Despite a recent resurgence in the thrash metal (also known as “speed metal”) genre, at least in name, the time period consisting of the mid-1980s to the early 1990s is considered the defining and best era of the genre. With interest in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (which began in the 70s) on the wane and the dividing lines between the punk and metal genres beginning to blur, the concept of thrash was around before it found its musical form. Metallica is generally considered the originators of thrash metal, and if the genre has a hometown it would have to be the San Francisco Bay Area, where not only Metallica called its home (though they originally formed in Los Angeles), but that also spawned the likes of other heavy hitters like Exodus, Testament, the Forbidden, and Death Angel.
Here, then, are the top five greatest thrash albums of all time.
“Pleasure to Kill” by Kreator
5. Pleasure to Kill (1986) – at a time when many American metal aficionados looked down upon their European counterparts, Germany’s Kreator delivered ‘Pleasure to Kill,” which more than matched the American ferocity that was broiling in the underground. A landmark album in two metal subgenres (thrash and death metal), “Pleasure to Kill” established once and for all that the Europeans were not to be taken lightly.
“Among the Living” by Anthrax
4. Among the Living (1987)- after taking a leap forward with their Spreading the Disease LP (1985), Anthrax took a quantum leap forward with Among. Crammed to the rafters with riff after hardcore riff, Anthrax both officially joined the thrash movement and simultaneously distinguished themselves from their Brethren. While their peers may have been doom- and occult-obsessed, Anthrax brought a sense of humor (“Caught in a Mosh), pop culture references (“I Am the Law,” based on the Judge Dredd comic character), and even a political consciousness (“One World,” “Indians.”).. In other words, this was an album brimming with musical and topical ideas, and provided a needed counterpoint to many of the ideas that were common in the genre at the time.
“Rust in Peace” by Megadeth
3. Rust in Peace (1990) – Many would argue that one of Megadeth ‘s first two records would be better placed at the top of the thrash pantheon, but this is the album when Megadeth found themselves at their apex. Fast and furious throughout, and with topics ranging from politics to the unexplained and supernatural, “Rust” left its listeners breathless and its competitors in the dust.
“Master of Puppets” by Metallica
2. Master of Puppets (1986) – Metallica’s third album was when they truly came into their own and won the respect of audiences and critics alike. They first album was raw and seething, their second found them refining their songwriting, “Master” was itself a masterpiece. From the absolutely pummeling opener “Battery” to the closing “Damage, Inc.,” Metallica hit hard and on-point throughout, with the ominous “The Thing that Should Not Be” and the instrumental “Orion” giving listeners a break. Taken as a whole, it’s a thing of brutal beauty.
“Reign in Blood” by Slayer
1. Reign in Blood (1986) – By almost any measure, “Reign” is a brief album. With ten songs in under a half hour, though, it more than makes up for length with intensity. Whereas Slayer’s previous albums had been relatively traditional, drawn-out metal affairs, “Reign” was concise and intense. Its speed revealed a debt to punk that had so enamored guitarist Jeff Hanneman, but its riffs remained metallic. With songs about the Holocaust, human sacrifice, and the titular blood rain, it was a careening trip through hell, and an undisputed thrash metal classic.