Starting in the early 1980s, American bands began to come up with a stateside answer to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Unlike their British counterparts, however, they owed a debt equally to older heavy metal bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and to the hardcore punk scene which had erupted and was flourishing in the early 1980s. A handful of bands, mostly from the West Coast and especially from the Bay Area, became the biggest, best, and most influential thrash bands of all time. While few of them may have broken through to the mainstream, they have left an underground legacy that has proven highly influential. And those that did broke down media doors for play of extreme music on the airwaves. The genre lives on, at least in name, to this day, as many bands influenced by the early thrash bands have also dubbed themselves thrash, but none have yet to have the same impact as the originals.
Here, then, are the top 5 all time thrash metal bands.
5. Testament – relative latecomers to the genre (they formed in 1985) often couched as morality tales. In addition to ace lead guitarist Alex Skolnick and stellar rhythm guitarist Eric Peterson, Testament had perhaps the best set of pipes the genre had to offer in vocalist Chuck Billy. Although they never hit the sales levels enjoyed by some of their brethren, they nonetheless have a nigh flawless catalog of recordings.
4. Anthrax – the biggest East Coast thrash band, New York-based Anthrax are known as thrash innovators for delivering the pummelingly heavy riffs the genre demands while introducing novel elements not heard elsewhere in the genre, such as humor, pop culture references, and positive political commentary. By the early ’90s, the band had broken down more barriers by releasing a humorous rap-metal EP (I’m the Man) and teaming up with hardcore rap band Public Enemy on a cover of that band’s song “Bring Tha Noise.”
3. Megadeth – Formed by early Metallica lead guitarist Dave Mustaine, who vowed revenge on his former bandmates for his unceremonious ousting, Megadeth brought an explicitly pessimistic political sensibility to the genre along with nihilistic occultist tendencies. Fast and furious riffing is what Megadeth ultimately became known for. And while Megadeth may not have eclipsed their rivals in terms of sales, they nonetheless have proven to be the more productive bands, with a full 14 albums currently under their collective belt.
2. Slayer – The undisputed kings of the underground, speed metallers Slayer started terrorizing audiences in their native Los Angeles in 1982. While their early records consisted of fairly traditional metal fare, the band kicked into overdrive with their 1986 LP Reign in Blood. An instant classic, Reign took listeners on a harrowing trip through hell. While many expected the band to keep up the intensity, instead they slowed things up again for another classic, 1988’s South of Heaven. As time went on, many genre enthusiasts came to view Slayer as the biggest band that had kept their integrity by never changing their approach.
1. Metallica – the original thrash band and the only one to truly break into the mainstream (for better or worse), Metallica unleashed their debut LP Kill ’em All in 1983, effectively kickstarting the speed metal movement. With four acknowledged great albums under their belt along with years of intense touring, Metallica launched into the stratosphere with their self-titled 1991 LP (nicknamed The Black Album). While their success led some to label them as sellouts, they effectively changed the media landscape forever by making previously “unplayable” underground metal permissible on radio and MTV.