if I’d call Megadeth the “far left” of progressive thrash metal—especially with bands like Voivod, Coroner and the whole tech-thrash scene out there. They’re centre-left if anything (which sits closer with Dave Mustaine’s politics these days anyway). I don’t even know if I’d call them the most progressive or forward-thinking of the Big Four either. Metallica have always been a genuinely more progressive band, and Megadeth’s trajectory has always stuck pretty closely behind theirs.
They definitely pushed things to more technical heights though. With “Holy Wars…” and Rust in Peace in general, it’s like they heard …And Justice For All (1988) and decided to one-up it. I probably still prefer the unpredictability and overall grit of Justice, but Megadeth are easily one of the tightest bands I’ve ever heard or seen. Learning to play “Holy Wars…” was definitely a “level up” moment for me when I was learning (or at least trying to play) guitar and everytime I’ve seen Megadeth live they’ve made me want to go home and set my guitar(s) on fire because they just seem so untouchable. Another undeniable, stone cold classic.
Pantera – “Walk” (Vulgar Display of Power, 1992)
Look. I know it’s 2019. I know that I’m a straight white man from the south. I know that it’s becoming an increasingly difficult position to support Phil Anselmo and Dimebag’s Confederate flag guitar. I’ve had a lot of thoughts about what we should do when the artist turns out to be a garbage human. But this song is metal swagger. There’s simply no way around it. Pantera may have single handedly kept metal relevant in the early ‘90s, a notoriously down time for metal. They took metal in a new direction and serve as the bridge from late 80s thrash to the late 90s explosion of nü metal and metalcore. Despite his affinity for questionable political symbols on his instrument, there’s no question that Dimebag Darrell explored new guitar territories. It’s an awesome brash track seething with bottled up aggression. Dig it.
“Walk”, on the other hand, is one of those great songs that I’d be happy if I never heard ever again. Maybe it’s just flashbacks to all the times I got dragged along to this horrible “metal” club during my late teens and early twenties, which seemed to only ever play “Walk”, Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness” and Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff” week in and week out—maybe “Roots Bloody Roots” if you were lucky. Aside from those associations, however, I just don’t think it’s even close to being one of Pantera’s strongest offerings. Dimebag’s playing is phenomenal but, again, I think you see better examples of that elsewhere (see: “Domination”, “Floods” etc.).
I totally get why its pure meat-headed aggression contiues to appeal to listeners; it certainly appealed to me when I was branching out into the genre, and I still get a rush off it now. However, even then I thought “Walk” paled in comparison to its surrounds, and it’s most memorable moment—Anselmo’s threatening call of “walk on home boy” as it fades out—has lost its lustre as it’s taken on new connotations. Still, a formative song in mine and I’m sure many others’ thrash metal developments, as well as the genre as a whole.
Municipal Waste – “Slime and Punishment” (Slime and Punishment, 2017)
PARTY METAL! As much as I love metal, I find that it often takes itself way too seriously. Sure, there are a lot of moments of levity from metal bands in general, but few actually incorporate that humor in their music. And definitely nobody incorporates it like Municipal Waste. The band is just constantly having a way better time than anybody else, and it translates through their music. It gives their music a great feeling that most music fans could appreciate, and it’s pretty easy to expose people to metal when it’s bands like MW. I also used to live in their hometown of Richmond, VA, so I’m biased.
Municipal Waste are probably the biggest and most successful of the modern thrash bands. But they’ve always been one of the ones I’ve been least interested in. That should come as no surprise, given my general disinterest in the crossover scene, but while I like some of the riffs, I really am somewhat baffled that it’s these guys who have broken through, while other contemporary thrash acts that I consider far superior, such as Sylosis and Warbringer, have more or less fallen by the wayside.
Pete’s right, in that I find the whole humorous, party-metal angle fairly off-putting. I don’t need my music to be super serious, but it does come off more like a gimmick to me and I find it wears thin fairly fast. A Municipal Waste greatest hits set is probably a good time, and “Slime and Punishment” is a lot of fun, if not entirely substantial. I remember having some success with Massive Aggressive (2009), which dropped the slime/party angle a bit, but it still just comes off a little malnourished for my tastes. Not for me, I’m sorry.
Iron Reagan – “Miserable Failure” (The Tyranny of Will, 2014)
On the opposite end of Municipal Waste’s party metal-style crossover, we have Iron Reagan. Given the fact that there’s a lot of cross over with Municipal Waste, they do have a similar energy. Unlike Waste, Iron Reagan has a particularly serious vibe to their songs. There’s a weight and gravity, despite what some might call a “sophomoric” songwriting process. However, there’s a lot of aggression in their music that couldn’t come across in any other form than a more “simplistic” sound closer to hardcore punk than metal in some ways.
Now this is more like it! I remember liking this album when it came out and then just never going back to it. That’s going to change after (re-)listening to “Miserable Failure”. I’m aware that Iron Reagan share a lot of their line-up with Municipal Waste (and, now that I’m looking into it, also includes ex-Darkest Hour drummer Ryan Parrish, which is worth some serious extra credit in my book) but everything about this approach to crossover appeals to me so much more. The songs are so much harder and faster, everything sounds so much thicker and, perhaps most essentially, the bass isn’t twangy! There’s a lot of Metallica here as well, especially in the almost-two-step riff that closes the song out. I know Iron Reagan have their own semi-substantial following, but this is infinitely better than anything Municipal Waste have ever put out by my reckoning.
Toxic Holocaust – “Nuke the Cross” (An Overdoes of Death, 2008)
Toxic Holocaust holds a very special place for me. It combines so many ideas into a single package. Joel Grind is such a talent in this arena and basically touches a little bit of everything on the production side, and he has directed this band/solo project into a unique combination of hardcore punk, crossover thrash, and second wave black metal. You couldn’t come up with a more Pete-centric sound if you tried. The only thing missing for me is dream pop and parts for a horn section and/or an organ. That would be a pretty tall order, and I’m quite satisfied with the band in general anyway.
Toxic Holocaust are a band who have always been in my periphery but, for whatever reason, I’ve just never bothered to check out properly. I did manage to catch them at Hellfest, when I was there in 2009; they seemed alright, but I wasn’t blown away then and I’m not super sold on this song either. The main riff has a certain Motörhead/Venom quality to it that I appreciate. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the song “Black Metal”, except without the fun factor. The mid-section, again, reminds me of Metallica but, again, it’s nothing remarkable. This is ok, and I’d be willing to check out the rest of the album—even if I’m not entirely sold on delving further into their discography at this point. While I enjoy some of the elements, “Nuke the Cross” just seems fairly basic and doesn’t really seem to go anywhere—as if it’s cobbled together out of a build-it-yourself thrash kit rather than being something truly hand-crafted.
Nervosa – “Vultures” (Downfall of Mankind, 2018)
I truly believe Nervosa is going to get really big. I think we’re not too far off from everyone recognizing their sound. In a #metoo world, we’re going to see a lot more bands like this get a lot of props. However, we shouldn’t just say great things about them just because it’s an all-female metal band. They can also write a hell of an aggressive thrash track. They really wear their influences on their sleeves. You hear the Pantera influence on their sound immediately with the thick distortion over both grinding riffs and grooving beats. The sociopolitical commentary is also classic thrash fodder, so it’s pretty obvious they know their history. The next Nervosa record that comes around could potentially be gigantic, and I’m excitedly looking forward to it.
I really can’t see this band getting very big. They’re way too extreme and not particularly inventive for that I think and, if you want to play up the feminist angle, then Venom Prison have already beaten them to the punch—not to mention having them severely outgunned. Not that there can’t be more than one outspoken feminist extreme metal band at a time, but nothing Nervosa are doing strikes me as particularly remarkable or ground-breaking. As a debut, this might have held some promise, but Downfall of Mankind is already their third album and didn’t seem to make much of an impact when it came around. I can’t really see it happening but I’d be more than happy to be proved wrong.
As for the song itself, when “Vultures” first started, it reminded me of mid-period Arch Enemy, both in the style of death metal riffing and the vocal tones but, while I like the idea of a rawer, thrashier Arch Enemy, the rest of the song struggled to hold my attention. If “Nuke the Cross” sounded like a hodge-podge of recycled thrash riffs, then “Vultures” sounds more like the same two riffs on repeat for four minutes, and the repetitive refrain of “vultures” didn’t help matters much.
Power Trip – “Waiting Around to Die” (Nightmare Logic, 2017)
I think Josh will agree that Power Trip is what’s happening in thrash metal now. This is the sound that a lot of bands are going to try to emulate for awhile, and I welcome it. When this record came out (before I joined HBIH), I was pretty out of the metal scene. I always enjoyed my bands who I’ve always loved, like the Big 4 and Mastodon, and it was always great to see metal records on those end of the year best of lists we all love. But I heard about this record and band, so I popped them on. It led me back into the scene I love so much, so I felt like it was a great end to cap off my playlist.
These guys, however, are definitely going to be huge—or as huge as a hyper-aggressive thrash band can get these days. The opening reminds me of Overkill’s “Necroshine”, which is actually a song/album of theirs that I really like. Overkill’s production has always been a massive wall for me, but when “Waiting Around to Die” kicks in everything sounds so fucking huge! Power Trip have absolutely nailed their guitar tone, which sounds like the perfect blend of Pantera and ‘80s Metallica. I’m pretty familiar with Nightmare Logic at this point, but it’s always been early tracks like “Executioner’s Tax” and “Soul Sacrifice” that have stood out. Having Pete point out “Waiting Around to Die” in isolation has really drawn my attention to how great it and some of the album’s other deeper cuts are as well. I’m spewing harder than ever now that I missed them when they toured last year. Believe the hype: Power Trip are the next big thing in thrash metal.
Aura Noir – “Dark Lung of the Storm” (Aura Noir, 2018)
Following our discussion about black thrash during the mailbag post, I asked Pete to recommend me an Aura Noir song to check out. Straight off the bat, I have to say how surprised I am at how clean the production actually is. The tones themselves are pretty gritty (although even then…) but everything is well-balanced and surprising clear. Having said that, the song itself still isn’t doing that much for me. It’s a bit slow for my liking and, as with Toxic Holocaust, it just doesn’t seem to really go anywhere. What I’m learning is that it really is Venom all the way down for this offshoot of the genre and, although I appreciate the overall sound, no band seem to have pulled it off with the same sort of energy and intrigue that they did all the way back in the early ‘80s.
There are some songs later in the album, particularly “Demonic Flow” that are a bit more appealing. However, having given it a shot, I’m fairly certain at this point that for a blackened thrash metal band to appeal to me they’re going to have to be someone like Skeletonwitch, who have a fuller sound and bring in a few outside elements to their sound as well, or the new Blackhelm album which goes super hard and ends up transitioning into more progressive territories. Aura Noir themselves may not have been a success story, as far as broadening my tastes, but being exposed to them has really helped me narrow in on what I’m looking for when it comes to the intersection between black and thrash metal. I’ll count that as a win.
Josh’s List with Pete’s Comments:
Metallica – “Disposable Heroes” (Master of Puppets, 1986)
I first heard Master of Puppets as a burnt copy which, for whatever reason, had this song missing from it. It still became my favourite album, but I went years worshiping it without hearing what is maybe its possibly best offering. There’s a saying (and logical tautology) that you can’t improve on perfection, but finally hearing this song after all those years without it instantly disproved that old adage. Along with being my favourite song from (one of) my favourite album(s), I’ve come to regard “Disposable Heroes” as the wellspring from which all the modern metal I enjoy has sprung (see Chimaira’s cover of it if you need proof). The staccato rhythm of its main riff set the template for all the groovier thrash metal to come and it’s a standard that few, if any, bands have equaled since.
Of course, we’re going to both put Master of Puppets tracks on our lists. As much as I do love Ride the Lightning, Puppets is THE thrash album. Personally, I think it’s the best metal record of all time (and I’m more than willing to have that debate as there are some very serious contenders). That being said, this is one of my personal favorite Metallica deep cuts. I don’t think you could go wrong picking any track off of this record, but this is a great selection. Josh is right about the hallmarks of the song having a ripple effect through the metal ages, though I think the lyrics might have more influence than the music to me. It’s an especially powerful image and explanation of anti-war sentiments. It gives a powerful thought with the chorus lines, “You will do/As I say/When I say/Back to the front, You will die/When I say/You must die/Back to the front”. Hard to argue with the futility of war with that as your perspective, and it’s an especially apt description of the experience for many fallen soldiers.
In Malice’s Wake – “No Escape” (The Thrashening, 2011)
We move straight away from the oldest song on my list to one of the most recent. Despite my love and championing of Australian thrash metal, “No Escape” is the only Australian entry on this list, but I’ve written about it at great length elsewhere; so if Pete, or anyone else, wants to further explore what the scene has to offer then I strongly encourage them to head over there; there’s no reason why you wouldn’t after hearing this. In Malice’s Wake are easily my favourite modern thrash act, regardless of origin, and “No Escape” is the pinnacle of what I consider to be the genre’s finest contemporary offering: the appropriately named The Thrashening.
This is awesome. It’s a great throwback sound to classic thrash presented in a modern setting. It draws from the classics to create the sound with its crunchy riffs and changes in pace. It’s just good fun. In Malice’s Wake makes me realize that Australian thrash is one of my weaker points in thrash. I just don’t really know much about it though the occasional band does come up. Every Australian band that Josh has introduced me and the blog to has this similar kind of feel. They hearken back to the heyday of thrash in every way they can. It’s a classic sound that feels timeless in many ways.
Testament – “Down for Life” (The Gathering, 1999)
Like most supposably second-tier thrash acts, rather than losing their way Testament have actually come into their own in the modern era. In fact, Testament have largely led the charge of the classic thrash resurgence and it all began with The Gathering. Not that the Bay Area legends have ever really released a bad album, but The Gathering stands head and shoulders above the couple of records before it and quickly cemented itself as one of the bands best and heaviest offerings. “Down for Life” is my favourite song on the album, but you really can’t go wrong with any track from this undeniable yet still often overlooked modern classic.
Regular Pit readers will know that there is a special place in my heart for Testament. They have a great sound that meshes well with the Big 4 (minus Anthrax), and they might be the most willing of all the thrash bands to grow and change their sound. While I don’t necessarily share Josh’s view of the importance of The Gathering in general, I do agree that it holds a unique position in their discography. When thrash bands play with darker death metal-style tones, there’s a special itch that gets scratched in my brain. This is a perfect example of that and of what Testament was experimenting with in the late 90s.
Kreator – “Behind the Mirror” (Terrible Certainty, 1987)
Like Testament, Kreator are a band that seem to have only gotten better with age. I’d have a hard time picking a favourite record of theirs between Terrible Certainty and 2005’s Enemy of God, but I thought I throw back to the ‘80s again for a second and surprisingly final time to bring you what is one of the most white-hot offerings in the Germans’ almost impenetrable catalogue.
I have never been a particularly great fan of Eurothrash bands. They always seem a little over the top and cheesy to me. A little too melodic and power metal-y for me most of the time. However, this song makes me want to dig into Kreator more than I have. I’ve listened to it several times, and it’s clearly along the same lines as my beloved blackened thrash bands. It has that evil overtone to it that makes me love those bands. That and the fact that there’s some intentionally lower production values on the main part of the song. It just feels realer to me than something with a million-dollar budget with all the studio equipment you could ask for. Making a note to dig into this stuff more.
Machine Head – “Blood For Blood” (Burn My Eyes, 1994)
Another ‘90s classic and another contender all-time favourite album; “Blood For Blood” isn’t my favourite song on Machine Head’s classic debut (that would be the oft-heard and undeniable “Davidian”) but it is the thrashiest and it’s a track that often sneaks up on me with just how volatile it is. I spent an afternoon trying to learn its main riff on the guitar once and I swear my fingers nearly exploded from how frantic and violent it is.
I’m not super familiar with Machine Head. It just hasn’t come up a ton in my own musical explorations. However, I can say that the sound falls in line with the bands that came out while thrash, and metal in general, was on a backwards slide. The sound is overall groovier and can find those little moments of groove along the way. The riff is also a fun and frenetic experiment in speed. I see why Josh might have had a problem with it.
Sepultura – “Straighthate” (Roots, 1996)
I had to include something from Sepultura on this list and, while I considered picking something definitively thrashy like “Stronger than Hate” from Beneath the Remains (1989), in the end I knew it had to be something from Roots. It’s one of the albums that’s had the biggest impact on my life and musical development and while it’s debatable whether it fits into the category of thrash metal, it’s certainly rooted in the thrash tradition and had a profound influence on all of the modern thrash I tend to gravitate towards, so there’s no way I was going to leave it out. I also could have picked a thrashier cut from the record, such as “Spit” or “Breed Apart”, but in the end I went for “Straighthate”, which has always been a favourite of mine and which dares to ask the important question: can thrash metal be played slow?
Only in the last few years have I truly cultivated a love for Sepultura. When my girlfriend and I first started dating, I asked her to send me a list of her favorite records. To my extreme delight, Roots was on it. It’s pretty fun to hear the grooves these guys create. At the time the band emerged, and really until fairly recently, the overwhelming majority of metal music came from people who share a similar culture and background. To hear the kinds of rhythms in this music is simply refreshing. The drum beats in all of Sepultura’s music are what should really be bringing you in. It’s the highlight of their music to me.
Chimaira – “Six” (Resurrection, 2007)
Moving into the new millennium with another potentially contentious pick. I’ve always believed that many metalcore and “New Wave of American Heavy Metal” bands are far more entrenched in thrash than they’re ever given credit for and this is especially true of Chimaira who – along with being one of the more difficult to categorise bands to emerge from the scene and probably my favourite as well. Their 2005 self-titled effort is probably my favourite of theirs, but Resurrection is by far the thrashiest and “Six” is without doubt their crowning achievement. You might want to clear some room for this one.
Chimaira isn’t a band I’m super familiar with either, but this is an interesting track. The more of this kind of stuff I hear, the more I agree with Josh that metalcore really is the evolution of thrash. This band clearly implements a lot of thoughts and ideas from thrash metal along with a compilation of other kinds of sounds. I really like the melodic progression of this track and the interesting use of more atmospheric elements like synths and the like. I don’t know if I’d move heaven and earth to hear more of this band, but it certainly makes me regret falling out of metalcore. This would’ve been an awesome track to hear as soon as this album dropped.
Sylosis – “Out from Below” (Monolith, 2012)
I almost forgot about this one, but Sylosis’s Monolith is one of my favourite modern thrash albums. The band as a whole are often overlooked when it comes to discussions of thrash metal—probably because they use growls and are therefore considered (by some) to exist outside the genre’s boundaries. Which is silly, because there’s an absolute ton of (specifically Master of Puppets-era) Metallica all over this record. Despite being so huge and influential, Metallica are a hard band to imitate. Plenty of bands have taken bits and pieces of their sound, but I think Sylosis come closer than any other band to reproducing the essence of their sound within a modern context Monolith. You can definitely hear the Metallica influence on “Out from Below”, which begins with one of thrash’s long-lost calling cards: the unassuming acoustic into; and the rest of the riffing and song structure is pure Hetfield. The track/album is far from pure imitation, however, and Sylosis arguably do a better job of blending past and present thrash tropes here than any other band have ever managed.
So I had no idea this band existed but now I’m kicking myself for not knowing that. In an interview once, guitarist Josh Middleton described the foundation of the band’s sound as “old school Bay Area thrash. We don’t downtune and we don’t play breakdowns. We do like to incorporate lots of different metal styles and textures into our music. We like make all of our songs really epic. We like progressive stuff, brutal stuff and melodic stuff.” Um, yes please and thank you. This is freaking epic and brutal and awesome. It’s an extremely tasteful amalgamation of sounds that forces a sound all its own. I’m definitely going to be taking in this entire band as they are awesome. Their sound veers into the death territory quite a bit, so they dig into that darker sound that works really well. It’s tough to ignore this band when this song is what I’m presented with.
Blood Tsunami – “Godbeater” (Thrash Metal, 2007)
In the interest of mixing things up and exposing people to something a bit less obvious, I’ve gone with Blood Tsunami’s “Godbeater” for my final pick. The epic thrash instrumental is a largely lost art in the modern era, and this might be my favourite example of the forgotten form outside of Metallica (the other contender being Lamb of God’s “Ashes of the Wake”). Blood Tsunami’s last couple of outings haven’t been all that, and there is the inclusion of convicted murderer/hate-crime-committer Bård Guldvik “Faust” Eithun (ex-Emperor) in their line-up to contend with but, along with Warbringer, I think early-Blood Tsunami represents the best of what modern throwback-thrash has to offer, and I figured everyone would probably be tired of all the grooves by now.
Scandinavia is always known more for death and black metal, but it has plenty to offer outside of those little subsets. I’m not familiar with Blood Tsunami’s back catalog (and the inclusion of Faust is highly questionable), but based on this offering it might be something interesting to look into. There are sections of this song that remind me of the current wave of harder edge power and traditional metal revivals. It’s just good stuff. It’s hard to describe it in any other way. Fun throwback sounds in a modern package. What’s not to like?