The 20 Albums That Invented...Thrash

Here are the albums that invented Thrash Metal — a sub-genre distinguished by its speed, double bass drumming, barked vocals and lightning quick palm-muted riffery. Basically, these are the 20 Thrash record albums that you would need to collect.
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By Martin Popoff

Thrash metal—distinguished by its speed, double bass drumming, barked vocals and lightning quick palm-muted riffery—has proven to be one of the most productive genres of metal since its inception in and around 1983 to the point where… well, the type of heavy metal that is simply called “metal” these days is pretty much first and foremost, some strain of thrash. In any event, it was pretty tough limiting this list to 20, while also spanning metal history, which, as you will see is necessary—because thrashers are musicologists (or at least pretty darn knowledgeable metal historians). As well, with a bunch of these bands I wanted to pick two and even three albums, with a further arguable shortcoming arising from the dearth of NWOBHM and the complete absence of hardcore (I have my reasons—very few thrashers actually listened to much of this, contrary to legend, and the recorded history does not cough up one clear winner). In any event, here we go, the 20 albums that invented thrash, slashed, thrashed and capped at 20. [We also give you the vinyl value (Near Mint) of each album, taken mostly from Goldmine's Record Album Price Guide, 9th Edition.]

Deep Purple – In Rock (June 1970)

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“Child in Time” is the original “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” and “One,” right? No? Just kidding. Now that I’ve got your attention, it’s really about the discipline and classical haughtiness of this record, as well as “Hard Lovin’ Man” which is a great contender for first proto-thrash song ever. But just generally, this is the first “modern” heavy metal album (after Black Sabbath, which is the first heavy metal album, period), and thrash was essentially a modern form of metal after the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM)—In Rock is the Kill ‘Em All of the ‘70s.

Vinyl Value:

WS1877 [B], Deep Purple in Rock, 1970, Warner Bros., $18

SHVL777 [B], In Rock, 2016, Harvest, $25
— 180g

(B): Both. An album that is listed in stereo, but has some tracks in monaural sound, too.

Black Sabbath – Master of Reality (July 1971)

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More of a placeholder album to represent every last thrasher’s huge love for the Sabs. Folks often talk about the definitive proto-thrash song from Sabbath being “Symptom of the Universe” but this record in the aggregate is more purely no-nonsense heavy, like thrash, and it has its own claim to thrash fame in “Children of the Grave.”

Vinyl Value:

BS2562 Master of Reality, Poster, 1971, Warner Bros., $30

BS2562, Master of Reality, 1973, Warner Bros., $12
— Burbank” palm trees label

BS2562, Master of Reality, 1979, Warner Bros., $10
— White or tan label

Rainbow – Rising (May 1976)

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Might seem a little odd, but Rising is here for two reasons: “A Light in the Black” is eight minutes of classic proto-thrash (a.k.a. speed metal), and as significantly, lots of future extreme metal-makers took note that this album was heavy metal start to finish, no ballads, no pop, arguably the first record like that ever. Plus what thrasher doesn’t love Ronnie?

Vinyl Value:

OY-1-1601 Rainbow Rising,1976, Mercury, $15

823655-1, Rainbow Rising, 1985, Mercury, $10
— Reissue

Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny (March 1976)

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Again, at this point, we’re not really in the zone where we are hearing actual thrash being concocted, but I picked the likes of Sad Wings of Destiny because of its massive importance to lighting up the imagination of many of the guys who would make thrash’s Big Four such a quality bunch of bands. If forced to draw parallels, forget the vocals, but there’s a thrash darkness here and K.K. and Glenn really advance the art of guitar riff-writing to a new level, something that is front and centre in thrash.

Vinyl Value:

JXS-7019, Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976, Janus, $25

JXS-7019 [DJ], Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976, Janus, $30
— Promo version, with “Specially faded for easier programming” sticker on cover

Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols (October 1977)

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Call me guilty of using the Pistols album as a bit of a placeholder for all of punk. Sure, the California guys in white high-tops loved The Damned and the Dead Boys too, and they like to look smart with their Cro-Mags and Discharge and Black Flag and Misfits, but this is the punk record most universally and effortlessly taken to heart by these guys. And hey, it’s the tightest, most disciplined and well recorded punk album of all, and those are standards thrash bands aspired to.

Vinyl Value: 

3147 [B] Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols, 2008, Rhino/Warner Bros., $25

BSK3147 [B] Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols, 1978, Warner Bros., $50
— With sticker “Contains Sub-Mission

BSK3147 [B] Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols, 1978, Warner Bros., $30
— Any other version with custom label

BSK3147 [B] Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols,1978, Warner Bros., $25
— With white WB label

(B): Both. An album that is listed in stereo, but has some tracks in monaural sound, too.

Judas Priest – Stained Class (February 1978)

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If I had to pick one Priest, it would have been this one, but they are a band worthy of two in the lead-up phase of our tale, and so Sad Wings sneaks in, although No. 2 could have been Sin After Sin as well (see Slayer’s cover of “Dissident Aggressor”). But here we’ve got double bass proto-thrash classic “Exciter,” plus the galloping “Stained Class” and then “Beyond the Realms of Death,” which is very much the first proto-thrash ballad in every sense, the mellow, the heavy, the lyrics, perfect.

Vinyl value:

JC35296 Stained Class 1978, Columbia, $12

PC35296 Stained Class, 1980, Columbia, $10
— Budget-line reissue

Motörhead – Overkill (March 1979)

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Definitely another band worthy of two entries, Motörhead have to get on with Overkill, foremost given that the title track is the first song ever with double bass thundering all the way through. Elsewhere it’s not that thrash, although here’s another rare album with no mellow music (thrashers love value for money), and Lemmy, with his gruff bark, is a kind of proto-thrash vocalist. The guys looked pretty thrash as well, ushering in that leather and bullet belt look. Finally there’s the very thrash metal mascot in ol’ Snaggletooth.

Vinyl Value:

PRO-3241 Overkill, 1986, Mercury, $40
— First U.S. issue of early U.K. LP

BMG15013V [B], Overkill, 2015, Bronze, $25
— 180g

(B): Both. An album that is listed in stereo, but has some tracks in monaural sound, too.

Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden (April 1980)

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Just too huge a directly-pre thrash band not to be included, Iron Maiden was also one of the obsessively loved bands by the likes of Lars Ulrich and Metal Blade’s Brian Slagel, along with Diamond Head and later Savage, both of which I considered putting here. To draw loose parallels, Iron Maiden was variously fast, punky and proggy, as well as the domain of a busy bass player who locks in with the note-dense riffs up top, like thrash.

Vinyl Value: 

ST-12094 [B] Iron Maiden 1980, Harvest, $18

ST-12094 Iron Maiden 1981, Capitol, $15
— Reissue of Harvest 12094

(B): Both. An album that is listed in stereo, but has some tracks in monaural sound, too.

Motörhead – Ace of Spades (November 1980)

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Sure, it’s a bit gratuitous picking Motörhead as a two-fer on this list, but Ace of Spades was a huge album in the NWOBHM underground, and the title track is fulsome proto-thrash, like “Overkill.” Motörhead were an eccentric anomaly in a few ways, but abstractly speaking, Lem, Animal and Fast Eddie—all gone now—might be where thrash as a spirit or philosophy is best embodied.

Vinyl Value:

SRM-1-4011 Ace of Spades, 1980, Mercury, $40

PRO-3243 Ace of Spades, 1986, Profile, $20
— Reissue of Mercury 4011

BMG15057V [B] Ace of Spades, 2015, Sanctuary, $25
— 180g

(B): Both. An album that is listed in stereo, but has some tracks in monaural sound, too.

Venom – Welcome to Hell (December 1981)

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It’s really this debut and Black Metal as a two-fister, but yeah, Venom were super-important to the roots of thrash, given their speed, their uncompromising attitude and the squarely proto-thrash vocals of Cronos. Brings up a point though: Venom actually thrashed about, and thrash proper is… proper. The idea with thrash, or at least any of the Big Four and its large next level of aspirers, was to play like a meticulously restored hot car. Sure there’s Warfare, Tank, Voivod, Bathory and Possessed [and even the German (and Swiss?) Big Four (six?)], but generally speaking, no.

Vinyl Value:

1002, Welcome To Hell, Neat (First U.K. pressing), poster and lyric sheet, 1981, $100

MX 8032 Welcome To Hell, Combat (U.S. pressing), 1985, $75

Anvil – Metal on Metal (April 1982)

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Toronto’s Anvil, for a brief magic moment there, spanning this record and 1983’s Forged in Fire, were the heaviest band on the planet, beyond speed metal and ever so close to thrash, given the almost-there vocals of Lips and a drummer in Robb Reiner who was Keith Moon playing thrash. Album closer “666” is a pure thrasher, but there is so much else on this record that kinda killed NWOBHM dead.

Vinyl Value:

9917 Metal On Metal, Attic, 1982, $25

Raven – Wiped Out (June 1982)

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A short step behind Anvil were Raven, defining that partitioned pre-thrash genre known as speed metal. Rob “Wacko” Hunter helped point the way for all double-bass pounding thrash drummers, and much of their songs were “thrashy,” but almost toward Venom. In other words, Raven lacked the majesty and gravitas of Anvil, who then in retrospect could be seen to lack the majesty and gravitas of the best thrash albums from the mid-‘80s. Plus John Gallagher’s vocals weren’t exactly thrash, relegating Raven to an evolutionary box.

Vinyl Value:

1004 Wiped Out, Neat (U.K. Pressing), 1982, $15

Accept – Restless and Wild (October 1982)

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Most of this record isn’t thrash-minded, but firstly it’s got “Fast as a Shark” which is often cited as the first thrash song (as we’ve seen, there’s any number of candidates). Second, Accept was a beloved inspiration on those who would thrash from LA to San Francisco. Third—and people forget this—Accept had mosh-metalled before, with the likes of “Free Me Now” and “Breaker.”

Vinyl Value:

BFR39215 Restless and Wild, 1983, Portrait, $15

PR39215 Restless and Wild, 1986, Portrait, $10

Exciter – Heavy Metal Maniac (January 1983)

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Even the most ardent of metallists tend to forget this Ottawa-based band in the thrash story, not to mention that Exciter had been thrashing this hard for a couple years previous already. I’m also using Exciter as a bit of a placeholder/representative for the importance of Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records and his U.S. Metal compilations, where, really, thrash was birthed in chopped-up bits an’ pieces along with the first couple of Metal Massacre comps from Brian Slagel. But no, Exciter was uncompromising, speedy, all about metal and chaotic—a virulent, volatile form of speed metal just before thrash emerges.

Vinyl Value:

1004 Heavy Metal Maniac, 1983, Shrapnel, $55

Hawaii – One Nation Underground (July 1983)

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An obscure one, I know, maybe a bit unnecessary, but Hawaii are here for three reasons. Once again, I’m sending hearty hails to Mike Varney and Shrapnel. Second, Jeff Graves is one of thrash drumming’s unknown early pioneers and third, this band’s guitarist is Marty Friedman, who of course was one of thrash’s top axe heroes through his run with Megadeth, apex being Rust in Peace. And yeah, in the final analysis, with a different vocalist than helium-high Gary St. Pierre, this is basically ragged thrash.

Vinyl Value: 

1009 One Nation Underground, 1983, Shrapnel, $35

Metallica – Kill ‘Em All (July 1983)

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Okay, now we arrive at the first thrash metal album of all time. “Hit the Lights” had been out before on the first Metal Massacre, but hearing it here, in context with the rest of these “money riff” songs, it quickly becomes clear we are hearing a deliberate new thing, marked by precision and a new kind of vocal. But Metallica, indicative of their massive fame to be perhaps, set the rules and then set about breaking them—a bunch of this is just an improvement on Diamond Head, not that fast or particularly new. But there’s more than enough to say this is the nexus point, in ascending order, those being “Phantom Lord,” “Hit the Lights,” “Metal Militia” and finally “Whiplash,” the absolutely quintessential first thrash song.

Vinyl Value:

MRI 069 Kill 'Em All, 1983, Megaforce, $40

MRI 069 [Picture Disc] Kill 'Em All 1983, Megaforce, $50
— Un-numbered version

MRI 069 [Picture Disc] Kill 'Em All 1983, Megaforce, $150
— Numbered limited edition version

60766 Kill 'Em All, 1987, Elektra, $18
— Reissue of Megaforce 069 with two extra tracks

343676 Kill 'Em All, 2008, Warner Bros., $30

Slayer – Show No Mercy (December 1983)

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Y’know, I swear, it’s because of the wet, muddy elevator shaft drums on this album that people have conveniently put Slayer aside in the story of thrash invention and just focus on Reign in Blood, way up into 1986. Plus people are faked-out by the oppressive satanic image, even the bit of makeup, maybe a trace of punk love and Venom love. But Show No Mercy is pretty friggin’ thrashy, and only a few months later than Kill ‘Em All. It’s arguably even more disciplined, although it takes a patient peer through the loaded mix to work that out.

Vinyl Value:

E1034 Show No Mercy 1983, Metal Blade, $25

71034 Show No Mercy 1984, Metal Blade, $15
— Early reissue of 1034

72214 [PD] Show No Mercy 1987, Metal Blade, $30
— Picture disc in plastic sleeve

Anthrax – Fistful of Metal (January 1984)

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If you haven’t noticed, thrash has now been invented, so we can only call Fistful of Metal the third thrash album of all time. And so begins the debate whether Anthrax is thrash at all, or just too musical and mid-speed or something. But that’s splitting hairs. Thrash, for all the griping about rules, is pretty varied, and Anthrax are one of the creative bands wide of scope. Plus it’s cool that they are from New York, spreading the love to across the country. As well, putting this on the list is testament to Jon and Marsha Zazula, who helped thrash grow through Megaforce Records.

Vinyl Value:

MRI-469 [B] Fistful of Metal 1983, Megaforce, $25

CAROL-1383 Fistful of Metal 1985, Megaforce, $10
— Reissue of 469

(B): Both. An album that is listed in stereo, but has some tracks in monaural sound, too.

Metal Church – Metal Church (July 1984)

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Why is this here? So we can end with Ride the Lightning, that’s why. No, seriously, Metal Church was chosen to represent the further edging of thrash toward an all-encompassing heavy metal umbrella, still no-nonsense heavy, but proof that it can be accessible. And so, of course, Metal Church are even more debatable as a thrash band than Anthrax, but then again, “Metal Church” is driven by the greatest thrash riff of all time (plus they supported Metallica more than ably on the Master of Puppets tour).

Vinyl Value:

GZ002 Metal Church, Ground Zero Records, 1984, $40

Metallica – Ride the Lightning (July 1984)

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I’ve chosen to end this top 20 fairly deep into the story of thrash’s invention to illustrate a specific point: that thrash can be the rock bed of classic, artistic songwriting. Ride the Lighting is the first just truly objectively great album of the thrash narrative, setting the bar for all of the Big Four and those beyond the reaches of radar to excel, be proggier, more virtuosic, write more sensible songs, do more takes. It’s a topic of hot debate whether Metallica even managed to eclipse this record with the immense Master of Puppets, which is even more testimony to just how well-constructed and well-sequenced and everything Ride the Lightning is. In any event, here we are, the summer of ’84, and Metallica has made sure that thrash had been put in a good place moving forward.

Vinyl Value:

MRI769 Ride the Lightning, Megaforce, 1984 $40

60396 Ride the Lightning, 1984, Elektra, $25

424572 Ride the Lightning, 2008, Warner Bros., $16

(Goldmine staffer Martin Popoff is the author of Metallica: The Complete Illustrated History, Sweating Bullets: The Deth and Rebirth of Megadeth, Hit the Lights: The Birth of Thrash, Caught in a Mosh: The Golden Era of Thrash and Tornado of Souls: Thrash’s Titanic Clash as well as books on eight other bands in this list.)

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