Welcome back to the Pit, fellow moshers! We’re back to tell you about the thrash you need to know. Josh and I actually had a tough time this quarter. While there really aren’t enough releases to do this bad boy monthly, there were way too many good releases this quarter. We had a tough time narrowing it all down. Hell, even good buddy Eden decided that this was too much for the likes of us two and lent a hand. So we’re just gonna blast all y’all’s faces with the stuff that we really liked.
It’s at this point in the year that I start looking toward the end of it. Halloween is coming up pretty soon, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are both within 100 days of now. This is that point on the calendar when you start realizing everybody’s beginning to put together their best of the year thoughts. Highly anticipated releases really start dropping around now. This quarter had a few we might be looking back at, but there are still more to come. It’s been a solid year of thrashing for us I think. I’m looking forward to the rest of the releases, but let’s not forget about what’s gotten us in a frenzy right now.
Blackhelm – Dark Clouds of the Inferno
Whenever I think about the state of thrash and get a little sad that it’s not on top like in the 80s, I just have to thank Australia for doing its damnedest to keep it alive. Melbourne’s Blackhelm is the next band up from Australia, injecting thrash metal with the blackness that works so well with it. Just take thrash metal and add some tremolo picking and dissonance and you’ve got yourself a stew going, baby!
The best part of Dark Clouds are all the different thoughts Blackhelm put into it. The dissonance gives a chaotic quality to each track and has a great effect on the record as a whole. It gives it that evil dimension you need to make a particularly striking black metal record. To balance that out, you just throw that dissonance into a more straightforward songwriting approach in the thrash style. Voila! Brilliant blackened thrash.
This style is not easy to pull off. It’s really difficult to make something sound intentionally dissonant while maintaining a song structure. Go too far and you have a jumbled mess of unintelligible garbage. Don’t do it enough and you lose that little edge that makes your sound so unique and special. It’s these examples of subtle shading that makes Blackhelm stand out from the crowd and what makes Dark Clouds infinitely rewarding.
Destruction – Born to Perish
Thrash metal is having one of its strongest years in recent memory. Surprisingly, for a genre that’s often more backwards-looking than most, the genre’s prominence in 2019 has been largely built off the back of newer bands, with even the best of what the old-school have to offer paling by comparison. Although an often-overlooked quantity, Destruction bucked that trend, by delivering their best album in nearly a decade—and one of the year’s best thrash offerings as well—with their fourteenth album, Born to Perish.
The Germans already boast one of the most consistent catalogues of any classic thrash act, but Born to Perish is the most invigorated and audacious they’ve sounded in some time. Each track has its foot planted firmly to the floor, but they’re also each instantly identifiable and continually build upon the momentum of what came before, so that by the end of the record the band seem like an utterly unstoppable thrash metal juggernaut – which, y’know, they kind of are. There is absolutely nothing original about Born to Perish, but there doesn’t need to be when all the usual pieces are put together as perfectly as they are here. There’s no school like the old school and Destruction are here to make sure you don’t forget it.
High Command – Beyond the Wall of Desolation
Oh god, it’s just so good. It’s hard to describe High Command any better, and I dare you to try. It’s a wonderful throwback to the days of early 80s basement productions. It’s got the riffs as if Ride the Lightning was still a brand new record. Absolutely razor sharp guitars cut through your brains like the sharpened steel they describe in each track of Beyond the Wall of Desolation. If this record doesn’t get you going, then you’re reading the wrong column.
Beyond just rips from start to finish. It’s classic fast-paced chugging riffs combined with all the dive bombing, mind-numbing guitar solos you can muster. While this all sounds like a blast from the past, it’s got some modern flairs to it, too. Vocalist Kevin Fitzgerald shouts his vocals in a modern style with just enough dirt in his shouts to give you the impression of a drill sergeant barking commands at you. It also has that new thrash production style where everything is completely drenched in reverb and sounds intentionally lo-fi. It gives the great impression of a basement tape while also having its own style.
We are living in a time of thrash resurrection, and High Command is just the latest band to prove that point. Power Trip comparisons are not only a high compliment but also particularly apt. They are really the flag bearer for this new trend, and High Command is putting their own unique spin on the sound with the medieval battle topic. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the emergence of a 21st century Big 4, but these records are pretty enjoyable regardless of whether the bands hit the really big time. Beyond the Wall of Desolation is 2019’s version of that. Enjoy it now, please.
Killswitch Engage – Atonement
Just as I was making the claim for metalcore as the modern continuation of thrash metal, Killswitch Engage went ahead and released, not only the thrashiest album of their career, but what might just be the best thrash-based record of 2019. Though it might not be immediately apparent from downbeat opener “Unleashed”, Atonement quickly establishes its thrash credentials with tracks like “The Signal Fire” and “The Crownless King”, which features none other than Testament’s Chuck Billy. Elsewhere, tracks like “Know Your Enemy”, “Ravenous” and “Bite the Hand that Feeds” keep the riffs rolling, and even softer offerings, such as “I Can’t Be the Only One” and “Us Against the World”, are driven by Adam Dutkiewicz’s outstanding, and often frantic, lead playing. The album is also phenomenally produced and, between his work on the fretboard and behind the mixing desk, Dutkiewicz may have delivered the single most valuable overall performance of the year as well.
A lot of the mixed response I’ve seen this album getting elsewhere has centered around it’s awkward sequencing. So, if you’ve bounced off it, or just aren’t buying into the hype, then I implore you to check out the alternate track listing I outlined in my review, which foregrounds some of the thrashier tracks and (I believe) makes for a more consistent and logical listening experience. Over the last twelve months, I’ve really reconnected with just how much I love this band, and it feels great to have them back delivering albums of this high quality again.
Lord – Fallen Idols
If I’m being honest, my relationship with thrash is a complicated one. The genre often serves as a palate cleanser for me. Its harsher tones and often mindless dedication to speed and aggression is a great contrast with a lot of the other genres I listen to, some of which focus on atmosphere or complexity more than on impact. Thus, when it’s time to just let loose and feel something, thrash is often my go-to. However, if you take those elements which I love about thrash and marry them with heavy and power metal influences, both genres which I love, then you get something really special. These unique albums, like Angra’s Temple of Shadows for example, have it all: speed, melodrama, punch.
Lord’s most recent release, Fallen Idols, is another such example. From the get-go, opening track “United (Welcome Back)” makes a very clear statement of what we should expect, namely fast riffs and plenty of them. The breakneck pace of the drums, the shrieking, overdriven tone of the guitars, and the epic, pronounced vocals, these all scream thrash. But in the higher tones of the vocals, the more melodramatic flair of the solos, and the overall vibe of the track, plenty of power metal influences shine through. These two parts of the sound work beautifully together, creating a track that is both aggressive and incredibly melodic, an earworm while not compromising on its punch.
The rest of the album pretty much follow suit on this and that’s a great thing. Throwing in some Edguy influences with the vocals and synths (and even Symphony X if you listen to the second track, “Immortal”, for example), Fallen Idols just bleeds everything that makes metal so great. Because Lord are determined to make this amalgam of styles work, we get something that is more than just tired re-treads of these genres, which have been around for a while now. Instead, we get a beautifully composed and executed album which really captures the sweet spot between thrash and its belligerence and power metal and its exuberance and excess. If you’re looking for your monthly intake of screams, solos, galloping riffs, and plenty of melody, look no further than Fallen Idols; it’s one of 2019’s best albums in the field.
Wraith – Absolute Power
Time to get speedy and outrageous. Indiana’s Wraithcrushes all with their punk-infused blackened crossover. Take The Misfits’ theatricality and combine with Toxic Holocaust’s blackening of crossover thrash and you’ve got one hell of a unique sound. There’s a really good reason Bandcamp listed them on their best of metal list last month. This sound is pretty niche and original and captures the raw aggression of what metal is. It embraces the darker tendencies of the genre and is just generally a fun record.
There really isn’t one part of what Wraith does that makes them so special. It’s the combination of it all. The blend of influences and ideas is worth way more than its parts. There are a lot of bands who go for a simpler punk kind of sound. Even more bands embrace blackened ideas. And there are tons and tons of crossover thrash bands that cite the Misfits as an influence. But by combining all 3 parts, Wraith forges new territory with an established sound.
The whole record is a real kick in the pants to me, and it kicks off immediately with “Devil’s Hour”. Lightning fast power chord picking combines with ultra distortion and a punk attitude to blaze a trail of angry darkness through your ears. It works really well with Wraith’s subject matter throughout the record. The band also just doesn’t slow down. You won’t find any ballads on Absolute Power, but you won’t miss them. Let’s rawk, y’all.
Enforced – At the Walls
The RVA’s newest brutal crossover band, Enforced, emerged from the mists to bring us some absolutely destructive thrash metal. It’s dark, edgy, and completely belligerent. I didn’t think music could physically attack you until this.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Infest the Rats Nest
King Gizzard taking on thrash metal has been one of the stranger developments of 2019, but the blend of thrash riffs and early Black Sabbath–style fits their psychedelic sound to a tee. (Personally, I think this puts the last High on Fire album to absolute shame.)
Sabotage – The Order of Genocide
One of the best newcomers to the thrash game in 2019. A bit of extra production value and more development of their own identity and these guys could really go places. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.
Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
Sure, adding Slipknot to the thrash metal column may seem like a stretch. But it’s also very groovy, which we all know is a significant part of thrash metal. So it’s ours, and We Are Not Your Kind is some seriously great stuff from the established and mature nü groove gods.
Toxikull – Cursed and Punished
A little more time with this one and it may well have made our top picks. Traditional-style speed metal with an edge, and more than a little bit of Mercyful Fate mixed in for good measure.