Over the past decade or so, thrash metal finally started getting the respect it’s always deserved. Though often seen as the rabid, hyperactive little brother of the ‘80s metal scene, the genre has become not only a lauded part of rock music as a whole, but also the standard for metal fans unimpressed by falsetto vocals and songs about getting to second base. This occurred in part due to the emergence of a new wave of young thrash acts in the late 2000s, as well as the return and reinvigoration of many of the scene’s lesser-known heavyweights. You’d be lying if you said you always knew Death Angel would someday get nominated for a Grammy.
The only downside to this is that as thrash’s most recognizable songs get acknowledged, plenty of the underplayed gems by obscure bands are ignored. Many classic thrash bands have deep cuts that should see the light of day more often, while the huge underground scene which splintered off of melodic death metal at the turn of the millennium sometimes falls by the wayside. Look deeper into thrash metal and you’ll find a cornucopia of sick riffs that no one talks about.
Here are 30 thrash tracks that you (unfortunately) may never have heard of…
Hypnosia, “Hang ‘Em High” (Extreme Hatred, 2000)
Though it’s their only full-length studio LP, Extreme Hatred by Swedish chainsaw thrashers Hypnosia is an excellent piece of underground blackened speed, down to its ultra-hostile old-school cover. “Hang ‘Em High” is three-piece at their fastest, clocking in at just under two minutes of bounding riffs and frantic execution commands. Released when thrash was way underground in the U.S. but booming just below the surface of the Swedish scene, the song gives listeners everything they love about the genre in a single, unholy spasm.
Testament, “Nightmare (Coming Back To You)” (Practice What You Preach, 1989)
‘89’s Practice What You Preach saw Testament flexing their mature side, featuring mostly longer songs about dire subjects. But buried within the album is “Nightmare (Coming Back To You)”, which is as rip-roaring and delicious a Bay Area thrash track as has ever been written. Upbeat even in its anger, the song illustrates how punk’s edges were eventually toned down to give the genre more definition as a bluesy, groovy beast all its own. For some reason, “Nightmare” is not the live staple it should be, but joins a solid rogue’s gallery of lesser-known gems by thrash’s biggest names.
The Haunted, “Trespass” (The Haunted Made Me Do It, 2000)
Looking back, The Haunted really were the band to launch Sweden’s huge crop of thrash acts around the year 2000, and this track from their first album with vocalist Marco Aro shows why they were at the top of that heap. “Trespass” is a dense slab of pure Slayer worship, riding a riff that bounces while also having an edge like a scythe blade. Meanwhile, Aro’s bellowing lends this number an extremity that takes the song in a starker direction, something which helped make The Haunted a little more satisfying than the melodeath bands around them. One of those bangers that just feels like getting punched in the face.
King’s Evil, “Web Of Lies” (Deletion of Humanoise, 2001)
For the mutants living beneath metal’s crust during nu-metal’s salad days who were ordering CDs on eBay and reading issues of S.O.D. until they fell apart, King’s Evil were a massive treat. The Tokyo-based four-piece’s studio debut was thorny, scaly death-thrash at its most enthusiastic and unapologetic. “Web Of Lies” is one of the tracks thereon that instantly sticks with the listener, fast and punishing while also a boatload of fun. Not even making a blip on the mainstream metal world at the time, the record remains a subterranean classic.
Exodus, “Corruption” (Fabulous Disaster, 1989)
The song most people know from Exodus’ third full-length album is slapstick mosh anthem “The Toxic Waltz”, but the record is full of gems, among them “Corruption.” With its jazzy rhythms and snotty attitude, the track is like the Platonic ideal of an anti-government thrash song. One can almost hear the sneer in Zetro’s voice in the pre-chorus as he growls, “When they meet our demands” between chant-along gang vocals. Though not as often celebrated as some of Exodus’ other material, the track is still a solid deep cut that shows one of the genre’s oldest bands exploring new territory while pleasing their diehards.
Satan’s Wrath, “Coffinlust” (Die Evil, 2015)
Die Evil by Greek satanic thrashers Satan’s Wrath looks, sounds, and feels like a metal album some unwitting kids play backwards in an ‘80s horror movie. “Coffinlust” is where the groove shines brightest through the band’s raw blackened speed, giving the band that early ’90s South American atmosphere of battery-belts and grave-robbing. Not that the song is all fun and games, as a lyric like, “I will fuck your headless corpse” might scare off your average pizza-scarfer. That said, if that sounds like your idea of a good time, this is a perfect track to rattle your van.
Kreator, “Living In Fear” (Endless Pain, 1985)
While Kreator’s 1986 album Pleasure to Kill is the release most critics adore, the German band’s debut Endless Pain is a treasure trove of raw, unpolished speed metal prowess. Listed second-to-last on the record is “Living In Fear”, a scalding riff spree that shows off the wily, serpentine guitar work which would later be absorbed by the band’s heavier chugs. Desolate and hardcore-leaning, the track invokes thrash’s inherent punk roots and just how much the Teutonic Three championed that harsh side of the genre. Get your vest out.
Death Of Kings, “Knifehammer” (Kneel Before None, 2017)
There’s nothing more metal than a song about a fictional weapon. Atlanta’s Death Of Kings hit a perfect sweet spot between old-school speed metal, modern thrash, and NWOBHM barbarian worship, and “Knifehammer” is a banner display of everything they do right. It’s impossible to listen to this song without at some point shouting the title during the chorus, which means it meets the thrash metal standard set by the Big Four long before them (Whiplash! Die by the sword! Rattlehead! Gung ho! They all do it). Fans of any of the genres mentioned above should pick up 2017’s Kneel Before None, a modern classic that feels both contemporary and timeless.
The Crown, “Satanist” (Crowned In Terror, 2002)
Perhaps the greatest strength of Sweden’s The Crown was that although they played death metal, their high-voltage approach was thrash as fuck. “Satanist”, from the band’s third full-length album and featuring At The Gates’ Tomas Lindberg on vocals, is deeply enmeshed with the raw attitude of late ‘80s acts like Possessed and Dark Angel. With its hyper-gallop speed and empowering nonsense lyrics (“Lightning tiger, rides the whirlwinds” is a thorough nod to Ronnie James Dio), the song feels like a celebration of metalheaddom rather than a lamentation about society. Even in the nuanced and over-stratified world of extreme metal, it’s important to remember that speed kills
Anthrax, “Burst” (Sound of White Noise, 1993)
In many ways, Sound of White Noise was a breakout record for Anthrax, introducing them to new audiences by broadening their sound. Maybe that explains why “Burst” doesn’t always get the respect it deserves — the song is almost like a middle finger, to let fans know the band weren’t losing their edge. A contained blast of both crushing rhythms and vitriolic lyrics, the track is reminiscent of Anthrax’s early vibes, introspective even while it’s chapped as hell about everything. One can sometimes forget a song like this due to Anthrax’s excellent output since vocalist Joey Belladonna rejoined, but it’s important to remember how rad the John Bush days really were.
Warbringer, “Descending Blade” (Woe to the Vanquished, 2017)
Though often hailed for their early albums during the late-2000s thrash revival, Warbringer might have released their greatest record to date with 2017’s Woe To The Vanquished. “Descending Blade” does what the band are best known for, adding a dire humanity to moments of military history. The track takes listeners inside of one of the less-examined aspects of warfare: the mind of the sniper, whose mission of death is all about patience, precision, and dominance. That said, the band still delve into the nightmares that haunt the killer, reminding listeners of metal’s earliest take: war is hell.
Demiricous, “Acid Lung” (Two (Poverty), 2007)
“Acid Lung” is in a nutshell why Indianapolis’ Demiricous never broke through to the wider metal-loving audience: they were just too fucking pissed off. Fueled by the nastiest of Pantera’s material but unwilling to get funky and flashy with it, the band’s two studio albums are total steamrollers that casual listeners just won’t be able to stomach. This track, one of their fastest and most punishing, seems tuned to the band’s entire ethos while giving fans a chance to scream, “ACID LUNG — FUCK ‘EM ALL!” at the top of their lungs. We’d take a third album by these guys any time.
Witchery, “Wicked” (Symphony For The Devil, 2001)
For a hot second, Witchery were the gods of the underground thrash scene, their combination of Swedish melodeath and blackened speed metal creating a sound that was totally bitching without losing the steely cheese we all secretly crave. “Wicked” off of 2001’s Symphony For The Devil is a blazing riff-storm full of accent work and pause placement that’ll have listeners cackling with their hands gnarled (the rhythm guitars cutting out during the middle is just fucking awesome). Though not as lo-fi and nasty as the tracks of its predecessor, 1999’s Dead, Hot and Ready, the song displays how poised Witchery were to bring their unstoppable sound to a wider audience.
Corporation 187, “Caught Inside your Mind” (Subliminal Fear, 2000)
It won’t surprise anyone to hear that Corporation 187 started as a Slayer cover act and emerged in the Swedish thrash boom at the turn of the millennium. But “Caught Inside Your Mind”, the opener of their debut studio album Subliminal Fear, illustrates what the band were doing right in their own way. Speedy, disgruntled, and catchy as hell, the track acts as the perfect way to usher old-school heads into the record. When nu-metal was at its peak and metalcore hadn’t yet exploded onto the, thrash fans desperately needed an album with an opener like this.
Skeletonwitch, “Vengeance Will Be Mine” (Beyond The Permafrost, 2007)
Given how explosive Beyond the Permafrost was for Ohio’s Skeletonwitch, one is surprised they aren’t more widely hailed for the black thrash force they were. But even among fans, “Vengeance Will Be Mine” is a track that deserves to have sacrifices made at its altar. Full of agitated momentum and barbarian rage, the song celebrates metal’s era-less love of Frank Frazetta warrior art while still adding a healthy dose of underground extremity to the mix. The perfect soundtrack to riding down your enemies and lopping their heads off.
Carnal Forge, “Cursed” (The More You Suffer, 2003)
When the mushroom cloud dissipates and the dust settles, the only things left will be cockroaches and Sweden’s Carnal Forge, whose tenacity in the face of trend and genre shift is unmatched. “Cursed” is proof that the band’s longevity is deserved, offering an effective merge of speed, groove, and European melodeath that looms as much as it crushes. The song is mid-paced and pendulous at times, but the diabolical riff and massive lyrics in its chorus display an emotional darkness sometimes absent in the stark world of Euro-thrash. An incredibly powerful take on the old ‘Born to lose’ ethos.
Anvil, “March Of the Crabs” (Metal on Metal, 1982)
“March of the Crabs”, the instrumental track off of Anvil’s 1982 classic Metal on Metal, isn’t exactly unknown to those who love the band outside the infamous documentary about them. But how the song isn’t considered a formative moment in all of metal’s development is a bit baffling. Featuring revolutionary uses of crashing riffs, rhythmic tension drops, and fucking scrumptious guitar harmonies, listeners can hear how everyone from Metallica to G’N’R learned a thing or two about writing a dynamic metal track from this one song. It’s good to remember how fertile with metal fundamentals Anvil were back in the day, and this number is bursting with them.
Cannae, “Human Head” (Horror, 2003)
One could argue that Cannae weren’t exactly a thrash band, though what exactly their fuzzy, bilious take on metal could be called is anyone’s guess. But “Human Head” shows off the Boston five-piece’s bombastic and speedy tendencies, and with metalcore and melodeath blasting everywhere in 2003, it served as an energetic and unremitting outlet for kids who missed crossover’s glory days. Though they never quite received the respect they deserved, Cannae still developed a solid underground following with vile, no-nonsense chugs like these.
Overkill, “Endless War” (Ironbound, 2010)
People usually defer to Overkill’s material in the ‘80s, but the Jersey thrashers’ entire discography is littered with sonic diamonds. Somehow, “Endless War” off of their 2010 Nuclear Blast record Ironbound hasn’t become one of the band’s bigger tracks, which is a goddamn shame given just how much fun it is to listen to. Fleet-footed but hard-hitting, the song brings in elements of groove and extreme metal without ever losing the all-middle-fingers take that has set the band apart from other acts like them. Meanwhile, a chorus that gives you the chance to yell, “Let’s give them more Hell than they’ve ever seen!” is pretty much a gift from the universe.
Gama Bomb, “We Respect You” (Tales from the Grave in Space, 2009)
The secret to Gama Bomb’s success has always been writing killer thrash songs about being a thrash fan. “We Respect You” is a basement roundtable discussion put to kicking riffs, one by one referencing the Irish band’s favorite movies, movie stars, and cults of personality. Featuring rousing lyrics like, “Respecting Chrises: Lee, Lloyd, and Walken” and “If you don’t like Kurt Russel, you’re scum!”, this one is both hilarious and cinematically life-affirming, a reflection of just how often we find ourselves drunkenly yelling about how rad Bill Paxton is. Don’t be embarrassed to admit you are that dude.
Bonehunter, “Black Shrine” (Evil Triumphs Again, 2015)
Despite their incredible black-metal fuzz and retro riffs, Finland’s Bonehunter remain solidly obscure, most loved by the entrenched Hells Headbangers crowd. But a song like “Black Shrine” shows why they should be blowing up stages worldwide, its old-school structure mixed with extreme metal urgency. The song connects ends across subgenres, from the cult underbelly of Europe to the brash racket of American hair metal. All that said, while Bonehunter are still pretty underground, the Japanese punk influence audible on this track is one finally being embraced via bands like Philly’s Devil Master, so they still might blow up yet.
Book Of Black Earth, “Road Dogs From Hell” (The Cold Testament, 2011)
Though not a thrash band proper, Seattle’s Book Of Black Earth took a street-level approach to much of their music, and most certainly to their live shows. None of their tracks say this like “Road Dogs from Hell”, a sweat-drenched anthem to life on tour. With lyrics like, “We’re shit out of luck, we don’t give a fuck, this is the life we chose,” the song comes off thrashy enough to earn its place on this list even as it opens with no-frills death-grind. A killer deep cut from a band we still miss today.
Ghoul, “Death Campaign” (Dungeon Bastards, 2017)
If Ghoul were any less killer, they might be kitsch; as it is, the Creepsylvanian quartet are as fucking awesome as they come, and have charged on where other bands like them have stumbled. “Death Campaign” off their most recent studio album Dungeon Bastards shows Ghoul at their most straightforward and violent, trading some of their typical theatricality for headbutting horror thrash. The song occasionally slips into death metal, but only as accents to the sprightly galloping sections. Like their hideous ancestors GWAR, this band continue to prove that soaking the audience with blood only works if there’s an iron-toothed song behind the screams, “Death Campaign” being a perfect example of just such a rager.
Slægt, “Alshinecheri” (Beautiful and Damned EP, 2015)
In the past few years, Denmark’s Slægt have become one speed metal’s new saviors, in large part due to their Beautiful and Damned EP. “Alshinecheri” illustrates exactly what elevates the shadowy four-piece above the pixellated pizza-party masses, drenched as it is in baroque morbidity. Though opening as a double bass stampede, the song quickly adds a vampiric, arch-European power to the track with its huge crashes and arcane melodies. The result is a venomous thrash cut that could still make it on your Halloween playlist.
Dark Angel, “Perish In Flames” (Darkness Descends, 1986)
“Merciless Death” is the track that the majority of fans recognize from Dark Angel’s utterly devastating breakthrough album Darkness Descends. But perhaps the most brutal cut on the record is closer “Perish In Flames”, which strips the band’s sound of any NWOBHM prettiness still lingering in the genre. Already stark and intimidating, the SoCal quintet up the ante on this one, creating an acidic whirlwind of sound that culminates in vocalist Don Doty’s final rasp of, “Perish in flames, DIE!” Though not as popular as it should be, the track hasn’t been entirely forgotten; the Netherlands’ Inquisitor covered “Perish In Flames” in 2017, seamlessly translating the song into their brand of chaotic death metal.
Ketzer, “Warlust” (Satan’s Boundaries Unchained, 2009)
Though technically more OSDM than thrash, “Warlust” proves that Ketzer know a thing or two about the glory of the late ‘80s. With this one, the German quintet bring a steady mixture of bounce, pound, and writhe that sounds infinitely satanic. The album’s cover, too, looks like an elevated version of a drawing pulled from some high school outcast’s notebook margins. For good or bad, though, the band has since evolved into more of a post-metal/art rock outfit, so this record might be your only chance to hear their sick riffs with all of their sharp edges.
Choke Thirst Die, “Total Destruction” (Demonstration Desolation, 2008)
Though short-lived, Germany’s Choke Thirst Die are burnt in the memory of those lucky enough to download their demo from a metal blog back when that was still a thing. The second song on that tape, “Total Destruction”, is a raw galloper that feels like every metal song you’ve ever heard rolled into one. Though the vomited vocals might smack of black metal, the speed and approach are both straight out of Show No Mercy, and will have thrashers grinning in sadistic glee. Get ready to hold the invisible orange to this one.
Annihilator, “Time Bomb” (Carnival Diablos, 2001)
No one’s saying that 2001’s Carnival Diablos is a perfect album, of even one of Annihilator best; the record is admittedly confusing at moments, dipping a toe in various styles throughout. But “Time Bomb” is one of those mid-paced thrash tracks carried by a solid central riff that you can’t help but headbang along to. With lyrics about piles of bodies, sweeping epidemics, and nuclear war — you know, all that good stuff — the song feels as though it could’ve come off of any album during the scene’s formative years. Somehow, even a left-field band performing in the nu-metal days could turn out a rager — a testament to thrash’s unkillable dominion.
Evile, “We Who Are About To Die” (Enter The Grave, 2007)
Evile were the UK’s most reputable contribution to the late-2000s thrash revival, becoming especially well-known for their track “Thrasher” off of their debut album Enter The Grave. But perhaps even better than that song is “We Who Are About To Die”, Evile‘s mosh soundtrack about dying in the arena during Ancient Rome. Staying true to its premise, the lyrics include lines like, “Hail Cesar!” and even a gang vocal of,“We who are about to die–SALUTE YOU!” so that fans have something to yell in unison before performing some impromptu dentistry on a nearby concertgoer.
Black Wizard, “Feast or Famine” (Livin’ Oblivion, 2018)
Talk about a song that just grabs you from the first chord and never lets go. Black Wizard certainly aren’t a pure thrash act, with much of the rest of Livin’ Oblivion taking a weirder, more stoner-oriented tone. But “Feast or Famine” can outrun most of the self-labeled thrash songs out there with its instant momentum and infectious riffs. Not only that, but its lyrics are literally about speed, rallying against the constant hustle that modern-day people force themselves into in the hopes of attaining a dream life that seems further away with every passing day. That, mixed with the track’s nonstop jams, sharpens this one to a deadly point that sinks straight into the contemporary metalhead’s heart.
Words by Chris Krovatin