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Beginner’s guide to thrash metal

by Alexander Cole November 22, 2016
Beginner’s guide to thrash metal

One of the most popular genres of heavy metal music in the 80s

Fast guitar riffs, speedy drumming and loud, in-your-face vocals—those are the characteristics that define thrash metal. When metal music came onto the scene in the 1970s with bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, it was a sign that rock music was evolving past the age of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. While Black Sabbath played slower, their sound was dark and mysterious, thanks to down-tuned and distorted guitars. In the early 80s, American bands who were inspired by Black Sabbath continued to push the genre forward by playing faster and increasing the volume. One of the genres that spawned from this technique was thrash metal. Thrash metal has since evolved with some of the best albums in heavy metal history. If you’re interested in the genre, the albums below are a great starting point to get yourself acquainted with it.

Master of Puppets – Metallica


Metallica’s 1986 third studio album, Master of Puppets, is a classic in the world of thrash metal. Not only is it one of their best albums, it’s one of their heaviest. If there was one album that could perfectly sum up the 1980s thrash metal sound, it would be Master of Puppets. From the very start, listeners are greeted by the song “Battery.” It’s a song that begins with a quiet, melodic guitar intro that eventually explodes into an earth-shattering riff, setting the tone for the whole album. The album features multiple nine-minute anthems, like “Master of Puppets,” “Disposable Heroes” and “Orion.” Each song has intricate, heavy riffs that are complemented with drummer Lars Ulrich’s signature double-bass playing. While the songs are heavy, the arrangements are still beautiful. The song “Orion” is an eight-minute instrumental that sounds orchestral while at the same time exhibiting relentless aggression. Overall, Master of Puppets is a must-listen if you’re new to metal. It’s heavy, but still accessible for a first-time listener.

Reign In Blood – Slayer


If you thought Metallica’s Master of Puppets was heavy, just wait until to you hear Slayer’s Reign In Blood. Just like Master of Puppets, the album was Slayer’s third and it was also released in 1986. Reign in Blood begins with the song “Angel of Death” which welcomes the listener with a speedy riff and a blood-curdling scream from lead singer Tom Araya. When compared to Metallica, the music and the imagery is much more violent, but that isn’t necessarily a negative. The lyrical themes on the album include war, injustice and the Holocaust. The music itself reveals the darkness of these themes. For example, the riffs and drumming are faster and Araya’s vocals are manic, with the cadence of a man spiralling into madness. Don’t expect any orchestra-type sounds on this album. Reign in Blood is a relentlessly heavy album that will have your blood pumping in no time.

Peace Sells…but Who’s Buying? – Megadeth


In 1986, Megadeth released their second full-length album, Peace Sells…but Who’s buying? After having been kicked out of Metallica because of his alcoholism, lead singer and guitarist Dave Mustaine brought a unique sound to the world of thrash metal with this album. For starters, Peace Sells, while still fast, is not as speedy as the previous two albums on this list. Instead, the instrumentals on this album are more technical. In the opening track, “Wake Up Dead,” the riff is simple, yet delivered with a precision that bands like Slayer lacked. Megadeth also sets themselves apart on this album by incorporating more bass into the mix. In the intro of the title track, “Peace Sells,” there is a groovy bassline that is quite unique when compared to bands like Metallica and Slayer. Apart from the bass and the riffs, Mustaine’s guitar work on the album is impressive, as his solos hit so hard they’ll practically melt your face off. If you’re looking for a politically charged metal album, Peace Sells is an incredible listen.


Among the Living – Anthrax


Anthrax’s 1987 album, Among the Living, is one of their best and was regarded by the BBC as “arguably their big breakthrough.” Among the Living is probably one of the most progressive albums on this list, as all of the instrumentals contain various beat shifts and melodies. Anthrax demonstrates not just aggression and speed on this record, but shows their humorous side as well. In songs like “I am the Law,” a song based on the comic book Judge Dredd, the lyrics are tongue-in-cheek and kind of make you laugh, all while encouraging you to head bang. Unlike the seriousness of the last three albums, songs like “Caught in a Mosh” can be played at any party and people could get into it. Among the Living is a thrash metal album that doesn’t take itself too seriously which is why it’s a great place to start.

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