What Is Thrash Metal?
THRASH METAL (or simply THRASH) is a subgenre of heavy metal which is characterized by it’s pounding aggression, speedy power chords and generally fast tempo. The songs in THRASH often feature quick drum beats and low-register guitar riffs coupled with shredding lead guitar solos.
As for the lyrical subject matter of THRASH, it generally entails political criticism, environmental concern or dark occult references, yet does not remain limited to just those themes.
THRASH emerged in the early 1980s as bands began slamming together the guitar styles of the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) with the speed and aggression of hardcore punk. It can be said that THRASH developed as a rebellion against Regan-era conservatism or the widely accessible and overly consumed heavy metal subgenre of ‘glam metal’, which was also on the rise within the same time period.
As for the name’s origins, the term “THRASH” was first used in the music press by Kerrang! magazine‘s Malcolm Dome while referencing the band ANTHRAX‘s song “Metal Thrashing Mad“.
However if you had to pinpoint it, the conception of THRASH really took place in 1981, a year which saw the release VENOM‘s debut album, ‘Welcome To Hell‘, OVERKILL would record a song called ‘Unleash The Beast (Within)‘ and a little L.A. high-school band called ‘LEATHER CHARM‘ would create a song titled ‘Hit The Lights‘.
“The Big 4″
LEATHER CHARM vocalist James Hetfield would go on to leave the band and connect with Danish drummer Lars Ulrich after answering an ad in LA’s ‘The Recycler’, which read, “Drummer looking for other metal musicians to jam with TYGERS OF PAN TANG, DIAMOND HEAD and IRON MAIDEN“. Hence, the band METALLICA was officially formed on October 28, 1981 with guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist Ron McGovney rounding out the foursome.
1982 would see METALLICA part ways with McGovney and relocate from L.A. to San Francisco so as to recruit TRAUMA bassist Cliff Burton, who would join the group on the condition that the band settle in the bay area. The following year saw METALLICA eject guitarist Mustaine and replace him with EXODUS shredder Kirk Hammett, as well as the release of their debut album, ‘Kill ‘Em All‘. Huntington Park, California’s SLAYER would unleash the fearsome ‘Show No Mercy‘ album soon after, complete with it’s satanic imagery and left-hand path lyrical content.
Meanwhile, on the east coast, ANTHRAX would release their ‘Fistful Of Metal‘ album in January of 84, which would not only prove to be the inspiration for the name of the feverishly growing subgenre, with the song ‘Metal Thrashing Mad‘, but would also go on to garner great acclaim within the rising, sweaty and bruised underground scene that was THRASH.
1985 saw the release of ‘Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good!‘, the debut album from MEGADETH which was fronted by a pissed off Dave Mustaine after being ousted from METALLICA. This album made other bands in the scene pay strict attention with it’s hard-edged THRASH sound and insane riffs. Mustaine would fuel his determination with resentment and sheer guitar driven talent to give us quite possibly one of the genre’s most important debut albums.
Mustaine would say back in the day: “After getting fired from METALLICA, I wanted blood. Theirs. I wanted to be faster and heavier than them.”
Between 1986 and 1987, the scene seemed to hit it’s zenith with each of ‘the Big Four‘, being SLAYER, METALLICA, MEGADETH and ANTHRAX, releasing albums that would go on to define an era. METALLICA‘s ‘Master Of Puppets‘, SLAYER‘s ‘Reign In Blood‘, ANTHRAX‘s ‘Among The Living‘ and MEGADETH‘s ‘Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?‘.
Numerous bands would arise from within the THRASH era, each providing a significant addition to the sound of the aggressive subgenre. North America had acts like ANNIHILATOR, EXODUS, DARK ANGEL, TESTAMENT, FORBIDDEN, VIO-LENCE, SADUS, HEATHEN, NUCLEAR ASSAULT EXCITER, WHIPLASH, FLOTSAM & JETSAM, HIRAX, VOIVOD, and DEATH ANGEL.
Germany supplied their THRASH trinity of the bands KREATOR, SODOM and DESTRUCTION while Brazil would give us SEPULTURA. Across the pond in the UK, there was ONSLAUGHT and SABBAT, while CELTIC FROST and CORONER would come out of Switzerland. Numerous other bands would enter the scene only to fade away as quickly as they entered.
Over the last month, we here at Loaded Radio and Loadedradio.com have been tabulating your votes for who you think are the top THRASH bands of all time. We have done this tabulation through on-site voting, incoming emails and on-air requests, so we would like to personally thank each and every one of you who took the time to vote.
It was a rather lengthy process, but we have now narrowed down the ‘Top 13’ THRASH METAL Bands of all time as voted by you.
You can find them below.
Number 13. – FLOTSAM & JETSAM
Phoenix, Arizona’s FLOTSAM & JETSAM formed in 1981 under the name PARADOX by drummer Kelly David-Smith, guitarists Pete Mello and Dave Goulder and bassist Jason Newsted who would leave the band shortly after the release of their debut album to join METALLICA as Cliff Burton‘s successor after his untimely death in a tour bus accident.
After another name change or two (DREDLOX, DOGZ), and the addition of vocalist Eric A. Knutson, FLOTSAM & JETSAM made their mark by playing in and around California’s growing metal scene, performing alongside such acts as MEGADETH, ARMORED SAINT ALCATRAZZ, MALICE, EXITER and MERCYFUL FATE, just to name a few. The band would also drop two demo tapes in 1985 – ‘Iron Tears‘ and ‘Metal Shock‘.
FLOTSAM & JETSAM created their first music video, “Hammerhead“, from the ‘Metal Shock‘ demo, which they taped in bassist Newsted‘s apartment living room. They also made a live video at the infamous Bootlegger in Phoenix (owned by Gloria Cavalera, current wife of Max Cavalera of SOULFLY/ex-SEPULTURA fame). It was these videos and demos, as well as the band’s contributions to the ‘Speed Metal Hell II‘ and ‘Metal Massacre VII‘ compilations, that helped secure them a deal with Metal Blade Records.
The current FLOTSAM & JETSAM lineup includes vocalist Eric “A.K” Knutson, guitarists Michael Gilbert and Steve Conley, bassist Bill Bodily, and drummer Ken Mary. The band have gone through numerous personnel changes over the years, with vocalist Knutson being the only constant member.
FLOTSAM & JETSAM have released fourteen studio albums to date, with the latest being 2021’s ‘Blood In The Water‘. Although the band may not have seen similar levels of commercial success as some of their thrash metal contemporaries, FLOTSAM & JETSAM would emerge as a significant part of the second wave of the subgenre in the mid-to-late 80’s and enjoyed some success with the albums ‘No Place for Disgrace‘ (1988) and ‘When the Storm Comes Down‘ (1990), which would enter the Billboard 200 chart in that same year.
Number 12. – METAL CHURCH
Formed by guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof in 1980, San Francisco’s METAL CHURCH went on to become a formative influence within the THRASH subgenre. After relocating to Aberdeen, Washington, the band would go on to make a significant impression on the rising Seattle hard rock sound of the late 1980’s and early 90’s. With their melding of the aesthetics of the new wave of British heavy metal and American hard rock with “incredibly tight musicianship” and “piercingly screeched” vocals, METAL CHURCH paved the way for such notable acts as MOTHER LOVE BONE, ALICE IN CHAINS, SOUNDGARDEN, QUEENSRYCHE and countless others.
METAL CHURCH would release their self-titled, debut album in 1984, which included a cover of the DEEP PURPLE classic ‘Highway Star‘. Soon after, the band would get signed to Elektra Records at the urging of METALLICA‘s James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich.
Vanderhoof, vocalist David Wayne, guitarist Craig Wells, bassist Duke Erickson, and drummer Kirk Arrington composed the classic METAL CHURCH lineup featured on their first two records, while later members, vocalist Mike Howe and guitarist John Marshall, would also go on to make notable contributions to the overall sound of the group.
Shortly after the the release of the band’s second album, 1986’s ‘The Dark‘, METAL CHURCH became plagued with personnel changes within their lineup. Vanderhoof ceased performing with the group in 1986, to be replaced briefly by Mark Baker and more extensively by John Marshall. Vanderhoof would however continue to work within the group as a composer, co-writing much of their subsequent material.
After their first break up in 1996, METAL CHURCH reformed in 1998 with most of their classic lineup, including Vanderhoof‘s return to playing live, which resulted in 1999’s ‘Masterpeace‘ album. They would see numerous lineup changes thereafter, releasing three further studio albums while fronted by Ronny Munroe before disbanding once again in July 2009.
The band reunited for the second time in October 2012, and released their tenth studio album, 2013’s ‘Generation Nothing‘, a year later. Following Munroe‘s departure in the fall of 2014, METAL CHURCH considered disbanding for the third time before Howe was rehired in April 2015 as the band’s lead singer. He has since recorded two more albums with the group, who enjoyed a renewed popularity in the mid-to-late 2010s.
Number 11 – NUCLEAR ASSAULT
NUCLEAR ASSAULT formed in New York City in 1984, making them one of the main group’s within THRASH to emerge from the East Coast, along with such acts as OVERKILL, WHIPLASH, CARNIVORE and ANTHRAX; the latter of which was co-founded by NUCLEAR ASSAULT bassist Dan Lilker, who after the release of ANTHRAX‘s debut album, ‘Fistful of Metal‘, was ousted from the band.
Lilker decided to put together his own outfit, concentrating on an even heavier sound than his former band, and would go on to form NUCLEAR ASSAULT with guitarist/vocalist John Connelly (who had also been involved with ANTHRAX at one point), guitarist Mike Bogush and drummer Scott Duboys.
After a few more lineup changes, a couple demos and numerous gigs, the band signed a multi-album contract with Combat Records and recorded the ‘Game Over‘ album in April of 1986.
‘Game Over‘ was followed by the EP ‘The Plague‘, and then ‘Survive‘ in 1988 which would hit number 145 on the US Billboard 200 chart and see the band embark on a 180-day world tour throughout the United States and Europe.
Their next album, 1989’s ‘Handle with Care‘, would see the band at their commercial peak, with more extensive touring, including a trip to Japan and a U.S. trek opening for TESTAMENT and SAVATAGE. NUCLEAR ASSAULT released their first live album, ‘Live at the Hammersmith Odeon‘ in 1990, yet internal struggles within the band were becoming more prevalent leading to an eventual disbanding in 1995, followed by subsequent reunions in 1997 and 2002.
NUCLEAR ASSAULT have released six studio albums to date, with the latest being ‘Third World Genocide‘ in 2005 and a four track EP in 2015 called ‘Pounder‘.
On November 20, 2022, NUCLEAR ASSAULT announced on social media that they had once again called it quits, wrapping up the career of one of METAL‘s most essential acts. At least for now.
Number 10. – KREATOR
Essen, Germany’s KREATOR formed in 1982 and have been referred to as one of the “Big Four” of Teutonic THRASH, along with DESTRUCTION, SODOM and TANKARD. The band are often credited with being heavily influential in both death metal and black metal due to their music containing several elements of what was to become the kindling to both of those subgenres.
KREATOR‘s musical style, much like their lineup, has changed several times over the years, starting out as a VENOM-inspired speed metal act, to a more hard driven strait ahead thrash sound, to an industrial/gothic like metal group throughout the 1990s. In the early 2000s, however, KREATOR would return to their classic thrash sound, which has continued through to today.
To date, KREATOR have released fourteen studio albums, two EPs, two live albums and three compilation albums. They gained a large underground fanbase in the international thrash metal community, with their second studio album, 1986’s ‘Pleasure to Kill‘, which is regarded as an incredibly influential record of the subgenre. Numerous other releases in that same time period are also considered to be highly regarded works – including 1987’s ‘Terrible Certainty‘, 1989’s ‘Extreme Aggression‘ and 1990’s ‘Coma of Souls‘.
KREATOR would not achieve the same mainstream popularity as some of their METAL cohorts until later releases, including 2012’s ‘Phantom Antichrist‘ and its follow-up, 2017’s ‘Gods of Violence‘, both of which would make significant headway in the charts.
The band’s current lineup consists of lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Miland “Mille” Petrozza, drummer Jürgen “Ventor” Reil, lead guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö, and bassist Frédéric Leclercq. KREATOR‘s personnel have changed numerous times over their 39-year career, with Petrozza and Reil being the only two original members remaining in the group.
KREATOR has achieved worldwide sales of well over two million albums, making them one of the best-selling German metal bands of all time.
Number 9. – SEPULTURA
Hailing from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, SEPULTURA were formed in 1984 by brothers Max and Igor Cavalera. Initially intending to dawn the name “Shock Troops” before settling on SEPULTURA – which comes from a Portuguese translation of the MOTÖRHEAD song “Dancing on Your Grave“, or “Dançando na sua Sepultura” – the band would fuse elements of groove, thrash and death metal before moving in a more experimental direction by bringing in components of world music, industrial and hardcore punk.
The brothers Cavalera would take influence from such bands as HELLHAMMER, VENOM, CELTIC FROST, SODOM and the aggressive sound of the Bay Area scene to formulate the sonic assault that they were looking to present.
After several early membership changes, SEPULTURA established a stable lineup of Max on guitar, Igor on drums, vocalist Wagner Lamounier, and bassist Paulo Jr. Lamounier would vacate his spot within the group in March of 1985 after internal disagreements with his fellow band members, putting Max in the lead vocalist spot.
The addition of guitarist Andreas Kisser to the fold in 1987 as the band’s lead guitarist, after the departure of six-stringer Jairo Guedz, would bring a more technical style of playing to the group’s songwriting process as can be heard on the band’s second studio album, ‘Schizophrenia‘.
1991 would prove to be a stellar year for SEPULTURA, with the band playing for over 100,000 people at the ‘Rock in Rio II‘ festival and the release of the album ‘Arise‘, which would see the band become one of the most critically acclaimed thrash metal acts of the time with the record hitting No. 119 on the Billboard 200 chart.
The follow-up releases, 1993’s ‘Chaos A.D.‘ and 1996’s ‘Roots‘, saw the band branch out even further to include aspects of groove metal, industrial metal and experimentation with elements of the music of Brazil’s indigenous peoples on the latter, which would be hailed as a modern-day heavy metal classic.
SEPULTURA would eventually see founding members Max and Igor Cavalera departing in 1996 and 2006, respectively, leaving the band without any actual original members.
SEPULTURA‘s current lineup consists of longtime bassist Paulo Jr., vocalist Derrick Green, guitarist Andreas Kisser and drummer Eloy Casagrande.
SEPULTURA have released fifteen studio albums to date and have sold over three million records in the United States and almost 20 million worldwide. The band has accumulated multiple gold and platinum records all around the globe, including in countries as diverse as France, Australia, Indonesia, United States, and their native Brazil.
Number 8. – DEATH ANGEL
DEATH ANGEL hail from Daly City, California and was formed in 1982 by cousins Rob Cavestany (lead guitar, backing vocals), Dennis Pepa (lead vocals, bass), Gus Pepa (rhythm guitar), and Andy Galeon (drums).
DEATH ANGEL would drop their first demo, 1983’s ‘Heavy Metal Insanity‘, prior to Mark Osegueda – a second cousin and roadie for the group – joining the band as lead singer in 1984. In 1985, they recorded the ‘Kill as One‘ demo produced by METALLICA guitarist Kirk Hammett, whom they had met at a record store signing in 1983. It was this demo that would garner massive attention to the band through the then “underground tape trading wave” of the 1980s which saw metal fans trading demo cassettes and live bootlegs through magazine articles and personal hand offs.
Often referred to as one of the integral bands to come out of the Bay Area METAL scene of the 1980s, DEATH ANGEL would garner underground success with their first two studio albums, 1987’s ‘The Ultra-Violence‘ and 1988’s ‘Frolic Through the Park‘. After being signed to Geffen Records in 1989, DEATH ANGEL would release their only album for the label, ‘Act III‘, in 1990.
It was while the band was touring in support of ‘Act III‘ that then-drummer Andy Galeon would suffer injuries in a tour bus accident and need over a year to fully recover. This would result in the subsequent break up of DEATH ANGEL in 1991. However, in 2001 DEATH ANGEL would return, albeit without original rhythm guitarist Gus Pepa, with an appearance at at the Thrash of the Titans benefit concert for TESTAMENT singer Chuck Billy. The band have gone on to release six more albums, including 2019’s ‘Humanicide‘ which saw DEATH ANGEL receive their first-ever Grammy nomination.
DEATH ANGEL have released nine studio albums, two demo tapes, one box set and two live albums. The band has gone through several line-up changes, leaving guitarist Rob Cavestany as the only constant member; he and vocalist Mark Osegueda (who joined the group in 1984) are the only members of DEATH ANGEL to appear on all of their studio albums. That being said, if you’re looking for raw, aggressive, stripped down speed metal to turn up to ungodly volumes and piss the neighbors off with, then DEATH ANGEL are your band.
Number 7. – OVERKILL
Formed in 1980 in New Jersey, OVERKILL is a band that represented the aggression of the burgeoning east coast THRASH scene with incredible ferocity. Although the outfit has seen quite a few line-up changes, leaving bassist D. D. Verni and lead vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth as the only constant members, OVERKILL is one of the most successful east coast thrash bands, often being affectionately called “the MOTÖRHEAD of thrash metal”, based on their unique playing style of slamming together elements of punk, hard rock and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.
OVERKILL formed from the ashes of the punk band “the Lubricunts“, which featured bassist D. D. Verni and drummer Rat Skates. The two would place an ad looking for a guitarist and lead singer which was answered by guitarist Robert Pisarek and singer Bobby Ellsworth, which gave birth to the first lineup of OVERKILL, named after the second MOTÖRHEAD album.
In addition to Verni and Ellsworth, OVERKILL‘s current lineup includes Dave Linsk on lead guitar, Derek Tailer on rhythm guitar and Jason Bittner on drums. To date, OVERKILL have released nineteen studio albums, an album of cover songs, two EPs, one demo tape and three live albums all tabulating to selling over 16 million records worldwide.
OVERKILL are also considered to be one of the most active and hardest working bands within metal, as they have never broken up or taken any sort of hiatus and have always released a new studio album in no more than every three years since their inception.
They have also been cited as being integral in the shaping of the groove metal genre, with PANTERA‘s Dimebag Darrell stating his being heavily influenced by former OVERKILL guitarist Bobby Gustafson and his playing on the albums ‘Under the Influence‘ and ‘The Years of Decay‘. This led to PANTERA shifting their style from glam metal to the more recognized, groove metal sound the band became known for.
Number 6. – EXODUS
EXODUS is the band that can say without much hesitation that they did it first. Formed in 1979 in Richmond, California, EXODUS is notable for being not only the band to at one time feature guitarist Kirk Hammett before he would leave in 1983 to replace Dave Mustaine in METALLICA, but also for pre-dating the latter band as originators of the then new metal scene as it began to erupt with a sweaty and bruised ferocity.
There has been consistent debate as to whether or not EXODUS belong in the “Big Five” of THRASH, alongside METALLICA, MEGADETH, SLAYER and ANTHRAX, due to their massive involvement within the early Bay Area scene. Plain and simply, if the “Big Four” were shooting for an accurate display of the top bands who paved a heavily distorted way for every group that would carry the moniker of “THRASH METAL” thereafter, then it would, without question, need to be called “The Big Five” with EXODUS featured prominently.
The band’s current lineup consists of guitarists Gary Holt and Lee Altus, bassist Jack Gibson, drummer Tom Hunting, and lead vocalist Steve “Zetro” Souza. There are no original members left in EXODUS other than Hunting, who would leave the band a few times before returning to the drum kit for good in 2007. Holt, who replaced original guitarist Tim Agnello in 1981, has been the most consistent member throughout the band’s various lineup changes and break-ups, and is also the only member to play on every EXODUS release.
Since its formation, EXODUS have released ten studio albums, two live albums, one compilation album, and a re-recording of their first album and have gone on to sell over five million records worldwide. Their debut album, 1985’s ‘Bonded By Blood‘, is considered to be one of the most influential THRASH releases of all time.
That being said, the group has also seen it’s share of hardships with periods of bitter infighting between band members, disagreements with record companies, two extended hiatuses, band member deaths and substance abuse issues. After a break up in 1994 and a short-lived reunion in 1997–1998, EXODUS would reunite in 2001, go on to release five more studio albums and continue to kick the asses of numerous willing fans worldwide.
Number 5. – TESTAMENT
TESTAMENT hail from Berkeley, California and were formed in 1983 under the name ‘Legacy‘.
TESTAMENT were essentially the band that picked up the reigns where METALLICA seemed to leave them, becoming one of the leaders of the second wave of the aggressive subgenre in the late 80’s.
The band signed to Atlantic Records in 1986, and decided on the moniker TESTAMENT after ditching their ‘Legacy‘ name and would release their debut album, ‘The Legacy‘, in 1987. Their follow-up album, 1988’s ‘The New Order‘, would be a sign of the riff heavy aggression and things still to come from the band.
It was really TESTAMENT‘s next four albums that would really drive home the group’s skill and dominance in a subgenre that was seeing a second coming. 1989’s ‘Practice What You Preach‘, 1990’s ‘Souls of Black‘, 1992’s ‘The Ritual‘ and 1994’s ‘Low‘ all presented the ferociousness, yet incredible musicianship of the band.
To date, TESTAMENT have dropped thirteen studio albums (one being a collection of re-recorded songs), four live albums, five compilation albums, twelve singles and three DVDs.
TESTAMENT‘s current lineup features guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick, lead vocalist Chuck Billy, drummer Gene Hoglan, and bassist Steve Di Giorgio, yet have seen quite a few lineup changes over the years. Singer Chuck Billy actually replaced original singer Steve “Zetro” Souza (who would leave the band to join EXODUS, replacing Paul Baloff) in 1986, just prior to the recording of their first album.
He and Peterson are the only members to appear on all of TESTAMENT‘s studio albums. They are “essential listening” for anyone exploring the subgenre of THRASH and continue to pulverize their rabid fan base with unrelenting savagery.
Number 4. – ANTHRAX
ANTHRAX formed in New York City in 1981 by guitarist Scott Ian and bassist Dan Lilker, and would go on to be considered one of the most significant and important groups within the THRASH subgenre. They, along with OVERKILL and NUCLEAR ASSAULT, were New York’s “speed metal trinity” that solidified the east coast’s place in an erupting scene that seemed to be exploding with west coast acts.
ANTHRAX would also stand out from their contemporaries by integrating elements of humor and comic book references within their lyrics, yet would still deliver the aggressive riffs and insane drumming responsible for the emergence of the speed metal subgenre. In 1989, Brad Tolinski of Guitar World magazine wrote, “If EXODUS is a speed metal equivalent of the ROLLING STONES, then New York-based ANTHRAX must surely be the genre’s BEATLES.”
ANTHRAX have been credited for laying the groundwork for genres such as rap metal and nu-metal back in 1991 due to their collaboration on the single “Bring The Noise” with hip hop group PUBLIC ENEMY. The band’s 1993 album, and their first with ARMORED SAINT singer John Bush, ‘Sound of White Noise‘, saw ANTHRAX incorporate aspects of grunge and groove metal along with darker lyrical themes. However, Joey Belladonna‘s return to the group in 2010, and the release of the band’s 2011 album ‘Worship Music‘, would see ANTHRAX return to their thrash metal roots.
ANTHRAX‘s lineup has seen several changes over the years, with guitarist Scott Ian being the only constant member. Since 2013, the band has consisted of Ian, drummer Charlie Benante, bassist Frank Bello, vocalist Joey Belladonna and lead guitarist Jonathan Donais.
According to Nielsen SoundScan, ANTHRAX sold 2.5 million records throughout the U.S. from 1991 to 2004, with worldwide sales of 10 million. Four of the band’s studio albums have also achieved gold certifications by the RIAA, including 1987’s ‘Among the Living‘, which locked ANTHRAX in as one of the most successful metal bands of the genre.
Number 3. – MEGADETH
If speed metal guitar were to have a single shredder who would be named “Godfather”, it would, without a doubt, have to go to MEGADETH‘s Dave Mustaine. After being ousted from METALLICA in 1983, Mustaine would form MEGADETH in Los Angeles along with bassist David Ellefson. Fueled by resentment against his former band mates, and a drive to become faster and louder than his contemporaries within the subgenre, Mustaine would push MEGADETH to the limits with their complex musical arrangements, speed metal rhythm, and dark lyrical themes usually dealing in war, politics, religion and death.
MEGADETH released their debut album, ‘Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good!‘ via the independent record label Combat Records in 1985. Considered another “essential THRASH” record, the disc would go on to catch the attention of execs at Capitol Records, and in 1986 the band would sign on and unleash their first major-label studio album, ‘Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?‘. The record was a massive success within the genre and to this day remains absolutely “essential” consumption for any lover of heavy music.
After a few lineup changes which led to the eventual additions of guitarist Marty Friedman and drummer Nick Menza, MEGADETH would release a number of platinum-selling albums, including 1990’s ‘Rust in Peace’ and 1992’s ‘Countdown to Extinction’, which just reiterated the fact that MEGADETH were a bone crushing force-du jour within the sweaty, yet hallowed, halls of THRASH.
Despite various lineup changes, with Mustaine remaining the only constant member (bassist Ellefson would depart in 2002 when Mustaine shelved the group while treating an arm injury, yet would subsequently return to the bass player role in 2010, and then be fired from the band in 2021), MEGADETH have sold 38 million records worldwide, earning platinum certification in the United States for six of their fifteen studio albums, and receiving twelve Grammy nominations in total. They would walk away with their first Grammy Award in 2017 for the song “Dystopia” in the category of “Best Metal Performance“.
You simply cannot look at the subgenre without recognizing the massive influence that MEGADETH has had throughout the scene’s origin and growth period. Sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris wrote that the mainstream success of MEGADETH was one of the reasons for the expansion of extreme metal to countries where it had previously been unknown. They have rarely wavered, with the occasional exception, from their speed metal roots and continue to be an absolute force to be reckoned with within heavy metal as a whole.
Number 2. – METALLICA
Way before the massive tours, multi platinum albums and headlining of major rock and metal festivals, METALLICA was a band that was formed in 1981 in Los Angeles by vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich (the band would, however, become based out of San Francisco for the majority of their illustrious career).
The name “METALLICA” can be credited to a friend of Ulrich‘s named Ron Quintana, who was brainstorming names for a metal fanzine and was considering either “MetalMania” or “Metallica“. Upon hearing the two names, Ulrich wanted METALLICA for his own band, so he suggested Quintana use “MetalMania” instead. Guitarist Dave Mustaine would reply to an advertisement for a lead guitarist and be recruited after Ulrich and Hetfield saw all of his expensive guitar equipment.
In early 1982, the band would record their first original song, “Hit the Lights“, for the ‘Metal Massacre 1‘ compilation with early pressings listing the band incorrectly as “Mettallica”. The song however would generate word of mouth and the band played their first live performance on March 14, 1982, at Radio City in Anaheim, California, with newly recruited bassist Ron McGovney.
In late 1982, Ulrich and Hetfield attended a show at the West Hollywood nightclub Whisky a Go Go, which featured bassist Cliff Burton in the band TRAUMA. The two were “blown away” by Burton‘s use of a wah-wah pedal – believing at first that Burton was in fact the band’s lead guitar player before discovering that he was shredding lead solos on a bass – and asked him to join METALLICA as Hetfield and Mustaine wanted McGovney out, feeling that he “didn’t contribute anything and “just followed along”.
Although Burton initially declined the offer, by the end of the year, he had accepted on the condition that the band move to El Cerrito in the San Francisco Bay Area. METALLICA‘s first live performance with Burton was at the nightclub “The Stone” in March of 1983, and the first recording to feature Burton in the band was the 1983 Megaforce Records demo.
After ousting Mustaine (who would go on to form MEGADETH as we all now know), and replacing him with EXODUS guitarist Kirk Hammett, METALLICA would earn a growing fan base in the underground music community and eventually win critical acclaim with their first five albums. The band’s third album, 1986’s ‘Master of Puppets‘, has been described as one of the heaviest and most important records in not just THRASH but in heavy metal as a whole.
Their eponymous fifth album, 1991’s ‘METALLICA‘ or “the black album” as it has become affectionately known, would appeal to a more mainstream audience, achieving substantial commercial success and selling over 16 million copies in the United States to date.
METALLICA would return to their roots with the release of their ninth studio album, 2008’s ‘Death Magnetic‘, which drew similar praise to that of the band’s earlier releases. Their most recent albums, 2016’s ‘Hardwired… to Self-Destruct‘ and 2023’s “72 Seasons” met similar acclaim.
The band has sold more than 125 million records to date worldwide, including an RIAA-certified 66 million and Nielsen SoundScan-reported 58,000,000 in the US, making METALLICA one of the most commercially successful metal bands of all time.
Number 1. – SLAYER
Despite being known as one of the “Big 4” of THRASH, SLAYER will always stand out as a band that never wavered from their fast and aggressive roots. SLAYER hail from Huntington Park, California and were formed in 1981 by guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, drummer Dave Lombardo, and bassist/vocalist Tom Araya. The band’s fast guitar attack and jackhammer drums were often coupled with dark lyrical themes built around the occult, war, murder, politics, genocide and more.
SLAYER initially began as a covers band, playing songs by artists such as IRON MAIDEN, BLACK SABBATH and VENOM at parties and clubs around Southern California. The group’s early imagery relied heavily on occult and Satanic themes that featured pentagrams, black eye make-up, steel spikes, and inverted crosses. According to drummer Lombardo, the original band name was going to be ‘Wings of Fire‘ before they would settle on SLAYER. It was Lombardo who would also design the band’s iconic logo, based on how the drummer thought a murderer would carve out the band’s name with a knife.
SLAYER would eventually be discovered in 1983 by former music journalist Brian Slagel who had recently founded Metal Blade Records and signed the band to the fledgling label based on their ferocious attack and unsettling imagery.
The band would then go on to become one of the most influential bands in heavy metal history with their “downtuned” rhythms, infectious guitar riffs and graphically violent lyrics. SLAYER‘s grisly album artwork would set the standard for dozens of emerging speed metal bands while their music would also go on to become directly responsible for the rise of yet another subgenre being Death Metal.
SLAYER‘s final lineup featured King, Araya, drummer Paul Bostaph (who replaced Lombardo in 1992 and again in 2013) and guitarist Gary Holt (who replaced the late Jeff Hanneman in 2011). The group would release twelve studio albums, two live albums, a box set, six music videos and two extended plays with four of SLAYER‘s studio albums receiving gold certification in the United States. SLAYER would go on to sell 5 million records in the U.S. from 1991 to 2013, and over 20 million worldwide. They have also received five Grammy Award nominations, winning one in 2007 for the song “Eyes of the Insane” and one in 2008 for “Final Six“.
After more than three decades of recording and performing, SLAYER announced in January 2018 that they would embark on a farewell tour, which took place from May 2018 to November 2019, after which SLAYER disbanded, leaving a fierce yet important legacy.
– Scott Penfold is the Program Director of Loaded Radio as well as a writer and on-air personality.