Picking 5 essential Thrash albums is no small task. There are so many important an influential releases in the sub-genre that deserve to be mentioned, but I have been given the job of whittling it down to just 5 stand out records .
Overkill’s fourth full length release was definitely the high water mark for their 80’s material. “The Years of Decay” saw the band push themselves to create more melodic and intricate songs than on their previous albums. The result was an album that was in equal parts aggressive and progressive.
Bobby Gustafson’s guitar work on “The Years of Decay” is mind blowing. While the rest of the band is firing on all cylinders its Gustafson’s blazing solos and incredibly tight rhythms that propel this album to the next level.
Overkill have consistently released very good albums for almost 30 years but “The Years of Decay” is a must have.
“Among the Living” is regarded as Anthrax’s breakthrough album and there is a good reason why, the memorable songs. Each track on this album has multiple hooks, catchy head banging guitar riffs and choruses that you can’t help but sing along to.
Joey Belladonna really came in to his own on this album, his soaring vocal delivery set him apart other singers in the thrash metal scene. Dan Spitz’s lead work on “Among the Living” is also a high point. I could never understand why Spitz was often overlooked as one of the great thrash guitar players. His unique way of phrasing his leads have always been a pleasure to listen to, especially on “Among the Living”.
The reason this album sticks out is because it’s fun, Anthrax doesn’t take themselves too seriously. There are songs about Stephen King novels, Comic book characters and John Belushi. “Among the Living” is from beginning to end a mosh pit masterpiece.
What can be said about Slayer’s “Reign in Blood”, it’s 29 minutes of pure intensity verging on chaos. By 1986 many thrash bands began experimenting with longer more progressive song structures with a strong focus on melody. Slayer decided however to focus on speed and aggression.That’s not to say Slayer didn’t progress, “Reign in Blood” it is miles away from “Show No Mercy”. But what slayer did that was different than their peers was to trim the fat from the songs and give us a fast unrelenting album.
I had the pleasure of seeing Slayer perform “Reign in Blood” from beginning to end; it was one of the greatest concert experiences of my life. There was no indication that they had plans to play the full album, in fact unbeknownst to us it was a warm up to the “Still Raining” DVD. The other shows on the small tour featured a different set list; so I guess it was by divine intervention (see what I did there) that I got to see one of my favorite bands play my favorite album live.
The influence that “Reign in Blood” would go on to have on the burgeoning death metal scene at the time is undeniable. You can still here echoes of what Slayer created on that album in today’s young bands.
It was very difficult to decide if “Rust in Peace” would land in the number 1 or 2 spot. I asked my friends which album they thought deserved to be at number 1, I listen to both albums multiple times and for the first time I tried to think about the albums critically and not just as my favorite albums. So there was a hell of a lot of debating that went in to placing Megadeth’s “Rust in Peace” at number 2.
First up “Rust in Peace” has some mind blowing guitar playing, the teaming of Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman produced a whirlwind of guitar heroics that even 20 years later has trouble being topped. The solos at the end of “Hanger 18” are a lesson in high intensity shredding; they are both complex and aggressive. It is easy to be mesmerized by the shear guitar wizardry on this album but I forced myself to dig a little deeper and try and find fault with one of my favorite albums of all time, it wasn’t easy.
The song “Dawn Patrol” is my only problem with “Rust in Peace”. It just feels like filler. This track consists of only bass, drums and Dave Mustaine’s odd Vocal. I really don’t understand Mustain’s choice in the voice over on this track it almost sounds like he is putting on a bit of a pho English accent. Luckily the song is under 2 minutes.
I have mentioned the guitar work but the rhythm section of Dave Ellefson and Nick Menza also put forth a killer performance. There are more good riffs on this album than most bands can muster in their entire career. “Rust in Peace” stands as the crowning jewel in Megadeth’s catalog.
I gave up on Metallica a long time ago, through disappointing albums, lawsuits, and all other means of douchebaggery (I’m looking at you Lars) I developed a huge distaste for the group, I even found myself avoiding the great albums they released. They lay neglected on a dusty cd shelf for years. I finally got over my entitled fandom and revisited those classic Metallica releases and even St. Anger cant sully the majesty of the classic Metallica albums.
“Master of Puppets” was in every way a step above it’s predecessor “Ride the Lightning”. The Songs are technically more diverse but at the same time more consistently constructed. Lyrically the band matured as well. The overall quality of the song writing on this album is incredible, even the albums weakest track “The Thing That Should Not Be” has some very good moments but the guitar solo is atrocious.
In recent years Metallica’s technical proficiency as musicians has been called in to question, while there may be more virtuosic players out there you cannot argue that by 1986 this band worked together like a well oiled machine. I would go so far as to argue that James Hetfield is one of if not the best metal rhythm guitar players there is, Kurt Hammett might not have the chops of an Alex Skolnick but he can write a memorable solo and all the sweeps in the world can’t beat a good melody. This leads me to Lars, his drumming has been called unimaginative but I would argue that he is an extremely solid drummer. He is always in the right place at the right time and what he lacks in fleer he makes up for in consistency. Lars is heavy metal’s Charlie Watts. No one questions Cliff Burton’s performance.
“Master of Puppets” took the underground thrash scene and presented it to a mainstream metal audience. There are many elements that make this my number 1 essential thrash album, well written an memorable songs, great production, and the fact that it influenced a generation of metal musicians just to mention a few. “Puppets” is a true classic.