Thrash metal is a subgenre of heavy metal music. The origins of Thrash metal are generally traced to the late 1970s and early 1980s, when a number of Heavy Metal bands began incorporating Speed metal's extreme speed into traditional metal melody and riffs.
Beyond this, Thrash metal has proven somewhat difficult to categorise. Some fans and musicians have a firm concept of genre and subgenre, but others reject such categorisation as limiting or useless. There is often significant crossover from one metal category to another, and the influence of non-metal genres, including classical music and jazz is not uncommon.
1981 is seen by some fans as a critical year, though others cite earlier influence on the genre: The first riff of Black Sabbath's 'Symptom Of The Universe' (1975) is possibly the first thrash riff, though their 'Into The Void' and 'Children Of The Grave' (both 1971) were influential as well. Speed metal pioneers Judas Priest had some thrash ideas on their Stained Class LP (1978), including the punkish counterpoint riff on 'Saints In Hell' or the general structure of 'White Heat, Red Hot'. Also, the live version of Tyrant on 1979's Priest In The East is very close to thrash metal, combining new drummer Les Binks's uptempo delivery with a more distorted guitar sound than the 1976 studio version (from the classic Sad Wings Of Destiny album).
Motörhead's Overkill LP (1979) would give the name to a New York band that would write what is often considered the first thrash metal song in 1981: "Unleash the Beast Within." Soon thereafter, the short-lived Southern California band Leather Charm would write "Hit The Lights." This band would break up, but the primary songwriter's next band, Metallica, would feature this song. The band Metal Church recorded a few rehearsals in 1980-81, which were similar to the early Metallica and Overkill efforts, though not quite as thrashy. Interestingly, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich was offered a spot in Metal Church in 1980 but then later kicked out again.
Cover of "Kill 'Em All" by Metallica
The first thrash metal demo may very well be Metal Church's Red Skies from late 1981. An instrumental demo that combined thrash, speed, and power metal, it did not receive much circulation, and was overshadowed by their October, 1982 Four Hymns demo. Chronologically, though, Metal Church were probably the first.
Metallica were second on the scene (the Power Metal demo, April 1982, and then No Life 'til Leather in July) and the first with a studio LP (Kill 'Em All, July 1983). Meanwhile, in Europe, Artillery recorded a demo in November, 1982. We Are The Dead took a more Black Sabbath oriented direction, resulting in a thrash metal form that was not quite as fast as that of Metallica but had similar riff ideas.
Thrash metal took off in 1984 or so, with Overkill releasing their second demo (Feel the Fire), and Slayer's seminal Haunting the Chapel EP, which featured the song 'Chemical Warfare'. This led to a darker and heavier sounding thrash, which was then reflected in Exodus's Bonded by Blood and Slayer's Hell Awaits in 1985. Also, Artillery debuted with We Are The Dead in 1985, as did Megadeth, formed by former Metallica axeman Dave Mustaine. Megadeth combined the riffs of thrash metal with the more fancy soloing of speed metal ā la Judas Priest, and their sound would become best realised on 1990's Rust in Peace.
Cover of "Reign In Blood" by Slayer
1986 was a landmark year for thrash metal, with some of the greatest thrash albums of all time being released in this year. Dark Angel put out the generally underrated Darkness Descends, which is one of the heaviest and fastest thrash albums ever. Slayer's Reign in Blood is universally acclaimed as a classic, and also the German band Kreator had Pleasure to Kill, which set new standards for brutality and would be a heavy influence on the death metal genre. Megadeth put out the complex, technical Peace Sells, Metallica had Master of Puppets, which had a few staple thrashers and some more complex pieces that moved away from the genre, and Nuclear Assault debuted with the punkish Game Over — an album stripped to its bare riff essentials. Hobbs' Angel Of Death emerged from Australia, playing a brand of thrash drawing heavily on early Slayer, yet geared towards the European market.
Thrash metal developed in the mid 1980s to split into many subgenres and influence a lot of bands like Death and Possessed. Possessed were among the first death-metal bands, making a demo in mid-1984 of a more dark-sounding thrash metal. This sound would be called death metal, and perhaps the first example of it would be the death-thrash classic 'Seven Churches', from 1985. Some bands combined speed metal and thrash metal, like the aforementioned Megadeth, and also Helstar, Testament, and Heathen were known for their flashy lead guitar work. Watchtower's Energetic Disassembly (1985) set new standards in technical, jazzy songwriting, which would later be further developed by the thrash metal band Coroner and also the technical death metal bands Atheist and Cynic, as well as later efforts by Death.
Cover of "Beneath The Remains" by Sepultura
By 1988 or so the genre was quite saturated with new bands, but classic albums would continue to be put out. Sepultura's third album, Beneath the Remains (1989) earned them mainstream appeal as it appeared on Roadrunner records. Vio-lence, a relative latecomer to the Bay Area thrash metal scene put out an acclaimed debut in Eternal Nightmare (1988), combining relentless riffage with a hardcore-punk vocal delivery. However, the genre was also filled with many, many bands that did not really give much of a new sound. By 1990-91, this led to the inevitable demise of the genre.
Soon, post-thrash metal bands with a newer sound would continue the more innovative direction, whilst those that played classic thrash metal were seen as throw-backs, though the 1990s had some excellent thrash metal, for example Iced Earth's Night of the Stormrider (1992), which combined power-metal and thrash metal. Many bands, however, opted for a slower, more groove-oriented sound, including Machine Head and Pantera. This would give rise to many 1990s-metal bands.
Thrash metal has seen something of a comeback in the late 1990s with European bands like Hypnosia (sounding much like Pleasure to Kill) or Carnal Forge , a fast death-thrash hybrid. Some bands also combine Swedish death-metal riffs and punk influence, like The Haunted, but these stray too far from the original ideals to be really called thrash metal bands. Meanwhile, other bands soldier on—including Overkill, who have recently put out a 14th studio album, Relixiv, and Destruction, whose The Antichrist (2001) is a staple of modern thrash metal—updated production values, and a classic riff sound. The recently released Exodus album, entitled Tempo Of The Damned, is another recent highlight of the genre.
Often considered the four most important bands in this genre (especially in the US, and generally called the "Big Four Of Thrash") are:
Before Slayer released its album Reign in Blood in 1986, Testament was in the "Big Four Of Thrash," as these four influential thrash metal bands are often called.
As well as the "Big Four Of Thrash," the three most important bands in Teutonic Thrash, are: