Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Beyond the Big Four: Thrash, Past and Present

Joel Grind of contemporary thrash icons Toxic Holocaust

As Maxwell Smart, the comedic detective on the 70’s TV show “Get Smart” used to famously say, “Missed it by THAT much.”  That is how I often feel about the punk revolution that unfolded in my lifetime and about 20 miles down the road from me in Los Angeles.  But when punk hit big in ’77-’79, I was 10-12 years old, living the suburban lifestyle of my parents, and hardly in a position to experience punk first-hand.  I am jealous now of kids like Steve McDonald of Redd Kross or Harley Flanagan of the Cro-Mags who started going to punk shows when they were like ten years old and who literally grew up in the punk scene.  The reality was, there was no way my mom was going to let me go out to dive-y punk clubs and seedy bars and listen to a lot of loud angry, anti-establishment music.  The punk movement might have been taking place on another planet, or in another geological epoch as far as my personal experience was concerned.

But even that is kind of a cop-out.  After all, while Long Beach, California was (and still is) kind of a cultural backwater, more repressive Orange County than cosmopolitan Los Angeles County, Long Beach did have some punk connections.  Cal State University at Long Beach was right up the road from my various houses for my entire childhood, and Cal State would occasionally host punk and new wave shows.  Sometime in ’81 or ’82, X played some sort of all-day festival on Cal State’s campus; my best friend then and now, John, wandered over with his father and younger brother, mostly to make fun of the weird punkers and their freaky outfits.  Why I didn’t join them I have no idea, and I could kick myself now given how much I have loved X for most of the time since then.  Black Flag also played at the Cal State on-campus tavern at least once; I actually was going to drive down from UCLA and see Flag in ’86 there but the gig was canceled. 

The other great Long Beach punk institution was of course Fenders Ballroom. Fenders opened in 1984, after the first wave of punk, but still at a time when there was many great first-wave and second-wave bands playing around.  Fenders was admittedly across town from my parents’ house, on the fringes of downtown, which then as now wasn’t the greatest area to be lurking around at night.  But my parents used to let me take the bus after school to downtown to buy comic books from the used book stores there, so its not like I wasn’t EVER allowed to go downtown.  And besides, by 1984 my friends all had cars and we could have driven down there.  And yet we never went and saw a show at Fenders, not once.  Similarly, we never attended shows at Huntington Beach’s punk club, the Golden Bear, either.  Yeah, I know, lame.

But in my defense, punk wasn’t exactly the most welcoming of sub-cultures, especially to the obviously uninitiated like me and my friends.  Around ’81 I can remember there was much discussion about who was a “poseur” or not when it came to punk.  I can still recall the time when these two punkettes who went to our junior high, Joanna and Letha, who sat by my friend John and I in 8th grade science, actually called us both “poseurs”, and I have to say, she was right!  It wasn’t until ’83 or ’84 that I really got serious about punk, collecting cassettes and going to shows, so at that time I very much was a poseur.  And its one thing to be called a “poseur” by a girl in your science class; its another to get your ass kicked and your money stolen by a bunch of violent punk goons because you brought your obviously suburban ass to a punk show, which is what I was convinced would happen if we actually DID attend a show in those days.

So when it comes to punk, I missed the boat by a few years.  I was, however more or less at ground zero for the next “revolution”, although this one wasn’t so much an innovative new breakthrough so much as a melding of two previously antithetical sub-cultures.  I’m talk of course about the merging of hardcore punk and heavy metal to form its offspring, thrash.  While I wasn’t front row center when Metallica first took the stage or anything like that (which again happened not 20 miles from my residence), I do feel like I got to see that movement grow from fairly early on. 

For me, 1985-1986 was the watershed year for this movement.  This was also perhaps not coincidentally a watershed year for me and my freedom, as it was in fall of ’85 that I moved up to Los Angeles to attend college.  Not only did I have more freedom, I was also closer to the action, literally and figuratively.    I was exposed to, and able to seek out, more and different music then than I had been in high school.

To this day I am amazed that punk and metal managed to not only co-exist but to meld into a new and better force, because in junior high and high school punk and metal were anathema to one another.  By ’80 or so, most of the popular, college-bound kids were into new wave and to a lesser extent punk; the patron saint institution of our junior high was the radio station KROQ, which would play only “new” music, mostly new wave with a smattering of the more melodic punk then available.  The only kids still into things like classic rock or heavy metal were the stoners and loadies taking metals shop for the third straight time.  In addition, classic rock and metal were much bigger farther away from the beach communities, and back then being an inlander was also considered taboo.  We referred to all heavy metalers as “hessians”, after the hairy, bearded German mercenaries the British used against America during the Revolutionary War; ignorant people misunderstood this term and instead thought we were calling them “heshers”, which I never understood—what the fuck is a “hesher”?  Someone who heshes?  What is heshing then?  But anyway to profess ANY sort of liking for ANY heavy metal was to “out” yourself as a hessian inlander, the absolute nadir of cool at that time.

Metal fans hated punk just as passionately.  To them, we were a bunch of faggy, artsy trend followers, falling all over ourselves to like any band with a British accent and a funny band name and haircuts.  And to some extent, they were right.  Things really DID get kind of cheesy back then, with so many legions of one-hit new wave wonders clogging up the airwaves.

The fact that this divide was socioeconomic as well as cultural didn’t help either; as mentioned, most of the kids into “alternative” music were from the wealthier beach communities, college-bound kids from suburban upper middle class homes, while most of the metalers were bused to our schools from inland, more blue-collar communities.  These kids for the most part were NOT taking AP American History but instead were shuttled into the trades—wood shop, home ec, ROTC, etc. 

On occasion this cultural warfare exploded into open warfare.  On a couple of occasions my friends and I got into scuffles with hessians hanging out smoking in front of the school.  I’m not much of a fighter so I wasn’t directly involved in any fisticuffs (you can tell, because anyone who uses the term “fisticuffs” is definitely NOT a fighter) but would mostly hang with my friends out of solidarity. 

So for kids of my age, metal was verboten.  You would NEVER admit to liking ANY metal song EVER if you wanted to remain part of the “cool” crowd.  And anyway the kids into metal came from other communities both economically and geographically distant from mine. 

But something funny happened around ’85-’86 at my former high school:  heavy metal, formerly the last thing any sosh kid would admit to liking, suddenly became the dominant paradigm.  I have no idea how or why this happened; I suspect some super-popular alpha-male kid or clique decided to like it just for a new thrill and everyone else followed his/their lead.  But the difference was startling, and VERY generational.  On the one hand,  kids a few years older than me were so stuck in the punk/new wave era that they still couldn’t evolve past their ingrained hatred of heavy metal.   Kids like my friend John’s brother Tom, who was 2-3 years younger than us, basically spent their main formative years liking the music we found totally antithetical to our own chosen culture. 

My “generation” of course fell in the middle.  I grew up with an ingrained hatred and contempt for heavy metal based not just on the sociocultural/popularity divide it crossed but also because I found it to be very simplistic, meat-headed music.  Most heavy metal lyrics centered on one of two topics:  (1) fantasy themes associated with sorcery and swordplay; (2) partying and sex.  In short, it was musical escapism, which for a variety of reasons has never appealed to me.  Quite the converse, in fact:  one of the things that eventually appealed to me about punk was the way it confronted the hypocrisy and horrors of contemporary society head-on.  This was not ham-fisted escapism, it was a bold and confrontational look at reality. 

But by 1985-1986, change was in the air, and both punk and metal were evolving along similar lines.  Cutsey new wave novelty songs were rapidly diminishing in their ability to entertain; we’d been there, done that, for far more haircut bands with a synthesizer than we could count.  1985 was the year I really started moving away from melodic, slickly produced music and started appreciating the rougher edges of punk.  I moved from being a disciple of new wave bands like Depeche Mode, the Smiths, and the Cure into first discovering the early punk classics by the Ramones, the Pistols, and Generation X and eventually migrating into the harder, rawer sounds of bands like T.S.O.L., the Germs, Fear, and, my personal favorite, Black Flag.  Flag themselves had evolved through the early/mid 80’s from a brutal hardcore outfit to one as influenced by the sludgy, slow noodling of Black Sabbath as they were by the punk fury of the Pistols.  During that seminal year, I found myself attracted more and more to the harder end of the spectrum. 

And this was a time when both punk and metal were evolving too.  Punks who started bands barely knowing how to plug in their guitars had evolved first into competence and thence into mastery of their instruments.  As they got better at playing, they started wanting to play songs that were longer and/or more complex than the short fast bursts made famous by the Ramones.  If there’s one place that heavy metal outstripped punk rock music it was in musicality and musicianship—metal artists were into studio polish and technical mastery and filled their songs with gaudy drum solos and blistering, multi-note guitar solos and fluid bass lines.  It is probably an over-simplification to imply that all punk musicians became metal aficionados when they finally learned to play their instruments, but it had to have been a big influence on many punk musicians.  Punk in its original Ramones-derived formulation was too simplistic and short to challenge many truly gifted musicians for very long.

On the metal side of things, in the 80’s there were many metal fans and musicians who were simply not satisfied with pure musical escapism.  The lyrical emphasis on dungeons and dragons themes on the one hand and on booze and poontang on the other was getting trite and overused.  Where else can you take it that Zep or Van Halen hasn’t already taken it?  So some metal bands started writing songs that explored grittier aspects of reality, including the horrors of war, the anxiety of nuclear brinksmanship, as well as the stifling, conformist attitudes of modern American culture.  These themes were much closer to the concepts that punks were writing about than traditional metal artists were writing about.

Another thing that metal absorbed from punk was the whole DIY mindset of putting together your own gigs and tours, fliers and advertising, and recording your own record.   The first wave of punk from New York and England hewed to the then-monolithic major record label corporate culture—the Ramones, Pistols, Clash, Television, etc., were all signed by major record companies and recorded their albums (though admittedly in shorter time and at lower costs) at the same studios that the rock dinosaurs they were seeking to supplant used.  But in the wake of the explosion of punk, which really preached an “anyone can do it” ethos, a wealth of smaller fanzines, record labels and recording studios cropped up to fill the demand for the lower tiers of rock.  By the 80’s metal musicians and fans started co-opting some of that do it yourself mindset to put on small metal shows and crank out limited pressings of metal records.    Often these underground metal gigs and records were recorded inexpensively and retained a more raw, punkish sound to them.  Iron Maiden in England was one of the first big names in heavy metal to release albums that retained a rough, streetwise edge to them that belied the usual studio polish and slick veneer of most heavy metal.

In a variety of locations throughout the world, punkers were becoming more amenable to metal, and metalers were becoming less hostile to punk.  The cultural differences were eventually outweighed by a recognition of some of the things punk and metal shared in common:  both are well defined anti-establishment subcultures, both have a distinct mode of dress emphasizing leather and denim and distinctive hairstyles, both emphasize music that is loud and fast and wild and young. 

In Southern California the first I saw of this merging of the musical minds was the proliferation of patches, stickers, and painted band logos on denim and leather jackets.  Whereas before people would have the Pistols or the Clash painted on their leather jacket, starting around ’85 or so I started seeing more bands from that punk metal fringe, bands like English Dogs, Discharge, Corrosion of Conformity, and Charged G.B.H.  These bands, while recognized as very punk, also seemed to be moving toward are more metal sound as well.

On the metal side I of course was entirely ignorant of the revolution going on, at least at first.  But starting in ’85 I started hearing about this new thing called “speed metal”, although I didn’t yet know much about what it was (I could deduce from the name that it was metal played really fast but didn’t know much beyond that).  But in 1986 I remember reading more and more about this young, brash band that was kicking asses and taking names.  They had opened for Ozzy Osbourne (and supposedly blew him off the stage), and their fans had torn the seats from some arena in Texas to make room to slam dance.  Slam dancing . . . to metal???  This was certainly a new development.  In ’86 I can remember reading an article in BAM (Bay Area Magazine) about them and about how they were supposedly influenced by a number of traditional punk bands like the Misfits (whom I had recently gotten in to; I bought Legacy of Brutality when it first came out after reading about it in Spin magazine), the Exploited (I had bought their best of album in ’86), and G.B.H., whom I had also recently gotten into (Midnight Madness and Beyond was my first G.B.H. album, and one I still love).   A metal band that counts hardcore punk bands as an inspiration?  This I had to check out.

The band of course was Metallica and needless to say they went on to bigger things.  They had just released what arguably was the best album of their career, Master of Puppets, but that was not the first album of theirs I bought.  In my perversely twisted reasoning at the time, I felt I shouldn’t buy their most recent album because maybe it was too polished and metal-y, and maybe I shouldn’t buy their first album because it would be too raw, so I figured their second album might be the perfect combination of punk and metal.  So I ended up buying Ride the Lightning.  I must confess that at first I could not hear the “punk” in it—it just sounded like squirrelly, fast metal, which I still couldn’t stand.  So it took me a few months to get past its very metal veneer and see the punk at its core.  Now I listen to this album and I’m struck with how UN-metal it is—there’s no songs about booze or dragons or sorcery.  Most of the songs deal with real-world things like nuclear war, death in battle, and capital punishment.  And the chugging, violent riffs are so raw and harsh, they owe far more to Black Flag than they do to Deep Purple. 

I often wonder what I would have made of Kill ‘Em All, which I didn’t buy until two years later, when it was reissued by Electra in the wake of Metallica’s success.  Now this is one of my favorite albums of theirs and it definitely is rawer and punkier than Lightning. But would I have been able to get past the metal flourishes that characterize it any more than I could on Ride the Lightning?  I doubt it.  At the time I was just still too fixed in the world of punk rock to appreciate anything with even a whiff of metal to it.

Over the next few years, this new punk-metal hybrid, known as thrash, exploded in popularity.  In the 1986-1987 school year I became a DJ at UCLA’s radio station, KLA, and was exposed to even more of this burgeoning scene.  I can still recall playing songs by punk crossover thrash artists like D.R.I., Crumbsuckers, Ludichrist, and Carnivore.  Eventually my hardline anti-metal stance softened and I started getting into metal predecessors like Zeppelin and AC/DC.  By 1988 I had also bought Slayer’s Reign in Blood and South of Heaven, along with Metallica’s first album and their Garage Days Re-Revisited EP of cover songs. 

Until very recently, however, I hadn’t ventured much beyond the “Big Two” of thrash.  In the Napster era I had downloaded “Peace Sells But Who’s Buying” by Megadeth, a song I still consider to be one of the angriest, most punk songs of all time.  Back in the 80’s I had goofed along with everyone else to Anthrax’s rap-metal crossovers—I would play “I’m the Man” on my radio show at KLA because I loved the goofiness of it.  But I never got into them like I did the west coast thrash bands.  However, recently I downloaded a number of songs from two of their early albums, 1985’s Spreading the Disease and 1987’s Among the Living.    I especially like the frantic chugging metal mania of “Madhouse” and “A.I.R.” off Spreading the Disease”.  “Madhouse” owes a huge debt to the classic metal of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, especially in lead singe Joey Belladonna’s high-pitched cock rock vocals, but has the chugging and stop-and-start rhythmic complexity of thrash and the shout-along choruses of NYHC.  “A.I.R.” has passages of blistering speed that match the best of Metallica or Slayer.  Probably my favorite Anthrax song is “I Am the Law” off Among the Living; the big build-up and tribal drums create an atmosphere of anticipation that is more than met by the wonderful main part of the song.  I also like the title track and “Caught in a Mosh”, which may be the first time that “mosh” was mentioned on a recording.

At the same time they were recording Spreading the Disease in 1985, guitarist Scott Ian and drummer Charlie Benante whomped together a recording with former Anthrax bassist Dan Lilker and hardcore punk vocalist Billy Milano.  They called themselves Stormtroopers of Death and their album, Speak English or Die, has subsequently been recognized as a thrash classic.  Many of the songs feature lyrics that are politically correct at best or offensive at the worst, such as the title track.  The members uniformly insist that the whole project was tongue-in-cheek and never intended to be taken seriously.  But songs like “March of the S.O.D.”, “Sargent D and the S.O.D”, “Kill Yourself”, and “United Forces” are even more raw and punk influenced (particularly Milano’s harsh, shouted hardcore-style vocals).  They rarely last more than a minute or two but contain a mighty wallop of fury and energy.  Right now this is one of my favorite albums and bands. 

Outside of the “Big Four” of thrash—Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax—a huge number of bands surged in their wake, and several of these achieved some recognition.  One was Dan Lilker’s post-Anthrax and S.O.D. band, Nuclear Assault.  Their 1986 album Game Over is widely hailed now as a pioneering thrash classic.  Their sound was chunkier and had more bass in it than most other thrash bands, and a rumbling sound that evoked Motorhead, especially on songs like the speeding “Live, Suffer, Die”. “After the Holocaust” has a more melodic intro but eventually settles into a brutal double-kick onslaught.  “Rise from the Ashes” from 1988’s Survive had more polish but retained much of the angry force of their debut; this is very much one of the best songs of their extensive catalog.  On “Brainwashed”, lead singer John Connelly actually sounds like a pissed-off Sam Kinison.  Nuclear Assault released two more albums in the early 90’s before folding up shop but then reformed in the early 2000s and recorded Third World Genocide. The title track is a particular standout, slower and more ominous than most of their earlier work but retaining a taut emotional power.

Moving west from the eastern seaboard, two bands were making waves in the thrash world in Arizona.  One was Sacred Reich.   Formed in 1985, their first release was 1987’s Ignorance, which regrettably is not available on iTunes or any other commercial site but is uploaded to YouTube.  The first song, “Death Squad” is a slow, ominous chugger that eventually of course rips into a lightning fast assault; the vocals are not falsetto metal yowlings but are harsh punk shouting, which I like a lot.   The title track starts with some major guitar melodies and noodling followed by some blistering riffs.    My favorite song off this album is “Violent Solutions”, a brutal assault that reminds me a lot of Discharge or Billy Bones’ post-Discharge band, Broken Bones.  

Sacred Reich’s songwriting continued to evolve in this highly sociopolitical way, and by 1990’s American Way had achieved a pinnacle.  “Crimes Against Humanity” has a peppery, chattering drum/rhythm and a sing-song vocal as lead singer Phil Rind outlines horrific war crimes in his lyrics.    “State of Emergency” has a repetitive riff and a slow grind, but the title track really is the standout cut here, chugging along like “Master of Puppets”; Rind’s singing here contains occasionally falsetto elements but still hews more to a hardcore shouting type of vocal that keeps this from being just another metal retread.  By 1996’s Heal, Reich had lost some of their early fury, and this outing has a bit too much polish and more groove metal influence for me to truly appreciate.

The other band that emerged from the Phoenix thrash scene was Flotsam and Jetsam, who became famous when the lost bassist Jason Newsted to Metallica after the death of Cliff Burton in 1986.  I’ve only just begun to explore the prolific output of this band, but so far I like the Judas Priest speed-pummeling of “Desecrator” from their 1986 debut Doomsday for the Deceiver, and the blistering but funky “Dig Me Up To Bury Me” off 2001’s My God, and the odd, eerie piano (!) driven title track from 2012’s Ugly Noise.  F&J suffered even more than most thrash bands from having a bewildering amount of member turnover, and this has made their output highly uneven.  I am still trying to negotiate this bumpy territory and find the nuggets.

Another thrash metal hot spot was obviously the Bay Area.  In addition to pioneers like Exodus, Metallica (who moved there from southern California when Cliff Burton replaced Ron McGovney on bass), and Megadeth (formed when Dave Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica and replaced by Kirk Hammett of Exodus), a couple of other bands achieved significant recognition during their careers.  Testament is arguably grouped with Nuclear Assault in being in the “second Big Four” of thrash, along with Sacred Reich and Kreator.  1987’s The Legacy features their blitzkrieg assault, especially on songs like album opener “Over the wall” and “Curse of the Legions of Death”, which is reminiscent of “Whiplash” by Metallica or “Angel of Death” by Slayer, two of the hardest fastest songs in the thrash canon, and shows the power of this band.  “The First Strike is Deadly” is another song from this album that contains a blistering sonic assault that harkens back to Ride the Lightning-era classics like “Creeping Death” or “Trapped Under Ice”. 

The song titles and lyrics on 1988’s follow-up, The New Order, hue more to the fantastical/dark metal, unlike the heavily realistic topics of The Legacy, but the playing is crisper, the songs longer and more complex.  The song I like the most here is the title track, which sounds to me like a lost cut from Master of Puppets.  1989’s Practice What You Preach moved a little back toward more socially conscious lyrics, on songs like “Perilous Nation”, “Greenhouse Effect”, and the title track, on which lead singer Chuck Billy’s vocals really evoke those of James Hetfield of Metallica.

As the 90’s unfolded, Testament continued to make excellent, uncompromising thrash albums.  Even as Metallica themselves moved in more accessible pop directions, Testament remained faithful to the original sound and structure of thrash while adding some elements of the emerging nu metal scene.  Billy’s vocals, especially on songs like “Face in the Sky” off 1990’s Souls of Black and “Let Go of My World” and “Agony” off 1992’s The Ritual, really bring to mind Hetfield’s angry growl, though probably the best song in this regard is the title track off 1994’s Low; the jackhammer riff here reminds me of Metallica’s cover of “Free Speech for the Dumb” by Discharge.  On this latter album, however, Billy’s vocals are starting to evolve into a throaty, rattling growl more similar to that of most nu metal or death metal bands; by 1997’s Demonic, this new death metal style vocal  had become dominant, on songs like “Demonic Refusal” and “The Burning Times”.   

Testament took a hiatus from 1999 to 2008, when they released The Formation of Damnation.  Billy had moved back a little from the growled vocal style, and songs like “Henchmen Ride” recaptured some of Testament’s early energy.  On 2012’s Dark Roots of Earth has several songs that really move, including “Rise Up”, “Native Blood”, “True American Hate”, and “Man Kills Mankind”; I like the first and last of these the best. 

Another Bay Area band that achieved some minor recognition back it the day was Death Angel, which was formed by a group of Filipino cousins in 1982.  They members were renowned for their youth—they were all under 20 when they released their first album in 1987, The Ultra-Violence.  I bought their second album, Frolic Through the Park, when it came out in 1988, mostly because I’d heard, and loved, their song “Bored”.  I’m not a fan of the vocals, which are wimpy and pouty and metal-y, but the guitar playing (especially the crunchy lead riff, which builds to a bludgeoning crescendo as the song progresses), and the lyrics, are top notch.  This song is a worthy successor to punk concepts of boredom, such as “No Fun” by the Stooges and the politics of boredom espoused by the Sex Pistols.

Kreator are, along with Nuclear Assault, Sacred Reich, and Testament, in the second tier of thrash bands.  Originally from Essen, Germany, Kreator, like many bands in general and thrash bands in particular, have over the years had a revolving door of musicians, in this case the only constant being vocalist/guitarist Miland Petrozza (drummer Jurgen Reil has also been a near-constant, leaving the band only for two years in the mid 90’s).  Right now Kreator is probably my favorite thrash band, for two reasons.  First, I have always liked Petrozza’s unique vocals, which split the difference between metal shrieks and punkish howls.  He sounds ANGRY, and I really feel this fits well with their whole image and outlook.  Second, perhaps because of their European background, Kreator has some of the most politically radical lyrics and song titles—“Violent Revolution”, “Ghetto War”, “Progressive Proletarians”, “Radical Resistance, “Hordes of Chaos, “Extreme Aggression”, “Riot of Violence”, “Pandemonium”, “World Anarchy”—all espouse a worldview characterized by anarchy and violent revolutionary struggle that greatly appeals to my highly radical political views.    Kreator appears to have taken the leftist politics of much punk music to an even more radical extreme, and their espousal of anarchy, chaos, and violence in particular really evoke the spirit of first-wave punks like the Clash as well as their even more radical followers in crust punk such as Crass. 

Like many thrash bands, Kreator exploded on the scene in the mid 80’s with their albums Endless Pain (1985), Pleasure to Kill (1986), Terrible Certainty (1987) and Extreme Aggression (1989).    Their earliest material off Endless Pain, often evokes the primitivist metal of black metal precursors Venom, especially on songs like “Flag of Hate”, and the Judas Priest-infuenced “Tormentor”, and on the title track, on which the vocals sound really Teutonic.  I also like the angry energy of “Riot of Violence” off Pleasure To Kill, even though its lyrics seem pretty crude and simplistic and the vocals/lyrics sound very foreign.   “As the World Burns” off Terrible Certainty and “Betrayer” and the title track of 1989’s Extreme Aggression are also standout tracks.  One of my favorite tracks from Kreator’s early phase is “People of the Lie” off 1990’s Coma of Souls.  This song has a fantastic surging rhythm similar to “Ride the Lightning” by Metallica.  “Terror Zone” off this same album has a compelling, syncopated rhythm from drummer Reil, and “Agents of Brutality” slowly builds to a frantic speed metal attack. 

Kreator’s four 90’s albums, 1992’s Renewal, 1995’s Cause for Conflict, 1997’s Outcast, and 1999’s Endorama, found the band experiencing heavy member turnover and experimenting with genres beyond thrash, including death metal, melodic metal, and even industrial metal.  “Prevail” off Cause for Conflict is still hard and heavy but has more guitar harmonies than previous Kreator songs as well as staccato drums evoking black metal.  “Progressive Proletarians” also evokes black metal in its sound but its lyrics still adhere to the sociopolitical perspective of much prior Kreator.  On 1999’s appropriately titled Endorama, songs like “Future King”, “Pandemonium”, and “Shadowland” all combine classic thrash with melodic thrash with occasional industrial flourishes (such as the channeled, repetitive vocals of “Pandemonium” and the processed, synth-like guitars of the chorus of “Shadowland”).

In the early 2000’s, thrash underwent a renaissance, and many of the first-run thrash bands either reformed or returned to their “classic” thrash sound of the 80’s, only with vastly improved production.  Kreator vaulted back to the forefront of thrash with their return to form, 2001’s Violent Revolution, which didn’t just recapture the “classic” Kreator sound, it built upon it with better production and mastering.  Songs like “Reconquering the Throne” and “Servant in Heaven, King in Hell” are wild, loud energetic blasts of classic punk-infused thrash.  Petrozza’s vocals are in fine form and the guitars roar and snarl.  “Servant” retains some of the melodic elements of 90’s Kreator but fuses it with the angry surge of their punkier 80’s work.  But my all-time favorite Kreator songs, and two of my favorite songs of all time, are “Ghetto War” and “Violent Revolution”.  “Ghetto War” I first discovered almost 15 years ago when it first came out; I was using Napster to flesh out my music collection and wanted to acquire some thrash.  I found this song and was blown away by the feedback, the crunching roar of the guitar riffs, and Petrozza’s fierce, angry yowl.  This song had more angry energy in it than the Pistols’ entire first and only album.    I also love the lyric “Out there in the shadows of suburbia, a gathering of mutants and disorder”.    A short time ago I revisited my thrash collection and refound this song and album, which led me to the phenomenal title track, which if anything is even angrier and harsher than “Ghetto War”.  This seems to me to be the absolute, ultimate mosh song, especially the steady cadence of the first stanza and those great opening lyrics, “Society failed to tolerate me, and I have failed to tolerate society”, ending with “My only hope, my only solution is a violent revolution”.  This song more than any other right now encapsulates for me the merging of punk conceptual ideals of violence, rejection of society, and even revolution, with the musical power of raw metal. 

Kreator has continued to build on this excellent new millennium work with its albums Enemy of God (2005), Hordes of Chaos (2009) and Phantom Antichrist (2012).  I like “Hordes of Chaos”, “Escalation” (it has a great scream), and “Destroy What Destroys You” off Hordes of Chaos, though my favorite is “Radical Resistance”, and “Death to the World”, “United in Hate” (which has a gentle acoustic intro like Metallica’s “Fight Fire With Fire”), and “The Few, the Proud, the Broken”, and the title track off Antichrist.

Kreator was part of the next tier of thrash worldwide but are also part of the “Big Four” of German thrash.  The other three are Sodom, Destruction, and Tankard.  I have recently really gotten into Sodom, mostly because their music is if anything even more rough and violent than that of Kreator, but there are two things I don’t like about them.  First, their name is kind of cheesy, and second, unlike Kreator, they rarely sing about political issues and instead mostly focus on gruesome or fantastical topics closer to death metal in terms of subject.  However, they not infrequently sing about the horror and insanity of war, and most of their best songs are on this topic.  I like the blitzkrieg blast of the title track off 1999’s Code Red; “M-16”, “I Am the War”, and the Motorhead speed of “Cannon Fodder” off 2001’s M-16 (The title track has a great mid-tempo thump to it); “Wanted Dead” (the bass is particularly nice here, as is the crusty sounding rhythm guitar), “Axis of Evil”, and “Lords of Depravity” from their self-titled 2006 release; and  “In War and Pieces” and “Knarrenheinz” off 2010’s In War and Pieces. 

I haven’t gotten much into Destruction or Tankard; the former seems good but I haven’t yet sorted through their extensive back catalogue, though I do own the triphammer onslaught “Metal Discharge”, while the latter is just a little too goofball for me as all their songs seem to center around drinking. 

Meanwhile, over in Switzerland another band was producing some extremely bizarre, almost progressive thrash.  The band was Celtic Frost, and on their 1985 magnum opus To Mega Therion, they crafted some extremely intricate and complex song structures, such as on “Dawn of Megiddo”, which builds steadily from a slow sludgy beginning, and the almost insane “The Usurper”, which shifts tempos, keys, and everything else with frantic haste.  Celtic Frost grew out of lead singer Tom Warrior’s previous band, Hellhammer, who, inspired by the pioneering black metal band Venom started creating some truly insane Satanically inspired music.  This music is usually as simplistic as Celtic Frost’s was complex, often consisting of one repetitive riff played with maximum sustain and amplification to create an almost mesmerizing drone of sound.  Songs like “Maniac”, “Messiah”, and “Crucifixion” have an almost hypnotic repetitiveness that actually reminds me of extremely early punk.  “Maniac” for example evokes Pat Smear’s simplistic loud blasts on the Germs’ earliest work, things like “Forming”, while “Messiah” has the sludgy repetition of things like “Rats Eyes” and “Wound Up” off Black Flag’s Slip It In album.

In the late 70’s one of Denmark’s first, and only, first wave punk bands, Brats, was transitioning to heavy metal.  They started by playing songs that bridged the gap between punk, traditional heavy metal, and late 70’s hard rock.  “Night Riders (Pre-Curse of the Pharoahs” has that grinding, early Iron Maiden feel to it; this isn’t thrash but instead represents another fusion of metal and punk combining the galloping guitar of Randi Rhoades-era Ozzy with the cheap production of punk; the vocals sound like a combination of Kill ‘Em All era James Hetfield and early Guns ‘N’ Roses demos.   “Punk Fashion” has better production and sounds more like the melodic punk of a band like the Clash crossed with blasts of hard rock/heavy metal guitar soloing a la Thin Lizzy.  “Zombie People” is another great track, with its chunky pick slide beginning and feedback howls transitioning into a terrific Maiden-seque riff and great pop punk vocals that evoke Generation X.  “Pinned on My Eyelids” is another metaled up punk raver that has elements of Deep Purple crossed with the Varukers.  While not a thrash band themselves, Brats were a huge influence on Metallica; drummer Lars Ulrich owned not one but two copies of their incredibly rare first album. Eventually they merged with operatic singer King Diamond and became the melodic heavy metal band Mercyful Fate, and these songs and many others were transmuted into pure heavy metal songs on their first couple albums. 

In Canada, Voivod eventually made a case for being one of that country’s progenitors of thrash.  This is another band I’m just getting into, and right now I just have their self-titled song “Voivod” off their 1984 debut, War and Pain.  Their approach seems to combine some of the sludginess of early Black Sabbath with the rough guitar and screaming vocal onslaughts and some of the progressive technicality of their countrymen Rush.  The title track, for example, starts with an incredibly slow, ponderous set of riffs culled directly from the song “Black Sabbath” but livened up with occasional speedy blasts of pure noise a la Black Flag. 

In England, many of the punk and hardcore bands that sprouted up in the early 80’s after the first wave of punk crashed also incorporated elements of metal into their sound.  Arguably the most influential of these bands was Discharge.  Discharge actually formed during the first wave of punk in the mid/late 70’s but really achieved recognition for their early 80’s albums Why and Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing from ’81 and ’82, respectively.  Many of the songs on these albums reveled in the horrific imagery of warfare, while others really tried to outline the hypocrisy of society.  Hear Nothing  in particular incorporated fast, Motorhead-inspired tempos and blasts of metallic soloing over shouted lyrics, particularly on songs like “The End”,  “State Violence State Control”, “Protest and Survive”, “Free Speech For the Dumb” (covered by Metallica on their Garage, Inc. album), and the title track. 

Tony Bones and his brother Tezz split from Discharge in 1983 and formed the band Broken Bones that moved even more in a metallic direction.   “Seeing Through My Eyes” off their 1985 album Bonecrusher has a rumbling bass straight out of punk but a proto-speed metal chugging main riff and wailing feedback solos. Other standout tracks are “Decapitated”, “Wealth Rules”, and “Death Is Imminent”.   I bought this album in 1986 from a little record shop on Hollywood Blvd.  I can remember exactly when this happened because I’d just cheated on my then-girlfriend with my former girlfriend, and feeling vaguely guilty and uneasy I’d hopped on my Honda Elite 80 motor scooter and just started driving, ending up in the depths of Hollywood.  I’m not sure what drove me to buy this particular album but it was one of my first introductions to the world of punk-metal crossover.  It was shortly after this that I bought Metallica’s Ride the Lightning.

G.B.H. were another major influence on the punk/metal/crossover scene.  Their early work, such as the singles “Sick Boy”, “Slut”, “City Baby Attacked by Rats”, “Give Me Fire”, and “City Baby’s Revenge” are really just fast, thundering hardcore.  But by 1986’s Midnight Madness and Beyond they had moved beyond the sound of punk and had more metal elements, especially on the title track and songs like “Guns and Guitars,  “Future Fugitives”, and “Too Much”.  I bought this album sometime in late 1986 or early 1987 and it remains a favorite to this day.  My favorite track is “Limpwristed”, with its fuzzy, blasting noise and galloping rhythm. 

The Exploited were another major player in the English scene; in the 90’s Slayer covered several of their songs.  I’ve liked their classic songs “God Saved the Queen” and “Punks Not Dead” since ’86 or so but recently downloaded some of their more recent work, including “Massacre of Innocents” from 1996’s Beat the Bastards, “United Chaos and Anarchy” from 2001’s Death Before Dishonour, and “Fuck the System” and “Chaos is my Life” from 2003’s Fuck the System, which have a much more metal sound.  In this way a band that once influenced metal bands has become influenced by some of them in turn.

A few years ago I got really into the English Dogs, a band that started as a pure hardcore punk band but that eventually transitioned into total traditional heavy metal.  But another lesser-known example of this is the band Sacrilege.  Formed in the English Midlands in 1984, in addition to being one of the first bands to combine hardcore punk with thrash metal in England, Sacrilege is also distinctive for being one of the few punk/metal bands to have a female singer, Tam Simpson.  Their fusion of crust punk’s grungy rawness and shouted vocals with black metal lyrical themes and technical musicianship has caused some to consider them one of the major progenitors of the sub-genre of blackened crust.  Their 1985 album Behind the Realms of Madness is a treasure trove of thrashcore.  On songs like “Life Line”, the slower, sludgier “Shadow from Mordor”, “The Closing Irony, and “Out of Sight Out of Mind”, they blast through some of the hardest, toughest metal riffs imaginable, and Ms. Simpson does a more than capable job of belting out the vocals.  This is good stuff that I’m just now getting turned onto.  I also like old songs like “Insurrection” and “Flight of the Nazgul” off their 2010 album Reaping the Demo(n)s; these songs have the manic, raw energy of Kill ‘Em All era Metallica, which I love.   Right now these guys are a major fave.

Speaking of Motorhead, a great band that tried to perfectly emulate their blitzkrieg speed biker metal/punk power trio formula was Tank.  Formed by formed Damned and Saints bassist Argy Ward in 1980, their debut album Filth Hounds of Hades was a magnificent reproduction of the grungy rock of Lemmy and company and was even produced by Motorhead member Fast Eddie Clarke.  On jackhammer songs like the title track, “Run Like Hell”, “Shellshock”, “Struck by Lightning”, and their magnum opus “Turn Your Head Around”, you’d be hard pressed to distinguish them from their denim clad idols.  Again, like Brats, these guys weren’t a speed metal or thrash outfit, but were influential on the emerging thrash scene (Lars Ulrich was supposedly an early and avid fan).

Another band that hewed closely to the Motorhead biker metal spirit was Warfare.  Warfare achieved legendary status for being reportedly asked to open for Metallica when the played at Hammersmith Odeon in London in 1985, but were asked to pay their own expenses to get there.  In protest, they supposedly played for free in the parking lot!  On songs like “Metal Anarchy” and “Electric Mayhem”, both off 1985’s Metal Anarchy, they occupy that middle ground between Motorhead and G.B.H.; lead singers Paul Evans (who had spent time in punk band Angelic Upstarts) sounds so much like Colin of G.B.H. that it is scary.  This is cool stuff.

I recently finished Tony Rettman’s oral history of the New York City hardcore scene, NYHC, and was struck by how many different bands  from that scene were also moving from hardcore to metal during the mid 80’s.  Some of these, like Agnostic Front and the Cro-mags, I’d heard of, but others, like the crust punk band Nausea and the skinhead bands Kraut and Iron Cross, I hadn’t.  Nausea had combined male and female vocalists and crafted some angry diatribes against modern consumerist culture with a raw punk roar like “Smash Racism”, “New Generation”, and “MTV (Feeding of the Fortune 500)”, which can be found on the Punk Terrorist Anthology  Volume 2.  Kraut achieved some attention for the fact that former Sex Pistol Steve Jones laid down some backing guitar tracks for their early singles, such as “Getaway” and “Last Chance”.  Iron Cross were a tough skinhead outfit from DC but played several successful gigs in NY; their short, hard sons “New Breed”, “Fight ‘Em All”, and “Death or Glory” mostly glorify their violent martial worldview.

Agnostic Front’s classic 1984 album Victim in Pain yielded a number of great proto-thrash nuggets, including “Toxic Shock” and “United and Strong”.  Similarly the Cro-Mag’s 1986 album The Age of Quarrel is another monument of NYHC-inspired thrash, especially singer John Joseph’s Bon-Scott-meets-Johnny-Rotten vocals.  Songs like the ponderous “Malfunction” and “Seekers of the Truth” have an almost Sabbath vibe to them that also evokes the proto-grunge of Flipper, while more up-tempo numbers like “Show You No Mercy” and “Street Justice” have a late era Black Flag feel but with more metallic guitar elements.  My favorite songs currently are “We Gotta Know”, and the pre-Quarrel “World Piece”. 

Several capable thrash bands evolve out of the New York/New Jersey hardcore scene, including Ludichrist, Carnivore (their songs “Inner Conflict” and “Race War” are standouts), and Blitzspeer (I’m a fan of “Sonic Glory” off their album Saves, which almost reminds me of early grunge like the Melvins but with some groove elements like Liquid Jesus and occasional goth/alternative flourishes a la Die Kruezen), though currently my favorite is Leeway, particularly their 1988 song “Enforcer”, which is true thrash.  Ludichrist received considerable attention for their cover of “Last Train to Clarksville” by the Monkees and “Green Eggs and Ham” from the Dr. Seuss book of the same name, both of which can be found on their 1986 album Immaculate Deception.  I actually like the title track best off this album of quick, short blasts (no song last longer than two and a half minutes).

I have posted about it previously, but in Southern California one of the earliest pioneers of punk-metal hybrid was Suicidal Tendencies and the bands surrounding and supporting them like Beowulf, Excel, Los Cycos, and No Mercy; I sometimes include Hirax in this grouping even though they technically weren’t from Venice Beach and thus weren’t formally part of the “Dogtown” scene, but nevertheless played many shows with these other bands at the time.  All of these bands but especially the Suicidals were combining three till-then disparate youth counter-cultures:  punk, metal, and gang culture, with a heavy skate element thrown in for good measure.  I can still remember seeing the video for their biggest hit, “Institutionalized” in 1983 or 1984 and being just flat-out SCARED by it.  Sure, it was goofy and funny, but it was also stunning to see and hear them combining these freaky, often antagonistic cultures. 

My recent interest in thrash has prompted me to explore the “underground” world of thrash today, i.e., what are the songs and the bands that are continuing to make punk-metal music?   I did a little exploring on YouTube and found a number of different bands from all over the world who have continued to make loud, angry music with elements of both punk and metal.  For example, one band I really like right now is Victorville, California’s Set to Destroy. They have a pretty sick logo/mascot that consists of two giant gangster/zombie skeletons toking on a gigantic bong, with the smoke forming the name of the band, and while I doubt they are going to put Iron Maiden’s “Eddie” out of business it at least gives a good view of what their music is all about!  I particularly like their songs “Let’s Skate to Hell”, the guitar of which kind of reminds me of early Hirax, the vocals are hoarse punk shouts that go well with the light speed riffing.  I also like “Toke, Thrash, Beer”, which is even faster and apocalyptic.  This almost reminds me of a 21st century update of Black Flag’s classic ode to beer, “Six Pack”.  These guys are doing the whole punk/crossover thing even better than pioneers like D.R.I. or Crumbsuckers.  I like these guys a lot, they are doing thrash the right way.

Another current American thrash band I love is the oddly named Apathy—odd because this band’s music is far from apathetic.  Hailing from New Jersey, these guys have an album out, 2009’s Decade of Violence that is another great blast of hardcore influence metal.  I like “Disciples of Chaos” and especially the raw, chugging “Violent Nature”, which is fantastic.  The lyrics are angry shouting that reminds me of Rat Eyes of Fucked Up and the guitar playing is fast and rough and owes a big debt to Slayer but they manage to find their own musical voice nonetheless.  This is one of the top contemporary outfits I’ve found and I really like their stuff a lot.

Arguably the band doing the most not just to carry the thrash banner but to thrust it even farther upward is Portland, Oregon’s Toxic Holocaust.  Toxic Holocaust is essentially a one man band (with occasional studio drumming as well as touring assistance) run by Joel Grind.  Grind has set the bar astoundingly high not just musically but professionally, as everything about this venture screams top notch.  The band has slick professional videos; their album art on 2005’s Hell on Earth was done by Ed Repka, the artist behind album covers by Megadeth and Nuclear Assault; their 2009 album An Overdose of Death was produced by legendary indie board meister Jack Endino (who did Nirvana’s Nevermind among many others); and the production on every one of their albums is absolutely top-notch.  Even the band’s look is cool, equal parts Charged G.B.H. and first album Motley Crue.   Grind has done nothing half-assed and it shows, but nowhere more so than in the music itself.   Toxic Holocaust’s sound is a magnificent blend mixing the crisp riffage and tight tempo changes of first-run thrash pioneers like Megadeth with the hoarse vocals and raw punkish snarl of German thrash heroes Kreator and Sodom.  But Grind is a master at adding bits of almost everything into his music stew, including occasional forays into the hard rock sass of early Motley Crue, the blitzkrieg biker rock onslaught of Motorhead and latter-day Motorhead worshippers like Chrome Division, the turbocharged thunderslam of Pantera and Rob Zombie, the bludgeoning punk of Discharge and the Exploited, and even the teenage bluster of Kill ‘Em All era Metallica.  Grind’s gruff vocals never slide into the croaking guttural parody of most black metal bands but instead retain a tough snarl more in line with hardcore punk (Grind’s previous outfits were the horror punk band Grave Mistake and the UK82-themed outfit the Rapists , and it shows).  Lyrically, the Toxic Holocaust apple doesn’t fall far from the Venom/Hellhammer/Hell Awaits era Slayer tree, with its fascination with Satanism, horror, violence, and warfare; in fact, if I have one single quibble with this band it’s that I’d like to see Grind expand beyond this fascination with the devil  (although I do have to hand it to him, he has crafted one of the most amusingly blasphemous song titles ever in “Nuke the Cross”) and into more socially conscious themes more often, so his lyrics could match his otherwise impeccable musicianship.  However, another major point in Grind’s favor is that he hews to the short-fast-sweet ethic of real punk in that very few Toxic Holocaust songs clock in at over 4 minutes, and most are in the two minute range; he manages to jam a dizzying assortment of riffs and rhythms into two to three minute songs that would have taken Metallica 6-8 minutes to work through, which I really find impressive.  In short, this is everything I love about thrash, and about the 21st century thrash revival in particular.  Each of Toxic Holocausts’ four albums—2005’s Evil Never Dies and Hell on Earth, 2008’s An Overdose of Death, 2011’s Conjure and Command (which added elements of crust punk and blackened crust to their already potent thrash attack), and 2013’s Chemistry of Consciousness—is packed with fantastic songs, few of which sound repetitive or boring.  Grind has established Toxic Holocaust as the gold standard of today’s thrash, with few bands able to match either the crisp professionalism or the amazing musicality of his band.  Moreover, their albums have lost none of their fire over the ensuing decade and their most recent album, Chemistry of Consciousness, is every bit as uncompromising as their first. 

Off their first album, I like the songs “War Is Hell”, the blistering “Damned to Fire” (which reminds me of another fire-themed song, “Fight Fire With Fire” by Metallica), the short blitzkrieg “Warfare”, and the slower, chugging “Fallout”, all of which bring to mind the all-out assault of Slayer’s classic Reign in Blood (and that’s about as high a compliment as you can pay to any thrash band).  “Metal Attack” kind of reminds me of “Mechanix” by Megadeth (which they actually cover on their 2004 EP Toxic Thrash Metal). 

Their second album, Hell on Earth, continues on in the same vein.  “Metallic Crucifixion” clips along like “Ace of Spades” and clocks in at a brisk one minute 48 seconds.  “Send Them to Hell”, at over three minutes, is an extended opus for Toxic Holocaust and has several slower breakdowns; Grind’s voice on this one sounds almost like he has laryngitis, though.  “Hell on Earth” has some crisp chugging that sounds like “Whiplash” by Metallica. 

 On their song  “Nuke the Cross” from their 2008 album An Overdose of Death, the basic structure also owes much to “Whiplash” by Metallica but with the aforementioned hoarse, growly vocals.  Their song “Lord of the Wasteland” owes more of a debt to Motorhead but still has some crisp riffing.   “Future Shock” has a great catchy riff and rhythm, as does the chugging “In the Name of Science”.  I also like the raging “Feedback, Blood, and Distortion”.  Great stuff.

As mentioned, 2011’s Conjure and Command added a few new wrinkles to the straight-ahead thrash of prior albums.  “Agony of the Damned”, for example, has a slow, sludgy into that brings to mind the doom metal of bands like Candlemass before erupting in a furious speed assault. The buzzing distortion of the guitars and bass here are more in line with crust, or blackened crust.  The slower but inexorable “Red Winter” has even more buzz and kind of evokes “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica.  This is one of my favorite songs by Toxic Holocaust right now, along with “Nowhere to Run”, which is just straight ahead thrash in the vein of Testament.   “The Liars are Burning” is a great mid-tempo rocker that makes me think of Chrome Division, while “Revelations” is a brutal assault on the ears.

The song titles on their most recent album, 2013’s Chemistry of Consciousness suggest a movement away from the black metal fixations of prior albums—“Silence”, “Acid Fuzz” being two examples.  “Out of the Fire” and “Deny the Truth” are two more favorites of mine.

As mentioned, thrash is currently a worldwide phenomenon, and there are many great bands outside the U.S. of A. making terrific thrash.  Canada’s Violator is one.  They remind me a bit of a cross between Anthrax and Death Angel; their songs “Addicted to Mosh” and “Thrash Maniacs” off their 2006 album Chemical Assault fuse caterwauling metal vocals with crisp musicianship to provide a very satisfying mix, one that reminds me a little of Sacred Reich in addition to the above-mentioned thrash giants. 

Another of my current favorites is Finland’s Mosh Angel; kudos to them for managing to combine the beloved slam dance term “mosh” with the “angel” that accompanied so many thrash metal band names in the 80’s (Death Angel, Dark Angel, Morbid Angel, etc.).  On their song “High Speed Metal”, they really sound a lot like a more Motorhead-influenced version of Kreator; vocals very reminiscent Kreator’s Miland Petrozza and a frantic speed metal assault that relies less on rhythm changes and technicality than on pure speed.

Toxic Evolution from Germany has a great song, “Exclaim Anarchy”, that starts with an odd,  chirping guitar riff before blasting into a wonderfully brutal sonic assault.   This band adds melodic elements throughout this song that enhance its power.  Another German band, Skulled, has a great anthem in “Fuck It, Thrash It” that also has a brutal power.

Equally brutal are Italy’s almost comedic Alkoholizer, who sound like an inebriation-obsessed version of early Metallica.  Their songs “Thrash Metal” and “Alkoholic Metal” off their 2009 album Drunk or Dead are wild, energetic romps, with goofy  booze-obsessed lyrics and shout-out choruses.  Very good stuff, but I’d love to see them expand beyond the goofball booze fixation and write lyrics about something more weighty.

Portugal has given the world the band SubCaos.  I’ve only managed to find one song by them on YouTube (they don’t even have an entry on the Encyclopedia Metallum for crying out loud).  But their song “Metal Punk Death Squad” has elements of G.B.H. and a crudity that seems almost like Hirax.  Not sure if these guys are still around, but I’m hoping they are still “metal punks for life” (as one of their lyrics states).

From Greece comes Omega, who provide a straight-ahead early speed metal with elements of hard rock taken straight off the Metallica Kill ‘Em All template, but they do it with much conviction and energy, and anyway, if you’re going to rip someone off, why not rip off the best?  “Speed Metal Force” off 2013’s The Hell Patrol is like an updated “Metal Militia” for the teens. Their earlier work, like the songs “Metal from Hell”, “Evil Rock and Roll” and “Hellhammer” off 2010’s Second Crucifixion has a buzzing, repetitive riff that sounds like Tom Warrior’s work in Hellhammer; I’m not as fond of the lyrics on this one however.  Still, this band shows tremendous promise.

Croatia’s Vortex have a great early Metallica blast in their song “Thrash Metal Holocaust”, off their 2009 demo of the same name.  This is the only song I’ve found on this band, and apparently they’ve been blacklisted from the Encyclopedia Metallum as this is the only information I can find on them. 

From even farther afield, Chile’s Invierno Nuclear have a terrific buzzing guitar sound that brings to mind Venom, especially on songs like “Thrashing Metal Punk” from the 2012 EP of the same name.  I also like “No Mas Policia” through the vocals here sound very death metal gurgly, which is not my favorite.  The vocals on other songs are a little tinny and the songs can be a bit repetitive but I like the energy, and this band has another terrific logo/mascot:  a spiky alien-like skull with a strange one-eyed gas mask on it; it reminds me of the Corrosion of Conformity biohazard face but if anything slightly cooler. 

Also from Chile is Toke De Keda, who really recapture some of the big beats and riffs of the Dogtown bands like Excel, as on their song “Liberthrasher” from their 2013 album Actitud Kaaos & Metalpunk.  This gets very ferocious very quickly; these guys must be VERY high energy in concert. 

Uruguay has a couple of good thrash bands.  One is Rotten State; their song “Full Speed Violence” off their 2013 album Sick World has great energy too.

Perhaps the wildest band I’ve seen and heard is Tcukimay, from Indonesia.  These guys look exactly like Exploited worshipers, particularly their lead singer with his massive feet-tall Mohawk.  They have a sound that combines crust with D-beat/UK82 and elements of speed metal.  On songs like “Ngewa Anjing” (which I assume means “city baby attacked by rats” in Indonesian) and the blistering “Thrashpunk”, they hit like a sledgehammer.  Wow.  This latter is a GREAT song.  I can’t wait to hear more by them. 

Finding all these amazing thrash bands around the world has given me a lot of hope.  There are tons of great bands out there keeping this music alive and relevant.  One of the reasons I recently got back into thrash was because my son, who is eight, has decided that he likes punk and metal together.  So I started playing him stuff by Metallica and Slayer, and that’s now his favorite music.  Right now his top favorites are “Fight Fire With Fire” by Metallica off Ride the Lightning and “Metal Militia” off their Kill ‘Em All album, two of the hardest, fastest songs Metallica ever wrote.  His interest in this music prompted me to search for stuff even more raw and underground than this.  I am definitely finding new stuff I really like, and currently as mentioned above I’m really into Nuclear Assault, Sacred Reich, Kreator, Sodom, and many of the international bands above, but especially Toxic Holocaust, Apathy, and Mosh Angel.