5 thrash albums that you must hear

by Cory Van der Pol
July 11, 2014 –

thrasher-backyard_issue-1983
Image from Thrasher Magazine.

Thrasher music deserves its own category. It spans three genres and gave its name to one. It also plays by entirely distinct rules that place it in both metal and punk camps, but not exclusively in either. Despite the attempts of both genres to claim it, it has weaseled free by refusing to fully adopt the conventions of either. It’s too punk for punk and too metal to be metal, but it lives on to this day through those who want a different path.

Hop on your board and skate back into 1985. Heart of the Reagan years, themselves a recovery period from the turbulent 1960s and somewhat crass and vapid 1970s. The suburbs had finally outpaced the city as everyone who could escape fled, which left millions of teenagers stranded in planned communities that were essentially marooned on anonymous patches of land connected by freeways. Divorce and latch-key kids were at epidemic height and most people barely had anything to call a family. To make things worse, Soviet missiles threatened the homeland and spread a kind of daily paranoia that people both accepted and in their quietest moments, feared to confront. No one knew if tomorrow would even come and if it did, whether it would be worth it.

Kids did what just about anyone would do: get out of the house, escape the conformist collective-consciousness zombie robot schools, avoid the television, and produce culture. Skateboards started as a fad but became a lifestyle because they provided a means of getting around, an activity, and most importantly, a type of place the activity could occur. Even more vitally they gave kids an identity and purpose outside of mainstream culture which as far as anyone could tell was a vapid disaster. Cyndi Lauper? Madonna? Bruce Springsteen? Music connected this culture but it evolved to fit it instead of the other way around. Thrasher music took its attributes from the thrasher lifestyle.

The one sin in thrasher culture was to fall into mainstream thinking. It defined itself in opposition to that entire vein of thought. Thrashers made the assumption that if someone with a position in society validated an idea, the idea was manipulation. This paranoia arose from disciplinarian schools, crafty public image creation by parents during divorces, and distrust of the kind of promises that advertised the suburbs. “Come to Shady Acres,” the sign would say, and you would find a house that was on nothing as big as an acre with no shade because all the trees had been planted during the last week when construction finished. And then your parents who spent too much time at their jobs would make all sorts of great promises about how school would be great, other kids would be great, and then those parents would disappear into jobs, divorces, swingers’ clubs, you name it, and you would be left alone. With nothing but your skateboard. Jump on and roll away… and never trust anything like those promises again.

Thrasher culture shaped the lyrics of its music. They show most of all a critique of a society that does not function. Imagine a broken microwave: you turn it on, and it flickers and makes noise but doesn’t really heat your food, or burns it to a crisp within ten seconds, or roasts the center and leaves the outside cold. This was the impression thrasher kids had of the society around them. It was on, but it was not working in the sense designed. Even worse, parents were oblivious and drugged on religion and money and social prestige and refused to notice at all when society didn’t work. Kids had to re-invent politics, society and philosophy from the ground up, and it had to fit between turns on the half-pipe.

While arguably the first music adopted by thrashers was punk, including a latent influence from the surf rock that may have inspired punk, and bands like Iron Maiden were perpetual favorites, the fusion of the three burst forth in the early 1980s as a genre called thrash. Avoiding dramatic titles like “5 thrash bands you must hear before you die,” where “die” could be defined as feeling that your job is more important than your soul, here are five thrash bands you must experience simply because they are amazing:

dirty_rotten_imbeciles(dri)-dealing_with_it

1. Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (DRI) – Dealing With It

This album despite being the second release by DRI defined the archetypal thrash sound. Short songs used punk tempi and metal riffs, fit their song structures around the words to the song, worked in some oi/surf rock lead guitars, but mostly focused on raging bursts of concise energy. DRI packed a bookshelf worth of ideas into a single album which meant that if you were a kid with a skateboard and ten bucks a week to your name, this was the album you saved up for. In addition, DRI expanded the lyrical oeuvre of thrash to include not just “socially conscious” lyrics but lyrics critical of society itself, including the process of socializing with other people. These lyrics struck out for the lone Nietzschean person isolated from the herd by the complete vapidity and deceitfulness of mainstream tastes. In addition, DRI rebelled — using metal bands such as Iron Maiden as its guide — against the punk tendency to destroy melody. Both vocals and guitars carry an actual tune which combined with the unique rhythms and song structures makes each song stand out but also, makes the whole album work together. Some songs had nothing more to offer than 18 seconds of fury, others stitch a mood, and the whole of Dealing With It thus becomes a map of the emotions of a skater trying to survive the 1980s while observing that society was in a state of advanced collapse and headed for the end.

cryptic_slaughter-convicted

2. Cryptic Slaughter – Convicted

Convicted got less attention than it should have because of its rough production and refusal to stick to any one template. Riffs on this album range from raw punk to death metal, which is sort of difficult because that genre was barely in formation itself in 1985 when this was released. Songs follow more of a punk template and vary structure less often which makes this band shy over toward punk, but use of vocal rhythms and inventive riffing distinguishes each. Many of the concepts of the next decade of death metal came from this album as well as most of grindcore. The ragged intensity of its vocal and guitar assault made Cryptic Slaughter the fastest band on the planet, and while it leaned toward punk, its ability to make metal-style riffs that thundered with finality pushed it into the thrash genre.

corrosion_of_conformity-eye_for_an_eye_plus_six_songs_with_mike_singing

3. Corrosion of Conformity (COC) – Eye for an Eye + Six Songs With Mike Singing

Arguably the most popular band in thrash, Corrosion of Conformity combined Black Sabbath and hardcore punk and came up with short attacks of creative songwriting that used traditional pieces from both heavy metal and hardcore punk genres. Every thrasher back in the day owned the tshirt with the COC alien skull on it and combined with DRI, this band essentially defined the genre. Songs are tiny atmosphere pieces that use punk energy and abrupt delivery to sneak in metal riffs and bounding punk choruses. Unlike punks however COC strayed into the minor key and chromatic world of metal where energy is crushed and turned into dark opposition instead of keeping the last aspects of rock ‘n’ roll’s happy-go-lucky “good times” sound. Inside of the anthemic punk with metal riffing on this album lurks a deep inner despair for society and self that made Eye for an Eye the more melancholic and existential side of thrash.

fearless_iranians_from_hell-die_for_allah

4. Fearless Iranians From Hell – Die For Allah

Not as many people heard of this band because in the 1980s, when Beirut embassies exploded and the Iranian hostage situation was fresh in many minds, adopting even a satyrical pro-Iranian position struck most people as going too far, like endorsing Hitler or Stalin. Combining this potent imagery with marijuana humor and cynicism about the American war and money machine, Fearless Iranians From Hell bashed out fast punkish songs with metallic riffing that emphasized a constant turbulent, restless energy. In that way, this band put their finger on the utter abyss fermenting beneath the world of laws, dollars, numbers and hard data. This revealed the conflict between a culture of goody two-shoes and the underlying desire to put things right according to some absolute law not based in what suburban parents used to allay their fears. The humorous aspect of this band caused many to neglect the fusion of late hardcore and indie metal that powered this band.

dead_horse-horsecore_an_unrelated_story_thats_time_consuming

5. Dead Horse – Horsecore

Another band that at first got little airplay, Dead Horse emerged in the late 1980s and got enmired in the Texas metal scene which tended to reward those who scratched everyone else’s back even if their bands were forgettable. The band finally broke out with their second album Peaceful Death and Pretty Flowers in 1991 which turned more toward a progressive death metal direction alongside other acts of a similar nature like Disharmonic Orchestra and Demilich. The earlier material of this band used the same song structures shaped around the content of each song that DRI did but added more vicious, metal-infused riffs that had the hallmark of soundtrack style epic figurative melodies. Where other bands relied on humor of absurdity, Dead Horse fused its own internal language and riffed off that, pushing together a cynicism toward the adult world with a sense of breakaway culture.

suicidal_tendencies-suicidal_tendencies

6. Suicidal Tendencies – Suicidal Tendencies

The title says five albums, not six. Yes: official numbers lie. Suicidal Tendencies perfected a style of thrash that invoked more of the guitar traditions of 1970s metal and overlaid its longer songs with extensive lead guitar, including bluesy and melodic sections. It also adopted the habit of using slower sections to build up to the explosion of faster raging riffing, which gave the album space from which sudden attacks became even more powerful. Outright references to skateboarding and life as a suburban teenager colored the lyrics and outlook of this self-titled release which won over many fans for its essentially punk nature with the interesting instrumentalism of metal. That and its self-mocking and self-distrusting humor which saw the world exclusively from the experience of the individual lost within it made this release a cross-over between skaters, punks and metalheads.

Thrash created a generation of music that turned up the intensity of metal and gave punk new room to grow in. This drew extensive influence from later hardcore of the Discharge, Black Flag, Minor Threat, GBH, the Exploited and Cro-Mags variety and in turn influenced the first generation of grindcore such as Repulsion Horrified, Napalm Death Scum, Carcass Reek of Putrefaction and Blood Impulse to Destroy. Thrashers also took heavy influence from melodic punk bands like Misfits and eccentric acts such as the Minutemen, all the way through pop-punk like Descendents and Dayglo Abortions. With the rise of thrash, punk and metal both felt pressure to turn up the intensity, which drove metal into the cryptic realms of death metal and punk into its progressive years.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

54 comments

  • veien

    Thanks a lot for this Cory! I have very limited space upstairs and so I do like to trim things down to top 5 lists and such. I’ve got top fives in my head for power metal, grindcore, ambient, industrial, trance and so on and so forth. I collect a bit too, but if I need to leave in a hurry I need to know what to grab if you know what I mean?

    1. veien

      All of these can be found by searching Audiofile at the forums by the way. Except for lucky number six Suicidal Tendencies (1983).

        1. trystero

          There better be the Italian Adramelch there at #1 or else!

          Zephiiiiiirrrruuusssss!!!! FEEL MY PAINNNNN…

          By the way, whoever mentioned Labyrinth, thanks for that, it has helped me get a Dragonforce and Mastodon fan into some more proper power metal. Cheers bud!

          1. POWER METAL GUY

            Hi Trystero:

            Here are some lesser known power metal bands that you might wanna check out.
            All these are fore runners to the typical power metal sound.
            Although I’m sure you already know most of´em:

            OMEN – THE CURSE
            most consider them a heavy metal band but they helped create power metal

            STEEL ANGEL – AND THE ANGELS WERE MADE OF STEEL 1985
            you can sense the proto nature of this band

            WARRANT – THE ENFORCER 1985
            early speed metal meets heavy metal hybrid

            WRATH – FIT OF ANGER 1986
            this is Iced Earth before Iced Earth

            POWERLORD – THE AWAKENING 1986
            also in the vein of the Iced Earth hybrid bay area + nwobhm

            SACRED OATH – A CRYSTAL VISION 1987
            a classic!

            DEFENDER – CITY AD MORTIS 1987 (EP)
            classy power metal

            MESSIAH FORCE – THE LAST DAY 1987
            female fronted forerunner to euro power metal

            ATTACKER – THE SECOND COMING 1988
            and most think power metal is a mid 90s style ha !

            HERETIC – BREAKING POINT 1988
            similar to metal church, crunchy, bouncy heavy

            WITCHHAMMER – 1487 1990
            gamma ray without being gay

            MATTHIAS STEELE – HAUNTING TALES OF A WARRIOR’S PAST 1991
            more Iced Earth meets Metal Church

            RITUAL – TRIALS OF TORMENT 1993
            not all power metal is gay

            1. trystero

              Damn thats a lot of albums, alright cheers guy. Time to get to work. The only one I know is Omen and if the rest is at least that good then this is a great list.

              I have heard bad things about Matthias Steele however, like Slough Feg bad. Anything to that?

          2. Tralfamadorian

            5 good ‘Euro-style’ power metal albums:

            Disclaimer: I haven’t listened to some of these in a while, but I enjoyed them all immensely back in the day

            1) Lost Horizon – A Flame to the Ground Beneath
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vMOgLMfxww

            2) Lost Horizon – Awakening the World
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcZAj1MPpeo

            3) Hibria – Defying the Rules
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdfFqiRonO8

            4) Elvenking – Heathenreel
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRBokPvilKI

            5) Pagan’s Mind – Enigmatic : Calling
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owDk82Drd2k

              1. Tralfamadorian

                In what sense is it their AJFA? The ‘progressive’ touches like more synths and whatnot? I thought they pulled off the ‘atmospheric power metal’ thing quite well, and they are probably the only band who have produced anything of value in that subsubgenre.

                I’ve probably listen to A Flame… more often than the debut. It’s less riff-centric, relying more on Heiman’s voice, which is a good thing imo because he has phenomenal pipes. Relegating the guitars to mainly a rhythmic instrument not only sets the stage for Heiman but also makes it more compelling when they do surface to play a lead-riff.

                1. trystero

                  Yes, the `progressive touches`. They go on far too long and dont work together. Altogether boring, less riff-centric is a terrible thing. Perhaps it is a minor matter of tastes but it is funny what you say about ol` magic throat baldy, sure he sings a lot and hits a lot of notes his heart doesnt seem as much into it on this album. The only song on it I appreciate is Cry of a Restless Soul.

                  Tell you what, if you can list song by song what you like in A Flame… I will give it a few more fair tries. Right now all I see is the Luciferion dude running out of ideas and making an And Justice For All.

                  Boy it just occured to me, a lot of speed/power metal bands end up there at some point. Iced Earth. Blind Guardian and Savatage occur to me as instant examples.

                  You know though bro, the last thing I want to do is make you enjoy a metal album less than before, so I will re-listen, maybe you just ignore me to be on the sae side.

          3. veien

            Yeah, they’re really one of kind. I liked it enough to acquire a physical copy at any rate. Many thanks for that one trystero! And thanks to the absolute gent that sold me his copy.

              1. veien

                Not the vinyl, unfortunately. Don’t have 200-300 whatever currency to spare. Bastard collectors! I just can’t reason putting any price on music from the godly spheres.

        2. Tralf guy

          5 good ‘Euro-style’ power metal albums:

          Disclaimer: I haven’t listened to some of these in a while, but I enjoyed them all immensely back in the day. Also, brace yourself for cheese.

          1) Lost Horizon – A Flame to the Ground Beneath
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vMOgLMfxww

          2) Lost Horizon – Awakening the World
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcZAj1MPpeo

          3) Hibria – Defying the Rules
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdfFqiRonO8

          4) Elvenking – Heathenreel
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRBokPvilKI

          5) Pagan’s Mind – Enigmatic : Calling
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owDk82Drd2k

        3. veien

          Adramelch – Irae Melanox
          Isengard – Høstmørke
          Rhapsody – Symphony of Enchanted Lands
          Merciful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath
          Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys

          1. Tralf guy

            That rhapsody is a riffless cheese fest and the helloween, while it influenced just about every euro power metal band to follow, is too goddamn goofy and poppy to take seriously, even if there are a few good tracks on the keepers albums. I would recommend walls of Jericho instead

    2. trystero

      @veien

      Sorry veien can I just say, LMAO at I have very limited space upstairs, haha.

      You know as far as collections are concerned, I am now down to digital only. Its convenient, quality is good (Vinyl .flac rips esp) and even though its not a substitute for the real thing it works fine.

      My advice. Dont trim digital, trim physical. Unless you are already doing that. In which case call me a dyslexic dumbass.

  • Or You Will Be Exploded

    I have em all except Dead Horse and FIFH, because those are pretty much hard as fuck to come by, the rest I own on vinyl.

    1. Richard Head

      Back when I was a HxC punk kid, I knew a lot of other faggots like me who were into FIFH so I ignored them. Will have to check them out now though, along with Dead Horse which I’ve never heard of before. I really like digging into these transitionary-phase bands that linked punk to metal before styles like death metal and grindcore were more-or-less crystallized. Good article.

    2. Catastrophist

      Texans were fortunate in that FIFH and deadhorse were staples back then, an intrinsic part of our thrash (or metal or punk) diet. Always surprising how much FIFH gets/got ignored (subject matter is too much for most I suppose- even today, but still damn pertinent obviously). 2nd album Holy War is just as good as Die For Allah, but more complete.

    3. Tralfamadorian

      Is a turntable setup (the player, receiver, speakers, along with the actual records) really worth the investment, as opposed to listening to high-quality MP3s with high-quality headphones?

      To me it seems more like a snobbish hobby/ritual that has little in the way of advantages over more modern listening methods. I know little about the topic though, so please share thoughts on this.

      1. Catastrophist

        The biggest issue I have noticed (besides the unlistenable quality of sub320kbps mp3s) is the use of codecs by the mp3 players or the computer itself. For instance- even if you get a good quality rip it is being processed by these programs to change the EQ and put on stereo effects! Especially noticed on ITunes shit- everything sounds like ass on an ipod, flat, terrible compression. My own pc has a stereo synthesizer built in (and who knows what else) that cannot be turned off, thus burning a cdr and listening to that on the regular cd player sounds much better. Otherwise, with LP’s you have to research a bit on the mastering process to see if it’s worth it (info usually not readily available because they dont want you to know it’s just the cd dubbed to vinyl). That being said when a great album and great mastering meet on vinyl there is no comparison- huge rich alive sound. Headphones I have never discovered to sound as good as a quality hi fi.

        1. Richard Head

          Good comment. Hi-fi speakers at high volume are matchless. Due to my living situation (room mate is not a metal guy [YET]) I am usually playing CDs or FLACs if on my PC, and some good headphones can go a looooong way in achieving quality sound. Any reasonably priced Sony studio headphones are going to be passable if not outstanding.

        2. Phallus

          *NERD ALERT*

          “unlistenable quality of sub320kbps mp3s”

          I bet you can’t ABX V2 vbr mp3s.
          Even if you could, you would be in like 0.1% of human population.

          I mean proper lossless to lossy mp3s, not transcoded shit.

          Cds can sound as good as any vinyl, with proper mastering.
          It’s just that they’re mostly over-compressed crap (newer CDs) or shrill (too much emphasis on highs – buried mids – older CDs).

          Examples of great sounding metal CDs:

          Slayer – South of Heaven (the 80s one mastered by Barry Diament)
          Dio – The Last in Line (Audio Fidelity)
          Dismembered – Indecent and Obscene (1st press – could do with a bit less compression)
          and last but not least…
          Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon (this has to do with general production)

          1. Catastrophist

            Ha you’re right I usually just stick with wav if I rip something so I can burn it for a friend, it’s not an area of expertise (‘poorly ripped mp3s’ would have been a better way to put it).

            Might as well add cassettes to the discussion here- if the tape is manufactured well it can sound superior to both cd and vinyl. I’ve been told this is due to the bass resonance abilities of tape. Of course just like anything else, it can be manufactured poorly or without attention. Degeneration I’ve found to be more a factor of how you treat the tape (vibrating in a car will shake the magnetism out of it) rather than how many times you listen to it.
            Of course tape decks are dodgy as hell though too.

            1. Tralfamadorian

              Wav is a rather inefficient and impractical format for lossless digital audio. I would suggest using flac instead. It makes your files easier to organize thanks to tag support, and it also cuts back on the amount of hard drive space needed without sacrificing any of the sound quality. I would suggest ‘acquiring’ a copy of dBpoweramp, which is generally considered the best audio format converter out there.

              1. veien

                Thanks for that Tralfamadorian.

                But of the stuff I like I tend to go with CDs and original vinyl pressings. I especially love the nice raw sound of vinyl though I don’t have much of a collection.

        3. Phallus

          “For instance- even if you get a good quality rip it is being processed by these programs to change the EQ and put on stereo effects!”

          Not really.
          You’re either not using proper software or not using the software as you should.

          1. Catastrophist

            True most audio programs playback perfectly, but I once had to mix down hard-panned channels on my computer, which is when I found the built in stereo synthesizer for ALL audio output. Could this even be bypassed by a new soundcard? I hope mine is a rare instance for the listener on computer.
            As far as the ipod goes though – my ears tell me some serious bullshit is going on there.

          1. Tralfamadorian

            Could you provide a source for the claim that Fraunhofer is superior to LAME when it comes to metal? Most audiophiles I know generally regard the prior codec to be archaic. I’ll see if I can dig up a spectrogram of MP3 vs Fraunhofer — the latter shows significant ‘blocking’ in the higher frequencies.

      1. veien

        Hey thanks a lot for this ksava! I love this sort of stuff. Obnoxious drunkard crust vocals with that real chip on the shoulder attitude. And the Celtic Frost influence was a pleasant surprise also!

        1. veien

          Fuck yeah! three or four tracks in and it just gets better! Gonna listen to this one on the way to work to get me in the mood for dealing with people…

  • trystero

    That dead horse album is fucking righteous. Just that and f.i.f.h would be worth a whole year of wasted life. Do NOT miss these albums. I am not even into this genre (I dont really ever find myself listening to Cryptic Slaughter or D.R.I.), but I always have some time for these albums and its always time well spent.

    They dont get boring.

  • EDS

    Can anyone explain why some people, specifically ones from Hawaii and the west coast call thrash metal “trash metal”? And no, they are not making fun of the genre, they really do not know it is called THRASH metal.

    1. trystero

      Aint just them, its people from all around the world, esp. those with english as a second language. I didnt know people in cali/hawaii did this though… strange. You do see it a lot on youtube comments on Metallica and Megadeth vids but it seems to be cholos arguing.

    2. Brett Stevens

      Generally this is from areas where English is a second language or there is a high percentage of people for whom that is true. The English word “thrash” doesn’t pronounce well in other languages always.

      1. trystero

        This is true, some languages do not have the th sound but despite that its probably just a familiar word that they confuse as thrash

        A lot of skater thrash at the time was pretty trash though!

        1. veien

          Never heard about any of this, but if I ever catch some cunt calling thrash metal “trash” I’m gonna give him the thrashing of a lifetime (depending on whether I’m in a bad mood/on a power-trip or not).

          1. EDS

            When I first heard it I was taken back. You know, I thought he was referring to a new sub genre of modern hipster metal. I laughed and thought to myself, “whats next? Hipsters calling a new sub genre goiter metal because the band members love their neck goiters?” Then I asked him to name some trash metal bands and he name dropped the typical bay area bands.

      2. trystero

        Brett, if you have the time (and inclination), kindly check your PMs on the forum. Thanks in advance,

    3. Robert

      “Can anyone explain why some people, specifically ones from Hawaii and the west coast call thrash metal “trash metal”?”

      Because they’re retarded. Simple as that.

  • Lord Mosher

    quote: “It’s too punk for punk and too metal to be metal,”

    .
    Shouldn’t it be: it’s too punk for metal and too metal to be punk?

    1. trystero

      It is straight up metal imo, despite your correction being uh… correct. Riff based music with a hardcore outlook that was never into the lefty sort of ideology that even some hardcore bands were into.

      Also, does Cro-Mags deserve a mention here or is it too straight punk to be crossover thrash?

  • nagstar

    Americans are way too dramatic. Always capable of melodrama, and considers every other country nonexistent. The cold war was more troublesome to every other country hopelessly pulled into it than the US and USSR. The only thing i agree with is the music, as the anguish on a personal basis is palpable and something someone can connect with. But an exploration into the causes of what led them to it might as well be belittling to everybody else.