14 Thrash Albums You Need to Own
The American thrash metal movement brought us the Big 4–Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax–but there are numerous other bands to come out of that scene who are worthy of whip-lashing along to: Exodus, Testament, Overkill, and many more. Here, is our sure-to-be controversial list of the 14 most essential classic American thrash albums. Check it out and let us know what you think in the comments.
By Martin Popoff
Exodus, ‘Bonded by Blood’
Metallica got the glory (and Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett!), but this Bay Area institution was actually first to take thrash from punky primitivism to virtuosic technicality, plying its trade for a good three years before Bonded by Blood cemented the band’s status. And 17 years before singer Paul Baloff tragically dies after a stroke. R.I.P.
Possessed, ‘Seven Churches’
Disciples of proto-black metallists Venom and Bathory, San Fransisco’s Possessed grounded their metallic madness in lo-fi production values and blasphemous imagery Pure chaotic speed was key, yet the playing of guitarist Larry Lalonde was experimental and adventurous enough to eventually land him a spot in prog-funksters Primus.
S.O.D., ‘Speak English or Die’
This Anthrax side project ended up as a left-field underground hit (selling over a million copies worldwide by 1999), likely due to its novel fusion of metal and hardcore, with Scott Ian providing the hard-nosed riffs and trouble-maker Billy Milano spoting the provocative lyrics behind 21 ruthlessly short, always amusing songs.
Metallica, ‘Master of Puppets’
1984′s ‘Ride the Lightening’ established Metallica as the thrash act with not only the most personality but also the most skill and ambition. Its follow-up took James, Lars, Kirk, and Cliff’s newly epic palette into cinemascope–and did so with such mastery that the album consistently polls as the greatest metal album of all time, period.
Pete Steele’s recently restructured pre-Type O Negative band Carnivore crossed bleak doom with hardcore to create a knowingly knuckle-dragging form of thrash. Raw, cynical, almost avant-garde, this album is best remembered, however, for its misanthropic, though wryly humorous lyrics on songs like “God is Dead” and “World War III & IV.”
Slayer, ‘Reign in Blood’
Mastering fast on their third full-length, Slayer were the new snarling face of speed metal, and yet, they were so confrontationaly evil that they could have easily been considered death and black metal, too. Confounding genre tags in 28 minutes of howling fury, ‘Reign in Blood’ proves Slayer to be simply great.
Dark Angel, ‘Darkness Descends’
Before doing time with Death, Testament, and Strapping Young Lad, drummer Gene Hoglan made this album roar, holding together the lesser performances of his bandmates, who just seem to want to out-heavy Slayer. While not achieving that goal, Darkness Descends’ vicious, messy attack does live up to Dark Angel’s motto: “Too fast, my ass.”
Megadeth, ‘Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?’
Major label deal in hand and a chip on his shoulder, ex-Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine channeled personal bitterness and pointed politics though his signature snarl and superior shredding, creating this thrash masterpiece.
Anthrax, ‘Among the Living’
Besides helping to put the word “mosh”into the pop lexicon (“Caught in a Mosh”) and featuring the best metal song about Native Americans since Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” (“Indian”), Among the Living showcased Charlie Benante’s insane speed drumming and Scott Ian and Dan Spitz’s hardcore-inflected guitar work, which together made for a total beat down, NYC-style.
Sacred Reich, ‘Ignorance’
On their debut album, Phoenix, Arizona-based speedsters Sacred Reich tackle political and social injustice, turning singer Phil Rind’s outraged diatribes into perfect slam-dance fodder. The band would go on to become unwitting pioneers of metalcore, particularly influencing the more ‘core acts of that scene, such as Hatebreed.
Testament, ‘The New Order’
The thrash credo of “Into the Pit” dominates Testament’s mosh-ready sophomore disc, with the San Fran quintet positioning themselves as genre purists. The inventive playing of uber-shredder Alex Skolnick, makes the band true proponents of a new order.
Suicidal Tendencies, ‘How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today’
‘How Will I Laugh Tomorrow’ found motor-mouthed Mike Muir and his Suicidals sprucing up their skatecore rants with semi-complicated riffs and solos, and longer song structures. The end result was crossover thrash with a fresh, gritty sound that came from a hardcore headspace.
Nuclear Assault, ‘Survive’
Post-Anthrax and S.O.D., bassist Danny Lilker took his low-end chops into this political East Coast thrash act. The S.O.D. influence is apparent in the occasional silly bits (such as the tongue-in-cheek Led Zeppelin cover), but the most notable is Randy Burns’ wall-of-sound production and the band’s balance of technicality and primal power.
Overkill, ‘The Years of Decay’
On the last album to feature guitarist and songwriter Bobby Gustafson, these New Jersey tech-thrash stalwarts boasted thick, doomy riffs on epics like the 10-minute “Playing with Spiders/Skullkrusher” and a somber earthiness less evident in the band’s West Coast competitors.