As a headbanging child of the ’80s, I frequently let loose to the sounds of speed and thrash metal. They were the intense aural assaults that helped me blow off steam in high school, not to mention fed my mind by often addressing serious social issues, and I still listen to plenty of its purveyors today. Fans of one genre usually liked the other, although there were some differences between them (on a basic level, speed metal was more tuneful, thrash more aggressive). In compiling this list of classic thrash tracks from the past, I chose to add in a couple of speed metal numbers because they fit. Enjoy these thrashtastic tunes from 25 years ago!
AGENT STEEL “Agents Of Steel” — This high energy quintet emerged back when there was more of a distinction between speed and thrash metal. In this case, Agent Steel’s speed metal relished in the melody injected into their fast-paced songs. There’s a definite Judas Priest influence here, and Jon Cyriis’ Halford-esque screams are impressive.
ANTHRAX “Metal Thrashing Mad” — This pumped-up cut hails from Anthrax’s debut album, which featured original singer Neil Turbin, who continues to make music today. While the New York rockers have made great music since with singers Joey Belladonna and John Bush, Fistful Of Metal is one of the seminal thrash albums, and this is one of its best cuts.
CELTIC FROST “Jewel Throne” — The Swiss group that imbued thrash metal with an avant-garde twist, Celtic Frost are certainly the most original group in that subgenre. This multi-tempo track comes from their dark, dissonant masterpiece To Mega Therion, the vinyl for which featured an awesome gatefold sleeve with H.R. Giger artwork.
DARK ANGEL “Merciless Death” — One of the quintessential American thrash bands of the ’80s, the underrated Dark Angel boasted the talent of future drumming legend Gene Hoglan. While this version is from the group’s classic 1986 release Darkness Descends, which is when Hoglan joined their ranks, a rawer version exists on their 1985 debut We Have Arrived, which I actually bought on vinyl back in the day. In either version, “Merciless Death” is Dark Angel’s signature song.
EXCITER “Violence & Force” — Part of the first wave of speed and thrash metal in the Eighties, this excellent Canadian three-piece featured drummer/screecher Dan Beehler. How this man could simultaneously pound the skins with manic energy and tear up his vocal cords with inhuman shrieks is beyond me. His new band Beehler is at work on new material (old bandmate/bassist Allan Johnson included), while Exciter soldiers on with original guitarist John Ricci. Thrash cred: Exciter’s Heavy Metal Maniac was released months before Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All.
EVIL “Evil’s Message/Evil” — This Danish speed metal group served up dark, energetic songs in the vein of Mercyful Fate, although they had some ridiculously misogynistic lyrics (the song “Son Of The Bitch”). Ignore that aspect and just groove to the music; it’s pretty awesome and addictive. Although short-lived back in the day, Evil have reportedly reunited, are working on new material and are reissuing their classic EP.
IRON ANGEL “Rush Of Power” — Part of the original Teutonic thrash axis that included groups like Sodom, Destruction and Kreator, these German headbangers knew how to deliver the goods. They released four albums in four years, then disbanded in ’86 before returning to thrash us anew in the ’00s. Like Living Death, they had a raw studio sound that added extra edginess to their music.
LIVING DEATH “Hellpike” — This vastly underrated German ensemble released several albums, and of the three I heard, their sophomore release Metal Revolution was the best. However this atmospheric tune hails from their solid debut Vengeance Of Hell. Some young metalheads might find their sound a little raw, and the singer’s vocals a little too screechy, but I love ’em.
RAZOR “Evil Invaders” — This Canadian thrash metal has been around since the early ’80s and are still rocking hard ‘n’ heavy, and for many this is their definitive anthem. The churning riffs in the intro and outro are simply awesome. Hypocrisy recently paid homage to Razor by covering this tune.
SODOM “Sepulchral Voice” — I first heard this cut on the fantastic vinyl compilation Speed Kills II, and from what I recall (my record is buried away right now), in his liner notes Bernard Doe from Metal Forces magazine joked that this was the fastest velocity band in the universe but it was a shame that the drummer got left behind. You’ll hear what he means. This is one of those early thrash cuts that just sounded truly evil, and it was very fresh in that way.