With its spate of landmark record releases, metalheads properly revere 1986 as the year thrash broke. Still, those twelve months of bone-crunching, lightning-speed, punk-infused heavy metal didn’t just stage-dive out of nowhere. In fact, 1985 produced its own array of mind-blowing, neck-snapping, history-making thrash classics.
While Metallica spent the year formulating and recording Master of Puppets, three of the thrash’s other “Big Four” groups issued crucial albums. So did countless other thrash bands, great and small, in increasing numbers all over the planet.
Chief among 1985’s towering thrashterpieces is Hell Awaits by Slayer, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month. In tribute, let’s don patch-covered battle vests, lace up massive white Reeboks, and bang heads with total abandon with a mosh-pit tour of the Thrash Class of ’85.
Hell Awaits – Slayer
The cover of Slayer’s Hell Awaits depicts souls of the damned suffering at the claws of demons amidst an inferno of eternal torment. The record then opens with a six-minute title track that sounds and feels like that decidedly non-pretty picture. Immediately, the music burns—and then it just blazes hotter and more mercilessly for the next 38 minutes until, as is said elsewhere in rock, you can hear Satan laughing with delight.
On first impact, Hell Awaits announced a cosmic leap forward from the band’s previous releases. Building on the combustive evil energy that is uniquely Slayer’s, Hell Awaits combines whiplash tempo changes and deep genre explorations with Mercyful Fate and Celtic Frost-like prog influences. Along the way, the record largely invents much of the sound and fury that would evolve into death metal. Thrash, to say the least, would never be the same again—nor, in the rest of the music world, would anything else.
Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good – Megadeth
“Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good”
Arising from the ashes of his brutal dismissal from Metallica, vocalist and guitar shredder Dave Mustaine vowed to be heard on his own terms—loud, hard, and at blitzkrieg speed.
Mustaine assembled Megadeth to deliver his wrath, and the group’s debut, Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good immediately upped the ante for his former bandmates. It speaks volumes that Metallica could only respond on the world-changing scale of Master of Puppets.
With heart-attack velocity and brain-blasting intensity, Killing Is My Business tears apart all previous limitations on heavy metal in general and thrash in particular. Megadeth’s masterpiece, Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?, would follow a year later, but the ingredients are all laid out in this sonic boom of an opening shot.
Spreading the Disease – Anthrax
New Yawk bruiser battalion Anthrax debuted impressively but imperfectly with 1984’s Fistful of Metal. Clearly, these mega-talented mooks could and would contend for the crown. It just took a couple of adjustments.
For their 1985 follow-up, Anthrax brought on frontman Joey Belladonna and bass player Frank Bello, the two members who rank behind only guitarist and madcap mastermind Scott Ian as the group’s most familiar figures. Good move on both parts.
As a result of building the new Anthrax beast, Spreading the Disease emerged as a firestorm of hardcore crunch, soaring crescendos, ear-blistering solos, and sharp, wiseguy humor that only serves to enhance the nonstop aesthetic assault. What all those elements add up to, of course, is Spreading the Disease enabling to Anthrax truly become Anthrax.
Bonded by Blood – Exodus
“Bonded by Blood”
Much is made of Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax comprising thrash’s “Big Four.” True devotees of the form, however, know that the term should really be “Big Five” and that Bay Area brawlers Exodus are every bit on par with their more famous brethren in brutality. Even the members of the Big Four themselves have repeatedly declared this!
Bonded in Blood, Exodus’s debut, captures the band in its most invigoratingly ferocious form. Legendary party beast Paul Baloff provides louder-than-life vocals while guitar ace and chief songwriter Gary Holt guides the chaos with a master’s flair in an incendiary collection of songs that still pack the same pummeling punch they did three decades ago, as well as onward into the album’s endlessly influential future.
Speak English or Die – Stormtroopers of Death
Is it a comedy classic or a serious wrecking ball forward in the crossover of metal and punk that would define extreme rock forever after? Speak English or Die by Stormtroopers of Death aka S.O.D. is both! On all counts, the sludge-tuned, hardcore-paced, genre-slaughtering album is a thrash-spawned landmark that brilliantly commingles the banging of heads with the busting of guts.
S.O.D. consists of Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian, Anthrax drummer Charlie Banante, and ex-Anthrax bassist Dan Lilker. That should give a good sense of their background. Out in front, Mac-Truck-proportioned wildman Billy Milano erupts forth the group’s blatantly politically incorrect lyrics in songs with telling names such as “F— the Middle East,” “Douche Crew,” “Pre-Menstrual Princess Blues,” and, of course, the catchy title track.
Lilker once noted, “The lyrics were never intended to be serious, just to piss people off.” Fortunately, Speak English or Die came out a time when society seemed to be able to get the joke. Today, no such release would be possible (just imagine all the poor “offended” souls on Twitter!), therefore making S.O.D. all that much more of a pioneering punk-metal powerhouse.
Feel the Fire – Overkill
Overkill, New Jersey’s thrash blasters supreme, built a growing and dedicated following with killer shows on NYC-area metal circuit and a solid, self-titled 1984 debut EP.
The subsequent Feel the Fire delivers Overkill fully formed, a four-man, high octane wrecking crew led by drummer Rat Skate that bombards listeners with punk-bolstered metal mayhem. Every song is expertly played and crushing in its passion; so much so that the album quickly secured Overkill a major label record deal and permanently inducted them as one of East Coast extreme rock’s most valuable squadrons.
Seven Churches – Possessed
Thrash was all about smashing through barriers and expanding the parameters of metal, punk, and rock’s other furthermost outposts. Seven Churches by Possessed does the same thing—but to thrash itself.
Coming up through the same Bay Area scene that begat Metallica and Exodus, the high school kids(!) in Possessed played a different, even darker and more punishing variation of the sounds surrounding them. One key separating factor were the guttural, barking vocals thundered out by Jeff Bercera. So unique is what Possessed pulls off on Seven Churches, in fact, that the group had to coin their own term for it.
The record closes with a track titled “Death Metal,” and entire genres and subgenres (and sub-subgenres) have sprung forth from it ever since.
Endless Pain – Kreator
German thrash metal’s “Three Kings” is the affectionate crowned up the bands Destruction, Sodom, and the (arguably) most popular of the trio, Kreator.
Kreator recorded their debut, Endless Pain, in just ten days and it sounds like it—and, here, that’s a good thing. Frightening, furious, and seemingly driven by madness, Endless Pain pushes thrash toward death metal but even more deeply delves into relentlessly driving grooves that clearly forecast much of where black metal would end up going.
In essence, then, blackened thrash rumbles toward primordial existence on Endless Pain, thereby truly earning the band its own name. Amp it up and marvel at hearing Kreator create.
Executioner’s Song and Evil Invaders – Razor
“Take This Torch” from Executioner’s Song
Hailing from a prog- sounding Canadian city called Guelph, Razor knocked not one, but two thrash smash in 1985: the albums Executioner’s Song and Evil Invaders.
Executioner’s Song delivered the group’s first ’85 blow in April, with Evil Invaders following in October. Such a prolific onslaught alone would render Razor a standout force with which headbangers would come to reckon. The sheer power, ability, and inventiveness the group demonstrates on each release is what matters though, and on those fronts, Razor cuts right to the quick, every time.
“Evil Invaders” from Evil Invaders
Nasty Savage – Nasty Savage
The self-titled first album by Sunshine State earth-scorchers Nasty Savage makes good on the group’s moniker. It’s a wild ride, electrifyingly unleashed by the band and piloted up-front by high-shrieking “Nasty” Ronny Galletti who, when the group playing live, translated his love of professional wrestling to the thrash medium by smashing TV sets, performing feats of mighty strength, and whipping every crowd into championship-match-level frenzy.
Nasty Savage supplies about as perfect a snapshot of a time and place in heavy metal history, but it is actually topped by one other artifact: Nasty Savage starring in a commercial for a local hair salon. Horns up to that move forever!
Flair Family Hair Care TV Commercial