5 Essential Thrash Metal Albums

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By Mike Garnett

leicester heavy metal records

The idea of creating a list of the 5 best metal albums of all time is fairly preposterous, the idea of the 5 best thrash albums is still daft but a bit more palatable.  There are of course many fine thrash albums. These are my own 5 killer LPs whose face melting guitar riffs have helped spawn and influence death metal, black metal, metalcore etc.  Enjoy and let us know who you think should have made the list?


Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990)


Judas Priest’s place in the pantheon of the metal gods had long-since been cemented with 1980’s British Steel, but after some heavy criticism of some of their releases since then, for the overuse of guitar synths, and even collaborations with Stock, Aitken and Waterman, they needed a return to what had made them one of the pioneers of the genre. 1990’s “Painkiller” was just what the doctor ordered, and makes you wonder what on earth they had been thinking for the past few years. An unapologetic and brutal juggernaut of thunderous drums and crushing riffs, underpinning Halford’s cartoon villain-esque screams of comic-book fantasy lyrics which may sound ridiculous elsewhere, but here, they just, well, work. From the title-track opener with its pneumatic drill of a drum solo intro casting the listener into a boiling maelstrom of bruising, wailing riffs, through the heavy grooves of Night Crawler. Only temporarily slowing with the oozing menace of “A Touch of Evil”, this is a simply great album. And it could just be the easiest answer to anyone who asks “What is metal?”


Master of Puppets – Metallica (1986)


There is usually a good reason why an “obvious choice” is just that, it’s because it’s simply one of the finest records of its genre of all time. Metallica’s third album is very often cited as the high water mark of thrash, the standard by which all others are measured. Eight tracks constructed with such meticulous mastery and maturity that belied their ages at the time of writing. Released in 1986, it would be the last to feature bass player, Cliff Burton, who was tragically killed in a bus crash in Sweden whilst the band was touring this album. His classical influences show through in his Bach-inspired solo in the epic instrumental, Orion. Subject matter ranging from the futility of war (Disposable Heroes), the hypocrisy of 80s televangelists (Leper Messiah), the torment of an asylum inmate in Welcome Home (Sanitarium), and the entrapment of drug addiction in the title track, (arguably still Metallica’s greatest song), this is an essential lesson in riff. Master of Puppets is simply a timeless classic which no self-respecting metal collection would be without.


Rust in Peace – Megadeth (1990)


Sometimes, technical brilliance can come at the expense of song writing. Not here. Megadeth’s fourth, and finest, album consists of songs, but those songs are built with riffs that, in places, sound like solos. Rust in Peace was the first Megadeth album to feature what many would class as the “classic” Megadeth line-up, with Nick Menza (drums) and Marty Friedman (lead guitar) joining Daves Mustaine and Ellefson; a quartet of true virtuosos.  Lyrically, the album is largely war-related (more or less), and, arguably, Mustaine’s strongest. But, ironically, no-one listens to this album for the vocals. The guitars are the lead here in every possible sense.  The opening riff of the aptly named Take No Prisoners is reminiscent of a buzzing mosquito, such is it’s speed and complexity, and it bites. The savagery remains throughout in an exhibition of syncopation, tempo-changes and time-signature indulgence, ambidextrous fretwork throughout is something to behold, breaking only for the darkly brooding Dawn Patrol. That said, for all it’s technical mastery, Rust in Peace never feels like a riff-salad. Everything has its place in the greater whole. And that whole is a stone-cold classic of its, and, frankly, any other genre.


The Blackening – Machine Head (2007)


Thirteen years and five albums (released to mixed receptions) after freedom rang with the shotgun blast of their superb debut, Burn My Eyes, Machine Head returned with a true masterpiece of the genre. The Blackening pulls no punches from the moment the needle hits the record. Opening your 8-track album with a track of ten and a half minutes betrays the middle finger-shaped mindset to accepted industry norms and sets the scene for an hour-long onslaught of sonic mastery. Four of the eight tracks exceed nine minutes, yet none drag. On an album consisting entirely of epics, two pinnacles rise above the rest. Firstly, Aesthetics of Hate, a justifiably rage-filled repost to the vile, hate-filled article of the same title written by William Grim, celebrating the on-stage murder of Damage Plan and former Pantera guitarist, Dimebag Darrell. The seething anger of Rob Flynn’s vocals preceding the melodic dogfight of the tandem guitar solos between Flynn and Phil Demmel. Secondly, the anthemic Halo, unmistakeably Machine Head from the first note. On its release, The Blackening was hailed by some as the “Master of Puppets” for a new generation. We wait with eager anticipation to see what will be the “The Blackening” for the next.


Seasons in the Abyss – Slayer (1990)


Slayer’s fifth offering built on the dark intensity of Reign in Blood and the dynamism of South of Heaven before it, to produce what is arguably their most complete album. In what would be drummer Dave Lombardo’s last studio offering with the band, Seasons… contained all that one would expect from a Slayer album; aggression, intensity, darkness. But here was a band that had truly found their groove. The opening track War Ensemble detonates in typical Slayer style with pounding brutality. Whilst the speed-metal riffs are all there, with Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King trading their frenzied solos, with this release, they found the perfect balance between sheer velocity and sledgehammer-like pummelling grooves. The chilling terror of Dead Skin Mask, based on the serial killer, Ed Gein,  and the title track album closer are notable highlights. However, the album as a whole demonstrates a maturity in songwriting which combines the very best elements of its two classic predecessors.


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