Thrash has been one of the key movements in the metal world. Arguably the subgenre most responsible for the growth of extremity and technicality in heavy music since its ’80s glory period, it’s amazing to see how much it has endured over the years. It’s not all good, though.
Thrash comes with a somewhat rigid set of sonic confines, making innovation difficult and repetition inevitable. This means that there are a lot of bang-average albums in its oeuvre. On the flipside, thanks to the fact that it’s such a thrilling genre, there’s always one or two moments of quality. Here are 10 occasions where one cracking thrash banger saved an album.
Metallica – Frantic (St Anger, 2003)
You’ve heard all the talking points before: snare drum, “stock”, “delete that”, so on and so on. There really is no point trying to add anything else to the endless St Anger discourse here. So, let’s just say this: it’s not a great album. It’s got some good ideas that are smothered through sheer endless repetition but, dodgy lyrics aside, Frantic is a Metallica banger. Let’s move on.
Slayer – Stain Of Mind (Diabolus In Musica, 1998)
Diabolus In Musica is the only time that Slayer, surely the most reliably committed of the big thrash bands, ever had their heads in a different place. Even Kerry King himself has spoken on many occasions about how much he hates the band’s 1998 nu metal detour of an album. The one song that did seem to work, though, was the groovy Stain Of Mind – even if it is far from Slayer at their best.
Megadeth – Kingmaker (Super Collider, 2013)
After the risk of repeating, well… Risk 14 years prior, you’d think that Dave Mustaine would have realised that Megadeth are not a glammy rock band. Evidently not, as he went back to that well for Super Collider, possibly the worst album under that band’s banner. The sole song that sounds even a bit like it could have been lifted from their finest days is Kingmaker. At least it has a bit of classic ’Deth ferocity without being clunky about it.
Kreator – Phobia (Outcast, 1997)
Kreator’s experimental ’90s era has its staunch defenders and, to be fair, Outcast is far from the worst album. Its main problem is that it sees a band who rose by making timelessly rabid thrash release something that’s blatantly of-its-day, with a dated and awkward industrial focus. Thankfully, Phobia is a snarling anthem that’s aged rather gracefully and still persists in the band’s setlists.
Testament – Electric Crown (The Ritual, 1992)
Testament themselves admit that they were burnt out by 1992. The change in musical climate, with grunge and alt-rock taking the zeitgeist from metal, clearly played a part in why The Ritual sounds like a confused flip of the coin. Saying that, the first single from the album, Electric Crown, is actually a pretty nice piece of post-Black Album groove.
Exodus – Thorn In My Side (Force Of Nature, 1992)
The fact that Exodus didn’t make another album for 12 years in the aftermath of 1992’s more groove- and glammy-influenced Force Of Nature should give you some idea about how uninspired they were during the 1990s. The lack of pace, the strained “melodic” vocals, the very bad Rolling Stones cover… it’s not great. It’s a shame as well, given that opening song Thorn In My Side is at the very least intriguing and has a great Gary Holt solo midway through.
Overkill – What I’m Missin’ (Bloodletting, 2000)
Here’s another classic thrash band becoming casualties of the nu metal years. After guitarists Joe Comeau and Sebastien Marino left, Overkill decided to try and make a more contemporary-sounding album, with mixed results. Sadly, it’s just not the right soundscape for a band originally rooted in ’80s punk- and glam-inspired adrenaline – and when you hear them with their foot to the floor on the crushing What I’m Missin’, it just hammers that fact home.
Annihilator – Human Remains (Remains, 1997)
Remains is one of the most bizarre and disastrous albums ever made by a thrash band. Hearing Annihilator try to go grunge, groove and industrial all at once is likely to give you a migraine if you listen to it all in one sitting. Being generous, you could give Human Remains a pass just because it’s got a great riff, it gets close to the band’s then-goal of trying to sound like Ministry, and it’s mercifully short.
Destruction – Brother Of Cain (The Least Successful Human Cannonball, 1998)
Destruction are fully deserving of their place in the Big Four of the German thrash metal scene. But even they know they dropped a stinker with 1998’s looser The Least Successful Human Cannonball, since the band themselves have completely disowned it. In all truth, the album isn’t woeful, just a bit of an odd fit for them. The one time they get to full thrash pace, on Brother Of Cain, is the one time they really sound comfortable here.
Tankard – Queen Of Hearts (Disco Destroyer, 1998)
1998 wasn’t a vintage year for thrash. Another legendary German band, this time Tankard, released an album that was blunter, sloppier and way less intense than we’re used to. This lot were always fun, so there’s still a charm to Disco Destroyer, but only on Queen Of Hearts do they really ever rev up to the speed and intensity we’d become used to.