An introduction to…Thrash Metal

Alex Hill tells us about the extreme sub-genre of metal which is best served loud 

Thrash metal. The name says it all really. Thrash. It’s fast, it’s angry and it’s loud. Think of speeding, low-end percussive guitar riffs with chunks of distortion, maniacal drums, guitar solos that scream and swirl, and lyrics that bleed with rage; essentially, punk that’s louder, heavier and faster. Of course, to many people reading this, that could describe almost any kind of metal, but Thrash is definitely distinctive: the guitar work contrasts low-register riffs with high-register solos which use legato phrasing and techniques to increase the speed such as sweep and tremolo picking and tapping. Discords feature heavily, as do chromaticisms, and the drums are characterised by double-bass drum kicks and intense use of the snare drum. As regards vocals, unlike most other extreme forms of metal, the ‘death growl’ or screaming doesn’t feature heavily in Thrash, and delivery is best described as a sort of melodic shouting. Lyrics often focus on warfare, death, isolation and political hypocrisy to name a few, and songs are structured with tempo changes, usually introduced by a single guitar playing the new riff on its own before the rest of the band joins in.

 

Origins

Although the genre became popular underground in the late 70s, it really flourished in the 80s with the emergence of the ‘Big Four’, whom I shall describe below. Among the earliest songs with ‘thrash elements’ are ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ by Queen (yes, Queen – Metallica regularly cover this song) in ’74 , and Black Sabbath’s ‘Symptom of the Universe’ in ‘75. Despite its development in America, the sound really developed out of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, with bands such as Diamond Head and Venom. However, it was Metallica’s formation in ’81 with the album ‘Kill ‘Em All’ that truly marked the beginning of Thrash.

 

Key Artists

‘The Big Four’ of Thrash are Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax, the essential albums of which are probably ‘Ride the Lightning’, ‘Reign in Blood’, ‘Rust in Peace’ and ‘Among the Living’ respectively. Other artists worth checking out include Overkill, Testament, Exodus and Sepultura (although by no means is all of their music Thrash). Most of these bands are still going, but there has also been a fair recent resurgence of the genre focused on bands such as Municipal Waste, Short Sharp Shock and Evile (who are playing in Oxford in October).

 

What came next?

Thrash led the way for Metal to become what it is known as today; angry, violent and loud, and its influence can be seen in later developments of extreme subgenres such as Black Metal and Death Metal. Metal really exploded and developed with a vast array of subgenres from this point on, but Thrash was definitely one of the first to popularise this new direction.  effectively transmitted through media and entertainment.