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Best Thrash Metal Albums: An Arms Race of Speed and Terror

metallica thrash albums Best Thrash Metal Albums

Thrash metal is anything but subtle. When you stop and consider all of the evidence, it was a natural consequence of hardcore punk and the New Wave of British of Heavy Metal happening and terrorizing grown-ups the world over. These genres had taken rock music to its sonic extreme. Bet on a long shot! Not long after, thrash metal albums ranked higher in the charts and in the public’s affection than the albums that had inspired it.

Thrash, like speed metal, was born out of an obsession with seeing how fast and aggressive guitarists could play. Maniacal drum grooves, lyrics about distrusting society, and an average-joe fashion style rounded up the sound and look of this subgenre. You didn’t need to look like a rock god to get in, but you were asked to play like a demon from hell.

I’ve always admired the passion and integrity of thrash metal bands. In keeping with the spirit of style, I’ll be judging it as an Olympic sport today, and I’ll be ranking the best 10 thrash albums. Should the article be even reasonably succesful, I imagine numerous threats of physical harm will be directed my way. Fans of thrash metal are anything if not passionate.

Vektor - "Terminal Redux" (2016)

Vektor – “Terminal Redux” (2016)

I’ve always considered thrash metal to have more in common to extreme sports tha say, to folk music. It means no record, no matter how impressive, will stand forever. Vortex is a modern band that on “Terminal Redux”, takes on the great thrash and prog-metal bands of the 1980s. And, for a while, in sheer strength, they might just outdo them.

This is not to suggest that Vortex merely pays tribute to or aping groups like Metallica or Anthrax. They are building upon the aggressive sonic blues prints of those bands with extraordinary technical proficiency.

I was also intrigued by the space-rock concepts dominating Vortex’s discography. “Terminal Redux,” the band’s third and finest release, is the story of an ageless astronaut using his gift to gain economic power back on Earth.

Best of all, Vektor, along with bands like Warbringer or Havok, proved that there was no reason why thrash metal couldn’t remain relevant, and that the humble six-string, the right set of hands, could still be one terrfying sonic weapon.

Power Trip - "Nightmare Logic" (2017)

Power Trip – “Nightmare Logic” (2017)

Power Trip was a rarity. In the Texan band, the thrash subgenre had a modern group with the potential to crossover into the mainstream. These stories didn’t quite seem possible for thrash at this stage in its story.

Power Trip wasn’t using any trendy production tricks, either. “Nightmare Logic” was an extreme metal record influenced primarily by thrash. However, the songs also had an unmistakable influence of punk and hardcore punk. And, if you want, you could also blame some of the pop hooks for its appeal.

Helping smooth the band’s success was vocalist Riley Gale’s personality. It had enabled him to transcend the genre’s confines and made him into a great ambassador for metal.

Gale’s sad passing in 2020 meant that the world would only get to hear two studio albums from Power Trip. “Nightmare Logic” is a defining moment in modern metal and “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)” is as close as thrash got to acquiring a modern anthem.

Testament - "The Legacy" (1987)

Testament – “The Legacy” (1987)

Testament was a band fated to earn great respect from metal contemporaries but only modest commercial success. Their debut, “The Legacy,” has, however aged well. Many regard it as one genre’s best albums.

Early Testament is heavily influenced by their California natives, Metallica. Unlike the host of other bands sharing similar preferences, Testament have the musical chops to competently lead a proggy thrash attack.

In Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson, Testament has one of the finest guitarist-vocalist duos in thrash metal. And songs like “Over the Wall” and “Burnt Offerings” are some of the band’s finest.

Exodus - "Bonded by Blood" (1985)

Exodus – “Bonded by Blood” (1985)

Exodus was a legendary metal band way before they recorded their debut, “Bonded by Blood.” Part of this was due to their extreme sound; part was due to singer Paul Baloff’s character and extreme lifestyle.

“Bonded by Blood” captures the band at its finest and the thrash genre in its infancy. This is why it’s not an exaggeration to call this, along with Metallica’s “Kill ‘Em All”, one of the albums that defined the entire subgenre. In fact, it’s no coincidence that founding Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett later joined Metallica.

Gary Holt’s guitar riffs on “A Lesson in Violence” or “Piranha” are striking. Baloff brings a snarling, Sex Pistols-like energy to the vocals. And while the artwork and the production on some of the songs may feel dated, it’s an undeniably strong release.

Sepultura - "Chaos A.D." (1991)

Sepultura – “Chaos A.D.” (1991)

“Chaos A.D.” helped establish Sepultura as the most important South American heavy metal band of their era. The record is also a crystallization of the band’s early thrash metal sound, one that they’d outgrow on future releases.

Extreme metal bands rarely established themselves through memorable, melodic jingles. In the case of Sepultura, it had been consistent touring and non-stop releases of new records that, by 1991, had helped make them an internationally famous band.

“Chaos A.D.” strategically focuses on Sepultura’s image as extremist outsiders. Songs like “Dead Embryonic Cells,” “Murder”, or “Under Siege (Regnum Irae)” play up to that perception.

And, while death-metal and even nu-metal fans would claim them as their own, Andreas Kisser’s palm-muted guitar riffs and Max Cavelara’s barked vocals help Sepultura also earn a nod among thrash’s elite groups.

Megadeth - "Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?" (1986)

Megadeth – “Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?” (1986)

With “Killing is My Business…and Business is Good,” Dave Mustaine had announced to the world he was not ready not live in Metallica’s shadow. But with “Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?” Megadeth created one of the best metal albums of the 1980s.

Sure, the technical playing is meant as a direct challenge bands like Slayer and Metallica. Yes, the songs are just as angry as others in the thrash subgenre.

But “Peace Sells” is simply more memorable than most metal bands’ releasexs. Mustaine’s snarling vocals, on their own, make them distinct. And Chris Poland’s guitar solos feel like a needed conclusion for tracks such as “Wake Up Dead,” “The Conjuring” or “Peace Sells.”

Anthrax – "Among the Living" (1987)

Anthrax – “Among the Living” (1987)

Anthrax is an amazingly competent metal band and part of The Big Four of Thrash. “Among the Living” is by far the highlight of the band’s lengthy discography.

Yes, Scott Ian’s rhythm guitar playing or Charlie Benante’s drum work are beyond reproach on all Anthrax records. But, I think, even hardcore fans won’t have a problem calling those a bit samey.

“Among the Living” doesn’t mess with the formula, either. But the title track, “Skeleton in the Closet” or the anthemic “Caught in a Mosh”, represent some of the band’s best work. For a while, back in 1987, these helped Anthtax to be one of the biggest bands in metal.

Metallica – "Ride The Lightning" (1984)

Metallica – “Ride The Lightning” (1984)

“Ride The Lightning” sees Metallica fight their way out of heavy metal underground and force their sound onto the world. Despite being extreme in nature, few could deny the precision of the playing or the band’s work ethic.

The album is also a significant step up from the debut “Kill ‘Em All” in terms of playing, songwriting and overall ambition. Most thrash metal bands were content merely with polishing their sound with each new release. It’s not a strech to say that Metallica were considering what life as one of the biggest bands in the world was going to be like.

On songs like “For Whom the Bell Tolls” or “Fade to Black,” the band is willing to incorporate new dynamics. Meanwhile, “Creeping Death,” “Fight Fire with Fire”, and the title track stack up a new level of musicianship above the formula introduced by the band’s debut.

Slayer – "Reign In Blood" (1990)

Slayer – “Reign In Blood” (1990)

During the late ’80s and early ’90s, no band was more extreme and evil sounding while still getting hit records than Slayer. “Reign in Blood” is their most-towering achievement.

Kerry King and Jeff Hannemann produce a chaotic but meticulous guitar glitz throughout. Meanwhile, Dave Lombardo and Tom Araya bring an almost jazz-like finesse to these horrifying, speed metal compositions.

The presentation of the album set another standard in metal. The pentagram logo, the inclusion of songs about Josef Mengele, and the artwork’s depiction of hell set a bar for the shock that metal bands are still looking to outjump. Simply put, this is a sacrificial rite set to music.

“Raining Blood” is one of the most recognizable songs in the entire genre, and for a good reason. The same songwriting built on excellent playing and Araya’s tortured vocals can be found on “Jesus Saves,” “Necrophobic” and “Angel of Death.”

Metallica – "Master of Puppets" (1986)

Metallica – “Master of Puppets” (1986)

In a highly competitive field, “Master Of Puppets” was the album that all thrash metal bands strived to make. Metallica’s album got there first and used it to enhance their reputation to the point that, soon, no other band in the vecinity could dream of challenging them.

And while certain songs, like the title track or “Battery,” suffer from being overplayed, it’s easy to understand their appeal. Beyond the precise playing and the overbearing aggressive style of the band, this continues to be inspiring music.

Metallica doesn’t shy away from complex lyrical themes of prog-rock-like song arrangement either. “Orion” utilizes Cliff Burton’s exceptional bass-playing skills, and “(Welcome Home) Sanitarium” proves that the band understood musical dynamics very well.

It’s no secret that James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich are highly driven people. Their quest for excellence hasn’t ended. But even they won’t fail to recognize “Master of Puppets” as the shining moment in the band’s discography.

And that’s enough to also make it the most influential album in a thrash musical subgenre that Metallica has always dominated.

About author

Eduard Banulescu is a writer, blogger, and musician. As a content writer, Eduard has contributed to numerous websites and publications, including FootballCoin, Play2Earn, BeIN Crypto, Business2Community, NapoliSerieA, Extra Time Talk, Nitrogen Sports, Bavarian FootballWorks, etc. He has written a book about Nirvana, hosts a music podcasts, and writes weekly content about some of the best, new and old, alternative musicians. Eduard also runs and acts as editor-in-chief of the alternative rock music website www.alt77.com. Mr. Banulescu is also a musician, having played and recorded in various bands and as a solo artist.
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