Thrash metal (or simply thrash) is an Extreme metal Music subgenre of heavy metal music characterized by its overall aggression and fast tempo.Kahn-Harris, Keith, Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge, pp. 2–3, 9. Oxford: Berg, 2007, . The songs usually use fast percussive beats and low-register guitar riffs, overlaid with Shred guitar-style lead guitar work. The lyrical subject matter often includes criticism of The Establishment, opposition to armed conflicts, and at times shares a disdain for the Christian religion with that of black metal. The language is typically direct and denunciatory, an approach borrowed from hardcore punk.
The genre emerged in the early 1980s as musicians began fusing the double bass drumming and complex guitar stylings of the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) with the speed and aggression of hardcore punk. Philosophically, thrash metal developed as a backlash against both the conservatism of the Reagan era and the much more moderate, Pop music-influenced, and widely accessible heavy metal subgenre of glam metal which also developed concurrently in the 1980s.
The early thrash metal movement revolved around independent record labels, including Megaforce, Metal Blade, Combat Records, Roadrunner, and Noise Records, and the underground tape trading industry in both Europe and North America. The genre was commercially successful during the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s, with the "Big Four" of thrash metal – Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax – being joined by Exodus, Overkill, Testament, and Sepultura, as well as the "Big Four" of German thrash metal: Kreator, Destruction, Sodom, and Tankard. Some of those bands are often credited for helping create, develop and popularize the genre.
The thrash metal genre had declined in popularity by the mid-1990s, with the commercial success of numerous genres such as alternative rock, grunge, and later pop-punk and nu metal. During that period, some bands either disbanded or moved away from their thrash metal roots and more towards groove metal or alternative metal. During the 2000s and early 2010s, thrash metal experienced a resurgence in popularity, with the arrival of various modern acts such as Bonded by Blood, Evile, Hatchet, Havok, Lamb of God, Municipal Waste, and Warbringer, who have all been credited for leading the so-called "thrash metal revival" scene.
The guitar riffs often use 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, drummers often use two bass drums, or a double-bass pedal to create a relentless, driving beat. Cymbal stops/Cymbal choke are often used to transition from one riff to another or to precede an acceleration in tempo. Some common characteristics of the genre 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.
To keep up with the other instruments, many bassists use a plectrum (pick). However, some prominent thrash metal bassists have used their fingers, such as Frank Bello, Greg Christian, Steve Di Giorgio, Robert Trujillo, and Cliff Burton. Several bassists use a fuzz bass, an approach popularized by Burton and Motörhead's Lemmy. Lyrical themes in thrash metal include warfare, corruption, injustice, murder, suicide, isolation, alienation, addiction, and other maladies that afflict the individual and society. In addition, politics, particularly pessimism and dissatisfaction towards politics, are common themes among thrash metal bands. Humor and irony can occasionally be found (Anthrax for example), but they are limited, and are an exception rather than a rule.
Void is hailed as one of the earliest examples of hardcore/heavy metal crossover, whose chaotic musical approach is often cited as particularly influential. Their 1982 split LP with fellow Washington band The Faith showed both bands exhibiting quick, fiery, high-speed punk rock. It has been argued that those recordings laid the foundation for early thrash metal, at least in terms of selected tempos.
In Latin America, this genre also gained a lot of strength, and its creation is also attributed to it, since it began to gain popularity due to the dictatorships that many countries faced at that time, with bands like V8 (1979) with their debut albums Demo 1982 or Luchando por el metal, and Bloke (1980) from Argentina, Transmetal (1987) from México, also the band Massakre (1985) in Chile. In Europe, the earliest band of the emerging thrash movement was Venom from Newcastle upon Tyne, formed in 1979. Their 1982 album Black Metal has been cited as a major influence on many subsequent genres and bands in the extreme metal world, such as Bathory, Hellhammer, Slayer, and Mayhem. The European scene was almost exclusively influenced by the most aggressive music Germany and England were producing at the time. British bands such as Tank and Raven, along with German bands Accept (whose 1982 song "Fast as a Shark" is often credited as one of the first-ever thrash/speed metal songs) and Living Death, motivated musicians from central Europe to start bands of their own, eventually producing groups such as Sodom, Kreator, and Destruction from Germany, as well as Switzerland's Celtic Frost (formed by two-thirds of Hellhammer), Coroner and Carrion (who later became Poltergeist) and Denmark's Artillery.
The crossover with hardcore punk has also been cited as important influence on thrash, especially the English hardcore punk band Discharge, whose "influence on heavy metal is incalculable and metal superstars such as Metallica, Anthrax, Machine Head, Sepultura, Soulfly, Prong and Arch Enemy have covered Discharge's songs in tribute."Knowles,Christopher. The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll. Cleis Press, 2010
The term "thrash metal" was first used in the music press by Kerrang! magazine's journalist Malcolm Dome while referring to another of the "Big Four", Anthrax (who, like Metallica, formed in 1981), and their song "Metal Thrashing Mad". Before this, Metallica frontman James Hetfield referred to his band's sound as speed metal or power metal.
Another "Big Four" thrash band formed in Los Angeles 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 and drummer Dave Lombardo, and Slayer was formed. Slayer was discovered by Metal Blade Records executive Brian Slagel; the band's live performance of Iron Maiden's "Phantom of the Opera" so impressed him that he promptly signed them to his label. In December 1983, five months after the release of Metallica's debut Kill 'Em All, Slayer released their debut album, Show No Mercy.
To the north, Canada produced influential thrash and speed metal bands such as Annihilator, Anvil, Exciter, Razor, Sacrifice, and Voivod.
Also during the mid-to-late 1980s, bands such as Suicidal Tendencies, D.R.I., S.O.D. (who featured three-fifths of Anthrax), and Corrosion of Conformity paved the way to what became known as crossover thrash, a fusion genre that lies on a continuum between heavy metal and hardcore punk, and is arguably faster and more aggressive than thrash metal.
Sepultura's third album, Beneath the Remains (1989), earned them some mainstream appeal as it was released by Roadrunner Records. Testament released three albums in the late 1980s, The Legacy, The New Order, and Practice What You Preach, all showing the band's musical growth and gaining Testament nearly the same level of popularity as the "Big Four", while Exodus' third album Fabulous Disaster (1989) garnered the band their first music video and one of their most recognized songs, the Moshing anthem "The Toxic Waltz". Vio-lence, Forbidden, and Sadus, three relative latecomers to the Bay Area thrash metal scene, released their debut albums Eternal Nightmare, Forbidden Evil, and Illusions, respectively, in 1988; the latter album demonstrated a sound that was primarily driven by the fretless bass of Steve Di Giorgio. Also in 1988, Blind Illusion released its only studio album for more than two decades, The Sane Asylum, which received some particular attention as it was produced by Kirk Hammett, and is also notable for featuring bassist Les Claypool and former Possessed guitarist Larry LaLonde; after its release, the two would later team up together in Claypool's then-upcoming band Primus.
Canadian thrashers Annihilator released their highly technical debut Alice in Hell in 1989, which was praised for its fast riffs and extended guitar solos. In Germany, Sodom released Agent Orange, and Kreator would release Extreme Aggression. Several highly acclaimed albums associated with the sub-genre of technical thrash metal were also released in 1989, including Coroner's No More Color, Dark Angel's Leave Scars, Toxik's Think This, and Watchtower's Control and Resistance, which has been recognized and acknowledged as one of the cornerstones of jazz fusion and a major influence on the technical death metal genre, while Forced Entry's debut album Uncertain Future helped pioneer the late 1980s Seattle music scene.
From 1987 to 1989, Overkill released Taking Over, Under the Influence, and The Years of Decay, three albums considered their best. Each of the "Big Four" of thrash metal bands released albums in 1988: Slayer released South of Heaven, Megadeth released So Far, So Good... So What!, Anthrax released State of Euphoria while Metallica's ...And Justice for All spawned the band's first video and Top 40 hit, the World War I–themed song "One".
Many thrash metal bands benefited from the exposure they received on MTV's Headbangers Ball, radio stations such as KNAC in Long Beach and Z Rock in Dallas, and coverage on numerous publications, including Kerrang! and RIP Magazine. These outlets not only played a major role in the crossover success of thrash metal during the late 1980s, but helped push album sales of the genre's "Big Four" and similar bands, or moved them from playing clubs to arenas and stadiums. One of the most notable events in thrash metal's growing popularity during this period was the summer of 1988 Monsters of Rock tour in North America (co-headlined by Van Halen and Scorpions), at which Metallica was one of the supporting acts and drew the largest audiences of the two-month-long arena and stadium tour. In the following year, Anthrax teamed up with Exodus and Helloween on a US arena tour sponsored by Headbangers Ball.
Several albums, some of which had come to be known as technical thrash metal, were released in 1991, including Overkill's Horrorscope, Heathen's Victims of Deception, Dark Angel's Time Does Not Heal, Sepultura's Arise, Coroner's Mental Vortex, Prong's Prove You Wrong and Forced Entry's As Above, So Below.
In 1991, Metallica released their eponymous album, known as "The Black Album". The album marked a stylistic change in the band, eliminating much of the speed and longer song structures of the band's previous work, and instead focusing on more concise and heavier songs. The album was a change in Metallica's direction from the thrash metal style of the band's previous four studio albums towards a more contemporary heavy metal sound with original hard rock elements, but still had remnant characteristics of thrash metal.Adam Dubin, Metallica (James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Jason Newsted), Bob Rock, Spinal Tap, A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica: Part 1, VHS, Elektra Entertainment, 1992 It would go on to become the band's best-selling album and began a wave of thrash metal bands releasing more garage-oriented albums, or else more experimental ones.
In the wake of the success of groove metal, instigated by Pantera (who went on to become one of the most successful heavy metal bands of the 1990s), several thrash metal established bands started to expand their sound by adding elements and influences from the groove metal genre. Anthrax, who had recently replaced Joey Belladonna with John Bush as their singer, began stepping away from their previously established thrash metal formula to a more accessible alternative/groove metal approach for the remainder of their 1990s output, starting with and including Sound of White Noise (1993). Sacred Reich, Overkill, Coroner, Prong, Testament, and Forbidden followed this trend with their respective albums Independent, I Hear Black, Grin, Cleansing, Low, and Distortion. Sepultura's 1993 album Chaos A.D. also marked the beginning of their transition away from death/thrash metal to groove metal which had influenced then-up-and-coming bands like Korn, who reciprocally became the inspiration behind the nu metal style of the band's next album Roots (1996). "Iggor Cavalera: Korn did influence Sepultura on Roots album but so did others" . Loudwire, 2016 Roots would influence a generation of bands from Linkin Park to Slipknot, which during the 1990s meant the replacement of death, thrash, and speed, by nu metal and metalcore as popular epicenters of the hardest metal scene. "Why Sepultura's 'Chaos A.D.' Is More Relevant Now Than Ever" , We Are The Pit, 2 September 2020
Staying away from this new commercial mainstream of groove metal, metalcore, and especially nu metal, the second wave of black metal emerged as an opposed underground music scene, initially in Norway. This crop of new bands differenced themselves from the "first wave" by totally distilling black metal from the combined origins with thrash metal, but they preserved from all these sub-genres the emphasis on atmosphere over rhythm. "10 of the Most Important Cultural Shifts in Metal" , Kerrang, 2 February 2020
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.Dunn, Sam (2005). Metal: A Headbanger's Journey . IMDB. 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 sub-genres 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 spin-offs.
The resurgence of interest in the thrash metal genre during the early 2000s was widely attributed to the Thrash of the Titans festival, which was held in August 2001 as a co-benefit concert for Testament singer Chuck Billy and Death's Chuck Schuldiner, who were both battling cancer. The show is also notable for seeing several of Testament's Bay Area thrash metal contemporaries, including Exodus, Death Angel, Vio-lence, Forbidden Evil, Sadus and Legacy (a precursor to Testament), reunited. Many thrash metal bands from outside of the Bay Area would subsquently reunite, including Anthrax (twice with Joey Belladonna and briefly with John Bush), Dark Angel, Nuclear Assault, Sacred Reich, UK bands Onslaught, Sabbat, and Xentrix, and Canada's Sacrifice, renewing interest in previous decades.
The term "thrash-revivalists" has been applied to such bands Lamb of God, Municipal Waste, Evile, Havok, Warbringer, Vektor, Bonded by Blood, Hatchet, and Power Trip. Evile's 2007 debut album Enter the Grave, produced by former Metallica producer and engineer Flemming Rasmussen, received considerable praise for its sound, which combined elements of the sounds of Slayer and the Bay Area scene (particularly Exodus and Testament).Kee, Chris. Enter the Grave review. Zero Tolerance. October 2007. Los Angeles-based bands Warbringer and Bonded by Blood took a similar approach on their respective debut albums, War Without End and Feed the Beast, both released in 2008. Perhaps the most commercially successful band from the 2000s and 2010s thrash metal revival movement is Lamb of God, who are also considered a key part of the new wave of American heavy metal movement, (2005, Director: Sam Dunn), Disc Two: "Metal Genealogy Chart" have received two gold-certified albums in the U.S., and continue to play from small clubs to arenas and stadiums.
Notable bands returned to their roots with releases such as Kreator's Violent Revolution (2001), Metallica's Death Magnetic (2008), Megadeth's Endgame (2009), Slayer's World Painted Blood (2009), Exodus' (2010), Overkill's Ironbound (2010), Anthrax's Worship Music (2011), Testament's Dark Roots of Earth (2012), and Flotsam and Jetsam's Ugly Noise (2012). More recent bands of the genre, such as Havok and Legion of the Damned have turned their focus towards a more aggressive rendition of thrash metal, incorporating elements of melodic death metal.
With gorier subject matter, heavier down tuning of guitars, more consistent use of blast beats, and darker, atonal death growls, death metal was established in the mid-1980s. Black metal, also related to thrash metal, emerged at the same time, with many black metal bands taking influence from thrash metal bands such as Venom. Black metal continued deviating from thrash metal, often providing more orchestral overtones, open tremolo picking, blast beat drumming, shrieked or raspy vocals and Paganism or Occultism-based aesthetics to distinguish itself from thrash metal. Thrash metal would later combine with its spinoffs, thus giving rise to genres like blackened thrash metal and deathrash.
Groove metal takes the intensity and sonic qualities of thrash metal and plays them at mid-tempo, with most bands making only occasional forays into fast tempo, but since the early 1990s, it started to favor a more death metal–derived sound. Thrash metal with stronger punk elements is called crossover thrash. Its overall sound is more punk-influenced than traditional thrash metal but has more heavy metal elements than hardcore punk and thrashcore.
Thrash metal emerged predominantly from a handful of regional scenes, each of which was generally distinguished by the unique characteristics of its bands.