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The Thrash Metal Renaissance

Written by Dux, June 2010

usic goes through many trends and cycles, with metal being no exception. What's old always eventually ends up being new again (or chic, anyway), to some generation down the line. Not that that's always a bad thing; on the contrary. We are currently in the middle of a thrash metal Renaissance.

he revival I speak of comes as a two-pronged front. Firstly, many of the bands from thrash's heyday are one again headbanging in full force, and in many cases, putting out some of their best records in years, or at least ones that attempt to recall the style and energy from those halcyon days of the early-to-mid '80s. One need not look farther than Megadeth and Overkill's newest offerings to see some of their best work in a decade or more. Similarly, we can see solid outings from the most recent releases from Metallica and Annihilator that, even if they miss the mark, still make a make an honest effort to recapture what made their genre-defining works so great. Then you have releases from guys like Slayer and Exodus who, even through the dark times of the '90s, have put out consistent, if unremarkable, offerings up to this day. Hell, Alex Skolnick and Chuck Billy both returned to record a new record with Testament (something that seemed impossible for some time), and cult '80s band Forbidden is about to release one later this year.

he nostalgia doesn't stop at the studio, either. The biggest news is of course the Big Four playing at Sonisphere in Europe this year. Obviously, this is huge on merit of merely gathering all of the biggest names in thrash (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax) under one roof, but more so because it's never been done before, and because Metallica and Megadeth have only played on the same bill together once. What's more is that all of the bands have mostly, or all, original lineups (what with the recent rejoining of Dave Ellefson with Megadeth and Joey Belladonna with Anthrax). You've got to know there is going to be a lot of egos flying around there, and to make this happen must have required compromises and the swallowing of pride by several parties. Even if all of those bands accept that Metallica is the reason these shows are going to sell out and bring in bank, we all know that they're not going to take it lying down. Dave Mustaine's bitterness with his former band mates in Metallica is well-documented enough, but what about the bluntness of Kerry King and his comments on Metallica's commercial status, or the tension between Belladonna and Anthrax? Here's hoping that everything goes smoothly in hopes of a stateside version.

side from those huge concert dates, Dave Mustaine and co. have been waving the flag throughout 2010. Megadeth has been the strongest they have been in ages with both ex-Jag Panzer axeman Chris Broderick on lead, and original bassist Dave Ellefson; so much so that the band was able to play their most technically demanding record in full on their recent jaunt in honor of its twentieth anniversary. Furthermore, the tour saw Testament, with a mostly-original lineup playing their debut album, The Legacy, in its entirety, as well as seminal thrashers Exodus en-tow. Following this will be the American Carnage tour this summer that pairs up those bands (sans Exodus) with Slayer, and the announcement that Rust in Peace would continue to be played live for those who missed out. If these aren't signs that the thrash is alive and well, then I don't what is.

he second aspect of this thrash resurgence is the current generation of young bands putting on high-tops and shredded jeans to continue where the movement left off in 1989. Not to be confused with the New Wave of American Heavy Metal from the beginning of the decade, and predating the current deathcore trend by about a year or so, this "neo" thrash movement wears its influences on their collective sleeves. Though bands like Trivium, Shadows Fall, and Lamb of God certainly have some musical elements rooted in thrash, the current crop of bands coming up largely aren't doing anything new or original. In fact, it's obvious that they are trying to stay as close to the Bay Area, circa 1980, as possible without being pure cover bands. Everything is in place, from the buzzsaw riffing, to the pointy logos, to the vintage garb. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, right?

aybe not. The current revival has some purists up in arms. Sure the bands almost perfectly emulate their heroes, but maybe that's the point of contention. Some see the trend as being unoriginal and lacking the spirit and passion that the sound had during its original Bay Area movement. Personally, I take it for what it is. It's great that the modern youth is appreciating some of the most important bands of extreme music, and trying to make music in the vein of some of the greatest songs metal has to offer. Hell, I'd much rather hear this than the rest of the trendy drivel that is being spewn out and called metal. Even if the style is derivative of its inspirations, that doesn't make it any less enjoyable if you liked the sound to begin with.

he problem for me is not one of originality. These bands definitely have the chops and riffs, no doubt there. But despite their unabashed emulation of their inspirations, they fall short in one department the successful ones did not: songwriting. Okay, so a lot of even original thrash was pretty unsubtle in its delivery, and if we want to set the bar for this movement no higher than the lowest common denominators, then so be it. However, I'm inclined to compare what I hear to such prime examples as ...And Justice for All, Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?, Practice What You Preach, South of Heaven, and Never, Neverland. These albums, and others from their respective bands, contain not just aggressive riffing and vocals; they contain hooks. No, I'm not talking about hooks in the sense of melodic or sing-songy choruses. I'm talking about vocals and lyrics that you could instantly recall a song from, and memorable guitar and drum parts that gave each song an identity of its own.

t's not that hard to write a palm-muted riff with a punk-based drum beat backing it up at 200 beats per minute, honestly. The true test of longevity and timelessness is being able to do that tastefully. It's a trend that I see continuously with modern aggressive bands which will ultimately leave them relegated to "angsty teen" status, where their inspirations have gone on to create masterpieces of the form.

Key Bands of the Thrash Revival:

  • Bonded By Blood
    CA group that sound like the band whose album they draw their namesake from.

  • Evile
    UK thrash act.

  • Hatchet
    Melodic Bay Area act; talented w/ John Greely-esque (ex-Iced Earth) vocals.

  • Havok
    Colorado act drawing heavily on Testament.

  • Municipal Waste
    Crossover thrash reminiscent of SOD/Anthax w/ party themes.

  • Skeletonwitch
    Ohio act mixing NWoBHM melodies w/ black metal vocals. One of the best & most unique.

  • Toxic Holocaust
    One-man act w/ heavy early punk inspiration and a gritty sound.

  • Warbringer
    Pyrotechnic solos, taking inspiration from Slayer and later-era Kreator.

Dux - June 2010