Styles & Forms | Speed & Thrash Metal | Rock

Speed and thrash metal sprang to prominence in America during the early 1980s, with fans around the globe forming their own groups. Equally indebted to the do-it-yourself ethos of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and the underground spirit of hardcore punk, the style’s original progenitors were frighteningly young, but had spent years sharpening their musicianship.

Speed metal​’s culture of mindless exuberance was perhaps best summed up by Metallica’s ‘Whiplash’, a galloping exercise in precision riffing that appeared on their 1983 debut album, Kill ’Em All. If other self-penned numbers like ‘Jump In The Fire’ suggested that Metallica had been influenced by the UK’s Diamond Head, the covering of the Stourbridge quartet’s ‘Am I Evil?’ on an early B-side was definitive proof.

More than any of their rivals, Metallica exhibited a willingness to grow, and although initially sworn against the music industry’s corporate gamesmanship, the San Franciscans had signed to a major label by their fourth album, 1988’s And Justice For All. Sooner or later, the rest of the movement’s so-called ‘big four’ – Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer – had done likewise. For other pacesetters like Exodus and Testament, approval from the mainstream came too late, sometimes even resulting in boardroom interference.

Regardless of the labels that released them, some of the best speed/thrash albums attained only cult status, among them Bonded By Blood by Exodus (1985), Testament’s The Legacy (1987), Darkness Descends by Dark Angel (1986),Terrible Certainty by Kreator (1988) and Death Angel’s Act III (1990). Swiss band Celtic Frost added their own fascinating idiosyncracies when creating Into The Pandemonium in 1987.

Extreme Metal

To many, Slayer made the definitive thrash metal album in the form of 1986’s controversial, Rick Rubin-produced Reign In Blood. Less than half an hour in duration, the savagery of ‘Necrophobic’, ‘Raining Blood’ and ‘Angel Of Death’ – the latter written by guitarist Jeff Hanneman about war criminal Joseph Mengele – elevated speed metal to death metal and a new plateau of extremity.

By the early 1990s, Metallica’s fabled Metallica (also known as The Black Album) had effectively put them out of reach of the chasing pack, topping the US chart and selling seven million copies. The combination of the ballads ‘The Unforgiven’ and ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and the crunching stadium rock of ‘Enter Sandman’ made Metallica more accessible than any had believed possible, and they had also moved the goalposts for hard rock bands in general. Three years afterwards, Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven entered the Billboard chart at No. 1, and later that decade, Megadeth – formed by Dave Mustaine, the sacked Metallica guitarist – released a string of platinum and multi-platinum albums before disbanding in 2002.

With Metallica and Megadeth long since moving on, Anthrax and especially Slayer profited through remaining faithful to speed metal’s roots. More recently, Swedish quartet The Haunted added a brutal, contemporary twist, with colourful Floridians Iced Earth demonstrating what a little extra...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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