Thrash metal became the go-to form of underground metal in the 1980s as a reaction to glam metal in the United States, but its reach would extend far beyond the New York and Bay Area scenes that spawned them in North America. A worldwide thrash movement began to develop in the 1980s, featuring a different spin on the American thrash metal movement epitomized by the Big Four and others.
Bear in mind that American thrash metal was inspired by songs like Black Sabbath’s “Symptom of the Universe.” Although the international scene is still broadly considered to be “thrash,” it sounded a bit different from what one may traditionally think of as thrash. In many cases, the speed and aggression of thrash metal outside the U.S. is turned up even further to the point where it may not be death metal, but it sure is close. Extreme metal scenes in continental Europe and elsewhere are more likely to take influence from the bands in this section of metal history than from the Big Four.
One country outside of North America that has wholeheartedly embraced thrash metal and spawned its own crop of legendary bands is Germany.
Dubbed “The Teutonic Three,” Kreator, Destruction, and Sodom were the most popular German practitioners of what came to be known as Teutonic Thrash. Dialing up the hardcore and aggro-punk influences even more than most American groups, the Teutonic bands pushed thrash’s heaviness in such a direction that it became an early influence on death metal. Quick summary of the three is that Destruction is the most technically adept and complex, Sodom is the most basic and similar to Motorhead, and Kreator occupies the middle ground between the two.
Of these three, Kreator became the most influential for their 1986 masterpiece, “Pleasure to Kill.” Every bit as heavy and intense as Slayer’s acclaimed “Reign in Blood” on the other side of the Atlantic that same year, the record became a landmark for heaviness and inspired a new generation of extreme metal musicians in continental Europe. It can be considered Germany’s answer to Slayer, and some would argue it’s even better.
The followup, “Extreme Aggression,” introduced Kreator to American audiences with a hit called “Betrayer.” If “Pleasure to Kill” showed Kreator’s promise, “Extreme Aggression” proved they weren’t a one-trick pony.
Kreator’s contemporaries in Destruction had the same influences and have become frequent guests at Wacken Open Air festival (hey, it’s practically right next door for them). Although they frequently played second fiddle to Kreator as ambassadors of Teutonic thrash, their material was (and still is) excellent, imbibing a jumpy, speedy edge in classics like “The Mad Butcher.” Their bullet belts and leather conveyed strength and confidence, and horror themes were a frequent topic of lyrical focus.
And then we have Sodom, a group that started out as a “typical” metal band with the by-now-expected occult/evil themes but morphed into something even better. Frontman Tom Angelripper formed Sodom as a means of escape from having to work in the coal mines near his hometown of Gelsenkirchen. His friends, equally disillusioned with their position and place, were all too willing to join him.
A passionate admirer of Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmeister, Tom adopted the power trio lineup for Sodom while placing a new focus on themes of war and social issues. The group finally hit paydirt with its 1989 record, “Agent Orange,” which sold over 100,000 copies in their home country. Inspired by a fascination with the Vietnam War, the album title came from the iconic chemical weapon used in the conflict. It was odd that such an album became probably the commercial highlight (such as it was) of Teutonic thrash. With “Agent Orange,” Sodom was officially part of the German Big Three, rounding them out.
….he even bears a small physical resemblance to Lemmy, does he not?
The beautiful thing is that all three of the original Teutonic Three bands are still active today, all making welcome appearances at Wacken Open Air Festival, the most famous open-air heavy metal festival in the world. They were vital in establishing Germany as a heavyweight player in the international heavy metal scene.
But next door in Switzerland, another thrash band emerged from the ranks of the road crew from a band called Celtic Frost, the most well-known metal band to emerge from that country.
Led by Tom Gabriel Warrior, Celtic Frost formed in 1984. It was clear that although the music sounded vaguely like thrash, there was also something darker going on. If you were a headbanger in 1984, most likely you were headbanging to Iron Maiden or Metallica (as well you proudly should be).
But Celtic Frost’s fans were a bit different. This band was more evil-sounding, more misanthropic, more cynical. They are difficult to categorize into any one subgenre, so I won’t try too hard to. The gruff growls suggest death metal; the dark lyrical content suggests black metal; the double bass and riffage suggests thrash. But Tom Warrior and company found their influences into such a wide variety of subgenres that they are credited for helping to split heavy metal into its many rich varieties.
Coroner was formed from the ranks of Celtic Frost’s road crew, inspired by that band’s unique sound that would prove to be such a huge influence on both death metal, black metal, doom metal and thrash metal. Adding a strong dose of technicality similar to Annihilator, Coroner scored a landmark album with 1988’s “Punishment For Decadence.” However, the band never garnered much attention outside of Europe, and the lack of publicity ensured they wouldn’t crack the US market. Although they still tour today, making appearances at Maryland Death Fest, they are still relatively unknown.
And that is a shame, because “Skeleton On Your Shoulder” hasn’t been heard by nearly enough people.
Now we’ll leave Europe entirely…we’re off to Brazil to discuss that country’s greatest contribution to metal–Sepultura.
Max Cavalera and Igor Cavalera admired what was going on in Europe and the US, particularly Destruction, and wanted to emulate their sound while adding their own Brazilian flair. Sepultura is a terrific story of four guys coming from very poor backgrounds (Ozzy Osbourne grew up in the Taj Mahal by comparison) who had to really struggle to do simple things like purchase gear and instruments.
In Sam Dunn’s film “Global Metal,” frontman Max Cavalera tells a humorous story about how they wanted to copy Destruction’s wardrobe (which contained a lovely accessory called “bullet belts”). Laughing, he explains that they collected old, used Duracell batteries and fused them together to make it look (from far away) as if they were wearing bullet belts. Legitimate stuff, born out of necessity.
When Sepultura finally started scoring some attention with two acclaimed albums, “Beneath the Remains” and “Arise,” their story of success inspired heavy metal groups in the Third World and became many Westerners’ first exposure to Brazilian music that wasn’t samba.
Another extreme thrash band that wasn’t nearly as popular as Sepultura was Sarcofago. With increased efforts to discover extreme metal’s roots, Sarcofago has been “unearthed” (so to speak) as being a key contributor to the Satanic themes, menacing growling, and graphic imagery that extreme metal around the world was now adopting. And this was as early as 1987! Even Scandinavia-centric black metallers have proudly adopted Sarcofago as an honorary member.
Sepultura’s “Arise” came out in 1991, and by then thrash had seemingly run its course. What happened to the key players as this decade went on? And more importantly, what kind of music resulted as thrash fell out of favor? Tune in for part 5, where we’ll discuss those questions and more.
Written by Matt PRead More...