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Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica and Slayer have been credited with the evolution of thrash metal as they have been collectively called "The Big Four of Thrash." This type of music had died off during the nineties, but there was a ressurgence beginning in the early 2000's. The comeback was fueled by some of the old school bands releasing new material as well as some other new groups that modeled themselves after the thrash pioneers. Once again, lists are very much formed by opinions, which may differ when defining the scale and parameters of the subject matter. For purposes of this ranking list, the bands must have originated during the time that thrash was born and they must have had at least one album in the thrash category.
It is important to note that there are many other bands that do not fit in a specific category and may not fall under the glam/or thrash genre. Bands such as Guns 'N' Roses, Def Leppard, Skid Row, Van Halen, WASP remain in a genre of their own so they will not be a part of this list. Other bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Helloween, and Accept were more of the speed/power metal genre. So without further a due, let us take a look at the best of the best Thrash Metal bands.
12) METAL CHURCH
The next three albums featured Mike Howe on vocals along with the addition of John Marshall (Guitar). Then after a four year break, the classic lineup reunited for one album with David Wayne. Wayne would tragically die in a car accident a few years later. The band then featured Ronny Munroe on vocals. Monroe led the band on the next four albums, with Generation Nothing (2013) being the most successful. Their new release will implore the return of Mike Howe. Metal Church is a very underrated band and could be higher on the list if not for inconsistency.
11) FLOTSAM AND JETSAM
Shortly after the album's release, Newsted departed from the band to join Metallica after Cliff Burton's death. Unfortunately Flotsam and Jetsam never really lived up to their potential. During their evolution, they were considered one of the top up and coming thrash bands in America. Their third album "Cuatro" was much better than its predecessor and featured more complicated song writing. This album also received consistent airplay on MTV with the single "Wading Through the Darkness." In essence, the pressure that was put on this band to succeed was overwhelming and they never materialized into the power house that was expected. Nonetheless, they are still one of the best thrash metal bands and original sound pioneers.
10) DEATH ANGEL
Death Angel has a tremendous underground following and continues to be very successful playing live shows. The Pepa's both left in 1991 when the band decided to break up. In 2001, most of the members reunited together to play a show at a benefit for Testament's Chuck Billy. They have toured with such bands as Megadeth, Testament, Overkill, Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer. Death Angel is another thrash metal band that could have been much more, but they did not stand the test of time.
9) SUICIDAL TENDENCIES
The band has released twelve studio albums thus far and has been a very successful unit both in and out of the metal community. The reason for this is their mix of hardcore punk and metal along with an industrial style as well. Their most successful album was "Art of Rebellion" which was released in 1992. The record debuted at 52 on the Billboard Top 100 which was ST's highest charting album ever. It has since went Gold Platinum. They have also toured with many of the big name metal bands throughout their career and are currently on tour with Megadeth in 2016. Suicidal Tendencies remains one of the premiere metal bands today with their diverse style and range of sound.
They are considered one of the Bay Area thrash pioneers. In fact, Metallica's lead guitarist Kirk Hammett was also a founding member of Exodus before leaving for the Metallica gig. The first three albums garnered the most success for Exodus. Bonded By Blood, Pleasures of the Flesh, and Fabulous Disaster gave the band a shot at a major label as Capitol Records signed them in 1989. After a short breakup in 1994, a brief reunion in 1997-1998, and another short break, the band finally came together in 2001 and have released five studio albums in that span. The band has sold over 5 million records world wide. 'Pleasures of the Flesh" was the first album to chart and debuted at #82 on the Billboard Top 200. They followed that up with another #82 on the third record and then #137 on the next album. As mentioned, Exodus does not get the same notoriety as the Big 4; however they were very instrumental in the evolution of thrash.
In 2012, the band released "The Electric Age" and it debuted at 77 on the Billboard Top 200 which had been their highest to date. So in essence, Overkill has truly come of age as it seems that the older they get, the better they get. The band has a mascot named "Chaly." Chally is a skeletal bat with a skull like face, horns, bony wings and green eyes. In 1998, Bobby Ellsworth was diagnosed with a rare form of nose cancer and underwent surgery immediately. The band most recently co headlined The Dark Roots of Thrash tour along with Testament and Flotsam and Jetsam in 2013; however, they had to drop out after Blitz became sick. On April, 2016, Overkill will play a special show for an upcoming DVD that will feature "Feel the Fire" and "Horoscope" in their entirety. They are also expected to release a new album in October 2016. Overkill continues to be one of the most underrated metal bands around.
Those three albums represented the peak of Pantera. In 1995, Phil became addicted to heroin before he overdosed and almost died. The next album, "The Great Southern Trendkill" was recorded separately by each individual musician in 1996 before it's release. In 2000, the band released "Reinventing the Steel" and that would be the final album ever recorded by the band. In 2003, amid consistent growing tension and communication breakdowns among the four, mostly due to Phil's drug use; Pantera disbanded. Then on December 8, 2004, Dimebag Darrell was shot and killed by a deranged fan during his other band DamagePlan's concert in Columbus, Ohio. DimeBag is considered one of the all-time great guitar shredders of his time and he was only 38 years old when he died. "Cowboys From Hell" and "Far Beyond Driven" have went Platinum, while "Vulgar Display of Power" has went double platinum. PANTERA will always go down as one of those bands that could have done so much more but still made a huge mark while they were around.
The Legacy was their very first album and it received rave reviews. In total, Testament has sold over 16 million albums worldwide and consistently sell out their live shows. If there was The Big 5...Testament definitely has earned their spot in the rotation. Their last album release, 'The Dark Roots of Earth" in 2012 hit #8 on the Billboard Top 200, their highest charting record ever. The previous album "Formation of Damnation" was #59. In essence, Testament has actually become better with age as most of these other thrash bands have done. Testament will be supporting Slayer on the 2016 'Repentless" tour.
Just like many of the other thrash bands, Anthrax has improved through the years. Their music is more technically sound now and the lyrics are tight. "Among the Living", which is the band's third studio album debuted at #62 and was their most successful album. It's sometimes mentioned as one of the greatest thrash albums of all-time and is close to platinum status. Scott Ian is considered one of the thrash guitar heroes of his time. Anthrax have been known to think outside of the box sometimes and have incorporated rap music into their material. They have actually released a few singles, including "Bring the Noise" featuring RUN D MC. They also had a cover of the French rock band Trust's "Anti-social" that was extremely successful commercially as well as on MTV.
Slayer has the most distinct sound of The Big4, as they use extremely fast tremolo picking, double bass drumming, riffs in irregular scales, down tuning, and screaming vocals. Tom Araya, the band's lead singer also plays Bass. Most of their music was written by Hanneman and King. They have sold almost 6 million albums world wide. Kerry King actually joined another band, Megadeth for a short time in 1984, but returned to Slayer unsatisfied. "Reign In Blood", their third release was actually their most successful as it hit #94 on the Billboard Top 200. Some experts actually rank Slayer above the other two Metallica and Megadeth, due to their musical style and the band has actually been one of the most influential bands in the entire heavy metal category. In fact, most of the death metal and black metal of today truly came about from Slayer.
Well, this passion paid off and Megadeth was born and he has never looked back. The band has survived a lot of turnover and the most recognized lineup was Dave Mustaine (Vocals/Guitar), Dave Elleffson (Bass), Marty Friedman (Guitar), and Nick Menza (Drums). That lineup would release "Rust In Peace," "Countdown To Extinction," "Youthansia", "Cryptic Writings," and "Risk." Other members of the lineup have consisted of Chris Poland (Guitar), Gar Samuelson (Drums), Jimmy Degrasso (Drums), Al Pitrelli (Guitar), Glen Drover (Guitar), Shawn Drover (Drums), James LoMenzo (Bass), Chris Broderick (Guitar) and now Kiko Loureiro (Guitar), Chris Adler (Drums).
As mentioned, Megadeth has shared its battles with dissension. Whether it was Dave's problems with alcoholism and addiction (rehab 17times), other band members difference of opinions with Dave, or the controversial content of his lyrics and the message that they portray, Megadeth has always been able to succeed despite all of the ups and downs. First of all, Megadeth has sold over 50 million albums world wide, including platinum status for five of it's fifteen albums, and eleven grammy nominations (record for nominations without a win). Metallica may have the edge in the battle for supremacy, but Megadeth has definitely been more successful and consistent for the long haul. In fact, it seems like Metallica is always on vacation, while Megadeth continues to pound out records every other year. Their latest release, "Dystopia," debuted at #3 on the Billboard Top 200 which is the bands second highest ranking besides "Countdown to Extinction'" which debuted at #2 in 1992.
After "Kill Em' All" (1983), the band released their sophomore album "Ride the Lightning," (1984) which ranked at #100 on the Billboard Top 200. "Ride the Lightning" has since went 6x Platinum. The band then signed a huge contract with Elektra and released it's third album, "Master of Puppets" in 1986. By this time Metallica was already huge in the mainstream community even though they really did not have much commercial success. Master of Puppets debuted at #29 on the Billboard Top 200, easily the best Metallica album to date. In fact, Puppets has been named in several best album lists and has also went 6x Platinum.
After the dramatic success, tragedy would strike Metallica and the entire metal community. Shortly after the release of Master of Puppets, superstar bassist Cliff Burton was killed in a car accident at only 24 years old. The band would then bring in Jason Newsted (Flotsam and Jetsam) for their next album. Burton left big shoes to fill and when Metallica released it's fourth album, "And Justice For All," (1988) they actually recorded it with Newsted's bass turned all of the way down. Justice turned out to be a masterpiece and debuted at #6 on the Billboard Top 200. This album has since went an amazing 8x Platinum. The track "One" had it's own video on MTV and became an instant classic, further catapulting Metallica into the mainstream.
The band then released their fifth studio album, "The Black Album." Of course, this was the time period where many hardcore metal fans agreed that Metallica had sold it's soul to the devil in order to gain critical acclaim. The devil being the mainstream music community. Although the album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 and became their top selling album, having gone an astronomical 16x Platinum, many fans and critics alike felt that Metallica had sold out, virtually causing a popularity downfall in the heavy metal community. Since then, they have released Load (1996), Reload (1997), St. Anger (2003) and Death Magnetic (2008). Load and Reload went 5x and 4x Platinum respectively, while St. Anger tanked it and then they came back stronger with Death Magnetic which has went 2x Platinum. Unfortunately, the monkey will always remain on Metallica's back due to their "deal with the devil." And this is notwithstanding the 8 Grammy Awards, the 5x consecutive #1 album debuts, and it's over 110 million records sold worldwide.