Thrash metal has been described in the past as power metal’s angry cousin. It originated in the early 1980s with bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax (Walser, R., 2013), who are now known as the “Big Four”, denoting their relative commercial success. The similarities between power metal and thrash metal can most easily be heard in songs like Black Sun by power metal band Primal Fear. Both use a substantial amount of 16th-note double-kick drumming and chugging on the guitars, however thrash’s rhythmical patterns have the potential to be a lot more complex than power metal, as it adds to the abrasiveness of the genre. Often this rears it’s head in the form of polyrhythms, where certain instruments are played at double-time or half-time in comparison to their counterparts (Kajanova, Y., 2014). In terms of structure, thrash metal arrangement is typically a lot more straight-forward, with short and simple songs and often avoiding unconventional time signatures, though there are exceptions.
As heard in the cover of Kill The King by Heathen, the guitar tones in thrash metal are chunkier, with a more liberal use of distortion and high gain amplifiers as well as high gain guitar pickups. In the early days of thrash production, this tone was accomplished through a very specific EQ on the guitar amplifiers (often Marshalls, JCMs or ENGLs), being to scoop the mid frequencies and boost the low and high frequencies. The rhythmic patterns of the kick drums are a lot more punk-esque due to the constant offbeat bass drum hits that generate and constantly renew the momentum of the song rather than the steady pace of power metal. Thrash metal vocals can either be operatic such as those in the cover above and in power metal, or alternatively a snarly/shouted sound which comes from the influence of Lemmy Kilmeister of Motorhead and the influence of the punk scene in New York, an example of which can be heard from Bay Area band Exodus below. This vocal style often invokes monstrous or demonic imagery in the minds of newcomers to the metal sound (Abbey, E.J. & Helb, C., 2014).
Where power metal has a very European background, thrash metal was born in various areas of America, with the main ones being the San Francisco Bay Area, the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, and New York. Each of these different areas contributed something different to the thrash community as a whole (Dunn, S. & McFadyen, S., 2005). Together they paved the way for other extreme metal genres such as Death Metal and Black Metal. San Francisco, where Heathen is from, was very influenced by the likes of Saxon, Motörhead and Venom from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and brought with it astounding musicianship through guitar solos and vocal performances.
New York bands such as Anthrax on the other hand had a very punk-oriented direction (Dunn, S. & McFadyen, S., 2011) which birthed Crossover Thrash such as D.R.I. and Suicidal Tendencies. This is where thrash got a lot of it’s speed and the culture of “moshing” due to the violent behaviour of punk fans. The punk attitude also brought with it extremely political-centric lyrics, though thrash lyrics vary between subjects of controversy such as war, violence, death, injustice, alienation, addiction, and to a lesser extent the occult (Kajanova, Y., 2014).
Los Angeles’ legacy was the attitude of being anti-Hollywood, resenting the glam metal movement and the polished costuming and stage rigs that came with bands like Motley Crue, Poison, Cinderella and L.A. Gunns (Ernst, R., 2006), as can be seen from a picture of Jeff Hanneman from Slayer in their formative years with their dark, studded image as opposed to the girly glam aesthetic. While the imagery didn’t really stick in Thrash Metal, and instead transitioned to a more apathetic image of street clothing such as torn jeans, band shirts and denim or leather jackets, the idea of darkened makeup would make it’s way through to the Black Metal scene and is often referred to as “corpse paint” by those in the scene.
Finally, one cannot talk about Thrash Metal without mentioning the Teutonic Thrash movement of Germany. Once Europe heard of this fast, aggressive, in-your-face form of metal from America, bands such as Sodom, Kreator and Destruction came out of the woodwork with an extremely apparent influence from New Wave of British Heavy Metal band Venom. This variant of thrash embraced raspy, gutteral vocals and tremolo picking, and almost always focused lyrically on war or religion. Teutonic thrash was the branch of thrash metal that would soon after pave the way for Death Metal bands such as Obituary, Autopsy and more.
Abbey, E.J. & Helb, C. (2014). Hardcore, Punk, and Other Junk: Aggressive Sounds in Contemporary Music. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books
Dunn, S. & McFadyen, S. (Producers/Directors). (2005). Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey [Film]. Montreal, Canada: Seville Pictures
Dunn, S. & McFadyen, S. (Writers/Directors). (2011). Metal Evolution [Television series episode]. In Dunn, S. (Creator), Thrash. Toronto, Canada: Tricon Films & Media
Ernst, R. (Director). (2006). Get Thrashed: The Story of Thrash Metal [Motion Picture]. Universal City, CA: Vivendi Entertainment
Kajanova, Y. (2014). Frau Minne und die Liebenden: On the History of Rock Music. Brussels, Belgium: Peter Lang Publishing
Walser, R. (2013). Music Culture: Running with the Devil: Power, Gender and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press