What Is Thrash Metal?

Metallica. Chad Bowar/About.com

Thrash metal is also known as speed metal, and since many of the early thrash bands were from San Francisco, it became known as Bay Area Thrash. It started in the early to mid '80s and was at its peak in the late '80s. There was a strong east coast thrash scene as well, led by bands such as Anthrax and Overkill.

The term "thrash metal" was reportedly coined by journalist Malcolm Dome, who referred to Anthrax's "Metal Thrashing Mad" in the British music magazine Kerrang.

The "Big 4" of thrash are Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax. Bands such as Testament and Exodus are also in the conversation of legendary thrash bands.

Thrash bands were influenced by New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) and hardcore punk. Thrash was also the inspiration for later extreme genres such as death and black metal.

There was also a strong European thrash scene in the '80s, especially in Germany where bands such as Kreator, Sodom and Destruction led the way. South America was also a hotbed for thrash, especially Brazil, who spawned the band Sepultura.

In the 2000s, many younger bands started playing thrash metal inspired by the earlier generation. So-called "rethrash" bands follow the early thrash template, but add in a few modern touches.

Musical Style

Thrash is driven by the guitar. It's played at a furiously fast pace with a staccato, percussive guitar sound. It layers fast riffs with higher pitched solos. Many thrash bands utilize dual guitars. Use of the double bass drum is also pretty typical in thrash metal.

Vocal Style

Thrash vocals are usually very aggressive and sometimes angry sounding, but unlike death or black metal, they are still understandable.


Although there were some artists that incorporated elements of thrash into their music, Metallica's 1983 release Kill 'Em All is generally considered to be one of the first thrash albums. Former member Dave Mustaine wrote some of the songs on that record and went on to form another seminal thrash band, Megadeth. Metallica went on to release several classic thrash albums, and although their style has evolved, they still hold on to their thrash roots.

Slayer is a little more extreme than Metallica, and their debut album Show No Mercy was released in 1983. 1986's Reign In Blood is considered by many to be the best thrash album ever recorded. Like Metallica, Slayer has had longevity and continue to show the younger generation how it's done.

Formed in 1984, Kreator were part of the wave of German thrash bands that also included Destruction, Sodom, Tankard and Coroner. They had a really strong run of albums from their 1985 debut Endless Pain through 1990's Coma Of Souls. They continue to record and tour, keeping the flame burning for old school Teutonic thrash.

Other Notable Thrash Metal Bands

Annihilator, Anvil, Dark Angel, Death Angel, Exciter, Exhorder, Flotsam and Jetsam, Forbidden, Hirax, Metal Church, Municipal Waste, Nuclear Assault, Onslaught, S.O.D., Tankard, Vio-lence and Whiplash.

Recommended Albums

Metallica - Master Of Puppets
Slayer - Reign In Blood
Megadeth - Peace Sells...But Who's Buying
Anthrax - Among The Living
Exodus - Bonded By Blood
Nuclear Assault - Handle With Care
- Alice In Hell
Stormtroopers of Death (SOD) - Speak English Or Die
- The Legacy
- Horrorscope
- Beneath The Remains
Kreator - Pleasure To Kill