Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The thrash metal checklist

With so many genres, subgenres, and sub-subgenres of metal, it can be hard to classify a band. Are they progressive cyber pornogrind, neoclassical wigger slam, or post-structuralist industrial shred? Sometimes you just can't tell! With that in mind, we assembled this handy guide to identifying one of the most common species in the field: the thrash metal band. Simply go down the list and ask yourself if the following elements are present. Think of it as a Jeff Foxworthy bit: "You just might be a thrash band if..."

Toxic waste

I am not sure why thrash bands have such a fixation on toxic waste, but they definitely do. The image above captures the toxic waste thing nicely, as well as a few other memes such as "smug, fat rich guy on the cover." I guess toxic waste was just part of the zeitgeist of the 1980s, as evidenced by the creation of the lamest superhero cartoon ever, Captain Planet. It's almost charming to look back at the 80s thrash movement as a time when people actually cared about stuff, as opposed to the unapologetic self-centeredness of today's popular music (for example, Avenged Sevenfold). By comparison, the idealism and enthusiasm of, say, Sacred Reich is kind of like watching Leave It To Beaver or something.
Examples: Evildead, Nuclear Assault, Sodom

We pretty much said all there is to say about this phenomenon in our 3 part series on metal spokesmen (here, here, and here), but the list certainly wouldn't be complete without a mascot!

Amateurish sociopolitical commentary
For some reason the 80s made every dumb thrash band think they were Noam Chomsky, and every band treated us to their unsolicited, uninformed opinions on social issues delivered in musical format. I don't completely get it, but as Mike Muir taught us, just because you don't understand it don't mean it don't make no sense. And just because you don't like it, don't mean it ain't no good. Because you wouldn't know what crazy was if Charles Manson was eating Froot Loops on your front porch. In any case, a thrash band can definitely write songs about shit like monsters, nightmares, and killer robots, but they have to include at least one or two songs about some kind of social injustice. For example, DRI's "Thrash Zone" has songs about lighthearted fare like moshing, but they also tackle meatier subjects like kidnapping ("Abduction") and that school sucks ("Beneath the Wheel"). That is the kind of effortless ambidexteriy that makes thrash what it is!
Examples: Laaz Rockit, Sepultura, Sacred Reich, Suicidal Tendencies

Sick guitars
You really aren't a thrash band unless you have the right axe. You definitely won't go wrong with trusty standbys like Charvel, Jackson and ESP, but they aren't your only options. If you want to mix it up a little, you can go with something a little more exotic like a Washburn, Karmer or even a Guild! As long as it has shark fin fret inlays, EMGs, a Floyd Rose, and a headstock that looks like it would take your finger off if you brushed up against it wrong, then you're good! Bonus points if the headstock is reversed.

This bad boy combines the oil painting and sick guitar items into one!

It's equally important to know what axes aren't ok. Basically, anything made by Fender or Gibson is off the list. Les Pauls are for punk rockers, and can you imagine Bloodcum jamming on fucking Stratocasters?! Hell no! That's like petting the cat backwards... it's just not done, you know? (By the way, please remind me to do a post on Bloodcum in the near future, I'm seriously shocked we haven't yet and "Death By Clotheshanger" is without a doubt one of the best thrash records ever made)
Examples: Slayer, Exodus, Vio-Lence, Megadeth
(Full disclosure: I stole some of the material in this item from an article KC from Himsa wrote in the zine Hardcore Maniacs back in 93 or so.. so KC, if you're reading, don't be mad!)

Wearing your own band's shirt
You can think of many reasons why thrash bands would wear their own shirts a lot: lack of self-respect/complete disregard for their dignity, being broke, and so forth. Maybe they're just too lazy to do laundry. I have my own theory, which is as follows: they secretly hope that someone will see them at 7-11 or whatever and be like, "Hey bro, sweet Hirax shirt, their shit is hella mass tight," Then the guy will be like, "Thanks dude, that's my band, I play guitar" all nonchalant as though it wasn't the best moment of his life. In his head, though, he is thinking "Fuck yes!! Dude I'm finally getting the fucking recognition I deserve. With any luck, we could even end up on the next Concrete Corner sampler cassette!" But whatever the reason, you simply can't be a thrash band without wearing your own band's shirts.
Examples: Literally every single thrash band ever

"Funny" song
The 80s were an intense decade. Everybody was scared of toxic waste, nuclear war, and the Russians. We had to let off some steam somehow, and in the case of thrash bands, they did it by including at least one goofy "funny" song on their album. I mean, you can only spend so much time screaming about Reagan, the Iran Contra scandal, and whatever other social ills were plaguing us back then (junk bonds, maybe??). At some point you have to let your hair down and party!!
Examples: Forced Entry "We're Dicks", Exodus "Low Rider", Anthrax "I'm The Man"

Anti-drug message
I was too young during the 80s to know anyone other than my parents and all their friends that actually used drugs, but from what I saw in movies and on TV, absolutely everybody was on drugs. Rich people celebrated their financial success by snorting cocaine with $1000 bills in the back of plush limos, and poor people tried to numb the pain of inescapable urban blight by smoking crack. As if that wasn't enough to convince me that everybody was on drugs, all my favorite thrash bands seemed very concerned about drugs use as well! They even went so far as to include the "Winners don't use drugs" seal on the j-card of their cassettes (the image above is from Bad Dudes, but you get the idea).
Examples: Believer, every band on Roadrunner

This awesome Wasted Youth video is perhaps the closest thing you'll get to thrash metal bingo!

What's missing?
We are pretty great at our jobs, but we also know the power of crowdsourcing and Web 2.0 because we read Fast Company and Wired. So we ask you, our loyal readers, to help us complete the checklist! What did we miss?


  1. I thought gang vocals and denim jackets were requisites for the Bay Area scene?

    Oh, before I forget, fuck Municipal Waste.

  2. Classic "funny" song that goes so far as to attempt meta-humor: the blues part in Nuclear Assault's "Butt Fuck"

  3. Stickers of punk and hardcore bands on the guitars.

    Regarding the obsession with toxic waste, maybe this can explain it:

  4. As far as german thrash goes, mullets were pretty important back in the day as well.
    Especially with curly hair...

  5. I forgot to ask: where did you find that picture of that guitar? Did you type in to the Google search bar, "guitar", "Teen Wolf", and "airbrushed"?

  6. A "Funny Song" entry which also requires a sub genre is Sacred Reich's "13 Flavors" from "American Way".

    Maybe it was just me but wasn't there a big funk going down on in early 90's with thrash bands showing off their funky muscle (and showing they had a lighter side to them as well?)
    Happened pretty just after RDHC released "Mother's Milk".

  7. stupid fucking fluorescent bermuda shorts...?

  8. The dude in the Wasted Youth vid is playing a PRS! Total falsethrash...

  9. By that definition, is Obituary a thrash band?



    Jackson or ESP V guitar:


    Not sure if the lyrics are political in any song, but you can read into them what you will:

    Really the only thing is that I can't find any pictures of Obituary members wearing Obituary shirts. But I bet if I google long enough I will.

  10. hibernum, nice work!! like i said, i'm sure we left a few things off, but as you can see it's at least a good place to start.

  11. Just axe me, I'm an expert.

    You need to add anti-religion songs. Church Bizarre (Sabbat UK), Behind The Crooked Cross (Slayer), Leper Messiah (Metallica), Send Me Your Money (Suicidal). Almost a pre-requisite for a thrash band!

    Even Maiden came in a bit late with Holy Smoke.

  12. ah, good one! specifically, anti-corrupt religion songs!

  13. i already did a post on bloodcum. learn how to use the search function, retard!

  14. i would have to say that a song about moshing was pretty much a given. as well as some type of anti-racism/scene unity song (not sure if that falls under social commentary or not).

    and what about the photo collage of the band thrashing/partying/posing with more famous metal dudes? that seemed to be fairly common.

    also, would a thrash bands mascot be known as a "thrashcot"? sorry for that one, i had to come in early for work and my brain is toast.

  15. Bad ass high tops... freshly purchased. That's important- they have to look brand new. -Toast

  16. str8ev, yesssss! those are excellent additions, i can't believe we missed them! the scene unity song especially, wow.

  17. Not only do the high-yops have to be fresh, they also must be white az the driven Znow.

  18. fuck me the "T" is right next to the "y".....Y&T? ugh.

  19. how about a KNAC tshirt?

    what about ridiculously long thanks lists with inside jokes and nicknames for either guys in other bands or the roadies?

    tama drums and paiste cymbals (see slayer, antrax, testament)

  20. guy "hard on" sykes

  21. Add "Gammacide" to the "toxic waste" list:

    "Wearing your own band t-shirt": this didn't happen in death metal scene. Each bandmember used to wear other bands shirts and write every fucking band on the planet in the thankslist just for support.

    The biggest thrash bands, especially Metallica, gave zero support to other bands...

  22. here's another one. In every interview you do, make sure you say something like 'yeah well, we're not really Thrash, we're more than that, we dont to be limited...' etc.

    think Kreator, Testament. Then 20 years later, okay, they kept at it, but what are they screaming now? 'thrash forever'? heh!

    I'm just joshing, i love those bands (first two albums anyway! ;))

    oh yeah,

    1st record - awesome garagey thrash

    2nd record - better production, improved musicianship

    3nd record - trying to be Metallica but failing. maybe a power ballad?

    4th record - complete crap in one way or another. shit production, half the band left, ideas dried up, Metallica left everyone behind.

    5th album - duuuuuuuuuuuuuuude!!!!

  23. rockwell, you're killing it!! you need to do some guest posting!

  24. 6th album: "we're back to the roots, but with a modern approach!" (total crap, trying to be Pantera...singer shaved his head...half the band suffers from Robb Flynn disease)

  25. Let's not forget some of the horrific thrash that came out in the genre's waning days. Wraithchild America's "Climbing the Walls" immediately comes to mind.

    And how about the Crumbsuckers, "Don't call me dude" for the requisite "funny" song.

    It's no wonder I made a quick transition into death metal and grindcore.

  26. Cover version of old metal/punk/hardcore song on b-side of single that goes down better live than your own songs...

  27. Self-referential songs about "thrashing", e.g., "Whiplash", "Toxic Waltz", etc.

  28. writing a song about something sketchy (like maybe something racist) then backpedalling and explaining that it is just "a character"

  29. - samples of evil laughter
    - song about horror movie character (eg SOD's "freddy kruger")
    - song about killing posers: sadus- DTP ("death to posers"), SOD- "fist banging mania," piledriver - "metal inquisition"

  30. - song about how businessmen are robotic clones (DRI has several suit and tie guy etc)

    components for the 80's thrash album thanks list

    - beer
    - weed
    - metal maria
    - thrashers and maniacs from (insert town name here)
    - horror/sci fi authors
    - (insert hometown restaurant/bar here)
    - band name = song name track
    - instrumental (instruMETAL) track
    - 'unity' crossover song (ie SOD 'united forces', anthrax - 'one world', DRI 'tear it down' etc)

  31. In reference to my earlier comment, Crumbsuckers had changed their name to Scatterbrain. Scatterbrain did the song, "Don't call me dude!"

    Not that anyone really cares. Hell, I don't even care.

  32. i care! see my review of scatterbrain here:

  33. i used to buy records based upon the stickers on Hanneman's guitars

    p.s. charvel 4eva

  34. I used to read the thanks lists (the longer, the better)from top to bottom in the hope of finding new bands worth checking out. I was always dissappointed when I bought a vinyl album that had a white inner sleeve. The jokes and references made me feel like belonging to the "Thrasher Army" or something like that... The hate lists some bands put were often funny as fuck as well. Anybody remembers Exhorder´s listing of "don¨t eat tuna because it kills dolphins idiots...what about don´t eat tuna because it kills tuna you fucks??" I found that pretty hilarious back then.

  35. ..along the same line as that tuna thanks, I recommend Kreator's "terrible certainty" Thanks list.
    VERY un politically correct but hey, that was a different time

  36. a fanclub with a stupid name.

    not exclusive to thrash of course but most of the bands had one right?

  37. Cameltoe-exposing tight jeans, with Blue Grape-sized shirts.

    A thrash metal band's mature 'album' should feature some sort of somber artistic landscape with a checkerboard and/or superimposed clock in the background.

    A love of skateboarding.

  38. damn, as i read the post, i thought of all this things i was gonna point out. but, after reading the comments, I realized someone has already brought it all up! damn you fuckers!

    Pure shitty thrash is my favorite genre of music. Gammacide, Crumbsuckers, Forbidden, Acid Reign, Toxic, Acrophet, Vio-lence, Anthrax, Meliah Rage, Exodus, Sacred Reich, and on and on. i LOVE that shit and i'm proud to say it's still 50% of the music i listen to at work. the other 50% is mostly iron maiden and manowar.


  39. Acrophet

    jesus christ dude, you lost me there! i listen to crazytown and acrophet is too shitty even for me!

  40. john's idea of the cover song b-side is close, but you're just not elite-level thrash until you stick an unwelcome cover right in the middle of the album. Did anyone really want to hear megadeth play "anarchy in the uk"? And am I the only one who skips past "eighteen" when listening to anthrax? It's never a good idea.

  41. Ian Spermgrinder: I don't wanna be that guy but it was Ludichrist who morphed into Scatterbrain. The Crumbsuckers were the crossover champs. Ludichrist was a close second!

  42. Did anyone mention the obligatory "classical" music-type intro before the always ultra-thrashy first track? It was all about the contrast, ostensibly.

    Crumbsuckers were pretty good. I bought a copy of "Life Of Dreams" on CD & it was just a straight-up copy of the vinyl LP, skips & all. Pretty cool in a bogus kind of way.

  43. i'm all thrashed out, but i do remember (quite clearly), that hating Glam and Soft Rock was part of the deal.

    Suck that now when 'the kidz' old enough to be journalists start writing about grunge killing 'hair metal' i have to protest that there was no such thing as 'hair metal', it was all kinds, but 'hair metal' was glam rock.

    what's wrong with having long hair anyway? it's part of the deal!! i'm still holding on, despite a thinning top! dont worry, im not in tragic territory yet, but it's in the post! ;)

    I just thought of one...

    THE UNDERCUT!!! ;)

    - for the more punky, open minded long haired thrasher ;)

  44. - Acoustic intros
    - The photo collage also should include a picture of the band after the show wearing very little clothing (preferably towels only) and drinking beer from cans (a real thrasher apparently never drinks his beer from a bottle.)
    - Claiming to be anti-glam, but when you get a bit successful and get signed to a major label hire the producer that recorded the most commercial glam records and include a power ballad on your album
    - The bass is preferably inaudible, but if it it has to be heard, make it sound as trebly as possible.

  45. I can't believe no one came up with "symmetrical band logo"..of course this isn't limited to thrash, but tons of 'em had 'em.

  46. @ Krusher: Nowadays I listen mainly to "beardo" stuff as you would call it, bands like Earthless, Lamp of the Universe, Baby Woodrose etc., but I downloaded a lot of old thrash classics for my car stereo for listening while driving to and from work. Nothing is better for getting rid of the aggressions accumulated during a work day than Sabbat, Exodus, Sadus, Sacred Reich etc at max volume while breaking the speed limit. shitty Thrash still rules in a way!!

  47. hahaha Manowar, have you guys done a blog on that crap yet? if not please oil up and don them loin cloths post haste! also, was there anything more pathetic than Alice COoper still tragically plodding well into the late 80s?

  48. Wearing your own band shirt is so tacky. It's like 10 times worse then talking about how much money you make.

  49. @ turdwax:

    "trash" is the best alice cooper album. fight me

  50. @ Chest Rockwell: I am still holding on as well, and not only that, I am still holding on to the undercut!!

  51. This is ALMOST right on.

    Um, didn't Gary Holt of the mighty Exodus play with a Strat??

  52. Oh and I almost forgot,
    thrash bands always wear their punk rock influence on their sleeves.

    They always rep it by doing a cover or wearing a shirt or some stupid shit. EVERY thrash band does a punk rock/hardcore cover song. Then of course there's the actual punk bands that crossed over.

    Is it just me or does punk bands that went crossover kinda always go shitty but when a thrash band covers a punk song it's like the best thing in the world?

    P.S. Anti-religious/Satanic songs is simply part of heavy metal culture in itself. It's part of the genre entirely. So having anti-religious songs is like saying long hair is somehow a thrash metal peculiarity.

  53. white nike shoes and cutting the sleeves off your (own bands ha ha) shirt. bullet belts/tight leather pants for the germans.

    thrash forever.

  54. Samples of a prison door slamming and songs about how hard it is to be lost in the justice system, sometimes including some kind of imagery about a faceless judge who takes away x number of years of your life with a gavel.

    Songs treating the PMRC like some kind of apocalyptic end times scourge.

    Being in a bathing suit or in the sunshine or some other kind of loose vacation situation in Rip magazine.

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