THRASH METAL — I’ve compiled this list not as a “best of” for the wide blanket of thrash in 2020 but to illustrate what thrash metal is/was beneath the surface in 2020… and where I think it was most interesting and overlooked. From my own point of view these albums were underrepresented and/or passed by quickly by media outlets and some for admittedly valid reasons. So, here are some bands that stood out to me (for good enough reasons) as I dug through thrash metal’s innards throughout 2020. There are a countless great bands that I don’t mention here which I’ve already reviewed, covered, interviewed mentioned, or put in my Top 50 Albums of the Year so hit the search icon to see if I’ve already covered something vital, otherwise let me know what I’ve missed. Ratings don’t matter, think for yourself!
|TITLE||Beyond the Celestial Sphere|
Nether are a quartet from Zagreb, Croatia that’d originally formed back in 2009 as Asylum. Their style is exactly the sort of thing I go looking for when digging around the obscure corners of death/thrash metal with plenty of cryptic progressive metal ideas informing music that is still inherently aggressive and 100% based in pure thrash metal. Think of the twists and turns of Nocturn or Usurper‘s (Netherlands) first album but with some Slayer and Sadus thrown in for good measure. Plenty of huge riffs, extended instrumental sections, and compositions that are always thinking ahead while still feeling energized by mysterious cosmic forces as they are revealed in the moment. Perfectly old school approach to death/thrash that truly knows how to riff, no sloppy nowadays thrash melodeath tricks just absolute slaughter front to back. No doubt one of the better independent thrash releases of the year.
|TITLE||Spirit of the Void|
Darkcluster is a solo project from an anonymous thrasher located in the Victoriaville, Québec area and ‘Spirit of the Void’ is his debut release. This is quite an extreme and light-speed version of sci-fi thrash metal influenced work touching upon prog-thrash with black and death metal influences. The first time I gave this one a spin I was kind of blown away by his ability to keep the programmed drums fully entertaining even if they didn’t always sound organically achieved next to the raw-rasped vocals. Beyond that of course the guitar work is the major focus of this record and the major reason I was so taken by this one is his overtly technical, showy musicianship throughout. Clearly influenced by the more ambitious spectrum of Vektor but also pulling from actual progressive metal and shred for inspiration. Eight minute opener “Swarm of Mutation” is really just the tip of the iceberg here and although the whole thing needs a professional rendering/mix this stuff already feels truly venomous and engaging. If he pulled back on shred a tiny bit and focused on just a million riffs it’d be truly over the top. Also, dude is wearing a Teleport shirt in his picture so, mandatory support!
|TITLE||Kind of Virus|
|LABEL||Wings of Destruction|
This truly apocalyptic and enraged thrash metal out of Yekaterinburg, Russia definitely resembles the genuine ‘old school’ thrash metal article but with punchier bass tone that really adds a sharp touch to their general dynamic. As the album burns on you’ll hear touches of Kreator and their love of both Bay Area thrash and first wave black metal, which provides an extra dark angle to their precise but organic sound. “Birth of Hell” really exemplifies just how tight their rhythm section is and how fuckin’ dark this record gets from the start. As things press on it is clear they’ve love for all manner of old school thrash and speed metal though they stick to that ’87 toxicity with plenty of shredding solos tossed in throughout. Thrash fans need to kill their prejudice against modern Russian records! ‘Kind of Virus’ is the right one to prove ’em all wrong.
Viölent Hëx are such a fuckin’ trip. Raw, nasty, untouched and unfussed thrashing metalpunk oozing its gruesome echoing force out of Mexico City without a fuck given. Busted programmed drums, screaming psychedelic punk guitars, grinding d-beat riffs and vocals that scream, wail, and puke their guts out every minute of ‘Midnight Guest’. The chaos of it all creates this terrifying and thrilling energy that feels like more of a cyclone each time I step into it. A simple and fucked up mess with some truly fresh experimentation along the way (“Electric Eliminators”) along with a deep cut or two (“Otro Día en Texas”). Total insanity and slop but in the best, most ear-clobbering way.
Exorcizphobia hail from Trutnov, Czechia and they’ve been at it since 2005, eventually bringing a skate thrash/crossover sound for their first album in 2012 before taking on a more serious and dire style when they would return with a different line-up in 2018. The more typical sound of ‘About Us Without Us’ returns for ‘Digitotality’, lending a sort of later Nuclear Assault vibe that so many modern groups have brought beyond the “return” of thrash in the early 2000’s. This album is really, really loud and although I’ve tossed a few unmixed records onto this list this one seriously threatened to leave me deaf for its constantly on fire sound. What struck me most about this record was that these guys are entirely pro, they can play and write brilliant pure thrash metal songs without breaking a sweat and all of it sounds brutally intense. I’d just wanted this album to “breathe” a bit more than it did. “Profit at all Cost” is a good example of their loosening up for a good tune and “Correct Opinions” is an good example of how that might not always be a great thing. I’d found this album might not have been too unique but it was pure adrenaline throughout and worthy of a mention.
|TITLE||Back to the Abyss|
Photoshopped skulls in lava, songs with sub-titles, and ballsy black/thrash metal with programmed drums? Yes, we are in the exactly right part of the internet where the right kind of die-hard hidden heavy metal gems are made. Infernal Throne are a fairly new project conceived between two musicians out of Corinth, Greece who have previously focused on the technical side of thrash in the past. It doesn’t sound like they’re trying to emulate any other band in particular, just try their hand at some evil thrash metal from a somewhat modern perspective. This means we’re getting something entirely divorced from the perspective of early Bathory and instead getting hinds of modern Greek black metal melodicism, heavy use of double-bass drumming, groove-heavy compositions. The end result isn’t my style at all but I appreciated the absolute energy going into the music. If they pull in the obscure atmosphere of black metal a bit more I think they’ll be onto something.
Jewel Throne hail from Espoo, Finland and I’d describe their sound as either a regressive black/speed metal act or some kind of thrash n’ roll. They’ve been putting out a bunch of singles this year, mostly standalone songs that didn’t seem to have any major relation until most of them ended up on this EP and made a bit more sense. It all translates into a bit of a gnarly “No, fuck you!” kind of sound but I’d say thrash is the right label for it, especially considering Finland’s own idiosyncratic vision for thrash metal beyond the 80’s in general. The lyrics are totally biting stuff, intended as violence against society that is absolute failure in their eyes but not in a naïve young punk kind of way ‘Obscure Relics’ sees through jaded and pissed eyes. The bigger point to make is that these guys write kind of cool, catchy heavy metal harmonies within each song and it might be abrasive but they’ve condensed the appeal of many old greats into these angry pieces to great effect.
|TITLE||The Gate of Grieving Souls|
We shift gears entirely here with Terror Blind an anonymous Japanese solo project that combines modern crossover/thrash metal sounds with the arrangements of classic melodic death metal. This isn’t exactly the early Skeletonwitch sort of deal you’re thinking of but something a bit more clearly interested in developing those traditional melodeath phrases into a more brutal format. The programmed drums are nut-quaking loud and heavy, definitely lending a machine-like quality to the full listen that becomes oppressive within the first couple of songs when accompanied by hardcore shouted vocals. This might sound naïve to some but it is a pretty apt study of what melodeath/thrash metal was in the 2000’s and then amplified to modern thrash standards, which tend towards a lot of repetition and hardcorish severity. You can tell these songs are written around an exploration of thrash intensity and melodic death riffs, the riffs are such a focus that the arrangements never entirely form into anything resembling classic thrash. This means each piece runs around 2-3 minutes and develops its riffing at a tech-death pace, slicing through each progression to match the intensity of the very simple drum patterns. This might not be to my own taste, which tends towards very “human” performances, but I can admire what an apt study this fellow is and how cleanly all of this album is played and presented.
Black/death/thrash metal trio Hell Possession hail from the Santiago area and have been around since 2011 or so. This single is basically a promotional single to get the masses ready for their in-the-works debut full-length for the near future. This comes after some major changes to the band’s line-up in recent years and signals a shift to a more purely black/thrash metal indicated style with a focus on more extended riff patterns. I’d say think more along the lines of the chaos of Invocation Spells for these songs. The spirit of Sabbat and Venom is here in terms of how the rhythms develop at the speed of hyper-Possessed guitar run ethos, which has served so many great bands in this style well. Echoing demonic fury and perhaps the sort of fire and brimstone approach to black/thrash that you’d expect out of Chile.
|TITLE||God Will Kneel Before Me|
|LABEL||Sanatorio Records (Distro)|
Executor are a heavy/thrash metal band from Heredia, Costa Rica who have been around in some form since 2007 but have been focused on this version of the band since 2010, having had many line-up changes throughout the years. Reading the liner notes you’ll definitely get the sense they had to fight to make this album real. The first thing you’ll notice is these guys are pure blasphemy, delivering an atheistic and defiant point of view at every moment. The style of the full listen is somewhere between the post-thrash you might’ve heard from Cogumelo back in the early 90’s, something like Chakal and the early days of Coven (‘Blessed is the Black’). The rhythm section and drum production are so pronounced that it all hits quite hard but the guitars are under-represented and a very scooped sound results. This is entirely functional for independent/underground thrash metal but it is worth noting the bass frequencies are nearly overloaded at every second. The production will get in the way of the songs for some listeners, as will the simpler groove metal feeling it provides but the album is still very inspired for mid-paced thrash.
This EP from Milton Keynes, England quartet Must Kill provides a clear enough window into what the most recent generations of mosh metal listeners tend to call thrash. Essentially looking to aesthetics and wearing the old classics as fashion but, perhaps pulling from 2000’s metalcore for standards. Which I suppose is essentially Sylosis with all of the more obvious metalcore elements (such as clean singing) pulled back. So, I’ve absolutely no love for the sort of Revocation school of “progress” beyond the blandness of groove metal in the 90’s, which is just melodeath influenced metalcore for the concurrent generation’s melodeath/thrash shred nerds. It sounds like I’m ripping on ‘Ghost Malevolent’ but I appreciate the quality of their interpretation in regards to this game of ‘sub-genre telephone’ throughout the last four decades. The songwriting, riffs, and performances don’t contain more than a vague touch of “old school thrash” but I appreciate any band who are inspired by this sort of music.
Another somewhat moshable death/thrash metal EP but this one with a bit clearer sense of what classic thrash metal is in terms of sheer mechanics and tonality, Cerebral Invasion hail from Bochum, Germany and take their major rhythmic inspiration from Bay Area thrash as well as their own modern ‘scene’. This makes for big, bombastic pieces centered around fairly simple riffs that develop progressions you’ll recognize are inspired by Testament and such, just from a death/thrash point of view. The end product is just alright, this whole manner of distilling thrash metal spirit down to tight-seated concise riffs kind of escapes the punkish rip of early speed metal and only gives the arena-sized rumble of the legacy bands without the elaborate late 80’s songwriting. In this sense fans of Deathchain or Ritual Carnage. Not my thing but good mosh riffing nonetheless.
|TITLE||Last Remnants of Life|
One of my favorite finds out of Santiago, Chile’s underground killer death/thrash machine scene Hostile Faith are true metal fans who’ve aimed for the classics of death/thrash metal with this project citing key influence from old Sepultura, Pestilence and Kreator for their riff attack. ‘Last Remnants of Life’ is their second official EP following a debut in 2018 and they’ve improved quite a bit, now with a much stronger bass guitar tone that feels percussive and menacing. “Blind” will surely recall the ‘Beneath the Remains’/’Schizophrenia’ era of South American death/thrash in the best way possible for most old fans but it was the monster of a title track that sold me on this band. They’re not shy about loving those old records and no doubt they’re big fans of classic thrash as evidenced by the “Nuclear Winter” style riffs that all over this thing. Mix needed a bit less bass drum but otherwise a total class act, and the Cancer cover was actually pretty good.
So, part of sharing the breadth of modern underground thrash metal in 2020 means addressing this inherited sickness we find in all manner of ‘old school’ minded acts today, the breakdown. The hardcore breakdown has no place in death/thrash metal worth its salt and is seen as entirely lazy nonsense by folks seriously engaged in the craft, fans or otherwise. Stop doing it! North Carolina groove-heavy death/thrashers Krvsade are clearly operating on a demo level here with this majorly blown-out bass heavy non-mix but you’ll get the sense what they’re aiming for with a patient listen. The title track gives the impression of a black metal influenced death/thrash band up front but definitely pulling from Skeletonwitch more than say, Aura Noir. Modernized and somewhat melodic thrash metal riffs (see: early Witchery) push out over heavy use of mid-paced double bass focused drumming that might’ve been tracked without a metronome. The snare? Like a mile away and buried half the time. These aren’t big complaints, mind you, but we’re not quite there with the sound design (if any) just yet. How this obscures the intent of the band really comes into view as “The Key and the Gate” arrives and ends up stumbling around a bit. The rhythm guitarist has the right idea via a strong lurch forward with a creeper of a riff that is later harmonized, this is one of the sharper moments on the EP — The leads though? Definitely need a few more drafts beyond just feelin’ it. Tighten up, push the vocals way over the top, balance the drum recording away from beatdown hardcore tonality and I think there is a pretty cool set of influences crossing over beneath those decisions.
Überserker are a black/thrash metal act out of Knoxville, Tennessee featuring ex-members of brutal death metal band Engulfed in Blackness and it sounds like they brought their drum machine along for the ride. If you are familiar with guitarist Dave May‘s odd sense of rhythm in the death metal context it might even feel a bit more fitting in the context of simple thrash metal riffs and black metal vocals. Of course the programmed drums get in the way of the recording but they provide enough of a proof of concept that much of ‘Überserker’ appears soundly achieved. You’re probably going to shake your head at me for including this one until you hit “Storm of Steel”, where an actual riff hits and despite how standard it is with its machine beat at its side the surreal-yet-generic feeling of the song provides a spark of what they might elaborate on in the future. “Patriarch of Slaughter” definitely shows a hint of that brutal death pedigree in the vocal inflections, which are barely appropriate for black/thrash to begin with, but the song itself has the right feeling. Again, we’re getting in early and finding potential here. It was a slow year!
Argentina’s Warcasket are a metallic crust collective that often crossover into thrash territory as well as melodic/neocrust depending on the release. This release records their work from the line-up that persisted from 2016-2018, they’ve released a few more songs beyond that point as well but this is the defining release from the prior period. I find the juxtaposition of melodic hardcore/crust tones applied to thrash riffs pretty solid, especially on the ranting “Para aquellxs que machacan”. Of course all the of the lyrics are in Spanish and centered around socio-political ills with a serious, somber tone. There were a ton of typical crossover records I could have included here but this one does something different, not a trace of pizza thrash here.
|TITLE||Lust to Lynch|
Aalen, Germany-based thrash metal trio Skeleton Pit were originally named… uh, Pissdolls and they had pretty funny haircuts, going for a sort of commercial rocker look before changing their name and playing a style of thrash similar to Tankard. Simple punkish thrash riffs with some bad mosh parts for variation are the major driver for ‘Lust to Lynch’, a high energy album without much depth to offer. Despite this simple approach and somewhat bland songwriting if you line this record up with crossover/thrash expectations it ends up being an alright spin. The group-shouted vocals get a bit goofy here and there (“Thrashorcism”) and as the record plays it starts to share a bit of the band’s personality along the way. The spirit of 80’s German thrash in this style is not represented very well here, their sound is too buttoned up and void of spirited motion. If Skeleton Pit cut those mosh riffs out and studied something more along the lines of Erosion‘s ‘Mortal Agony’ it’d surely push them out of this pretty standard approach. Even if you disagree and like that they’re working from a mold, I’d concede this album is totally listenable enough.
No doubt the high professional standard of In Malice’s Wake speaks for itself via the blazing opener/title track the kicks off their fourth full-length album since forming back in 2003. The way I see this record is the band essentially figuring how they can meet the standards of the biggest thrash bands today without resorting to the usual shit and the answer is a record that relies on fairly technical feats of Testament and Slayer-esque stuff alongside modern death metal influenced flurries of hammered-out riffs. Despite my distaste for most modern thrash these guys haven’t lost the plot, it ain’t groove metal or melodic death metal but rather music that reaches for the pomp of peak Bay Area thrash and takes those ideals to a wild extreme. Their lead guitarist also features in Metal Blade‘s current “old school” thrash darlings Harlott and honestly I’d have probably signed this band instead — Much more of their own sound and presence. Give this one a fair shot, I didn’t when I first heard it but they grew on me once I’d sat down and took in the full spin. Relentless, eerie, and yet entirely approachable stuff.
|TITLE||Ancient Magical Spells|
|LABEL||Iron Blood and Death Corporation|
Blackened thrash trio Evil Whiplash hail from Popayán, Colombia and they are definitely not your usual band in this style! Their sound and production is pretty realistically rendered primarily with just one guitar and this lends itself well to the epic heavy metal influenced style the guitarist runs with on their third album ‘Ancient Magical Spells’. Considering they are from Colombia I assumed these guys might just be a Witchtrap clone but that’d be far from the truth, these songs are deeply rooted in traditional heavy metal while keeping the brutal “heavy speed punk” smack of South American thrash metal as the main inspiration for pace and attack. The result is pretty unique and the album is definitely malevolent enough to impress black/thrash metal fans who’re looking for something that isn’t just following the same old rules everyone else is. Definitely one of the higher recommendations on this list.
Of course I know what you’re thinking if you’ve taste in hard-assed real thrash metal: That album cover is very fucking colorful and the logo is bad. No worries man, in fact the color palette is not far from the best of Joe Petagno‘s works back in the day and Greek thrash metal band Skull Koraptor are actually pretty good, heavy and loud at the very least. This trio fastball most of the songs off of this debut, incorporating double-bass wallops and high-speed melodic lead work throughout ensuring their strut is always in line with traditional heavy metal at a thrash metal pace with a vocal that never gets in the way of the spectacle those guitar leads create. Honestly the only thing that is keeping this one out of the ears of stuck-up thrash metal fans looking for the real thing is the packaging and a lack of variation in the vocal delivery. Cut a sharper Death Angel-esque logo, center it, and dial back the color on it to something more bold and we’re pretty much in business if the band can figure in a couple more vocal harmonies into each record. I don’t think this’ll blow minds but it does bring a very professional sound and plenty of energy.
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