Top Ten: Thrash Binge!

I kind of have this musical habit…well, “habit” is kind of disconcerting. Think of it as a productive (wallet damaging) obsession.  Or, since we’re so obsessed with buzzwords, think of it as I like to “binge” listen to “insane” and “shocking” music. All jokes aside, I become obsessed whatever musical style strikes my fancy.  This results in a ridiculous excavation into said subject, its history, its influences, its roots.  One week, I may find jazz to be utterly enticing, another week, hip hop.  Shit, I was so deep into gothic metal at one point, I had to step back because, shit, that style is so damn depressing.  Okay, I digress. My current victim is thrash metal! Yes, there will be some Big 4 in this list so don’t complain when Master of Puppets — you already know this thing is going to be there — shows its ugly face.  Also, this is all subjective to my personal taste. Don’t go all metalhead on me when Overkill’s discography is neglected.  It ain’t gonna happen. Okay, let’s go!

10.  Slayer (Seasons In The Abyss)

Oh, look at that!  I’m such a tease. Seasons is the culmination and maturity of Slayer’s sound, as influential as it is brutal.  There is everything “thrash” in this record, from the explosive, hellish nightmare anthem, “War Ensemble,” to the crunchy and overwhelmingly haunting “Dead Skin Mask.”  Yet, what separates this album from, let’s say, Reign in Blood, is atmosphere.  Songwriting wise, Slayer previously leaned on repetitive structures, going for all out brutality and instrumental madness.  South of Heaven, meanwhile, delved into atmospheric territory, but lacked variety, serving as a brake pump rather than a sound realization. Here, however, Slayer thickened the production, added some melody, and gave the reigns to Hanneman and Lombardo.  That double kick never gets old.  This record is sonic violence in its most primitive form.

9.  Anthrax (Among the Living)

Ugh, I know, that’s two Big 4 bands in a row.  You can’t deny that Anthrax deserves recognition for their punk infused, in-your-face — yep, get ready for the oxymorons — thrashing.  Enhancing Metallica’s Bay Area output, these east coasters hit metaldom with a ferocity unheard of in the scene.  It all started with Spreading the Disease, a hybrid strain of thrash and punk, intensified by one of metal’s most overlooked vocalists, Joey Belladonna. Among the Living is both their breakout and seminal production.  The record itself is defined by sophomore hit, “Caught in a Mosh.” As soon as that bass hits, brains start beating against skulls. This is an album every headbanger should own, if not for its unbelievable rhythm section, then its general kickassness.  A shout out to The Big 4’s redheaded step child.

8.  Sodom (Agent Orange)

Aside from Dark Angel, American thrash never quite reached eleven on the insanity amp.  Sure, there was plenty of chug riffing and speedy skank beating to go around, but when it came down to pure, violent aggression and speed, Germany — who else? — had to pick up the slack. Apart of the prestigious, “Teutonic Thrash,” club, Sodom broke in the eighties with Agent Orange, an absolute brutal listen touting socially aware lyrics and breakneck speed  Say it to yourself: Teutonic Thrash.  It’s so metal! Anyways, this album separated itself from the pack through its unique approach to the thrash formula, taking the most extreme path, but never losing its melodic sensibility.  The band would go on to pump out classics like M16 and Code Red, but their peak stood within the awesome cover image of Agent Orange.

7.  Sepultura (Beneath the Remains)

This is the band that put Brazil — and South America in general — on the metal map.  It’s truly a shame how overlooked they are, considering the influence of Beneath the Remains and their follow up, Arise.  Shit, Sepultura not only enhanced the thrash movement, but, to metaldom’s overwhelming disappointment, contributed to Nu-metal’s appearance with Roots. However, we, at Reviews From The Other Side, will let that slide.  We’ll say they innovated a genre, which, is all together, a good thing.  Back to Beneath the Remains; the LP offered a plethora of musical exploration that pushed thrash beyond sheer brutality.  Yet, there was still plenty of thrashery, no-nonsense riffage, and thundering rhythm.  The record’s sonic beratement still holds up today.  And, when you think of metal in South America, who is the first name to appear?  That’s right, Sepultura.  Oh, and is it safe to say, Beneath the Remains has the best album art?  

6.  Testament (The Legacy)

To say Testament does not belong in the Big 4 would be an insult to their namesake.  “Over the Wall,” “Do or Die,” and “First Strike is Deadly,” have done more for thrash than long hair and blue jean jackets.  The album’s non-stop, sonic violence is quintessential to the bay area scene,  featuring one of metal’s most dominating, yet overlooked, guitar/vocalist combo. For, reference, listen to “First Strike is Deadly.” Chuch Billy’s scream in the track’s conclusion rivals that of Chuck Schuldiner and Mikael Akerfeldt, and I say that with confidence. The Legacy, as a whole, brought neoclassical guitars to thrash, and pushed the subgenre into more technical territory.  Alex Skolnick…that’s all I need to say.

5.  Celtic Frost (To Mega Therion)

“Ugh,” “Hey!” – Tom G. Warrior

Maybe not the best from a technical standpoint, but influential nonetheless, Celtic Frost laid the foundation of black and death metal with To Mega Therion, fusing hard hitting, punk-infused riffs with dark, and often evil lyrics.  There are even symphonic elements in tracks like “Innocence and Wrath” and “Dawn of the Meggido.”  Within the album’s roots is a strong understanding of face smashing thrash.  “Circle of the Tyrants” does its best to bring black metal into play, and does so without deviating from the patented Frost sound; you know, the riding beats/riffs and gruff vocals from the Tom G. Warrior.  This record is, hands down, one of Europe’s finest metal releases.

4.  Slayer (Reign In Blood)

As soon as “Angel of Death[‘s]” opening riff leads into Lombardo’s trademark double kick, there is no question that this is the pinnacle of American thrash.  No question, the pinnacle.  Reign in Blood is one of those records that opens and closes on the perfect note.  I still get goosebumps throughout the entirety of “Postmortem/Raining Blood,” with its gorgeously brutal atmosphere and overall, blackened feel.  Yep, I’m being a cliche metalhead here. If the middle had more variation, we’d have our number one thrash record, but in this case, we need to call a spade a spade.  Most of the middle tracks, although nonstop in their monstrocity, lean a little too far on the repetitive side.  That doesn’t discredit the scope of Slayer’s vision, however.  They most definitely succeeded in creating one of the fastest, most brutal musical explorations in history. Reign in Blood has influenced countless metal bands since its inception and that cannot be ignored.

3.  Metallica (Ride the Lightning)

Oh, Ride the Lightning. I was torn between this, …And Justice for All, and Master of Puppets being number three, but we all know where the latter album resides; no spoilers there.  Anyways, Ride the Lightning is the LP that put Metallica on the map, featuring live and classic staples such as “Creeping Death,” “Fade to Black,” “Call of Cthulu,” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”  These four tracks are not only Metallica benchmarks, but benchmarks for heavy music in general.  Cliff Burton, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammet, and Lars Ulrich were at the top of their game, and it shows in “Fight Fire With Fire” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” where each instrument pulls heads directly into the floorboards.  They’re that heavy.  Don’t believe me?  Crank up Cliff Burton’s solo in “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and you’ll have to change your pants before the guitars even come in.

2.  Kreator (Pleasure to Kill)

Get ready for a trip.  This album starts bloody and closes with a fucking massacre.  Kreator’s second LP, hailed a death metal pioneer record, is as brutal and fast as they come, and I mean that lightly.  Little melody, sheer brutality, you won’t find any power ballads or slow tempo tracks on Pleasure to Kill because, let’s face it, how can songs like “Ripping Corpse” and the title track be anything but mayhem.  Fuck, look at those titles!  So, in other words, Pleasure to Kill is a niche listen, appealing to extreme metal heads in search of something a little more morbid than the American metal scene.  With this record, the band cemented a plaque stating they are the creators, not the imitators of musical extremity.  What else can I say?  It would be foolish not to give Pleasure to Kill the number two spot, if not for its influence, then its absolute insanity.

1.  Metallica (Master of Puppets)

Thank you, Metallica, for saving heavy music from the spandex starletts.  Thank you, Metallica, for bringing denim, leather, and black into the scene.  And, my God, thank you for bringing melody into extreme songwriting. Master of Puppets is the quintessential thrash LP from the eighties, a benchmark of songwriting, rhythm, and melody.  I mean, who doesn’t lean on this record when learning heavy guitar?  Sure, Ride the Lightening had the perfect, “Fade to Black,” Hammett solo, but the intro riff in “Master of Puppets” stands as the thrash riff to learn.  On the other side, Lars Ulrich gets a lot of flak — courtesy of his love for trash can lids and ruining wallets — but his performances on “Battery,” “Master of Puppets,” “Sanitarium,” and “Orion,” stand up to his fellow speed artists. This is the final Metallica record featuring bassist, Cliff Burton, and almost feels prophetic at times, especially during the slower section of “Orion.”  Without a doubt, Master of Puppets is the best — well, personal favorite — thrash record…ever.

Honorable Mentions

In all honesty, I just didn’t want to write another thousand fucking words and make this a top 20 list.  So, here are more nominations (in no order).

Megadeth (Rust in Peace), Overkill (The Years of Decay), Exodus (Bonded In Blood), Kreator (Coma of Souls), Sodom (M16), Testament (The New Order), Dark Angel (Darkness Descends)

Disclaimer:  All rights, property, and content of the featured image belong to the artist.  Image found at https://fanart.tv/artist/05106775-5d45-4131-aecc-1177f813ba11/testament/.  I have, in no way, used said image for profit. If the artist wishes for the image to be removed for any reason, feel free to contact me.

Advertisements

Not So Conventional Top 10 Favorite Guitarists

Now, before you read the list below, consider the following title. “Favorite Guitarists,” not some Rolling Stone-style worshiping of Rock’s greats (I’m looking at you, Jimmy Page), but a group of people I feel connected to.  This is a personal favorite list, something fun to kick off Reviews From the Other Side and to create some discussion between hipsters and metalheads like myself.  Funny thought, imagine a room full of those assholes. Don McLean would have to write a new verse to “American Pie.” I can hear everyone groaning just thinking about it.

1. Chuck Schuldiner

I remember first hearing this guy. I was driving — dozing — through Southern Missouri, and if you’d ever driven through that part of hell, you’d understand why I was starting to say “fuck it.”  Sick of Ludovico Einaudi’s haunting piano, I decided to spin a new record I recently received, Symbolic, by Death.  When I reached the solo of “Empty Words” I had my one and only, out-loud, “God Damn” moment — the only artist to ever make me say that out loud — where every hair on my arms stood up. My eyes widened with sudden catharsis, ignoring the fact that I just ran over a coyote.  The blood was a nice touch, I guess.  Known for complex song writing, brutal riffs, and basically the creation of Death Metal itself, Schuldiner’s influence reaches into every juncture of progressive heights, sans-wankery. R.I.P. Chuck.

2. David Gilmour

There is a certain emotional pull to Gilmour’s playing style, a grace that both flabbergasts and amazes.  Perhaps it’s his minimalistic approach. Perhaps he just plays what the music calls for:  a lack of indulgence, something to work towards rather than something to work for. For instance, put on them ear phones and listen to “Echoes,” the epic, highlight track of Meddle.  During an instrumental break, Gilmour explores his Strat’s fret board, throwing blues chords, harmonics, and licks towards the listener.  The sounds he creates are unique and never detract from the actual piece – which, on another note, displays some of Water’s best work, but that’s beside the point – and shows not only his talent, but his musical awareness.  Other Gilmour highlights include: “Comfortably Numb” (obviously), “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Dogs,” “Astronomy Domine,” “Money,” and “High Hopes.”

3. Tony Iommi

Try listening to “Sweet Leaf” by Black Sabbath and not bang your head. It’s amazing to think that metal started by accident, an ironic set of circumstances revolving around the infamous tritone.  Iommi’s blues-heavy riffs are iconic and time tested, reaching levels stoner and doom outfits only dream of in their bongs.  That’s not to detract either subgenre, of course, but the power of “Sign of the Southern Cross[‘]” main riff alone matches the heaviness of Dopethrone or the plodding of Dopesmoker. After struggling through “Smoke on the Water,” what does every beginner guitar player resort to? That’s right. “Iron man.” Surviving multiple lineups, drug inhibitions, and cancer, Iommi continues to tour with Black Sabbath, shaking the world with licks pulled straight from the pits of hell.  Highlights:  “Black Sabbath,” “War Pigs,” “Children of the Sea,” “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” “Into the Void.”

4. Jimi Hendrix

Okay, so I didn’t keep my word regarding “not so conventional.”  This is now the third well-known, well-documented guitarists spammed across every best-of guitar list on the internet.  But, as you’ll witness on future RFTOS posts, I don’t actually give a shit about obscurity, popularity, or any of that Hollywood nonsense.  Jimi Hendrix was and is, hands down, the classic definition of the rock n’ roll axeman: master of weird, innovative, powerful guitar licks, unabashed sex appeal, substance aficionado. His fret board sings on “Little Wing,” while “Purple Haze” pulls smoke from young and old lungs with its punchy lead, all the while holding onto that sixties vibe we all know and love.  Hell, Jimi produced enough Wah Wah to make Hammett blush.  Other lists, however, seem to forget that Hendrix was also an extremely talented songwriter, composing short, but sweet tunes like “Bold As Love” and bombastic blues monsters like “Voodoo Chile” — no, not the one on the radio — with precision and feeling.  There wasn’t a lot of wankery from this guy, but when he let loose — wink wink, “National Anthem” — jaws crushed the floor.  Highlights:  Are You Experienced (whole album), “Spanish Castle Magic,” “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” “All Along the Watchtower.”

5.  Dave Mustaine

Guitar, yes! Voice, hell no. Heed these words, ye faithful headbanger, because that’s the case with 80% of heavy music (I’m even looking at you, Power Metal). One more useless opinion before the comments light up, neither Metallica or Megadeth outdo each other musically, and thrash metal is not the pinnacle of heavy music. That aside, Mustaine has one of the fastest hands in metaldom, playing off perfectly with Marty Friedman’s more calculated approach.  “Holy Wars,” with its frantic intro, blistering solos, and galloping speed stands as one of the greatest thrashers ever composed.  Those first notes are enough to drive the most casual of listeners into a brutal, headbanging, bloodlusting frenzy.  Oh wait, that’s a Slayer song, sorry.  Also, the main riff of “Tornado of Souls.”  Need I say more? Through his first 5 LP’s Killing, Peace Sells, So Far, Rust in Peace,  and Countdown to Extinction, Mustaine successfully blended talent, composition, and politics to push the metallic boundaries into thinking territory without abandoning his edge.  He’s the biggest, baddest “Fuck You” in show biz.  Take that however you want.  Highlights: guitar track to every Megadeth song.

6.  Jonny Greenwood

Rock fans, are you still with me? I’ll try to write this one without saying ‘metal,’ ‘headbang,’ or ‘metalhead.’

But then Paranoid Android happened, and the coffee shops around the world headbanged like metalheads listening to glorious metal.  Sorry, couldn’t help myself.  Johnny Greenwood is the mastermind composer behind Radiohead classics such as “Street Spirit (fade out),” “Fake Plastic Trees,” “Karma Police,” “Idioteque,” all tracks driven by emotional guitar chords and climaxing solos.  Nineties guitar never witnessed a more chaotic sound. With hints of the Kevin Shields drone and angst surpassing the grunge movement, Greenwood’s command of the fretboard and use of atmosphere placed his name at 48 on Rolling Stone’s  100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.  I didn’t want to go there, but Johnny is, by all regards, an underrated artist.  Guitar aside, his talents, as exemplified through the 2000’s record, Kid A, revolutionized electronica and rock, and solidified himself as one of the most ambitious musicians to come out of England.  Spin The Bends or OK Computer and you’ll, as the hipsters say, “get it.”  Highlights:  “Let Down,” “The Tourist,” “The Bends,” “Black Star,” “Kid A,” “National Anthem.”

7.  Robert Fripp

Progressive rock, what a fickle beast thou are.  On one hand, there’s the wankers, which can be separated into two sub genres, so to speak: tasteful and tasteless.  Yes, Genesis, Dream Theater, Jethro Tull, Focus, Pain of Salvation, Animals As Leaders. I’ll let you pick and choose which group these bands fall into.  Gotta love ambiguity. Back on topic, then there’s just epic prog rock, revolutionary prog rock.  And that, my friends, is where Robert Fripp’s King Crimson rests.  Like every other prog fan, I remember spinning “20th Century Schizoid Man” for the first time.  So much weirdness and unforgettable fretting . I couldn’t stop hitting repeat, never mind moving to the rest of the fantastic Court of the Crimson King.  The guitar work alone was euphoric and, accompanied with an atmosphere which — you guessed it — induced paranoia, I was finally attached to progressive music.  Then, “Epitaph[‘s]” mellotron struck my soul and I was hitched. Sometimes heavy, other times beautiful, and often sad as hell, Fripp, through the 70’s, assaulted and still assaults listeners with jazz infused glory, adopting substance over abundance.  That is rare in prog. Highlights:  “Larks” 1 and 2, “Red”, “In the Court of the Crimson King,” “Starless,” any live recording.

8.  Michael Akerfeldt

Dynamic playing is a fading art.  These days, guitar players are either heavy as hell or, well, not.  Michael Akerfeldt — I’ll say took instead of takes because the dynamic side of Opeth changed with the Heritage shift — took the angel/demon approach to Opeth’s compositions.  Acoustic passages frequented his barrage of brutal riffage, providing a breath of fresh air when needed most.  Take Black Water Park’s title track, for instance.  The song perfectly adopts the rage and calm binary and ends with one of the most cathartic climaxes in metaldom.  That’s graduate level metal, ladies and gentlemen.  Although not virtuostic, as is most progressive metal guitarists claim to fame, Michael Akerfeldt’s axe pummels listeners with creative riffs taken directly from the school of Iommi and Schuldiner, with allusions to Robert Fripp.  See what I did there?  Highlights:  “Bleak,” “The Moor,” “Godhead’s Lament,” “Burden,” “Ghost of Perdition.”

9.  Frank Zappa

Perhaps the most under appreciated artist on this list, Zappa added a humorous twist to jazz fused progressive rock during the heyday of the 70’s.  Sound wise, think Steely Dan on cocaine.  Now, I’m going to go ahead and admit than I’m pretty new to Zappa’s extensive discography, but it only takes a couple listens to acknowledge his command over guitar and genre bending.  Jazz heavy…hell, I can’t exactly describe the style of his guitar because it stretches across so many genres: somewhat bluesy, especially weird, spacey licks that make you question the universe.  Okay, maybe that was a stretch, but it is an understatement to say he dominated the golden age of progressive rock. Not only a guitar aficionado, Zappa influenced hundreds of artists, from The Beatles (holy shit) to Black Sabbath (unholy shit).  Make sure you avoid that yellow snow, folks. Highlights: too many to single out.

10.  Devin Townsend

Another comedian/musical genius hybrid.  Hailing from the school of Zappa, Devin Townsend is the polar creation of the muse, making listeners scream with the heaviest of heavy in Strapping Young Lad, weep to the epic soundscapes of Devin Townsend, and smile foolishly with the pop metal explorations of The Devin Townsend Band and Devin Townsend Project.  The production of 25 albums earned him the title, “metal’s hardest working man.”  Townsend’s guitar, although simple, explodes with walls of sound, and I’ve never heard such duality in style.  So, call him a great producer — which, he undoubtedly is — but I hold him as one of my favorite guitarists, just for his sound alone. For Technicality, pop in City; for atmosphere, Terria.  Either way, you’re in for a treat. Highlights:  “All Hail The New Flesh,” “Earth Day,” “Deadhead,” “Deep Peace.”

Websites:

http://www.emptywords.org/

http://www.davidgilmour.com/

http://www.iommi.com/

http://www.jimihendrix.com/us/home

http://www.megadeth.com/content/dave-mustaine

http://www.radiohead.com/

http://www.dgmlive.com/rf/

http://www.opeth.com/home/

http://www.zappa.com/

http://www.hevydevy.com/