Over the past couple of weeks, “Into the Pit: A Metal Blog” has covered the earliest subgenres of heavy metal music. These subgenres were the early beginnings of this heavier style of rock music, and they helped lay the foundation for what was to come in the 1980s.
During the 1980s, heavy metal music started to get faster and more aggressive than ever. New metal bands of the time were all trying to be more vicious than the next. That resulted in the rise of speed metal and thrash metal.
We have already briefly mentioned speed metal in the past few weeks when discussing bands such as Motörhead, Accept and Venom. Speed metal was developed during the 1970s, and it eventually evolved into thrash metal music.
There is some debate amongst heavy metal listeners as to whether speed metal is a legitimate subgenre. The people who argue that it is tend to say that speed metal is generally cleaner and more intricate than thrash metal music, which relies more heavily on long, wrenching rhythmic breaks. Personally, I do consider speed metal to be a legitimate subgenre of heavy metal music, though I believe it soon became indistinguishable from thrash.
Thrash metal is generally characterized by its fast tempos, double bass drumming, low-register vocals, intricate guitar riffs, and high register guitar solos. Thrash metal also usually consists of melodic singing or shouting vocals. The genre is heavily influenced by the NWOBHM and speed metal bands of the 1970s.
There were many “proto-thrash” songs of the 1970s, such as Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?,” Judas Priest’s “Rapid Fire,” and even Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy,” but the first real thrash metal bands were formed in the early 1980s. The most notable thrash metal bands in the US were known as “The Big Four” bands of thrash metal, and they consisted of Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax. These bands were the initial pioneers of thrash, and they are four of the most popular and prominent metal bands of all time.
Metallica was the first of the four bands to be formed, and are without a doubt the most popular metal band in the world today. Their first album, Kill ‘Em All, was released in 1983 and was one of the first real thrash metal albums.
One of Metallica’s most legendary albums was its third release, Master of Puppets, which has been hailed by some critics as the best metal album of all time.
The band really became a worldwide phenomenon, though, when they released their fifth album, titled The Black Album (also known as their self-titled release). It has been certified 15 times platinum in the US and is one of the most successful rock albums of all time. Since the album’s release, Metallica’s popularity has just kept growing, and today they are considered to be the most commercially successful metal band of all time.
It’s easy to spend three blog posts just talking about the significance of Metallica, but there are many other important thrash metal bands that deserve to be addressed here.
Megadeth, the second out of the “Big Four,” was formed by ex-Metallica guitarist, Dave Mustaine. Megadeth is the second most successful band of "The Big Four,” releasing landmark metal albums such as Peace Sells…But Who's Buying?, Rust in Peace, and Countdown to Extinction.
The last two bands of “The Big Four” are Slayer and Anthrax.
Slayer is the most inaccessible out of the four bands because of their controversial lyrical topics, intense speed and their vocalist’s harsh shouting vocals. Slayer has strongly influenced the development of death metal, and other underground metal subgenres. The band is most well known for their highly successful album, Reign in Blood; however, they have several other very highly acclaimed albums, such as Hell Awaits, South of Heaven, and Seasons in the Abyss.
Anthrax is the least successful of “The Big Four” but they still have a solid and devoted fanbase. They are the most musically consistent out of the four bands, and are known for their more melodic vocals. Anthrax’s most famous albums are Spreading the Disease, Among the Living and Sound of White Noise.
In the US during the 1980s, the San Francisco Bay Area was a very popular region for up and coming thrash metal bands. Several very popular thrash metal bands from this area include Testament, Exodus, Vio-lence, Forbidden and Death Angel. This blog is actually named after Testament’s song “Into the Pit.” Similarly, on the east coast there was also a strong thrash metal scene that led to the formation of Overkill, Whiplash, and Storm Troopers of Death.
Thrash metal also became popular worldwide. Germany was notable for their Teutonic thrash metal scene that sprouted many very popular thrash metal bands. The “three kings” of Teutonic thrash metal are Kreator, Sodom, and Destruction, as they were the most well known bands to come out of this scene. These bands heavily influenced the pioneering of death metal that was to come later in the decade.
One final thrash metal band that is extremely necessary to mention is Sepultura, who is from the Brazilian thrash metal scene. Led by the Cavalera brothers, Sepultura became one of the most popular thrash metal bands around the world for their albums, Beneath the Remains, Arise, Chaos A.D. and Roots.
Similarly to Slayer and the “three kings” of Teutonic thrash, Sepultura heavily influenced the development of death metal. The Cavalera brothers eventually left Sepultura during the 1990s, and now the band is led by long time guitarist Andreas Kisser, and longtime bassist Paolo Jr.
In the mid-1990s, grunge started to take over, and thrash metal became an exhausted genre of music. Many famous thrash metal bands changed their sound or experienced radical line-up changes. In particular, Metallica has been accused of having sold out around this time, as their style transformed into commercial hard rock.
Since then, thrash metal has seen a slight resurgence in popularity, which was fueled by newly-created thrash metal acts such as Municipal Waste, Warbringer, Lazarus A.D, Evile, and Skeletonwitch. Many famous thrash metal bands have also seen line-up reunions, and have reverted to their old musical habits of the 1980s. Recently, “The Big Four” played together for the first time ever, and have since done several subsequent shows together.
Thrash metal has been revived for now, and will hopefully stay popular during times to come.