Thrash is the most popular form of heavy metal. From raw sales numbers data, thrash metal sells, and continues to be popular today. This heavy and fast metal subgenre features major influences from NWOBHM and hardcore punk. Some classic bands like Sepultura and Kreator and many of the newer generation thrash bands also borrow some from death metal. There are bands like Pantera who consistently repeat these heavy and fast riffs within a song which helped to create the very popular thrash subcategory known as groove metal. Other subcategories include the heavily hardcore influenced crossover thrash, the mixed metalcore of neothrash and German palm muted Teutonic thrash. While the majority of the albums featured on this list are from the 80’s and 90’s, bands from the 2000’s have carried on the torch of thrash metal like Battlecross, Skeletonwitch and Lamb Of God.
This was by far one of the most difficult lists we have ever had to put together. There are so many great thrash albums out there that this list could have easily been 100 to 200 albums in length. Naturally that means there should be a fair amount of debate about the list and we certainly welcome some respectful candor. Because this was such a hard list to narrow down, there are a few albums that really should have made it into the top 25 but when all was said an done, we just did not have room for them. Therefore we begin with 5 honorable mentions that just missed the cut.
- Overkill – Horrorscope
- Artillery – By Inheritance
- Flotsam and Jetsam – Doomsday For The Deceiver
- Sacred Reich – The American Way
- Anthrax – Persistence Of Time
#25. Target Earth – Voivod
This is by far one of the newer albums on the list having been released in 2013, but there is no denying how spectacular Voivod’s sixteenth album truly is. Target Earth seamlessly blends melodic vocals, progressive time signatures, thrash riffs and solos and amazing drumming. The album has the amazing knack for being all over the place in a very structured way. No one really knew what this album would be like after the death of main songwriter Denis “Piggy” D’Amour. However, Jean-Yves “Blacky” Theriault, who hadn’t written a song since 1991, and Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain, who was Piggy’s replacement picked up the slack without a hitch helping Target Earth to become one of the band’s most critically acclaimed albums to date.
#24. Act III – Death Angel
Act III, released in 1990, is the third album from California thrash metal veterans Death Angel. It may have been their most successful as Death Angel broke through onto MTV with the singles “Seemingly Endless Time” and “Room with a View”. The album is also notorious for being the one that put an end to the band for 13 years. During the tour for the album, the band was in a bus crash which critically injured drummer Andy Galeon. It took him over a year to recover and in the meantime singer Mark Osegueda left the band causing them to dissolve. Fortunately they reunited in 2004 and have been back together ever since. However this album is still considered by many to be the band’s very best.
#23. Infernal Overkill – Destruction
This is the 1985 debut album from German Teutonic thrashers, Destruction. The album was heavily influenced by Venom’s 1982 speed metal album Black Metal. Much like their German brethren in Kreator and Sodom, the band was one of the first to infuse extreme metal into thrash. In particular, Infernal Overkill featured a steady dose of black metal influence, most notably in the vocals of Marcel Schirmer. Many consider this to be one of a few 80’s thrash efforts that paved the way for future thrash fusion artists like Skeletonwitch and Toxic Holocaust. From here, the band released twelve more albums and are currently working on their next one. After Infernal Overkill, the band did drop much of the black metal from their sound , but have still remained one of the more extreme thrash metal bands around.
#22. Vulgar Display of Power – Pantera
Pantera’s 1992 album, Vulgar Display Of Power, is one of the most popular and sought after heavy metal albums of the 1990’s. This is the album where the band really honed their signature sound and is considered the benchmark of the groove metal style. The album arguably gave the world Pantera’s three most well know songs, “Walk”, “This Love” and “Mouth for War”. This was one of the first extremely heavy albums to meet with a ton of mainstream success. It has reached #44 on the Billboard 200 and has since hit double platinum status in the United States. For an album this heavy to be that successful at that time is saying a lot, as it came out when the popularity of heavy metal was in a steep decline due to the rise of grunge and alternative music. Vulgar Display Of Power continues to be one of the most influential metal albums ever and is consistently in many top heavy metal and thrash album lists.
#21. Alice In Hell – Annihilator
Annihilator debuted their Canadian brand of thrash metal with 1989’s Alice In Hell. The album was heavily influenced by Voivod’s mixture of progressive metal and thrash. However, Annihilator took things to the next level by adding in elements from technical death metal. This particular album is seen as one of the first technical thrash albums. It has received critical praise from most for it’s extremely complicated song structures and flawless guitar riffs. At the time, this album was certainly not as well understood by metal fans as it is today. Now an entire generation of bands the likes of Revocation and Wretched all have aspects of Alice In Hell in their music. Annihilator just released their fourteenth album in 2013 and they continue to receive a lot of praise from both fans and critics.
#20. The New Order – Testament
The New Order is the second album from California thrash masters, Testament. This is the first album from the band that met with mainstream success as it featured the popular singles “Trial by Fire”, “The Preacher” and an amazing cover of Aerosmith‘s “Nobody’s Fault”. The album reached number 136 on the Billboard 200 and is Testament’s longest charting album to date. Many critics and fans alike consider this to be a close second to the band’s debut album The Legacy. The band continues to play a lot of material from The New Order during live performances as these songs are always heavily requested by the fans.
#19. Hordes Of Chaos – Kreator
Released in 2009, Hordes of Chaos is one of the newer albums from German extreme thrash legends, Kreator. Much like the band’s second album, Pleasure To Kill, the album has a much more raw and heavy sound as it was recorded in a live setting. Even though the band has been releasing albums since 1985 and had a decent level of popularity in the 1980’s, this was the first album to hit the Billboard charts in the United States debuting at #165. It was one of the band’s highest rated albums amongst critics as it not only hearkened back to their 1980’s sound, but also built upon it with more modern elements of melodic death metal. The album has been a major influence on current thrash acts, like Battlecross, who mix in a lot of guitar harmonization. The band has since released Phantom Antichrist in 2012, which was much along the same lines as Hordes Of Chaos. Phantom was nearly as good and was extremely difficult to leave off of this list. If the band continues in this way, maybe more people will take notice and they will begin to get the respect they so richly deserve.
#18. Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying – Megadeth
Here we have the first appearance on a Big 4 band(Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax) on our list and it’s a big one. Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying may just be Megadeth’s most commercially popular album as it gave the world the very well known single “Peace Sells”. The opening bass line to this track was used for years by MTV news and it is one of the band’s most requested live performances. Along with Metallica’s Master of Puppets and Slayer’s Reign In Blood, which were all released in 1986 (wow what a year!), this album helped to bring notoriety to both thrash and extreme metal. Those fans that had become disenfranchised with glam metal began following Megadeth in droves giving them a very large cult following. In 2011 Megadeth, released a 2-disc 25th anniversary edition of the album that featured four additional tracks. This is another album that is consistently on top heavy metal and thrash album lists, as it continues to be one of the most recognizable metal albums of all time.
#17. Arise – Sepultura
Sepultura is the band that birthed death thrash with albums like Morbid Visions, Schizophrenia and Beneath The Remains. However, it wasn’t until 1991, with the release of Arise, that the metal fans really began to take notice. This was due in large part to the band beginning to branch out with their sound. Sepultura began experimenting with industrial metal, hardcore and Brazilian native tribal music. It was the band’s first album on the Billboard 200 at #119 and it has reached silver status in the United States. Most agree that this is one of the band’s best albums. It is definitely the one that helped catapult their career, as subsequent albums like Chaos A.D. and Roots met with a fair amount of commercial success. However, this will always be known as the album that got them to where they are today.
#16. Agent Orange – Sodom
Here’s yet another release from one of the Big 3 of German Teutonic thrash and it’s Sodom’s 1989 masterpiece Agent Orange. Much of the album’s lyrical content deals with the Vietnam War and the heavy extreme thrash background is the perfect element to tell that story. The album is easily the band’s most well known, due in large part to it’s cool name and memorable cover art. However, it also gave the band one of their first popular singles in the form of the song “Ausgebombt”. Sodom is a band that has always flown slightly under the radar, but they are certainly due a big amount of respect for consistently turning out amazingly heavy albums like Agent Orange. Hopefully through lists like ours, the band will start to get more of the kudos that they deserve.
#15. Show No Mercy – Slayer
This may have been the one that started it all. Show No Mercy was certainly not the first thrash metal album ever and it was definitely not the first to infuse elements of extreme metal. However, it certainly was one of the first thrash album to reach a modest level of popularity in the early 1980’s. It became Metal Blade’s highest selling record ever at the time of its release. To this day, it is still considered one of the heaviest and fastest albums of all time. Many bands including Darkthrone and Immortal cite this album as the one that influenced them to begin mixing extreme metal subgenres. Some current death metal acts even consider it the “blueprint” for the creation of death metal. This is certainly not the signature Slayer sound that we have all become accustomed to, but along with Venom’s Black Metal, it is one of the most influential extreme metal albums of all time.
#14. Dimension Hatross – Voivod
1988’s Dimension Hatross is Voivod’s fourth album and second on which the band uses progressive elements. The band began dabbling in progressive on their previous album Killing Technology, but this album marks the point where Voivod jumped head first into the progressive pool. Dimension Hatross really helped to form who the band is and kicked off a long string of excellent, critically acclaimed albums. It is a concept album split into two acts that tells the story of the band’s mascot Korgull. Prior to this album, the industry had never heard music with such a seamless mix of speed and technical perfection. This is widely regarded as one of the most influential and best progressive metal albums ever recorded. This is the definitive album for any progressive or technical thrash band that came after it.
#13. So Far, So Good…So What! – Megadeth
This is one of the most severely overlooked albums in Megadeth’s discography. From the first track, the instrumental “Into the Lungs of Hell,” you can tell Megadeth have stepped up their heaviness from Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying. Compared to Countdown to Extinction, Rust in Peace, and Peace Sells, So Far So Good…So What! barely gets a mention, but don’t let that fool you. This is the sole record with underrated guitarist Jeff Young, who proves right from the get go he can live up the likes of Chris Poland and Mustaine himself. SFSGSW intensifies the guitar solos, has better production values, and offers a preview of the masterwork that Mustaine had up his sleeve in two short years (Rust in Peace). You’ll be hard pressed to find a thrashier track than “Set the World Afire.” This is followed by Megadeth’s cover of The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” The album has great tone in the rhythm guitar and throughout the album. Jeff Young really put his mark on this album in terms of sound and tone. Chuck Behler, also making his first and last appearance on a Megadeth album, while no Gar Samuelson, is pretty formidable. “In My Darkest Hour” is a tribute to former Metallica band mate, Cliff Burton, which was written in one sitting. However, Metallica should take notes on how to write a real thrash-ballad here.
#12. Cowboys From Hell – Pantera
One of the most overlooked thrash riffs of all time is in the title track of the album, Cowboys From Hell. Released in 1990, thrash got a hardcore makeover from the first real thrash album Pantera had released up until this point. By combining elements of thrash, hardcore, and traditional heavy metal, along with some of their own southern sludge, they came up with their own unique version of thrash which became known as groove metal. Countless others would piggyback on the style and capitalize on the movement, which would later evolve into nu metal in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, when most of “metal” bands had it wrong. While this wasn’t their first album, Cowboys From Hell introduced us to the stylings of the late, great “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, then known as “Diamond” Darrell. It also created the blueprint for the 1990’s Pantera sound. This is the style the band built upon on the albums Vulgar Display Of Power and Far Beyond Driven both of which literally blew the doors of mainstream metal off their hinges.
#11. Master Of Puppets – Metallica
Oh yes, you’ll see this album generically plopped on the top of many “top thrash albums” lists, but let’s be real here. There’s no denying its popularity as it has gone platinum 6 times in the United States and it is hailed by many outside of metal as being one of the best metal albums ever. Master of Puppets is no doubt a masterpiece. It definitely has its heavier moments, but is the majority of it really thrash metal, or just very well written heavy metal? While “Battery” “Master of Puppets,” “Damage INC” and “Disposable Heroes” are the exceptions here, the other half of the album isn’t as much thrash as it is great heavy metal.If you’re going to rate a Metallica album on its thrashiness, this one doesn’t come close to Kill ‘Em All, but its legacy speaks for itself. In terms of influence, Master of Puppets truly mattered and struck a chord with the largest audience of any thrash metal band. Metallica’s following grew and grew after Master of Puppets. The bulk of their success is really derived from this one single album in terms of legacy and impact.
#10. The Years Of Decay – Overkill
With the exception of Anthrax, East Coast thrash is often overlooked. Overkill is one of those bands that sometimes gets passed over, but there’s no denying the longevity of their amazing thrash career. The band has released sixteen excellent albums with their seventeenth coming in 2014, but their 1989 album The Years Of Decay still stands as the best one of their career. The album reached #155 on the Billboard 200. Because of this album, the band gained some popularity which helped their next release Horrorscope reach #29 on the charts. The Years Of Decay easily contains the bands best songwriting and most well played, ripping riffs. Their popularity has declined some in recent years, although I have no idea why. Overkill is definitely one of the best and most consistent thrash bands of all time and The Years Of Decay is one of the top 2-3 East Coast thrash albums period.
#9. Among The Living – Anthrax
It was difficult to only have one Anthrax album on the list, but as we said this was definitely the hardest list to narrow down so far. If there was only room for one, Among The Living had to be it. This is by far the band’s most well respected effort amongst the die hard fans and has given the world classic thrash songs like “Indians” and “Caught In A Mosh”. This album also focused on the band’s fun loving, less serious side as they began wearing surfer clothes and most of the lyrical themes dealt with comic books and movies. At the time critics took this silliness to be a lack of effort, but more contemporary reviewers have since gone back and pointed out why this is one of the band’s most well written and well executed albums. The band has since released a deluxe edition of the album in 2009 and even played it in its entirety on tour in 2013. Critical feedback is always taken into account when rating an album. However the opinions of the band’s fans always count the most, which is what makes Among The Living Anthrax’s best album.
#8. Kill Em All – Metallica
One could say that Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All is their only true foray into thrash territory. Yes, they’ve been labeled as one of the “Big 4” bands of thrash, but when it comes to pure thrash, they included less and less of it on their albums after Kill ‘Em All. That’s not to say that the albums immediately after this one aren’t great — they are. They just progressively get less thrashy. Kill ‘Em All, on the other hand, is a pure masterwork of voracious thrash genius. Nothing is as fast or as heavy as the material on this particular album. If you’ve forgotten how heavy it is, go back and give it another listen. Recorded back in the day when the band was truly a garage band, the raw intensity pelts you in the face with “Hit the Lights” and plows onward to “The Four Horsemen.” Maybe they can’t play this fast anymore. Maybe it was all Mustaine’s and Cliff Burton’s early influence. Whatever the case may be, this is a very different band than you hear on St. Anger and Death Magnetic, and this is their most “thrash” release of them all.
#7. The Legacy – Testament
This is Testament’s 1987 debut album and it may also be their best album to date. It’s funny, but most of the lyrics on the album were written by Steve Souza as he was the band’s original singer before moving on to Exodus. After the release of this album, Testament gained instant respect from both thrash metal fans and bands worldwide. At this point they were compared a lot to Metallica, although Testament was much more traditional thrash than Metallica was at the time. They were able to continue this success on their next album The New Order which we featured earlier on our list. The Legacy is chock full of excellent riffs, great song arrangements and the signature harsher vocals of Chuck Billy. This is not the extreme thrash of the German bands or Slayer, but it was definitely one of the heavier thrash albums of the 1980’s.
#6. Beneath The Remains – Sepultura
According to Max Cavalera, Sepultura’s third album released in 1989 is where the band finally “found their style”. Their previous two releases were good, but were a bit all over the place and had very low production values. On Beneath The Remains, the band’s songwriting improved by leaps and bounds and the production was worlds better. This means that more fans began to take notice of the young Brazilian thrashers and their unique death thrash sound. The songs “Inner Self” and “Mass Hypnosis” are perfect examples of well written and heavy death thrash tunes. Over the years as the band’s style began to change into more of a groove metal sound, fans began to go back and listen to their older material for some thrash nostalgia. In doing so, people began to see the major merit of what had once been a cult classic album. Now Beneath The Remains is considered a thrash classic and the band’s best album of all time.
#5. Reign in Blood – Slayer
For most, this is the quintessential Slayer album. After years of mixing thrash, speed metal, hardcore and death metal, the band finally created the signature sound they are now known for with their 1986 magnum opus Reign In Blood. This was the band’s first collaboration with accomplished producer Rick Rubin, so naturally the riffs, writing and production were much tighter than on the band’s previous releases. However, they were still able to maintain the raw and heavy sound that set them apart from most other thrash bands. It was Slayer’s first album to chart on Billboard at #94 and it was certified gold in the U.S. six years after its release. The great combination of underground metal with top notch producing finally made extreme metal music accessible to the masses helping to give a boost to many thrash and death metal bands of the time. Although it received no radio airplay, the album boasts two of Slayer’s best and most well known songs “Angel of Death” and “Raining Blood”. This album is a testament to how underground tape trading can quickly blow up big. Reign In Blood is now considered on of the most influential metal albums of all time, as its graphic lyrics and images have influenced artists everywhere from extreme metal to rap music and beyond.
#4. Bonded By Blood – Exodus
Bonded By Blood is the 1985 debut from Bay Area thrashers Exodus. It is regarded by many, along with Kill ‘Em All and Show No Mercy, as one of the albums that began the initial launch of thrash’s popularity. The mainstream metal fan may not know this album as well as some others, but the majority of metal bands know the enormous impact that this album had on thrash and on the whole metal scene in general. Even many contemporary thrash fans are either unaware of this album’s existence or have passed it over in favor of Exodus’ later albums. This was the first album to feature the guitar solo trade-off which is now commonplace in metalcore, neo-thrash and some melodic death metal. This was also the only album to feature original lead singer Paul Baloff on vocals. The band has had a few other singers over time, so you can definitely tell the huge difference that his singing style made on this album. It’s sad that more metal fans have not checked out this album, but it will always be considered one of the most influential thrash albums ever by those in the know.
#3. Ride The Lightning – Metallica
Metallica will never come close to the beautiful Ride the Lightning album of 1984, which is largely seen as their second-best or best effort. From a perspective of pure thrash, Ride the Lightning trumps Master of Puppets for intensity. Perhaps it’s because some of the riffs were leftovers from when Mustaine was in the band, or maybe it was because they were simply at their hungriest. They needed this album to be a success, and they had the talents of Cliff Burton at their disposal. You can hear the big improvement in songwriting between Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning. The band sounds more mature, and the thrash sounds more developed. This is the album that showed everyone that you can mix raw fast thrash with great production and well written slower tempos. RTL is as powerful and moody as Kill ‘Em All is raw and genre defining. Take one listen to “Fight Fire With Fire” or the title track and you’ll immediately know why this album has remained so popular over the decades. Ride the Lightning also just happens to be on our top selling metal albums list. Even though this album never came close to topping the charts, it’s one of Metallica’s most commercially successful, raking in over 6 million sales according to the RIAA. In terms of pure thrash, that makes this the second best selling thrash album ever after Master of Puppets.
#2. Rust In Peace – Megadeth
Megadeth had some tumultuous years leading up to the 1990 thrash masterpiece Rust In Peace. Chuck Behler’s drum tech, Nick Menza, was given a promotion to fill in the vacant slot when he was fired from the band. To fill in Jeff Young’s spot, Mustaine interviewed a number of guitarists, one of which was “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott. Ultimately, it was Marty Friedman who would land the position, which added the most virtuosity, talent, and technicality of any Megadeth lineup to date. With their definitive Rust In Peace era lineup now in place, the band recorded their album, which began with the classic track “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due.” From a musical standpoint, this song sets the tone of the album, which has many progressive elements. The song isn’t standard thrash riffing, and maintains as much harmonization and melody as possible. Everyone just sounds really inspired, energetic, and furious on this track. This is Megadeth at their absolute peak. The second track, “Hangar 18,” like “Holy Wars,” was released as a single. The video featured UFO, Area 51, and alien conspiracy theories coupled with some lookalike actors portraying the most prominent world leaders of the time. Friedman gets to really show off here, dueling back and forth with Mustaine in a harmonizing fury. Throughout the rest of the album, songs contained odd time signatures, a stockpile of incredible riffs, angry Mustaine lyrics, and the fastest we may ever hear Megadeth again. In 2010, Megadeth toured to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Rust in Peace, playing every track from the album. This is truly one of the best thrash albums of all time and it came out at a time when metal’s popularity was at its peak, so the fact that the band didn’t just mail it in is amazing in itself.
#1. Pleasure To Kill – Kreator
Bet you thought a Big 4 band was going to occupy this spot. Well for our money and for many others, Kreator’s 1986 album Pleasure To Kill, has done a lot more for the totality of the thrash metal genre than the Big 4 bands best albums combined. This is the album that death metal, black metal and thrash bands alike can all agree on as being the biggest influence on all extreme metal. The band members were all big fans of speed metal/NWOBHM band, Venom, and took their extreme speed metal sound to the next level and beyond. You can find ways in which this album influenced pretty much every single subcategory of extreme metal from Mille Petrozza’s death metal and black metal style vocals to Jurgen Reil’s hyper fast blast beat drumming. There is even some palm muting and progressive elements that surely paved the way for bands like Meshuggah, The Dillinger Escape Plan and Protest The Hero. On top of all of that, the album is also amongst the most well written and perfectly executed thrash albums of all time. The songs are all excellent headbangers that will keep you listening to the album on repeat. For some reason Kreator has never really gotten the respect that they truly deserve. Much of this is probably due to the fact that the Big 4 bands were all hugely popular in America at the time, vastly overshadowing Kreator. We are now giving respect to the one thrash band that influenced a myriad of thrash and metal albums and artists moreso than probably anyone in the history of thrash.
What did you think of the list? Did your favorites make the cut? What albums would you add or subtract? What is your #1 favorite thrash album of all time? Tell us in the comments section.
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