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Letters: Why isn’t Metallica “thrash metal”?

by Brett Stevens
September 14, 2013 –

metallica-kill_em_allA reader writes with a few questions:

Why is Metallica’s debut classified in your website as Speed Metal and not Thrash Metal? What defines Thrash Metal and why are Metallica and Kreator placed under Speed Metal? The second question really being what defines Speed Metal?

What is speed metal? Speed metal is the music formed of the hybrid of NWOBHM and punk music. NWOBHM itself was a fusion of Black Sabbath and the “metal-like” hard rock genres of the time, including some progressive rock, given an underground and DIY outlook. The definitive speed metal album is the first Metallica work, but we could also look to Overkill, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, Megadeth, Testament and Prong.

What is thrash metal? A marketing term for “speed metal.” Some argue that it’s a separate genre, namely speed metal with “broken beats” or d-beats, but the fact of the matter is that the d-beat-influenced drumming was already part of speed metal. Musically, anything regarded as “thrash metal” is speed metal. Hence use of that term instead.

Now, as to Kreator — why is it speed metal? Kreator is on the line between speed metal and death metal but ultimately has more in common with later speed metal like Destruction and Sodom than it does with outright death metal. It was a previous generation to the music that expanded in the late 1980s through early 1990s.

What is thrash? Thrash is a hybrid form of heavy metal and punk music preferred by thrashers, i.e. skaters. This music evolved out of the explosion of punk music at the end of the 1970s and the tendency of bands like Discharge, Amebix, The Exploited, the Cro-Mags and others to take on metal riff-styles, especially as inspired by Slayer and other heavily punk-influenced bands. However, many thrash bands used riff influences from NWOBHM or before, with Black Sabbath being prominent.

The reason we separate speed metal and thrash is that they are different movements. Speed metal is metal that incorporates some aspects of punk; thrash is a metal/punk hybrid that generally uses punk song structures and metal riffs, laying the groundwork for grindcore. There’s also no point in expanding the speed metal franchise into many different sub-types when all are essentially musically identical.

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12 comments

  • The Dude

    Although I think you’ve established a pretty good dichotomy between speed metal and thrash, why are the semantics particularly important? Most of the more mainstream metal listeners would call speed metal bands like Exodus or Metallica “thrash metal” and call thrash bands like the Cro-Mags or D.R.I. “crossover thrash”. Clearly these listeners are capable of differentiating the two and would understand the dichotomy you’ve set up regarding the two genres, so why then do you favor the terms “speed metal” and “thrash” instead of the more mainstream terminology? This isn’t intended to be a cynical question, I’m merely curious.

    Reply
    1. fallot

      It is important to maintain clarity first of all. While you are right that colloquially many people do understand the difference between these two genres and it isnt really a problem in ordinary conversation, speed metal is a recognized genre even by these individuals. This creates a false impression that there is real difference between bands labelled speed metal and bands called thrash or thrash metal in the mainstream. This is false and hence leads to fudging up both metal history and the connection between bands musically.

      Also this place attempts serious study of metal and consistency is important in an endeavour with academic goals. Lastly, it is just correct, no reason to bow down to the common misconception. Enforce correct information at least in your own work.

      Reply
      1. The Dude

        Thanks for the reply. While I found your response to be partially adequate, I personally doubt that the vast majority of real life metal listeners ever actually believed that there was a real difference between bands being marketed as speed metal and bands marketed as thrash metal. I’m sure some amount of confusion regarding the topic exists and I agree that metal history shouldn’t get fudged up, but it doesn’t really appear to be that serious of a problem.

        I do take issue with the point that “it is just correct”. That seems like a poor excuse not to elaborate upon the issue and examine the evidence. If it was so simply and self-evidently true that it could be practically equivocated to a statement such as “the sky is blue” then people wouldn’t be having serious discourses about it because it wouldn’t require any further explanation beyond what one can gather from empirical observation. You’ve failed to explain what actually necessitates that we apply the speed metal and thrash labels in the manner that this website does.

        Frankly, if I started a grindcore band and labeled my music “terrorgrind” because we sing about B-grade horror movie subjects in our lyrics nobody would have a problem figuring out that we’re just an ordinary grindcore band trying to sell more records than our competition by adopting a certain aesthetic to differentiate ourselves from all the other bands in the genre. There wouldn’t be any mass confusion about the history of grindcore caused as a result of it.

        At any rate, I personally do use the terms speed metal and thrash, but I don’t see any reasons why everyone ought to use those terms. I’m willing to listen to what you have to say about this if you care to explain.

        Reply
        1. fallot

          I dont think the majority of listeners did believe there was a difference, but they certainly do so now (or are unsure):

          http://www.ultimatemetal.com/forum/general-metal-discussion/132696-whats-difference-between-thrash-speed-metal.html

          http://www.metal-archives.com/board/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=51095

          http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080811215826AA7qHv6

          The question constantly pops up, a google search will dig up tons of examples. No one has to use these terms, they can call it whatever they want, from bouncy metal to ice cream metal. This website uses the original labels applied by the metal scene at the time (thrash was skater thrash, now `crossover`, speed metal was speed metal, thrash/thrash metal applied to the latter was a euro marketing term to imply harshness/heavyness).

          Your example doesnt resonate sorry, it is possible your terrorgrind band could influence a set of bands that copied your superficial aesthetics and labelled themselves terrorgrind, creating a `subgenre` that has no solid ground to stand on. Example: Symphonic Black Metal (heavy metal with keyboards, female operatic vocals and a dinner theatre vampire aesthetic).

          Reply
          1. Brett Stevens Post author

            Great original research there finding what a hot topic this remains.

            We put the terms in the The Heavy Metal FAQ because they only work one way: with “speed metal” being an upgrade to “heavy metal,” but “thrash” recognized as the punk-metal hybrid genre that it is, retaining its own identity and conventions.

            Thrash is its own unique entity, not just because it is half-unadulterated hardcore punk but also because it carries with it the outlook and nuances of the thrasher (suburban skateboarder) culture.

            We honor that instead of lumping all metal together into convenient marketing terms like those who resent it do.

            Reply
        2. Brett Stevens Post author

          I personally doubt that the vast majority of real life metal listeners ever actually believed that there was a real difference between bands being marketed as speed metal and bands marketed as thrash metal.

          I think you’re correct; then again, that’s a stronger argument for using the correct terms instead of having duplicates.

          Anyone can call their own band by a made-up name but it has no relevance to genre. That’s a marketing term. Genres appear through artistic movements.

          Some listeners have opined that “thrash metal” is the more extreme 1986-1988 variation on speed metal which uses d-beats in the Kreator and Destruction style. I don’t find this compelling since those bands are musically very close to the American variant.

          Reply
    2. Brett Stevens Post author

      call thrash bands like the Cro-Mags or D.R.I. “crossover thrash”

      I’d call that an error. Crossover was a term invented to try to placate metalheads. And the Cro-Mags are straight hardcore.

      Reply
  • SERIOUS QUESTIONER

    I’ve noticed that most metal listeners (metal-archives) and people that don’t really care about doing research about the music they like, use the term “speed metal” to refer to bands that S.R. Prozak would call Power Metal. For example: first Helloween, first Blind Guardian etc. are tagged as speed metal.
    The same term is also used to describe punkish heavy metal bordering into Metallica style metal: first Exciter album, first Blessed Death.
    What’s really confusing to me is that the older more experienced listeners that have their own websites (classicthrash.com , thrashmetalguide , no life-til-metal.com) even use the term speed metal, to tag some songs from Judas Priest – Stained Class album, Accept and even some Queen songs.
    It seems to me that there’s a lot of transitional ideas between Heavy Metal and Speed Metal and the bands that got caught in the middle because they weren’t leader but followers were so many, that the mainstream term “speed metal” is now used to define that transitional phase.
    Every time I bring up this discussion, people tell me to go eat some assburgers or something…

    Reply
    1. fallot

      I dont think those are inaccurate characterizations, both those power metal bands are quite speed metal. The genre as a whole is pretty much updated speed metal (classic heavy metal song structures and some technique from extreme metal with optimistic, positive, shining-bright topics), but does manage to distinguish itself to the point where an alternative title is more descriptive than not. Doom metal is a similar categorization; essentially either death or heavy metal without exception (maybe Ras Algethi) but a useful term.

      Reply
  • kvlt attakker

    Thrash is punk’s more matured brother. Neither compare to death and black metal.

    What if there were no genres, but only Xul? Those that are not Xul get assimilated. Mwahahahahahaha, ha!

    Come to Xul fragile hamsters. You will be judged by the merit of your art.

    Reply
  • kvlt attakker

    Biggest beef with “thrash”:

    Every week is fricken shark week! Lamesauce. You bow before Xul! You are not Xul! Xul will smite you! Xul will devour your feeble party music and grind your bones into dust. Xul will burn the dust into nothingness!

    Big bright colors. Glitter on the forefront. Death to wanking idiocy!

    Reply

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