Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Thrash metal

 This article is part
of the heavy metal series.
 Heavy metal
 Thrash metal
 Black metal
 Power metal
 Nu metal
 Doom metal
 Christian metal
 Progressive metal
 Death metal
 Hair metal
 Stoner metal
Thrash metal or speed metal is widely viewed as the most riff-oriented of all the heavy metal music sub-genres. It is generally accepted that it came into existence in 1981, though some bands had thrash riffs and other thrash ideas earlier than that. The first riff of Black Sabbath's 'Symptom of the Universe' (1975) is possibly the first thrash riff, though their 'Into the Void' (1971) was influential as well. Speed metal pioneers Judas Priest had some thrash ideas on their Stained Class LP (1978), including the punkish counterpoint riff on 'Saints in Hell' or the general structure of 'White Heat, Red Hot'.

Two important early proto-thrashers were Motorhead and Venom, both playing a raw punk-influenced speed metal in the late 1970s. Motorhead's Overkill LP (1979) would give the name to a New York band that would officially write the first thrash song in 1981: 'Unleash the Beast Within'. Soon thereafter, San Francisco's Leather Charm would write 'Hit the Lights'. This band would break up, but the primary songwriter's next band, Metallica, would feature this song.

Kill 'Em All
Metallica were the first thrash band to put out a demo (the Power Metal demo, April 1982, and then No Life 'til Leather in July) and an LP (Kill 'Em All, July 1983). They influenced the sound of Slayer and Exodus, leading both of those bands in a heavier, thrashier direction. Meanwhile, in Europe, Artillery recorded a demo in November, 1982. We Are the Dead took a more Black Sabbath oriented direction, resulting in a thrash form that wasn't quite as fast as that of Metallica but had similar riff ideas.

Thrash took off in 1984 or so, with Overkill releasing their second demo (Feel the Fire), and Slayer's seminal Haunting the Chapel EP, which featured the song 'Chemical Warfare'. This led to a darker and heavier sounding thrash, which was then reflected in Exodus's Bonded by Blood and Slayer's Hell Awaits in 1985. Also, Artillery debuted with We are the Dead in '85, as did Megadeth, formed by former Metallica axeman Dave Mustaine. Megadeth combined the riffs of thrash with the more fancy soloing of speed metal ā la Judas Priest, and their sound would become best realised on 1990's Rust in Peace.

Reign in Blood
1986 was a landmark year for thrash, with some of the greatest thrash LPs of all time being released in this year. Dark Angel put out the generally underrated Darkness Descends, which is one of the heaviest and fastest thrash albums ever. Slayer's Reign in Blood is universally acclaimed as a classic, and also the German band Kreator had Pleasure to Kill, which set new standards for brutality and would be a heavy influence on the death metal genre. Megadeth put out Peace Sells, Metallica had Master of Puppets, and Nuclear Assault debuted with the punkish Game Over—an album stripped to its bare riff essentials.

Later, thrash would split into many subgenres and influence a lot of bands like Death and Possessed. Possessed were the first death-metal band, making a demo in mid-1984 of a more dark-sounding thrash metal. This sound would be called death metal, and the first example of it would be the death-thrash classic 'Seven Churches', from 1985. Some bands combined speed metal and thrash, like the aforementioned Megadeth, and also Helstar, Testament, and Heathen were known for their flashy lead guitar work. Watchtower's Energetic Disassembly (1985) set new standards in technical, jazzy songwriting, which would later be further developed by the thrash band Coroner and also the technical death metal bands Atheist and Cynic.

Beneath the Remains
By 1988 or so the genre was quite saturated with new bands, but classic albums would continue to be put out. Sepultura's third album, Beneath the Remains (1989) earned them mainstream appeal as it appeared on Roadrunner records. Vio-lence, a relative latecomer to the Bay Area thrash scene put out an acclaimed debut in Eternal Nightmare (1988), combining relentless riffage with a hardcore-punk vocal delivery. However, the genre was also filled with many, many bands that did not really give much of a new sound. By 1990-91, this led to the inevitable demise of the genre.

Soon, post-thrash bands with a newer sound would continue the more innovative direction, while those that played classic thrash were seen as retreads, though the '90s had some excellent thrash, for example Iced Earth's Night of the Stormrider (1992), which combined power-metal and thrash. Many bands, however, opted for a slower, more groove-oriented sound, including Machine Head and Pantera. This would give rise to many 90s-metal bands.

Thrash has seen a sort of a comeback in the late 1990s with European bands like Hypnosia (sounding much like Pleasure to Kill) or Carnal Forge, a fast death-thrash hybrid. Some bands also combine Swedish death-metal riffs and punk influence, like The Haunted, but these stray too far from the original ideals to be really called thrash bands. Meanwhile, other bands soldier on—including Overkill, who have recently put out a 13th studio album, Killbox 13, and Destruction, whose The Antichrist (2001) is a staple of modern thrash metal—updated production values, and a classic riff sound. The new Exodus album, scheduled for release in early 2004, promises to be another recent highlight of this genre.