Thrash metal has been a time-tested gateway drug into the darker corners of heavy metal since the rise of Metallica, Slayer, Kreator and Destruction. The genre served as the bridge that lead from classic metal to monstrous black and death extremity. Everyone, their mum, dog, goldfish, hamster, snake, tarantula and pet cactus knows this. In spite of how beloved the genre is, even a thrash revival and a number of high-profile bands, along with the continuation of many of its ’80s titans, hasn’t served to put it back in the spotlight it enjoyed back in ’86. The genre, for all of its accomplishments, also grew to have a reputation for being perhaps the most glaring example of Sturgeon’s law, something that hasn’t changed much over the years. That’s not unique to thrash and you could argue that recently death metal has bumped into this slog as well.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that both of these genres frequently fuse together. After all, thrash metal set down more than a few of the foundations for its far viler offspring but there were a number of bands now frequently marked down as “death/thrash” that illustrated the transitional period between both. Vader, Num Skull, Ripping Corpse, earlier Atheist, Merciless (Sweden), Insanity (San Francisco), Hellwitch, Sadus and countless others represented an interesting bridge between the furthest-flung extremity of the original extreme metal bands and the forthcoming death metal genre, foreshadowing the paradigm shifts that metal as a whole would undergo. In the past couple decades, a number of bands have reached into that tumultuous time when the underground was in upheaval and attempted to craft their own voice from this heritage of mutated, destructive fury. Weak cash-in re-treads and tongue-in-cheek retro tomfoolery this is not. Here are ten of the nastiest messengers of deathly thrashing terror you should be keeping an eye on.
Beyond The Celestial Sphere
The sci-fi cover art might make this scream some kind of blippity-bloopity zany tech-metal but Nether’s sound is far more grounded than its extrasolar visual language would imply. This is far from a flaw, however, with these Croatians playing a very adept and epic variant of death/thrash. The lengthy songs, ranging from five to nine minutes, capture the kind of epic semi-proggy scope many bands went for in the wake of Master Of Puppets, Leave Scars, and The Force. This is combined with a compact, streamlined musicianship that, while hinting at Obliveon or Coroner, is used to stack these songs full of punchy, meaty riffing with the heavyweight downstroke chunking and churning tremolo action of bands like Demolition Hammer and Revenant. The latter are ultimately Nether’s closest sonic comparison, with Nether possessing a similar amount of melody in their lengthy tracks and letting their death metal element show more overtly in a few slower sections that lend a commendable low-end weightiness to their music, which is given a lot of room to breathe by the chunky, thudding production. They follow a more gradually unfolding narrative structure as well, avoiding verse-chorus patterns in exchange for gradually working through a widening array of riffing, tempo, soloing and more to create grandiose epics backed up as much by raw ambition as they are pummelling delivery.
Atomik Nuclear Desolation Productions, 2018
Chile is a hotbed of extreme metal that has blossomed into a practical superpower at this point, even if much of their output remains poorly known to most of the world. Perhaps most well known amongst them is the legendary Pentagram, whose two 1987 demos (along with their surprisingly strong 2013 return from the grave) encapsulated many of the future ideas that the country’s death and thrash would take to heart. Slaughterhouse are no exception to this rule and demonstrate their nation’s style with gusto and mercilessness alike. Lengthy riffs backed by sinister, lengthier melodies race over a charging tempo, building desperate momentum under Humberto San Martin’s anguished howls. This leads to lengthier momentum shifts that sharply vary up phrasing and tempo, working in choppier patterns and frenzied soloing before whiplashing back to the primary themes they broke from. The crispy production separates each instrument well, treating the bass guitar of Manuel Jiménez with care as he shines on more than a few moments, when not loudly punching away in the background. The more melodic focus of this four song EP shouldn’t be seen as a sign it’s less intense; if anything, these tremolo sorceries only further the sense of infernal atmosphere that pervades, touching on a Hell Awaits-era Slayer-esque sense of ominous demonic presence.
The Catacombs of Fear
Obliteration Records, 2020
Thrash metal already has a reputation as being an incredibly straightforward and no-nonsense genre, for better and for worse. Death metal does as well, perhaps to an even greater extent, so what happens when you combine the two? Invictus’ debut album is a full-throttle rollercoaster ride of both genres at their most blunt and ruthless, contrasting the prior two bands’ technical touches, buzzing churn and ghostly melodies with barrages of single-minded rhythmic firepower, emphasising a whole armoury’s worth of staccato gunfire rhythms, giving the album an incredibly spirited delivery. This Japanese terror-trio don’t have too many riffs in each song but they’ve selected each one to maximise aggression and intensity as a whole in eleven compact tracks trimmed of any and all excess. They lean towards material in the vein of early Malevolent Creation, Solstice (Florida), and Devastation (Texas). Compared to these progenitors, their songs develop absurdly fast, at near grindcore speeds, yet they manage to even work in slightly more technical phrasings and a bit of mid-tempo breathing room between throttling mile-a-minute blastbeats. It’s a small dose of variety tailor-made for their style, giving way to moments of wild energy for songs within the two to just a little under the four-minute range.
The Rumored Death Of Atlas
A thrashing metal band naming itself Obsolete feels a little on the nose and self-deprecating, but thankfully listening to this short two-song EP demonstrates that they are anything but a worship act. Obsolete’s brand of death/thrash hearkens back to the genre’s technical end exemplified by bands like Hellwitch, Dragon (Poland), Chemical Breath, demo-era Cynic and Invocator. The actual chops behind it are fairly impressive, deftly executed in a sleek unobtrusive fashion and featuring a healthy degree of noodlier upper register notation. They even go so far as to break into fluttery dissonant Voivod-ian chord shapes and patterns of shimmering fretboard wizardry, giving it a very high-tech sci-fi atmosphere assisted with the stalking, shadowing basslines and the sharp reflexes of the drumming. Both songs here are only three minutes each but they work through a fairly wide range of ideas, gradually linking together multiple iterations of core ideas through general variation and accelerating-decelerating tempos. It’s almost like severely trimmed down Watchtower tracks at points, albeit bolstered by a cybernetic, futuristic veneer. There’s a lot that happens in a fairly short timespan but these songs know how to weave enough melody to ensure that it never feels overwhelming in spite of all the nuts and bolts whirring away within these bite-sized labyrinths.
Bestial Manifestations Of Malevolence And Death
Redefining Darkness Records, 2018
Embodying the civilization-ending violence of its kaiju-themed cover art, Seattle’s Oxygen Destroyer stomp forth with an incessant intensity beset with hellish ear-scraping snarls, thunderous drumming and riffing held up by pure jackhammering hypertension. If you can imagine the smooth, ever-shifting, post-Morbid Angel/Slayer style riffs of earlier Vader combined with the turn-on-a-dime laser precision hammering of Beneath The Remains-era Sepultura, you’d arrive at where these guys did, then immediately get vaporised in a flash of atomic breath. There’s no tongue-in-cheek humour here, only a genuinely animalistic sense of dehumanising violence communicated by tremolo picking that the percussion races to keep pace with, unleashing a number of compact fills and ringing accents at key intervals. The best way to describe this (beyond “vicious”, “inhuman”, “bile-filled” and other such adjectives) is “kinetic”. There’s quite a few riffs to each song but they’re focused less so on winding complexity but connecting them together in such a way that it never really feels like they lose any energy even between sharp tempo changes, utilising a constantly pulsing sense of motion and the nearly blurring effect of the riffing to maintain a near constant level of intensity rivalling bands like Degial and Ritualization. Even better, the album was partially remastered by Redefining Darkness for a much more powerful, fleshed out sound that makes this occasionally somewhat confusing violence far easier to follow.
From Awareness to Creation
Red Wine Rites Records, 2018
Dwelling in a more esoteric realm than most of their rabies-ridden counterparts, Miscreance’s debut demo mirrors Obsolete’s, albeit from a sharply different animal, based closer to the first wave tech-metal influences that spawned both of these bands. The level of musicianship is roughly comparable though Miscreance’s choice in technique veers closer to Sadus and demo-era Cynic. Where these Italians truly excel is in thrashing harder by comparison, with the implied perspective of the late ’80s to early ’90s period only adding to the vicious, stampeding, bursting-at-the-seams level of chaotic activity. Adroit changes in tempo and slicing spidery riffs dance over a manic rhythm section, storming forth with a skank-loving intensity breaking off into more complex, choppier rhythms while bass guitar swerves about as if dodging falling bits of burning debris in a wild car case. All of this is narrated by a harsh semi Schuldiner-esque vocalist in Loris Benetti, who shrieks wildly over the clanging din with an impressively vitriolic tone. It’s sharply performed and brainy music but its braininess is more of a byproduct of the excellent instrumentation, retaining a level of aggression easily on par with the more blunt-headed and violent of their counterparts. There’s quite a few sudden stops and sudden moments of flashy guitar work but when delivered this degree of no-holds-barred
Attraction To Annihilation
Blood Harvest, 2018
Maligner may be Swedish but their sound as a whole is closer to that of a Chilean band, emphasising sinister Pentagram-style melodies, but augmented with a far beefier rhythm section bordering on blastbeat tempos and bearing a blunt-end ferocity that almost mimics earlier American death metal. In spite of this, a nearly classic heavy metal-esque sense of melody flows through these songs, giving a voice to the urban riot chaos. At times almost reminiscent of something you’d hear on a Helstar album with tracks like ‘Reign Of Fear’ and ‘Lust Of Fire’ playing host to riffing that with some editing wouldn’t be out of place in a more neoclassical USPM/thrash context, something that extends to the soloing. It also lends a surprising melancholy that underscores the impressive aggression on display, dwelling less so in the realms of the technological, occult or pulp as much as something fundamentally human communicated in the snippets of the lyrics and augmented by the minor key-sounding tonality. Songwriting-wise this also shares Pentagram’s tendency to utilise a mixture of repetition to instil familiarity with a core melody in your head before using the second half of the song to branch off of and resolve these violent, unsettled threads of theme with a series of riffs existing as a response and a closer, lending these songs a sense of theatrical build-up to a monstrous, damning climax as they’re propelled from violent beginnings to desperate, hopeless ends in dis-orderly fashion.
Angel Of The Eastern Gate
Sepulchral Voice Records, 2020 (originally 2019)
With two members of cult German occultists Necros Christos involved, Sijjin haven’t garnered nearly the amount of attention you might have expected. What a shame, because this six-song demo stands loud and proud on its own merits. Sijjin are unsurprisingly absurdly old-school, resorting to a sound predating most of the bands on this list and originating somewhere around 1985 with Slayer’s Hell Awaits. The emphasis here is not so much on frenzied predator motion, technical scope or sheer velocity, but more so heavy atmosphere communicated by underlying melody. While this moves it somewhat closer to the Chilean style, Sijjin differ in their usage of a light layer of hypnotic repetition, letting riffs stick around long enough to create a particularly heavy mood and almost melt into one another in a way reminiscent of some of the doomier black/death bands of late but kept propulsive by tastefully understated drumming and a steady rhythmic pulse. From this funereal ambience new riffs emerge, further deepening the feverish mood and gradually revealing the overarching structure when the atmosphere hits the peak of its swamping, occult intensity. With its love of jagged interruptive riffing and well-timed blasts, the band’s sound isn’t afraid to rip away at unsuspecting listeners but there’s an organic sense of atmosphere dictated by carefully laid out, though not necessarily very intricate, song structure which gives it a vibe at once workmanlike and otherworldly. As such, Sijjin do a better job of capturing the infernal spirit of first wave ’80s extremity than almost any over-eager worship band.
Hieb & Stich Records, 2020
Another German band, Nekropulse are incredibly OLD SKULL but are not exactly worshippers of the hyper-crunchy, freight-train-going-off-the-rails Teutonic sound exemplified by Destruction, Kreator and Sodom. Compared to all the other bands here, they’re far looser in their riffing with a lot of grating Celtic Frost-esque guitarwork lending them an almost punky vibe that gladly veers into first wave black metal territory, assisted by hefty doses of reverb. Still, you will hear the heritage of thrash in the constantly ripping guitar work and charging tempos, contrasting the surge of focused rhythmic crunch with moments of sawing hyper-atavistic looser chords. Blastbeats pop up to speed things along like rolling an entire filth-drenched boulder your way and more deftly picked riffing slices come in at a few junctions, breaking up the wall-of-noise effect with moments of short-lived melody and/or sharply contoured riffing. Like Sijjin, the songs feel more like they unfurl gradually, in contrast to some of the comparatively meticulous songwriting of others on this list. Nekropulse rely far more on building up a snowballing momentum, from which new riffs can splinter out of the misshapen avalanche of raucous, rampant intensity. It’s incredibly primordial metal that refers to a time when the boundaries between all the genres weren’t as tightly defined.
Armée de la Mort Records, 2013
From the depths of Dhaka, Bangladesh came the most slept on death/thrash band of the 2000s. Blessed with trained musicianship, unexpectedly strong production, among the gnarliest riffing since Merciless’ The Awakening and even a cool Tantric-occult theme, they were nonetheless condemned to obscurity. Thankfully they reunited four years ago and there’s never been a better time to check out this masterpiece. Kapalgnosis throws a lot of riffs at you and it changes between them with frequent use of abrupt blastbeats in tightly forays from skank-heavy thrashing into deathly hyper-BPM slaughtering. They retain a relentless sense of motion but possess a masterful ear for moulding riffs to fit the song’s need, holding back just enough to let you see the shape a song is taking before pouncing on you with a butcher’s worth of thousand-faced flesh-flaying riffs. Even when the album slows down, they’ll only do so in order to build up a sense of expectation, giving you just enough time to barely get your marbles together before another frenzy of semi-ritualistic violence descends upon you, every riff playing off the momentum and the phrasing of its predecessor to then modulate and shift it towards a new iteration. There’s a constant sense of discovery and growth here, communicated in an incredibly destructive manner, and while its baseline ingredients aren’t alien, the fresh, steely determination they execute it with find very few equals within and outside of this list.
Words: Sepulcrustacean from Toilet Ov Hell