|Stylistic origins||NWOBHM, hardcore punk, punk rock|
|Cultural origins||Late 1970s/early 1980s, United States, United Kingdom and Germany|
|Typical instruments||Rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass guitar, drums, vocals|
|Derivative forms||Death metal, black metal, groove metal, industrial metal|
|Crossover thrash, metalcore, nu metal|
|Germany – Brazil – United Kingdom – Poland – Australia – Canada – United States: Bay Area & East Coast – Japan – Mexico|
|List of bands|
Thrash metal is a sub-genre of heavy metal that is characterized most typically by its fast tempo and aggression. Thrash metal songs typically use fast percussive beats and fast, low-register guitar riffs, overlaid with shredding-style lead work. Lyrically, thrash metal songs often deal with social issues and reproach for The Establishment, often using direct and denunciatory language, an approach which partially overlaps with the hardcore genre.
Thrash metal's "Big Four", the four bands widely regarded as the genre's most successful and influential acts, are Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax due to their status as pioneers of the genre in the 1980s. Some common characteristics of thrash metal are fast guitar riffs with aggressive picking styles and fast guitar solos, and extensive use of two bass drums as opposed to the conventional use of only one, typical of most rock music.
The origins of thrash metal are generally traced to the late 1970s and early 1980s, when a number of predominantly American bands began fusing elements of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal with the speed and aggression of hardcore punk. Thrash metal is more aggressive compared to its relative, speed metal, and is thought to have emerged at least in part as a reaction to the more conventional and widely acceptable sounds and themes of glam metal, a less aggressive, pop music-infused heavy metal sub-genre which emerged simultaneously.
Thrash metal generally features fast tempos, low-register, complex guitar riffs, high-register guitar solos and double bass drumming. Thrash metal rhythm guitar parts are often palm-muted to create a tighter and more precise sound. Palm-muted parts are often played with heavy distortion. Vocally, thrash metal can employ anything from melodic singing to shouted vocals. Most thrash guitar solos are played at high speed, as they are usually characterized by shredding, and use techniques such as sweep picking, legato phrasing, alternate picking, tremolo picking, string skipping, and two-hand tapping. Thrash lead guitarists are often influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement.
Thrash guitar riffs often use chromatic scales and emphasize the tritone and diminished intervals, instead of using conventional single scale based riffing. For example, the intro riff of Metallica's "Master of Puppets" (the title track of the namesake album) is a chromatic descent, followed by a chromatic ascent based on the tritone.
Speed, pacing and time-changes also define thrash metal. Thrash tends to have an accelerating feel which may be due in large part to its aggressive drumming style. For example, thrash drummers often use two bass drums, or a double-bass pedal, in order to create a relentless, driving beat. Cymbal stops/chokes are often used to transition from one riff to another or to precede an acceleration in tempo.
To keep up with the other instruments, many thrash bassists use a pick. However, some prominent thrash metal bassists have used their fingers, such as Frank Bello, Greg Christian, Steve DiGiorgio, Robert Trujillo and Cliff Burton. Several bassists use a distorted bass tone, an approach popularized by Burton and Motörhead's Lemmy.
Lyrical themes in thrash metal include isolation, alienation, corruption, injustice, addiction, suicide, murder, warfare, and other maladies that afflict the individual and society. In addition, politics, particularly pessimism or dissatisfaction towards politics, is a common theme among thrash metal bands. Humor and irony can occasionally be found (for example in Anthrax), but they are limited, and are the exception rather than the rule.
Among the earliest songs to be labeled as thrash metal are Queen's "Stone Cold Crazy", which was recorded and released in 1974 (described by Q Magazine in 2011 as being "thrash metal before the term had been invented"), and Black Sabbath's "Symptom of the Universe", released in 1975 and eventually covered by thrash metal band Sepultura for Nativity in Black. Symptom of the Universe was also the inspiration for Diamond Head's "Am I Evil?" Since then, NWOBHM bands directly influenced the development of early thrash. The early work of artists such as Diamond Head, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Venom, Motörhead, Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven, and Angel Witch, among others, introduced the fast-paced instrumentation that became essential aspects of thrash.
Void is hailed as one of the earliest examples of hardcore/heavy metal crossover and their chaotic musical approach is often cited as particularly influential. Their 1982 Split LP with fellow D.C. band The Faith showed both bands putting out quick, fiery, high-speed punk. It has been argued that those recordings created 1980s thrash metal, at least in terms of selected tempos.
In Europe, the earliest band of the emerging thrash movement formed in 1979, which was Venom from Newcastle Upon Tyne, Great Britain. Their seminal 1982 album Black Metal has been cited as the major influence on many subsequent genres and bands in the extreme metal world, such as Bathory, Hellhammer, Slayer and Mayhem. The European thrash scene was almost exclusively influenced by the most aggressive music both Germany and England were producing at that time. British bands such as Tank, and Raven, along with German metal exports Accept, motivated musicians from central Europe to start bands of their own, eventually producing German thrash exports such as Sodom, Kreator and Destruction as well as Switzerland's Coroner. The Swedish punk band Warheads have also been mentioned as a proto-thrash band.
In 1981, a Southern California band by the name of Leather Charm wrote a song entitled "Hit the Lights". Leather Charm soon disbanded and the band's primary songwriter, vocalist/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield met drummer Lars Ulrich through a classified ad. Together, James and Lars formed Metallica, the first of the "Big Four" thrash bands, with lead guitarist Dave Mustaine, who would later form Megadeth, another of the "Big Four" originators of thrash, and bassist Ron McGovney. Metallica later relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area. McGovney was replaced with Cliff Burton, and Mustaine was later replaced with Kirk Hammett. The band released "Hit the Lights" on their first studio album, Kill 'Em All, on July 25, 1983.
The term "thrash metal" was first used in the music press by Kerrang! magazine's journalist Malcolm Dome while making a reference to the Anthrax song "Metal Thrashing Mad". Prior to this, Metallica frontman James Hetfield referred to Metallica's sound as speed metal or power metal.
Another "Big Four" thrash band formed in Southern California in 1981, when guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King met while auditioning for the same band and subsequently decided to form a band of their own. Hanneman and King recruited vocalist/bassist Tom Araya, a former respiratory therapist, and drummer Dave Lombardo, a pizza delivery driver, and Slayer was formed. Slayer was discovered by Metal Blade Records executive Brian Slagel while performing Iron Maiden's "Phantom of the Opera" at a show, and were promptly signed to the label. In December 1983, less than six months after the release of Kill 'Em All, Slayer put out their debut album, Show No Mercy.
In Brazil, Stress recorded what is considered to be the first Brazilian heavy metal album in 1982. Roosevelt "Bala" (bass and vocals) once claimed this to be also the first thrash metal album of the world, since it was recorded before Kill 'Em All, by Metallica. Nowadays he only claims that some compositions have elements of thrash, like the speed, fast alternate picking, and aggressive vocals and sound.
The popularity of thrash metal increased in 1984 with the release of Metallica's Ride the Lightning, Anthrax's Fistful of Metal, Overkill's self-titled EP and Slayer's Haunting the Chapel EP. This led to a heavier sounding form of thrash, which was reflected in Exodus' Bonded by Blood and Slayer's Hell Awaits. In 1985, the German band Kreator released their debut album Endless Pain and the Brazilian band Sepultura released their EP Bestial Devastation. Megadeth, which was formed by former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine, released their debut album Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good!, and Anthrax released the critically acclaimed Spreading the Disease in 1985.
A number of high profile thrash albums were released in 1986. Metallica released Master of Puppets. Megadeth released Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?, which proved to be the band's commercial and critical breakthrough and a landmark album that Allmusic cited as "one of the most influential metal albums of its decade, and certainly one of the few truly definitive thrash albums". Slayer, regarded as one of the most sinister thrash metal bands from the early 1980s, released Reign in Blood, an album considered by some to have almost single-handedly inspired the entire death metal genre. Kreator released Pleasure to Kill, which would later be a major influence on the death metal genre.
In 1987, Anthrax released their album Among the Living, which bore similarities to their two previous releases: Fistful of Metal and Spreading the Disease, with fast and heavy guitars and pounding drums. Death Angel took a similar pro-thrash approach with their 1987 debut, The Ultra-Violence.
In 1988, Suicidal Tendencies, who had previously been a straightforward hardcore punk band, released their major label debut How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can't Even Smile Today.
Sepultura's third album, Beneath the Remains (1989) earned them some mainstream appeal as it appeared on Roadrunner Records. Testament continued through the late 1980s with The New Order (1988) and Practice What You Preach (1989), both albums showing the band was continuing to grow musically and almost gaining Testament the same level of popularity as the "Big Four" of thrash: Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer. Vio-lence and Forbidden, two relative latecomers to the Bay Area thrash metal scene, released their debut albums Eternal Nightmare and Forbidden Evil in 1988. Canadian thrashers Annihilator would release their highly technical debut album Alice in Hell (1989) which received much praise due to its fast riffs and extended guitar solos. Sadus was a later thrash band, featuring a sound which was primarily driven by the fretless bass of Steve DiGiorgio. Meanwhile in Germany, Sodom released Agent Orange and Kreator would release Extreme Aggression.
Slayer released South of Heaven in 1988, Megadeth released So Far, So Good... So What!, Anthrax released State Of Euphoria while Metallica's album ...And Justice for All of the same year spawned the band's first video, the World War I-themed song "One".
A great deal of thrash metal groups pay tribute to hardcore punk. Metallica cover Discharge and The Misfits, and Slayer eventually recorded an entire album of hardcore covers. Anthrax covered "Protest and Survive" by Discharge on their album Attack of the Killer B's and "New Noise" by the Swedish hardcore punk band Refused as a hidden track on their latest album Worship Music. In addition, groove metal band Pantera covered Poison Idea.
A number of more typical but technically sophisticated thrash albums were released in the year of 1990, including Megadeth's Rust in Peace, Anthrax's Persistence of Time, Slayer's Seasons in the Abyss, Suicidal Tendencies' Lights...Camera...Revolution!, Testament's Souls of Black, Kreator's Coma of Souls, Destruction's Cracked Brain, Forbidden's Twisted Into Form, Exodus' Impact Is Imminent, and the more groove-oriented Pantera's Cowboys from Hell. All of those albums were commercial high points for the aforementioned artists. Many of these bands embarked on a group tour called the "Clash of the Titans" the same year. The latest albums with this stylistic fashion were released in the year of 1991, including Overkill's Horrorscope and Coroner's Mental Vortex.
The same year Metallica released Metallica, also called "The Black Album." The album marked a change in the band sound less harsh than the thrash metal style of its four previous albums, and it became the spearhead of the change that the thrash metal bands would take in the coming years. Metallica is Metallica's best selling album.
1991 saw the release of Dark Angel's Time Does Not Heal, whose ferocity and technicality reflected the emergence of more extreme variants on metal such as death metal and black metal. It represents arguably the technical peak of the original wave of thrash metal, and is likely the last recognized classic of the original wave of thrash. April 1991 also saw the release of Heathen's Victims of Deception, regarded as a cult classic.
After these commercial and artistic climax for the genre, the energy of the thrash metal was exhausted and it was overtaken by the rising grunge movement. In the 1990s many veteran thrash metal bands began changing to more accessible, radio-friendly styles. Metallica was a notable example of this shift, particularly with their mid to late 1990s albums Load (1996), and ReLoad (1997), which both displayed minor blues and southern rock influences, and were seen as a major departure from the band's earlier sound. Megadeth took a more accessible heavy metal route starting with their 1992 album Countdown to Extinction, and Testament released the melodic The Ritual in 1992.
As further extreme metal genres came to prominence in the 1990s (industrial metal, death metal, and black metal each finding their own fanbase), the heavy metal "family tree" soon found itself blending aesthetics and styles. For example, bands with all the musical traits of thrash metal began using "death growls", a vocal style borrowed from death metal, while black metal bands often utilized the airy feel of synthesizers, popularized in industrial metal. Today the placing of bands within distinct subgenres remains a source of contention for heavy metal fans, however, little debate resides over the fact that thrash metal is the sole proprietor of its respective spinoffs (see below).
Many notable 1980s-era thrash bands which split up or otherwise became inactive during the 1990s, such as Dark Angel, Death Angel, Nuclear Assault, and Forbidden, reunited in the 2000s. Many more notable thrash bands have continued to put out material in recent years such as Metallica's Death Magnetic (2008), Megadeth's Endgame (2009), Slayer's World Painted Blood (2009), Exodus' Exhibit B: The Human Condition (2010), Anthrax's Worship Music (2011), Overkill's The Electric Age (2012), Testament's Dark Roots of Earth (2012), Flotsam and Jetsam's Ugly Noise (2012), and Suicidal Tendencies' 13 (2013).
Thrash metal is directly responsible for the offshoot of popular underground metal genres, such as death metal and black metal. In addition to this, metalcore and deathcore employ thrash-like riffs in their composition, the former with more focus on melody rather than chromaticism however. The blending of punk ethos and metal’s brutal nature led to even more extreme, underground styles after thrash metal began gaining mild commercial success in the late 1980s. With gorier subject matter, heavier downtuning of guitars, the more persistent use of blast beats, and darker, atonal death growls, death metal was established in the mid-1980s.
Black metal, also considered the offspring of thrash metal, may have risen even sooner, with many black metal bands taking influence from thrash metal bands such as Venom. Black metal continued with such deviations from thrash metal, often providing more orchestral overtones and pagan or occult-based aesthetics to distinguish itself from thrash metal.
Thrash metal with stronger punk elements than traditional thrash metal is called crossover thrash. Its overall sound is more punk-influenced than traditional thrash metal, while more metal sounding than traditional hardcore punk and thrashcore.
"Big Four" Tour
In September 2009, it was reported that Metallica's Lars Ulrich was attempting to assemble a tour with thrash metal's "Big Four" — Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax — together on one bill. The "Big Four" took the stage together for seven shows in the Sonisphere Festival concert series. The first show together took place in Warsaw, Poland on June 16, 2010 and the last took place in Istanbul, Turkey on June 27. On May 5, 2010 Metallica announced that the live show in Sofia, Bulgaria on June 22, 2010 would be transmitted via satellite to over 450 movie theaters in the U.S. and over 350 theaters across Europe, Canada, and Latin America. The show also provided the historic moment of all current members of the Big Four (with the exception of Tom Araya, Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman) sharing the stage to perform the song "Am I Evil?" by Diamond Head.
Thrash metal emerged predominantly from a handful of regional scenes, each of which was generally distinguished by the unique characteristics of its bands.
- Bay Area thrash metal — In addition to being the most commercially successful, Bay Area thrash tended to be the most progressive and technical of the major regional thrash scenes, being strongly NWOBHM influenced. Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, Slayer, Exodus, Vio-Lence, Death Angel, Heathen, Possessed and Forbidden are prominent examples of bands to emerge from this region.
- East Coast thrash metal — Centered in New York, the East Coast thrash metal tended to display a sound which incorporated a strong hardcore punk influence. An emphasis was placed on aggression and speed rather than technicality. Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, Overkill, Toxik, and Whiplash exemplified the style to emerge from the East Coast thrash scene.
- British thrash metal — The British bands leaned towards a more traditional heavy metal approach, often heavier and less aggressive than its American counterparts. The most notable bands from this scene are Xentrix, Onslaught, and Sabbat.
- Brazilian thrash metal — Though not as prominent as its American counterparts, the Brazilian thrash scene is notable for producing a handful of bands which would become principal parts of thrash metal's prevalence in the early 1990s. The most famous bands are Sepultura, Executer, MX, Violator, Korzus and Sarcófago.
- Teutonic thrash metal — spawned dozens of bands since the mid-eighties in Germany and Switzerland, and managed to develop its own style. The most prominent bands from this scene are Kreator, Destruction, Sodom, Tankard, Coroner, Holy Moses and Exumer.
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