Sei sulla pagina 1di 13

Lilia Bogoeva Survey of 20th and 21st Century Music

Development of Thrash Metal

Thrash metal, a subgenre of metal music, began developing in the early 1980s from the influences of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) styles including heavy metal, black metal, and speed metal played by bands such as Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Venom, Motorhead, and Diamond Head. What sets thrash apart from all these NWOBHM styles is the strong hardcore punk influence, and what sets thrash apart from hardcore punk is much greater attention to detail and technicality. Thrash also falls under the umbrella of extreme metal styles. In contrast to traditional heavy metal, extreme metal further pushes the limits of heaviness, tempo, distortion, and harsh vocals. One crucial element that distinguishes thrash from 80s hard rock bands like AC/DC was the clear lack of blues influence. The lack of blues influence was one reason why metal has been stereotyped as white music, since it does not include the characteristic black influence of the blues. The years 1982-1984 were landmark years for the early development of thrash metal. At this point, thrash was developing as part of an underground music scene, unknown to the general public for several years. The term thrash metal had not yet been coined to describe the style of bands like Metallica and Slayer, so such bands went off the label power metal. The Metal Massacre demos released in 1982 were, for many local LA metal bands, the first opportunity to obtain some exposure through recordings of their music. It was on these demos that bands like Metallica, Ratt, and Armored Saint first got

their music released to the public, thus starting up their recording careers. During the following year, Metallica released the first thrash metal studio album, Kill Em All, on independent record label Megaforce. This album featured the trademarks of Metallicas early 80ss soundpalm muting, unison riffing, screechy vocals, some of the fastest tempos found in metal of the day, and lyrics about life in the metal world. These stylistic elements would become strong influences on many of their metal contemporaries. Later that year, Slayer debuted with Show No Mercy on Metal Blade Records. Highly influenced by British bands Iron Maiden, Venom, and Judas Priest, as well as punk, Slayer was interested in pushing the limits of speed, primitivism, disturbing lyrics, and shock value in metal. Early in 1984, Anthrax released their debut Fistful of Metal in response to Metallicas speed, thus further solidifying the arrival of thrash metal into the early 1980s underground musical landscape as well as the competitive nature of the genre. Geographically, extreme metal scenes have been known to center in regions with a high concentration of power and capital as opposed to deprived inner cities or rural areas. Thus, the San Francisco Bay Area was the definitive center for thrash in the 1980s, being home to Metallica, Testament, and Exodus, among other historically important bands. Home to Slayer and Megadeth, Southern California was also a prominent region for thrash metal. However, Los Angeles at this time was more focused on glam metal and hair metal, a genres to which thrashers were strongly opposed. Like thrash, glam was performed almost exclusively by men, but glam was highly androgynous, with male performers wearing makeup and womens clothing. Thrash has always been highly masculine and

much less image-oriented to represent the masculine ideals of independence, detachment, and personal control. In glam, long hair was used as a symbol of ambiguous androgyny and was elaborately styled, while in thrash, long hair was a symbol of masculine independence, as the genre has always operated on the notion that independence is the hallmark of true masculinity. Metallica in particular began popularizing the anti-image look of wearing jeans, t-shirts, and no make-up on stage to contrast with the overly flamboyant glam and hair metal performers of the time. Glam and hair bands were also much more likely to sing of lust, love, and other gendered topics, while in thrash such gendered lyrics are an extremely rare find. Thrash metal came into its own in the mid-1980s as artists began being signed on to major labels and selling enough records to get the mainstream medias attention. The term thrash metal was coined to describe this new style. In 1984, Metallica received its first major label record deal with Elektra for its sophomore release Ride the Lightning which received critical praise for its being much more mature, thoughtful, and musically developed than its predecessor. The sale of over 100,000 of Slayers second album Hell Awaits was considered a great success for independent label Metal Blade, thereby not only establishing both Slayer the record label as a formidable force in underground metal, but also making Slayer attractive to major labels. In 1985, Exoduss Metallica-influenced debut Bonded by Blood made them one of the most popular bands of the Bay Area thrash scene. That same year, Megadeth released their long-anticipated debut Killing is My Business as a way to out-metal Metallica in terms of speed, heaviness, and power and establish themselves as a prominent band within thrash metal. Because two members of Megadeth were former jazz musicians, the album had a subtle yet significant jazz

influence that distinguished it from other early thrash albums. At this time, the overall trend in thrash was to play faster and heavier than every other band. During the last half of the 1980s, thrash metal exploded out of the underground and became a craze around the metal community, even managing to catch the eye of MTV in the process. As demand for metal in the music industry increased, many thrash bands began experiencing gold and platinum album success that placed the genre more and more in the public view. In 1986, Metallicas Master of Puppets became the first thrash album to be certified Gold. This thoughtful and complex album a milestone in album sales and musical ingenuity in thrash metal. At the same time, Slayer continued pushing the envelope of heaviness and speed with their career-defining album Reign in Blood. By the mid-1980s, Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, and Slayer were all on major labels and selling hundreds of thousands of records each, thus earning the title of the Big Four of thrash metal for having accumulated the highest amount of record sales, influence, and prominence within the subgenre. Cross-influence between thrash and hardcore punk created the subgenre metalcore. During this time, thrash bands that were seemingly antiMTV and anti-radio ironically earned extra exposure through the MTV shows Heavy Metal Mania and Headbangers Ball. The 1980s cultural climate had a huge influence on instrumental and lyrical directions in thrash. Thrash metal was hugely opposed to the TV Evangelists of the time because they were seen as a huge threat to personal freedom, a concept of pinnacle importance in thrash. Slayer was at the forefront of anti-Christian lyrics. From the depictions of Satan and Hell on each of their album covers, to satanic lyrics and song titles like The Antichrist, Slayer repeatedly mocked born-again Christianity and incorporated quasi-

satanic imagery. In the song Leper Messiah, Metallica aimed at attacking individuals who blindly subject themselves to the mind control of Evangelism, characterizing these individuals as sheep blindly following an unpromising deity. In order to separate themselves from the label of satanic metal bands, Metallica emphasized the idea of self-control and independence rather than satanic fantasies in the few songs in which they have addressed religion. What all these bands had in common was criticizing Evangelism as a threat to personal freedom and independence. The bleak political and economic environment of the U.S. during the late 80s and early 90s contributed to a tendency for politically-charged music. At this time, the country was experiencing a moderate recession as well as the Gulf War. Music fans were ready for music that faced these troubled times with a powerful sense of emotion and realism. They found this in albums by thrash bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, and Exodus, which tended toward a left-wing point of view, as well as in rap groups like Public Enemy. Because both genres were sending similar messages, metal and rap began to cross-influence much more than they had in the past. This eventually lead to the subgenre rap metal. This cross-influence helped smooth over racial distinctions. Although metal is stereotyped as white music, and rap is stereotyped as black music, racial designations have always come secondary to musical ability in both genres. At the end of the 80s, the play faster and harder trend in thrash morphed into play with more complexity and sophistication, thus giving the genre a higher sense of maturity than it had in preceding years. Slayer, who had long been considered the kings of speed in thrash, opted for a much slower-paced approach in their eerie-sounding fourth album South of Heaven. Although this album received some mixed reactions from critics,

it earned the band an increased level of respectability. Bay Area thrashers like Holy Terror and Testament began utilizing intricate melodic elements into their music that were largely an extension of the melodic innovations of Master of Puppets. European bands Celtic Frost and Voivod also experimented with emphasizing sophisticated compositional techniques including classical influence, Latin percussion, and polyrhythm. Of course, Metallica led the way in this maturing genre, as their politically-charged fourth album, And Justice for All quickly went platinum and even received a Grammy nomination. The maturity and sophistication of many late 80s thrash albums earned the genre a greater sense of respect from music critics and fans as well as increasingly higher album sales. Beginning in the 1990s, the increasing complexity of thrash gave way to the genre splitting off into two musical directionson one hand, bands like Metallica and Megadeth softened their music in favor of commercial appeal, and on the other hand bands like Sepultura and Pantera integrated thrash with other musical styles to create a crushingly heavy and innovative new sound. For bands of both musical directions, the focus turned more and more away from speed and toward putting a slow, heavy crunch to their music. As alternative rock and grunge became popular in the mainstream, the media began focusing more on those styles and less on extreme metal. Therefore, Metallica began integrating elements from alternative rock and pop to create their self-titled album Metallica, which became a huge multi-platinum success. Other bands followed suit, as thrashers Megadeth and Voivod made similar stylistic changes with their albums Countdown to Extinction and Angel Rat respectively. Albums like these were wildly successful commercially but angered some of the fans, as the artists were constantly

accused of selling out, changing their style just to make money. On the other end of the spectrum, Brazilian band Sepultura kept the tradition of heaviness in metal. Since their start in the 80s, the band combined the satanic aggression of Slayer with the intricate composition of Master of Puppets-era Metallica. In 1993, their death metal influenced album Chaos AD went gold and made the band an international success story. Perhaps the most definitive band of the 1990s extreme metal scene, Panteras Cowboys from Hell marked this Texas-based groups transition from obscurity to prominence by combining elements from thrash and other metal styles with rap in a streamlined manner termed groove metal. The multi-platinum success of later 90s releases such as Vulgar Display of Power and Far Beyond Driven further solidified their position as a leading band in extreme metal. Furthermore, the heavy, crunchy feel of these songs allowed the band to adapt to a musical scene in which frantic speed was had fallen out of fashion. Sepultura and Pantera were particularly important bands during the 1990s because, even without radio airplay, they allowed the thrash elements of extreme metal to remain commercially successful and visible during a time when the mainstream media was largely ignoring metal music. During the 1990s, thrash laid the groundwork for several other metal subgenres. One of the most prominent was death metal, which began in Florida the mid 1980s and gained significant ground during the following decade. The first wave of definitive death metal bands featured Death, Decide, and Morbid Angel, with Death being considered the original death metal band. Death metal took the harsh shouting vocals of thrash one step further, utilizing barely comprehensible growled and screamed vocals along with slower tempos and more satanic and gory lyrics. Later in the 90s some death metal bands began

writing more eloquent lyrics. Death metal was an underground genre, overlooked by the mainstream. On the commercial side, the softened sound of Metallica and Megadeth influenced alternative metal, a subgenre heavier than alternative rock but soft enough for mainstream radio. Compared to thrash metal, alternative metal is much slower, simpler, and less lyrically controversial and lacks the vicious sense of aggression. Also of musical significance, it was early in the 90s that glam and hair metal fell out of fashion. It was in the 1990s that thrash metals social criticism found its way out of the record stores and into public view. During this time, musicians themselves were more closely connected to politics than in the past. Megadeth front man Dave Mustaine even acted as the Rock the Vote spokesperson for the 1992 election, addressing political concerns in much more direct ways than other bands of the time. Metallica and Testament were considered to address politics through a more detached and documentary type of approach. Moving away from songs about thrash metal culture or the occult and toward topics of social interest was a way for thrash musicians to present their music as being culturally significant and gain a sense of self-importance. Moving into the 21st century, thrash has been looking back at the 1980s for stylistic inspiration, as public interest in heavy music has been increasing since the turn of the century. Many metal critics and fans cite the 9/11 terrorist attacks as a major reason for the revival of metal in the mainstreamunder the siege of conflict between the US and the Middle East, the aggression, conflict, and social criticism of metal has newfound relevance. Classic 80s bands like Exodus, Testament, Death Angel, and the Big Four have been putting out albums that are very stylistically reminiscent of the music they composed during the 1980s. These albums are much heavier and faster in sound than the

softened music many of them wrote in the 90s. Because there have been so many commercially successful metal bands in the 21st century, the contemporary American metal movement has been deemed the New Wave of American Heavy Metal (NWOAHM). This movement, which originated in the 1990s and broke into prominence in the 2000s, encompasses a multitude of heavy music styles as well as bands whos subgenres remain ambiguous. The NWOAHM draws heavily from thrash, death, groove, progressive metal, and hardcore punk. The integration of thrash with death metal, alternative rock, rap, industrial, punk, and grunge created a subgenre called nu metal, which includes many commercially successful bands such as Slipknot, Disturbed, and Korn. As far as 21st century pure thrash metal bands go, relatively prominent bands include Englands Evile, USs Warbringer, and Brazils Violator. Worldwide, thrash is being integrated into other styles, but is kept alive by both classic and new thrash bands. Thrash metal has established huge popularity in North and South America and Europe, and has been gaining ground in Asia, but the Middle East and Africa have been largely untouched by metal in general. Islamic world has tended to point to heavy metal as a symbolic breakdown of traditional values and symptom of American immorality that would corrupt the nation if allowed to break into the mainstream. However, as an increasing number of Middle Eastern countries transition to more liberal forms of government, metal makes gradual gains in popularity, as demonstrated by the fact that Metallica began touring in Israel in 2010. The chief stylistic techniques and directions that characterize thrash metal have interesting relationships with social concepts. The physicality and energy in thrash is directly reflected in the musics rhythmic flow. Long runs of eighth or sixteenth notes

create a sense of unchanging eternity and kinetic energy. Gallop rhythms (two sixteenths followed by an eighth or vice versa) build potential energy. Longer note durations tend to occur at the ends of phrases or during choruses, thus representing the release of this kinetic energy and hauling it to a sense of control. The 4/4 meter is very common and often serves a function similar to that of a military march: to arouse a sense of singlemindedness between the players and listeners. Thrash bands like Metallica often use syncopations within 4/4 or incorporate compound or complex meters into their music to create an impression of rhythmic simplicity while in reality being fairly complex. This demonstrates the interplay between freedom and control so pinnacle to the concept of thrash. Distortion and volume play a crucial role in establishing the power of metal. The sheer volumes of meal concerts allow the music to be felt from within as well as without, internalizing the musical experience. Distortion, which used to be considered an unwanted noise from amplifiers, is strongly desired to create more overtones and undertones from the guitar and thus a more full and powerful sound. Distortion in voices is also common, either produced naturally by screaming or shouting, or artificially through vocal distortion devices. Vocal distortion is used for the same reasons as guitar distortion. Many different vocal styles exist in thrash, from the shouting voice of Slayers Tom Araya, to the high and nasally snarl of Megadeth singer Dave Mustaine, to the screechy vocals James Hetfield used on the first few Metallica albums and the low, powerful gruff on later records. What all these voices have in common is using high volume energy to depict a sense of power. Long sustained notes in vocal lines represent this power coming to a climax.

Modal harmony and instrumental virtuosity also make important contributions to a thrash songs meaning. Thrash metal music is often highly modal, typically in minor keys, and make extensive use of the Phrygian, Dorian, or Locrian modes. Phrygian and Locrian in particular signify a deep anguish, as the flatted scales degrees in these modes give the song a sense of being unstable and closing in on itself. Most thrash songs feature one or more guitar solos, making the guitar the most important virtuoso instrument. Heavily distorted, palm muted guitar riffs create a wall of guitar noise, therefore, a solo is the lead guitarists chance to break through this sound wall and be liberated from the constraints of the rhythm section. Guitar solos themselves are often highly technical, fast, and require much skill to play, but sound very frenetic, thus creating a sense of controlled chaos. These solos further depict the conflict between control and freedom so central to extreme metal. From its obscure origins, thrash metal has evolved into a worldwide musical phenomenon. It is a potent musical representation of real-world conflicts: control versus freedom, chaos versus order, power versus weakness, and emotional openness versus detachment. It is this substance and relevance that has made thrash metal such a powerful force in music.

Sources Christe, Ian. Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal. New York: HarperCollin Publishers, 2003. Print. Kahn-Harris, Keith. Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge. Oxford: Berg, 2007. Print. New Wave of American Heavy Metal. Wikipedia, 20, 2012. Web. 22 Nov 2012. Pillsbury, Glenn T. Damage Incorporated: Metallica and the Production of Musical Identity. New York: Taylor & Frances Group, LLC, 2006. Print. Ramirez, Carlos. Top 10 New School Thrash Bands. Noisecreep, 29 2009. Web. 22 Nov 2012. Walser, Robert. Running With the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1993. Print.

Albums Recommended for Listening Examples Thrash, Early Influences- NWOBHM and Punk: The Sad Wings of Destiny - Judas Priest, 1976 Nevermind the Bullocks, Heres the Sex Pistols - Sex Pistols, 1976 Ace of Spades - Motorhead, 1980 Welcome to Hell - Venom, 1981 Killers - Iron Maiden, 1982 Classic Thrash: Kill Em All - Metallica, 1983 Show No Mercy - Slayer, 1983 Fistfull of Metal - Anthrax, 1984 Killing is My Businessand Business is Good - Megadeth, 1985 Bonded By Blood - Exodus, 1985

Thrash Epics: Master of Puppets - Metallica, 1986 Raining Blood - Slayer, 1986 Peace SellsBut Whos Buying - Megadeth, 1986 Among the Living - Anthrax, 1987 1990s Thrash/crossover: Divine Intervention - Slayer, 1994 Metallica - Metallica, 1991 (thrash/alternative metal) Countdown to Extinction - Megadeth, 1992 (thrash/alternative metal) The Ritual - Testament, 1992 (thrash/grunge) 21st Century Thrash: Death Magnetic - Metallica, 2008 Walking Into Nightmares - Warbringer, 2009 Five Serpents Teeth - Evile, 2011 Thrash, Crossover with other Genres: Cowboys from Hell - Pantera, 1990 (groove metal) Chaos AD - Sepultura, 1993 (thrash/death metal) Requiem- Bathory, 1994 (thrash/black metal) Slipknot - Slipknot, 1999 (nu metal)