After the 1990s, which saw the rise of experimentation away from thrash metal with varying success, metal was due for another sea change. New sounds were cropping up everywhere in the music world (not all of them good by any means), and in the midst of it all the old guards rediscovered their original brazen sound to assume their role–metal’s senior leaders. Gulp.
If it seemed as if the major thrash bands all got together in a secret meeting at the dawn of the 90s and agreed to drop thrash for a while, then they must have reconvened at the dawn of the new millennium and said to one another, “Well, that experimentation was fun for a while, and we pocketed some coin from all the success we had. Let’s get back to thrash and show all these newer bands how we used to do it.”
The band that kicked off the thrash revival of the 2000s was Slayer, who crafted one of the finest songs in their entire catelogue on their 20th anniversary as a band. A major hit for headbangers everywhere, that song was “Disciple,” and the album was called “God Hates Us All.” It seemed as though Slayer had never really left–guitarist Kerry King was back taking shots at one of his favorite topics: religious hypocrisy.
It came out in 2001, the year of the September 11 attacks, but as Tom Araya explained to Sam Dunn, “hate. God doesn’t hate….it’s just a great fucking title.”
Since the premature death of Cliff Burton in 1986, thrash metal had been spared another tragic death of one of its own. But in 2013, that 27-year respite came to an end with the death of Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman. As of now, it seems the band will carry on live dates at least with Gary Holt of Exodus. For more, read my obituary of Mr. Hanneman here.
Dave Mustaine and Megadeth added a more political brand to their rediscovery of their thrash roots, with album titles like “The System Has Failed,” “United Abominations,” and “Endgame” mirroring Mustaine’s increasingly vocal political views. Despite his well-documented outbursts, fans prefer to let him and new guitarist Chris Broderick do the talking with their instruments. With fiery shredding and thrash-oriented arrangements making a return on these new albums for a new millennium, Megadeth enjoyed a major resurgence. Mustaine even made peace with the last people at the bottom of his list–his former bandmates in Metallica.
Across the Atlantic in Germany, the Teutonic Three went on a tear, every other year between them releasing a very good album that cheered the spirits of old-school thrashers. Kreator, Destruction, and Sodom revived the spirit of German thrash. Re-recordings of their classic albums featuring a cleaner, bigger production proved worthwhile endeavors, and there was some crossover with death metal at this point as well.
After an unfortunate parting of the ways with Max Cavalera, Sepultura carried on with a new vocalist, an American named Derrick Green. Anthrax recently reformed with original singer Joey Belladonna for a 2011 album, “Worship Music.” Both have been able to sustain the quality of their music relatively well, and fans continue to flock to their shows (although some fans still cling to the notion, “No more Max Cavalera, so Sepultura sucks now”).
Another inspiring comeback story was that of Testament, whose lead singer, Chuck Billy, was diagnosed with brain cancer in the early part of the 2000s. It looked as if Testament was finished, but incredibly Billy recovered and took his band back into the studio and out on the road. As of this time of writing, Testament has just released “Dark Roots of the Earth,” their second album since being cancer-free. It’s a great story, because so many others afflicted with brain cancer are not so lucky, as we know. By all accounts, Testament has taken the stage since then a wiser, happier, and more fulfilled bunch of thrashers.
Unfortunately, not every major thrash band got their groove back so quickly. Perhaps the best example of that among the metal fanbase was Metallica–once again igniting controversy with a true oddity of an album, “St. Anger.”
This album, released in 2003, caused even more shrieking and fan angst than “Enter Sandman” and the black album twelve years earlier. Guitar solos were almost entirely absent. Fans especially decried the album’s production sound, specifically of Lars Ulrich’s drums. On a poll taken on a major guitar website asking fans what sounds they would be forced to listen to in hell, “Lars Ulrich’s drums on St. Anger” ranked in the top 3.
Nevertheless, St. Anger debuted at #1, and plenty of others disregarded the negativity. As usual, reasoned listening must prevail, and you make the call:
Metallica got some of their early punch back with 2008’s “Death Magnetic,” but got into the very definition of “train wreck” when they teamed up with Lou Reed (of Velvet Underground fame) on his 2012 album, “Lulu.” The average review of that album on Amazon is 2.5 stars out of 5, which is practically unprecedented (most Amazon reviews average out over time to be around 4 stars). So it looks like they objectively made a mistake with that one.
Nevertheless, Metallica remain the world’s most popular metal band; their bevy of anniversary tours and special guests earning big sales and big crowds. Freshly minted from a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, (one of only 2 metal bands to do so), Metallica even made its peace with Dave Mustaine and agreed to participate in the Big Four reunion–all four bands playing one show, and joining one another onstage for a historic, titanic encore:
As the interviewer asked Metallica in the “Some Kind of Monster” documentary, “What are the chances that you guys can get back what you had in the beginning?” After watching that Big Four footage, I’d say the answer is “pretty good.”
And oh, you’re tired of all the old bands and want a brand new thrash metal band? Try Warbringer.
As so many subgenres of heavy metal do, thrash never died; it just laid low for a while. Now, it’s back. Long live thrash, and long live heavy metal. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll stick around with HOM as I take on the history of the other subgenres! There’s still SO much more to discuss; in fact, we’re only getting started…
History of Thrash Part 1: Early Influences
History of Thrash Part 2: The Big Four
History of Thrash Part 3: Beyond the Big Four
History of Thrash Part 4: Teutonic and Brazilian Thrash
History of Thrash Part 5: What Happened In the 90s?
Written by Matt P