Sometimes it feels like thrash metal’s Big Four are so big that they overshadow the vast array of amazing bands that made up the rest of the genre’s first few waves. Not every thrash or speed metal band could be as imperious and undeniable as Metallica or Slayer, of course, but plenty of them released great records, destroyed venues and generally made the life of the average O.G. thrash kid seem pretty fucking good. For those who fancy digging deep into thrash history, here are ten of the best bands that never quite made it to the genre’s upper echelons. Or even the lower echelons, if we’re honest.
Early doors crossover merchants, Znöwhite possessed a feral energy that precious few could imitate. The Chicago quartet’s debut EP All Hail To Thee emerged in 1984 and still sounds like the ultimate marriage of speed metal fury and post-Plasmatics punk rock rancour. Vocalist Nicole Lee was decades ahead of her time, shrieking and bawling over some of the most untamed and unstoppable riffs imaginable. With hindsight, Znöwhite were pioneers, as they blended rock’n’roll swagger and punk rock velocity with what was then a fledgling thrash metal sound. They nailed it completely on 1988’s Act Of God: an unsung thrash classic, with a really dreadful album cover. Swings and roundabouts, thrash fans!
Judging by the actual state of them on the cover of debut album Stricken By Might, it is a little hard to deny that E-X-E desperately wanted to be Slayer, and pre-Reign In Blood Slayer at that. They may never have been in the evil ones’ league, but this New York quintet’s chaotic and vicious take on thrash deserves a second look. In particular, second album Sicker Than I Thought! ditched the infernal pretensions in favour of an all-out, heads-down attack, liberally embellished with vocalist Tommy Lee Haley’s sky-shattering screams. A new incarnation of E-X-E surfaced in 2015, with a new EP (Anti-Hero With A Thousand Faces) and a more straightforward, hard rock sound. So there’s that.
All good British thrash kids know about Xentrix, Sabbat, Acid Reign and Onslaught, but many of the UK scene’s first wave of bands struggle to get similar recognition. More worthy than most are Bristol’s Detritus, whose 1990 debut Perpetual Defiance was a fiery and subtly progressive affair with splendidly epic artwork. The follow-up, If But For One (1993), was more adventurous, if slightly spoiled (for the average Onslaught fan, at least) by the lyrics’ Christian overtones. More importantly, Detritus reconvened in 2019 and released an absolute cracker of a comeback album, Myths, earlier this year. Slower, heavier and more melodic than their early material, it’s good enough to suggest that their time has finally come.
Solid candidates for the title of “most criminally overlooked UK thrash band ever”, Deathwish were the real, infernal deal. With a sound that contained plenty of pitch-black Sabbathian grit and NWOBHM wallop, alongside the usual thrash and speed metal tropes, the Brightonian four-piece released two utterly essential albums: 1987’s gnarly debut At The Edge Of Damnation and 1988’s furious and gleefully malevolent Demon Preacher. Their artwork and logo were cool as fuck, too. Not surprisingly, then, drummer Brad Sims now runs a tattoo shop, Sims Tattoos, in Croydon. Small world, innit?
Not quite top tier but certainly knocking around in the German thrash scene’s upper echelons, Paradox delivered a stone cold classic in 1989. The band’s second album Heresy was an ambitious concept piece about the Albigensian Crusade against “heretics” in the 13th century. And that makes it (a) very fucking metal, and (b) ripe for a sequel. Paradox basically skipped the 90s, but have been active for the last 20 years and sound on blistering form on, yes, Heresy II: End Of A Legend, which is out on September 24 via AFM Records. Listen to the original first, however, because it’s a beast.
This Seattle trio originally formed as Critical Condition in 1983, but seemed to take the scenic route thereafter. Finally releasing their debut album Uncertain Future in 1989, Forced Entry had a hard-as-nails, groove-driven sound with Voivod-esque detours and guitar tone heavy enough to scrape your features off your face. The follow-up, 1991’s As Above So Below was even heavier and more forward-thinking, but cult status in the underground was all that beckoned after the band’s home town became the epicentre of grunge. In brighter news, Forced Entry are reportedly contemplating a reunion. It’s an excellent idea, because they fucking rip.
Another UK thrash band that never quite received the props they deserved, Hull’s Re-Animator were routinely found supporting the likes of Xentrix and Acid Reign, and steadily developed a strong reputation as one of the scene’s most explosive live bands. Both debut mini-album Deny Reality (1988) and full-length debut Condemned To Eternity (1989) were stone cold face-removers, but unfortunately, UK thrash didn’t pan out particularly brilliantly for anybody, as bands frantically tried to adapt to a changing metal world. Re-Animator went distinctly off the boil on their third and fourth albums and were done and dusted by 1993. In better news, they reformed in 2013 and released a new EP, One More War, in 2019. It rips. The end.
Standard bearers for Australian thrash, Mortal Sin were widely tipped for big things after the release of their thoroughly murderous 1987 debut, Mayhemic Destruction. With a sound that owed plenty to Dark Angel and Slayer, but with a healthy dose of Aussie bravado and some boss-level, chant-along choruses, they swiftly went international, touring Europe with a pre-ubiquity Faith No More and supporting Testament at London’s own Hammersmith Apollo (then the Odeon, of course). Second album Face Of Despair was a belter, too, but that early momentum had dwindled by the time the 90s dawned. As is traditional, Mortal Sin reformed in 2004 and released a genuinely great new album, Psychology Of Death, in 2011. Fair dinkum, etc.
Although arguably not that obscure, given how frequently they are cited as an influence by doyens of extremity, but Holy Terror remain the epitome of thrash metal cult status. Even over 30 years on, the LA quintet’s first two albums – Terror And Submission (1987) and Mind Wars (1988) – are absolutely not be fucked with. Darker, more brutal, unnervingly chaotic and yet as potent and destructive as anything else that came out at the time, Holy Terror’s thrash was black and deathly, just as Satan intended. Original vocalist Keith Deen sadly passed away in 2012, but those barbarous yelps will live forever in glory.
With over 30 years and more than 20 studio albums under their belt, Mexico’s Transmetal are definitely not obscure in their homeland. A consistent and motivational force in Latin American metal, the band was formed in the mid 80s by three brothers – Lorenzo, Javier and Juan Partida Bravo – and have hardly stopped to take a breath since. Outside of Latin America, Transmetal have barely made a dent, which seems a shame given (a) their longevity, and (b) how hard their music rips. For old school thrills, early albums like Sepelio en el Mar and Zona Muerta are rougher than a rhino’s ball, but laudably obnoxious with it. Check out the Mexicans’ 2020 album Demiurgo for more timely confirmation of their potency.