10 essential cult thrash metal albums

Choosing our Top 20 thrash albums of all time was, if we’re honest, a fucking nightmare. As a result, we felt compelled to highlight some of the obscure gems that didn’t quite make the cut. For the dedicated hardcore thrasher, these are as essential as anything produced by the Big Four.

Corrosion Of Conformity – Animosity (1985)

Just as the emerging thrashers were taking their cues from punk and hardcore, so some hardcore bands then started taking on elements of metal. Corrosion Of Conformity’s 1984 debut An Eye For An Eye was very much in the Black Flag vein, but with added Sabbath riffing. A year later, stripped down to a trio, the shared and mutual admiration with Slayer saw them develop an even more abrasive and vicious crossover style. Many thrash veterans claim that very few were as powerful live as the Raleigh titans at this point, and Animosity certainly backs this up.

Sodom – In The Sign Of Evil (1984)

While the New York, LA and Bay Area bands seemed to dominate the thrash scene as far as the music press were concerned, over in Germany something special happened. Kreator managed to make their presence felt (with good reason – if you don’t own Pleasure To Kill, hand your thrasher’s licence in now!), but there were many more killer bands to be found. At the time, many dismissed Sodom as second-rate Venom clones, and while they were perhaps not the most proficient of musos at the time, this EP went on to become the blueprint for literally thousands of blackened thrash albums. Where you find bullet belts and studded wristbands, you will find Sodom maniacs.

Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales (1984)

Perhaps the best thing to come out of Switzerland since, well, ever. Taking the bombast and post-apocalyptic warrior sound of Venom, and then adding plenty of Angel Witch’s heavyweight NWOBHM riffage, Tom G Warrior created a monster of his own. While certainly popular in the ‘80s with diehard thrashers, they also found favour with the extreme hardcore scene. Many early crust and grind bands worshipped them. In the late ‘80s, Obituary’s crushing death metal was essentially Celtic Frost with updated drumming, and copies of Tom G’s trademark “Ugh… hey!” can be found on literally thousands of black metal albums. Simply put, Celtic Frost are essential listening.

Exciter – Heavy Metal Maniac (1983)

Released a month prior to Kill ‘Em All, this gem represents a transition from old to new. Whereas much later thrash would wear its punk and hardcore influences on its sleeve (and in some cases, baseball caps), Heavy Metal Maniac‘s roots clearly lay in the likes of Sabbath and Priest, albeit delivered with the turbocharged fury of Motörhead and Venom. Closer in feel to the likes of Acid or Tysondog than Anthrax or Slayer, if you want a definition of speed metal, this is probably as good a place as any to start.

Artillery – Fear Of Tomorrow (1985)

If you ask your average metal fan, Denmark means two things: Mercyful Fate and Lars Ulrich. Ask the uberkvlt and they will name Evil or Witch Cross, but for any thrasher worth their salt, Artillery will spring to mind immediately. Taking their name from Tank’s song Heavy Artillery, it is fitting that they found a home on Neat Records – the home of some of NWOBHM’s finest and heaviest moments. Intelligent and powerful, the lack of recognition was due more to an undue deference to American thrash than anything else.

Razor – Evil Invaders (1985)

Darkthrone had a song called Canadian Metal a few years back. Alongside Voivod, Slaughter and Exciter, you can bet your bottom dollar (Canadian dollar, natch) they had this ferocious gem in mind. One of the things that hits you first is how timeless the production is. Back in 1985, few thrashers outside of Metallica were sounding quite as sophisticated as these Canuck crushers. And it’s fair to say that, Exodus aside, no Bay Area thrashers were anywhere near as vicious. It’s the Armed And Dangerous EP that is most sought after by collectors, but this album represents their finest hour.

Holy Terror – Mind Wars (1988)

For some inexplicable reason, Holy Terror seem to be largely forgotten by many thrashers, both old and new. Probably the most underrated thrash band of the 80s, they were formed by former Agent Steel guitarist Kurt Colfelt, but instead of the power metal falsetto of John Cyriis they went for the far more earthy, punky tones of the late, great Keith Deen. Somewhere between the hotrod motor revving riffage of Megadeth’s debut and the catchy singalong, straight-to-the-chase instant classicism of Nuclear Assault, both Holy Terror albums still sound incredible 26 years on.

Coroner – No More Colour (1989)

Featuring, as they did, two Celtic Frost roadies, and with the Tom G actually singing on the Death Cult demo, it’s no surprise that Coroner sounded a little like the mighty Swiss gods. However, rather than simply ape their friends, they took their heavyweight guitar tones and added plenty of twisting, technical rhythms to create a progressive but heavy sound that would go on to influence the likes of Atheist, Cynic and by extension a whole world of tech metal, yet never lose the sense of metallic power. You really should get all of their albums.

Sadus – Illusions (1988)

Following on from two well-received demos and an appearance on the now-legendary Raging Death compilation (with Xecutioner, who became Obituary), when the Florida heavyweights released their debut under their own steam, they were to shift 7,000 copies themselves before Roadrunner picked them up, re-issuing it as Chemical Exposure and using the tape version’s artwork. Taking their cues from Slayer and Possessed, Sadus bordered on death metal at a time when the lines had not yet been drawn. What really set them apart was the incredible skill of Steve DiGiorgio, who to this day remains one of extreme metal’s most in-demand bass players.

Sarcófago – I.N.R.I. (1987)

When founding Sepultura guitarist Wagner “Antichrist” Lamounier left in 1985, supposedly because he felt they were too commercial, he started an underground monster. While they never matched Sep’s commercial success, it is arguable that they equalled them in terms of impact on the worldwide metal scene. I.N.R.I. distilled the primitive rage of Venom, Sodom and Hellhammer and focused it through a lens of fanatical South American passion to create a blueprint for literally thousands of black and black thrash bands. Mayhem’s Euronymous adopted corpse paint due to his love of this album, setting the scene for everyone from Darkthrone to Behemoth.

Metal Hammer

Founded in 1983, Metal Hammer is the global home of all things heavy. We have breaking news, exclusive interviews with the biggest bands and names in metal, rock, hardcore, grunge and beyond, expert reviews of the lastest releases and unrivalled insider access to metal's most exciting new scenes and movements. No matter what you're into – be it heavy metal, punk, hardcore, grunge, alternative, goth, industrial, djent or the stuff so bizarre it defies classification – you'll find it all here, backed by the best writers in our game.