On June 12, 1985, Megadeth stunned hard rock fans everywhere with their maiden long-playing weapon of thrash destruction, Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good. It’s been rocking the universe for every one of the thirty years that have passed since then—and there’s no end in sight.
Megadeth electrifyingly captured thrash metal’s combustive amalgam of hardcore punk velocity, New Wave of British heavy metal riff mastery, and newly ignited Reagan-era teenage outrage. Along with Metallica, Slayer, and the other usual headbanging suspects, thrash then charged up from the underground so that, come the second-half of the 1980s, it was the defining sound, scene, and embodiment of cutting-edge hard rock.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Megadeth’s maiden LP detonation, let’s countdown the 10 mightiest first-time albums by other thrash masters—and let’s do it loud.
Alice in Hell – Annihilator (1989)
Raining down from the Great White North, Annihilator unleashed Alice in Hell via Roadrunner Records at the precise moment when thrash needed a fresh injection of rage and firepower. Having absorbed the musical leaps and political philosophizing undergone by thrash throughout the second-half of the 1980s, Alice in Hell played to Annihilator’s strong suits and announced that this was a band to take at full face value and a record to be taken lightly.
The Ultra-Violence – Death Angel (1987)
Formed in 1982 by lead guitarist Rob Cavestany and frontman/bassist Dennis Pepa, California’s Death Angel added Gus Pepa on rhythm axe and Andy Galeon on drums. Like many up-and-coming thrash bands of their era, the members of Death Angel were very young. Unlike any of their peers who broke through in a big way, though, Death Angel were all of Filipino descent.
That interesting factoid aside, Death Angel cut their teeth and sharpened their chops alongside Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus, Testaments and other local giants-in-the-making. Kirk Hammett himself produced DA’s 1986 demo Kill As One, which sent tape-traders into a frenzy and ultimately led to the group issuing The Ultra-Violence a year later.
The album’s title refers to the favorite pastime of the lethal teenage “droogs” in A Clockwork Orange, and the music on The Ultra-Violence sounds like a pummeling recreation of what those thugs were thinking, feeling, and experiencing as they tore apart the world around them. Unlike the droogs, though, from this point onward, Death Angel kept going.
Game Over – Nuclear Assault (1986)
Original bassist Dan Lilker fell, jumped, and/or was pushed from Anthrax in 1984, whereupon he formed Nuclear Assault and spent two years concocting Game Over, an intercontinental ballistic missile of thrashtastic destruction that still burns as though its warhead has just gone off.
Mixing standard rock-track running times (around three minutes or so) with short, sharp outbursts of just a few seconds (akin to where Napalm Death was also headed), and an epic, seven-plus-minute album closer titled “Brain Death,” Nuclear Assault made good on the album’s title.
The group’s peers scrambled all at once to push thrash to this new particular peak of crust-punk political awareness and avant-garde musical adventuring, but Lilker’s crew planted their upside-down distress flag first. That one game may have been over, but fortunately, all involved were frantic enough to keep on playing.
Endless Pain – Kreator (1987)
Kreator rules alongside Destruction and Sodom in an unholy triumvirate known as the Three Kings of Teutonic Thrash. Together, this trio of German metal squads spearheaded a scene and sound as vital to thrash as those in California, New York, and Brazil.
In terms of which King claimed the throne first, Destruction debuted in 1985 with Infernal Overkill and Sodom landed next with Obsessed by Cruelty in 1986. So even though Kreator didn’t hit official release vinyl with Endless Pain in 1987, they had the advantage of headlining the bill, so to speak, and compounding their forerunners strengths with their own. Thus, Endless Pain takes the shiniest jewel in the Three Kings’ first-album crowns.
Feel the Fire – Overkill (1985)
“Feel the Fire”
Overkill erupted out of New Jersey in 1985 with Feel the Fire on Megaforce Records, the same Garden State king-making machine that first brought forth Metallica. Overkill had been barnstorming New York-area metal clubs for a while, building a reputation as the extreme-rock live act to beat. Feel the Fire rendered that challenge even more seriously formidable.
Punk-rooted, pissed-off, and funny-and-serious at the same time, Overkill went from local heroes to thrash titans quickly, touring with Anthrax on their Spreading the Disease trek in 1985 and then going out with Slayer in the wake of Reign in Blood a year later. Only a true powerhouse could keep up with those ghastly thrash gods at the peak of their powers and, fueled by Feel the Fire, Overkill keep up a perfect pace.
The Legacy – Testament (1987)
“Over the Wall”
Berkeley-begotten thrash bruisers Testament came up through the Bay Area ranks using the name Legacy. Upon discovering a long-established jazz outfit named Legacy, these metal marauders changed their name to Testament and, as an amusing in-joke, named their first album, The Legacy.
Even with that background, the name fits the record, as its nine assaults of propulsive thrash will endure forever as a snapshot of a time-and-place, yet each song also still sounds powerfully of the moment and relevant to what’s happening right here, right now. Truly, that’s a Legacy that will live on into headbanging eternity.
Fistful of Metal – Anthrax (1984)
“Metal Thrashing Mad”
Anthrax still sounds in utero on Fistful of Metal, but that’s much of what makes the album such a blast and so essential. Original bassist Dan Lilker’s playing certainly sounds distinctive, but Fistful’s most pronounced differentiation from future Anthrax is the presence of vocalist Neil Turbin. It’s an intriguing combo, and still way fun to whip your neck to.
Also of note is the song title “Metal Thrashing Mad,” the first notable use of the “t-word” on a record and, as such, the source of “thrash” as shorthand for the sort of extreme hard rock Anthrax would be shortly carrying to new heights on their 1985 follow-up, Spreading the Disease.
Bonded by Blood – Exodus (1985)
Much is made of Thrash’s Big Four: Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. True devotees know, however, that Big Five is the actual proper figure and that Exodus is the band that completes the quintet. Anyone with any questions is referred to Exodus’s debut blowout, Bonded by Blood, for definitive shutting-up purposes.
A heavy metal masterwork by any standard, Bonded by Blood unfortunately languished for the better part of year after being recorded in 1984, tied up by label disputes and possibly costing the band some of the early thrash momentum that might have hurled them to metal’s most towering commercial peaks. Regardless, in creative terms, Bonded could not rage any harder and soar any higher.
In addition to laying groundwork for intricate death metal techniques to come and just overall stomping ass from first track to last, Bonded by Blood also showcases one-of-a-kind front-beast Paul Baloff on vocals. Nobody else sounds like Baloff. Nobody else does anything like Baloff. His monstrous appetites would get Paul booted from the band after Bonded, but he returned in 1997 where he resumed singing until his tragic 2002 demise. Be glad we’ll always have him right here, Bonded by Blood indeed.
Kill ’Em All – Metallica (1983)
“Seek and Destroy”
Here it is. The one that started it all: the thrash album that begat thrash itself. So why is Kill ’Em All listed at #2?
Without in any way challenging the record’s historical importance or, in fact, nonstop skull-crushing perfection, it’s not nearly on par with where Metallica would go on Ride the Lightning in 1984, let along Master of Puppets in ’86.
Let’s put it this way: Kill ’Em All is the click you hear when your jackboot slams down on the trigger of a landmine; Metallica’s next two efforts are the ensuing explosions reaching full force.
So while Kill ’Em All is one of the greatest debut records not just in metal but in any genre, and while it’s the first time thrash itself landed on vinyl, it’s also just slightly too ahead of its own game to quite qualify as the best initial effort. That one’s coming now.
Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good – Megadeth (1985)
“Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good”
In one of rock’s great revenge stories, Dave Mustaine conceived Megadeth on a Greyhound bus from New York to California in 1983 after James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, and Cliff Burton booted him out of Metallica for substance abuse issues (yes, just imagine those guys, at that point, saying you’ve got a problem).
“After getting fired from Metallica,” Mustaine said, “all I remember is that I wanted blood: theirs. I wanted to be faster and heavier than them.”
Upon arriving back in Los Angeles, Mustaine teamed with bassist David Ellefson to usher Megadeth into being and, with relentlessly conviction bordering on madness, the band spent a year boiling its outrage and overwhelm down into a bombastically lethal formula. Megadeth then set off the infernal device on June 12, 1985, under the title Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good.
Mustaine made good on his evil intentions. Upon first impact, Megadeth was indeed faster and heavier than Metallica, and Killing Is My Business, for a while, defined what level of damage and destruction thrash was capable of inflicting on the planet. Times would change, peaks and valleys would ensue, and Megadeth would give even Master of Puppets a run for its money a year later with Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?, but the ultimate outcome would end with Mustaine landing, let us say, not on top.
Still, thirty years ago today, Megadeth unleashed the greatest thrash metal debut album of all time. Nobody can take that away from Mustaine and his bandmates—no matter how bad Dave occasionally maybe makes you wish someone would try.