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Howdy do, everyone! I’ve arisen once more to bring you a fresh blast of musical experiences to rattle your ears and wrinkle your brains. January was a long and epic space mission, but now February is here and we have returned to Earth once again. Snow is melting and filling rivers, the faint smell of spring can be felt in the distance and murmurs of love and wine can be heard. So let’s celebrate all these wonderful things, by ruining our necks and ears with some powerful music about war, death, politics and drinking, because I feel the time is right for me to continue our long voyage through the realms of extreme metal and lead this ship to the source of the river. The grand daddy of all extreme metal and the nexus point of all modern metal as we know it. Prepare to bang your heads, because we’re gonna talk about thrash metal!
So let’s tie our bullet belts firstly and describe what this wonderful genre actually is. Well, you see, thrash is a subgenre of metal defined by breakneck speed, machine gun drumming, ludicrous shreddy guitar solos, shouty vocals and emotionally charged lyrics. The sound and production is raw and direct and fancy-shmancy elements like keyboards are rare. Two words can best be used to describe the sound – ruthless aggression! This genre lives by the philosophy that slow songs are for losers and that the louder you scream, the better your message will be heard. And doing so is important, given that thrash fully embraces the taboo topics typical of heavy metal and pushes them to brutal honesty. War, violence, crime, politics, corruption, religion, freedom, rebellion, disobedience. This is what it’s all about! Although, thrash bands aren’t all serious and love to party too, so satirical songs about the same topics as well as fun tracks about drinking and partying aren’t uncommon. After all, every thrasher feels incomplete without a beer in hand.
So how do we cook some thrash metal? Well, firstly we must go back to classic heavy metal and follow its evolution into the late 1970s and early 80s. By this time, the initially niche genre pioneered by Black Sabbath had truly evolved into its own entity and had gained a global cult following. The so called New Wave of British Heavy Metal was ruling the scene but around the same time, another movement was born. The loosely defined and short lived, but very culturally significant movement known as speed metal. As the name implies, this is pretty much just classic metal but played much faster and with more aggression. This style would eventually split into two sub-movements. One became more melodic, epic and would embrace fantasy themes, giving birth to power metal. The other sought to push the speed and heaviness to the breaking point and this movement is where thrash would be born. Nonetheless, speed metal would be quite popular for some time, with the self-proclaimed “dirtiest band in the world”, the immortal titans of Motorhead, being the primary spearhead.
From this movement, a different British band was born – Venom! I told you before that they were basically a faster and heavier Motorhead with Satanic lyrics and also that their debut record would go on to spawn three new subgenres. Well, with this blog I’m completing the set, because with the unfiltered aggression and taboo-breaking lyrics, Venom’s first outputs became the blueprint with which thrash metal would be built.
However, there’s an element missing here. For you see, there is one more ingredient needed to complete this dish and that would come in the form of hardcore punk. Punk rock itself was built on cutting way the excesses of rock music and distilling it down to its basics. Also, it spawned a powerful counter-cultural movement with its honest lyrics dealing with societal issues in a satirical way. Hardcore would take those ideas and push them into much faster and heavier territories. Here is where thrash found its political poetry, its raw and pure sound and its unfiltered emotion. Also, thrash would appropriate many ideas from punk culture such as moshpits, battle vests, patches, bullet belts, spiked accessories, etc. that would eventually grow to become staples of metal culture as we know it today.
Eventually, Venom’s records and the rise of hardcore punk would spread across the world, until they came to California in the early 80s and hit the ears of a weird little Danish goblin man and his posse of rebels. They’re a bit of an obscure band, you might’ve heard of them, they’re called METALLICA. With them mixing all the elements listed above, the genesis of thrash metal had begun and a new era of metal was on the horizon. Before becoming mainstream, Metallica’s early records were the gold standard of what masterful thrash would be and are untouchable to this day. Believe it or not, their debut album Kill ‘Em All was the heaviest thing the world had ever heard up to that point. They would even be called black metal by journalists at the time, as these genre definitions hadn’t been fully fleshed out yet.
A few years later, the same ingredients and Metallica’s early outputs would reach a Chilean immigrant and his friends who were doing Iron Maiden covers in the underground scene all over Calli. These lads would go on to shake the world to its core. You know the name and you know the game – Slayer! They would quickly dethrone Metallica as the heaviest thing ever! The iconic shreddy guitar solos of King and Hanneman would define not just the sound of thrash, but the techniques employed by countless guitarists to come after and the band’s incredible speed, Satanic lyrics and bombastic live performances would inspire generations of musicians. To this very day, the screams of SLAAAAAAYYYYEEEEEEERRR can still be heard at any concert of any genre.
From then on, Dave Mustaine’s Metallica spin-off grudge project Medageth, the veteran pioneers of Testament, the titanic Exodus, whose guitarists everyone was stealing, this would all be the genesis point of the Bay Area thrash scene, which would prove the breeding ground for some of the greatest the genre has ever seen. I would say something about the Big Four of thrash, but that is nothing but a vapid term coined by journalists during this time, so it doesn’t really hold much water despite how much fans argue about it. All I’m gonna say is, the “Big Four” played together in Bulgaria and that makes me proud!
There was another scene bubbling to the surface in the States around this time and it was over on the other coast – the New York scene! NY had already had almost a decade of powerful punk culture by this point, starting with the genre’s very pioneers, the Ramones. It was only natural that the stylistic evolution from punk to thrash metal would happen here as well, given what a melting pot of talent it was during this time. The NY thrashers would notably be somewhat less aggressive and more focused on having fun than their West Coast counterparts, presenting their political lyrics in a more humorous fashion. Giants like Anthrax and Overkill would go on to rise as the biggest names and launch the movement into the stratosphere, with Anthrax supposedly even giving the genre its name!
The explosive birth of thrash in the US would echo across the globe and naturally, the genre spread like wildfire and new bands started popping up all over. The biggest notable offshoot is the one born in Germany, bearing the badass name of the Teutonic Thrash scene. The first notable pioneers would be Kreator – a fanatical metal storm that fused technical prowess with impressive heaviness and very angry lyrics about freedom and rebellion. Their Flag of Hate continues to wave strong to this day and in recent years, they’ve managed to employ a more progressive and melodic approach to their songwriting to revolutionize the genre once again.
The other big titan were the warmongering executioners of Sodom. Their speed was unmatched, and yet they were also the best example of mid-tempo thrash you could find! Their imagery and lyrics about satanism and war would give them lots of publicity and together with Kreator, they would be key influences on the births of black and death metal.
From then on, a variety of German bands would take the world by storm, the politically unstable social atmosphere and abundant beer proving the perfect recipe for great thrash!
The third most notable scene to emerge in the 80s would be the Brazilian one. What do you get when you take a politically unstable nation known for energetic music and show them really heavy metal about societal struggle? Magic, that’s what you get! Fronted by the immortal legends Sepultura, a new more primal flavour of thrash was shaking the entire Earth with its unfiltered energy.
And from then on, the restless peoples of the world had a voice for their displeasure and thrash would go on to become a global phenomenon and would kickstart the birth and evolution of extreme metal throughout the 80s and 90s. Practically every metal subgenre I’ve spoken about thus far was born during this time and can trace its lineage back to thrash.
Naturally, thrash would come with its own set of subgenres, the most notable being groove metal. Now, the modern definition of groove is very wishy-washy so I’m not gonna delve into that too much. But the classic definition is simply thrash but played at a slower mid tempo with more chugging riffs and use of breakdowns as heard back in hardcore punk. This would overlap with the so called New Wave of American Heavy Metal that came into its own during the 90s.
By far the biggest name of the groove metal movement and the pioneers of the genre would be Pantera! These guys were practically the next Metallica during their heyday and their skull-bashing bombastic music continues to inspire generations of fans. To this day, the late great Dimebag Darell’s one-of-a-kind guitar playing is a key inspiration to countless aspiring musicians. The original however cannot be matched!
Another notable subgenre would be crossover thrash. Put simply, this style that arose way back during the early days is a type of thrash that retains a sound much closer to hardcore punk. In fact, a lot of crossover bands are punk bands that pivoted to a more metal-influenced sound. This mix would be the genesis point of many genres at the intersection between metal and punk, most notably metalcore and all of its disciples. The metal of the mid-2000s never truly recovered.
Dig a little deeper and you may find the more obscure progressive and technical thrash metal bands. As the names suggest, these acts took the core sound of thrash but added elements from prog to make the music more complex, technical and sophisticated. It’s like you made a master swordsmith forge you the world’s most flawless crowbar. Truly a unique intersection of raw aggression and refined elegance. Although some prefer a path of unfiltered chaos instead, like the eclectic Canadian outfit Voivod.
Thrash metal still retains a great deal of popularity today, but is sadly a bit overshadowed. Almost everyone tends to treat it as merely a stepping stone in metal’s evolution and prefer to focus on its faster, heavier and darker disciples, black and death metal. Thrash itself is supported mainly by the classic 80s bands still knocking around today and by select younger bands who worship the oldschool sound and seek to revive it.
And thus, thrash will truly live forever. The contribution this genre has had to the sound of metal cannot be understated. All those shouty vocals, tremolo picking, chugging riffs, shredding solos, blast beats, dark poignant lyrics, speed, aggression, technique, all of these things that we consider a given in today’s metal, it all started here. If you ask me though, thrash is immortal and it’s not because of nostalgia or appreciation for the influence it’s had. Nowadays, the genres that spawned from it have evolved and become faster, heavier, darker, more atmospheric, more complex, etc. But thrash itself has this unfiltered raw feel and emotion that, to me at least, nothing else can replicate. This is why this genre will continue to be remembered even decades after all the pioneers have retired. So, allow me to kickstart your journey down the rabbit hole of extremity. I hope I succeeded in peaking your interest and if I did, may my mixtape of loudness help you explore these epic realms. And remember. SSSLLLLAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYEEEEEEEEERRR!!!!!!