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Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax are collectively known as thrash’s Big Four – the cornerstones upon which the entire thrash movement is built, and the compass one uses to orient oneself when navigating the turbulent waters of that aggressive, precise, angry, powerful metal variant.
But thrash does not begin and end with those four bands. For each one of the Big Four there are dozens more who trod similar ground but never quite made the leap to superstardom. Here are the great thrash bands that came mighty close to dislodging one of the Big Four but didn’t quite get over the line.
10. Forced Entry
This Seattle-area thrash band’s sound was so ahead of its time that only now are bands like Cynic catching up. Guitarist Brad Hull was a technical monster, writing cracking riffs punctuated with staccato harmonics and a fat, warm, midrange-heavy tone in an era when everyone else scooped the mids right out. Hull was also a wild man when it came to whammy bar tricks. The band’s crowning glory is 1991’s As Above, So Below, which was reissued in 2009 after many years out-of-print.
9. Sacred Reich
These Phoenix, Arizona, thrashers were fiercely political in their lyrical approach and equally aggressive in their raw, in-your-face production. Drummer Dave McClain joined in 1991 and went on to join Machine Head in 1995, while founder Phil Rind has reconvened Wiley Arnett, Jason Rainey and Greg Hall to play occasional shows. The 1993 album Independent is an excellent entry point into the band’s particular brand of aggressive thrash.
Founded in Essen, Germany, in 1982, Kreator built on the sound of early thrash influencers Venom (see honorable mentions below) and punched it up with more precision and aggression. Guitarist/vocalist Mille Petrozza is one of the most furious rhythm guitarists in the genre, and is no slouch when it comes to soloing either. Check out the band’s 2009 release Hordes Of Chaos or their 1989 classic Extreme Aggression.
Featuring the inimitable vocals of Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, Overkill was at one time the musical home of future Anthrax lead guitarist Dan Spitz, and they hit the big time with The Years Of Decay in 1989. Produced by Terry Date (Pantera, Soundgarden, White Zombie), the album combined stellar production with complex song structures. It was followed up in 1991 with Horrorscope, which featured new guitarists Rob Cannavino and Merritt Gant, who teamed up for a particularly memorable cover of Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein. The band is still active today, and their most recent release is 2010’s Ironbound.
A prog-inspired thrash outfit from Quebec, Canada, Voivod also tempered their metal with an occasional punkish edge, and were not afraid to delve into political post-apocalyptic science fiction themes in their lyrics. Although there are gems on all of the band’s albums (including those made after original guitarist Dennis “Piggy” D’Amour passed away in 2005), Nothingface (1989) and Angel Rat (1991) are held in particularly lofty regard among prog-thrash connoisseurs.
Essentially a one-man band apart with occasional contributors brought in under a revolving door policy, Bathory was the creation of Quorthon, who formed the band when he was 17 years old in 1983. Bathory’s albums were typically quite lo-fi but Quorthon never let the limitations of his 4-track recording medium affect his songwriting or playing. Tragically, Quorthon passed away of heart failure aged 38 in 2004.
4. Death Angel
These Bay Area thrash icons were formed in 1982 by cousins Rob Cavestany, Dennis Pepa, Gus Pepa and Andy Galeon. Right as they were poised to hit the big time with 1990's Act III, Galeon was sidelined by a traffic accident and the band were never quite able to capitalize on the buzz surrounding them. After a hiatus lasting most of the 1990s, the band returned in 2000, and their most recent thrashfest is 2010’s Relentless Retribution.
Another classic thrash band from Canada, Annihilator are led by virtuoso guitarist Jeff Waters, a huge influence on modern metal heroes Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom) and Willie Adler and Mark Morton (Lamb of God). Waters has played V-style guitars throughout almost his entire career, and currently dishes out ferocious thrash riffs on his signature Epiphone Annihilation-V guitars. Annihilator’s most recent release is a self-titled 2010 album that features a cover of Van Halen’s “Romeo Delight.”
The brainchild of Brazilian brothers Max and Iggor Cavalera, Sepultura’s early lo-fi works were underground classics but the band started to shrug off the Slayer influences with Beneath the Remains in 1989. By the time Arise was released in 1991, Sepultura were poised to become the new kings of thrash, and their 1996 hit Roots was one of the few metal albums to survive the ’90s intact. Sepultura, however, did not: Max left to form Soulfly that same year, and Iggor left in 2007. The brothers reunited in the thrash-influenced Cavalera Conspiracy in 2007 and the band is preparing to release their second album, Blunt Force Trauma.
Another classic Bay Area thrash stalwart, Exodus was formed in 1980 by Kirk Hammett and Paul Baloff, with Hammett’s guitar tech Gary Holt stepping up to the co-axeman role early in the group’s history. While Hammett went on to bigger things with Metallica, Holt and Co. released the classic Bonded by Blood in 1985, and a few more albums before calling it a day after 1992’s Force Of Habit. A 2001 reunion led to several new classics, including 2010’s brutal Exhibit B: The Human Condition. Most recently, Holt was drafted into Slayer to sub for Jeff Hannemann while he recovers from surgery.
Venom – This influential band caught the end of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and their first two albums, Welcome to Hell and Black Metal, were hugely inspirational to those who would go on to create thrash. Their musicianship was often a little rough around the edges compared to the ultra-precise thrash that followed, but their attitude and influence could not be denied.
Hydra Vein – This British thrash band released only two albums – Rather Death Than False of Faith and After the Dream. The former received strong exposure on Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show on BBC Radio One and the band picked up some prestigious support, but despite their raw yet technical sound they never quite hit the big time.
Destroyer 666 – Originally from Australia but now spread between the Netherlands, England and Germany, Destroyer 666 have veered between thrash, black metal and extreme metal during their 17 years. Debut EP Violence is the Prince of this World features Damaged drummer Matt “Skitz” Sanders, recognized as one of the fastest skinsmen in metal.
Forbidden – A breeding ground for metal stars, Forbidden’s ranks have included Paul Bostaph (Slayer), Glen Alvelais (Testament), Robb Flynn (Machine Head) and Tim Calvert (Nevermore). The band’s most recent album is 2010’s Omega Wave.
Possessed – Straddling the jagged chasm between thrash metal and death metal, Possessed were notable for their incredible speed, guttural vocals, and for being home to future Primus guitarist Larry Lalonde.