Thrash metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that is characterized by its fast tempo and aggression. Thrash metal songs typically use fast, percussive and low-register guitar riffs, overlaid with shredding-style lead work. Thrash metal lyrics often deal with social issues or major conflicts like warfare using more direct and denunciatory language than heavy metal or speed metal. The "Big Four" bands of thrash metal are Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, and Slayer, who simultaneously created and popularized the genre in the early 1980s.
The origins of thrash metal are generally traced to the late 1970s and early 1980s, when a number of bands began incorporating the sound of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, creating a new genre and developing into a separate movement from punk rock and hardcore. This genre is more aggressive compared to its relative, speed metal, and can be seen in part to be a reaction to the lighter, more widely acceptable sounds and themes of glam metal. Glam Metal bands were also known as "hair bands" because they wore their hair particularly big.
Thrash metal generally features fast tempos, low-register, complex guitar riffs, high-register guitar solos and double bass drumming. Vocally, thrash metal can employ 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, but they are limited, and are the exception rather than the rule.
Venom's early work is considered a major influence on thrash metal. 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 as being "thrash metal before the term had been invented"), and Black Sabbath's "Symptom of the Universe", released in 1975 which was eventually covered by thrash metal band Sepultura for Nativity in Black. It was also the starting point 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. Featured on Judas Priest's British Steel, "Rapid Fire" have been noted as a "proto-thrash" song.
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. 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, in July 25, 1983.
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.
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's 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.
|"Damage Inc." (1986)An example of a thrash metal song from Metallica's Master of Puppets.----|
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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 punk band, released their major label debut How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can't Even Smile Today. Slayer, shown here in 2007, are one of the "Big Four" thrash bands.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, a relative latecomer to the Bay Area thrash metal scene, released their debut album Eternal Nightmare 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 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, and Kreator's Coma of Souls. 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.
After this 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 hard rock 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).
Recent popularity (2000s)
Thrash metal has recently seen a certain degree of resurgence of popularity. Bands such as Municipal Waste and SSS have been cited as key in the "resurgence" of thrash metal. The genre's sense of recklessness and energy has been cited as a potential reason for its resurgence.
Also many bands that ended around the 1990s gathered again around 2000s, bands like: Dark Angel, Death Angel, Nuclear Assault, Defiance, Whiplash, Hirax, Forbidden and Possessed. Older thrash bands have continued to put out material such as Testament's The Formation of Damnation (2008), Metallica's Death Magnetic (2008), Metal Church's This Present Wasteland (2008), Slayer's World Painted Blood (2009), Exodus' Exhibit B: The Human Condition (2010), Sodom's In War and Pieces (2010), Destruction's Day of Reckoning (2011), Anthrax's Worship Music (2011), Megadeth's Thirteen (2011), Overkill's The Electric Age (2012) and Kreator's Phantom Antichrist (2012).