Stone – “Stone” (1988)

StoneFinnish thrashers Stone first appeared on the scene with this eponymous debut in 1988.  Stone was first released by the Megamania label in Finland with the cover depicted on the left.  The album was also released in the U.S. on the MCA imprint Mechanic Records with a different cover.

Stone boasted a stout rhythm section that laid down a solid foundation, while guitarists Jiri Jalkanen and Roope Latvala provided the strong riff work.  I’ll have to say, Stone were a pretty good band.  I guess they would have to be for the U.S. to get a proper release of their first album.  It wasn’t everyday you came across a Finnish thrash album in the U.S. record shops of the late eighties.  The interesting thing about Stone was their odd vocals, which were supplied by bassist Janne Joutsenniemi.  Ol’ Janne sounded like an inebriated teenage waste-case — singing out-of-tune in broken English (and almost never rhyming).  Joutsenniemi’s performance gives the whole Stone album a sort of laid back, boozy vibe.  To me, this makes Stone a little different from the typical, ultra-serious tone that most thrash bands of the day hung their hat on.  Stone threw out the rule book, and I say good for them!  The Stone LP won’t go down as a classic in most books (except maybe in Finland), but it’s an interesting little curiosity to check out.  Standout cuts include Get Stoned and No Commands.  My score: B-

Blind Guardian – “Battalions Of Fear” (1988)

Blind GuardianGermany’s Blind Guardian became one of the premier Euro power metal bands in the mid to late nineties.  The genre experienced a sort of Renaissance at the time, with Blind Guardian leading the charge with classics such as 1998’s Nightfall In Middle-Earth.  Heavily influenced by fantasy writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Blind Guardian captured the imagination of heavy metal listeners who liked their metal with a flair for the epic.  Blind Guardian have always been storytellers — spinning tales by firelight about elves, wizards, and all things Middle-Earth.

Blind Guardian’s debut was 1988’s Battalions Of Fear.  While it lacks the epic grandeur of their later material, Battalions Of Fear is still a strong album for its time.  If Battalions Of Fear had been Blind Guardian’s one and only album, I would probably appreciate it more as a stand alone piece.  Unfortunately, I can’t help compare this album to later albums such as Nightfall In Middle-Earth — an album that exhibited more dynamic songwriting and meticulously arranged vocal choirs.  Though Blind Guardian were very good from the start, they would get much better.

Battalions Of Fear finds Blind Guardian wearing their Helloween influence on their frilly blouse sleeves.  That’s not a complaint.  I loved the music Helloween was making at the time, and I welcome all those bands that tried to emulate the masters!  The same year that Battalions Of Fear was released, Helloween released their masterpiece Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II.  While Battalions Of Fear doesn’t exactly measure up to Keepers Of The Seven Keys Part II, Blind Guardian put themselves in the same zip code as Helloween, and that’s an accomplishment.  Their aggression may have got the best of them here though, as Battalions Of Fear rarely strays from a full-on speed metal attack.  This approach reminds me of earlier Helloween (circa Walls Of Jericho) as well as the German speed metal of Rage.  Nevertheless, one gets a taste of future greatness on tracks such as Majesty and Wizard’s Crown.  My score: B

Num Skull – “Ritually Abused” (1988)

Num SkullWith the album Ritually Abused, Num Skull ritually abuse your ear drums with horrid, death-style vocals.  This album is pretty useless to me because the vocals suck — but I’ll write a few more sentences to fill up space.

Num Skull’s song writing style was pretty typical of the average to lower-tier thrash bands of the day.  The songs really have no direction.  They’ll play on one riff for a while and then switch to another and change the tempo.  But to Num Skull’s credit, their songs didn’t feel like a total cut and paste job of different ideas.  They at least attempted to make fluid transitions most of the time.  On occasion, they’ll come out of a crazy mosh break with a slower groove, and those transitions are pretty seamless (reminds me of Slayer).

There’s a bonus track on most versions of Ritually Abused called Murder By The Minister which is actually relatively decent.  I thought it was a cover when I first heard it because it is much different from the rest of the album.  Murder By The Minister is more straightforward and modestly catchy.  Unfortunately, this lone bonus track tacked on to the end of a forgettable album is little consolation to this beleaguered listener.  After all, what’s a fart when you’ve already shit your pants?  My score:

Anacrusis – “Reason” (1990)

AnacrusisReason was album number two for Anacrusis.  This is a difficult album to listen to.  There’s lots of change-ups and odd time signatures to go along with the barks, hollers and sickening shrieks of vocalist Kenn Nardi.  Sure, he’ll occasionally sing with a softer, smoother voice (re: Stop Me and Not Forgotten) but don’t be fooled — it’s a trap!  Nardi is just waiting for you to let your guard down before he unleashes his next ear-destroying screech!

Reason is more progressive and less accessible than Anacrusis’ debut Suffering Hour (1988).  The band was pushing the envelope of thrash, as well as pushing the listener’s tolerance for pain.  Coming in at 52 minutes (or over 60 minutes with CD bonus tracks), Reason is a long and sickening trip through a desolate wasteland of ill-will.  To me, Reason is like a raw nerve left exposed and twitching.  The songs are technically challenging yet performed sloppily.  It is clear that Anacrusis’ intent was to make the listener uncomfortable and uneasy with this jagged horse pill of a record.  They succeeded in doing so.  Whether or not that is your idea of something worth listening to is up to you.  I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Reason, and though it has grown on me a bit, I have ultimately decided it’s not for me.  My score: C

Top Ten Thrash Metal Albums of 1988

1988 was right smack dab in the middle of the (short-lived) golden era of thrash.  Presented below are my favorite thrash (and semi-thrash) albums of 1988.

10. Nuclear Assault – Survive

With the pedal perpetually to the metal, New York’s Nuclear Assault attacked with restless and relentless ferocity on the frantic Survive.  Somewhere behind the digestible east coast thrash for-the-masses of Overkill and Anthrax, there was Nuclear Assault’s less accessible, but very enjoyable thrash (with a crossover touch).  Street style mayhem done right.  Survive is a fun album of fast thrash with a few sneaky hooks here and there.  It definitely gets better with repeated listens.  Sure, the singer’s voice falls on the wrong side of weasel, but he’s all we’ve got.  I dig Brainwashed and Survive.  My score: B

9. Death Angel – Frolic Through The Park

The second Death Angel was not the same rabid thrash attack as their 1987 debut The Ultra-Violence.  Rather than return to the mosh madness of their first record, the young Bay Area band (all of whom were related) chose a more measured approach.  While The Ultra-Violence has its place, I personally prefer the more consistent and far-reaching Frolic Through The Park.  Improvements come on multiple fronts with this album.  This includes (slightly) better production, more melody, and catchier songs.  I also think vocalist Mark Osegueda made noticeable strides as a singer.  I’m not saying that his performance was perfect, but his clean singing voice was still well above the average by thrash standards.  While The Ultra-Violence started off strong on side one but slipped on side two, Frolic Through The Park picks up steam on its second half.  This includes one of best Death Angel songs in Open Up as well as the potent Shores Of Sin.  There’s even a pretty cool cover of the KISS classic Cold Gin.  My score: B

8. Heretic – Breaking Point

Based out of Los Angeles, Heretic released their second record Breaking Point on Metal Blade Records in 1988.  With Breaking Point, the band introduced a new singer in Mike Howe — a diminutive man with a huge metal voice.  Howe replaced Julian Mendez, who sang for Heretic on their 1986 debut EP Torture Knows No Boundary.  (Note: Breaking Point was dedicated to Mendez.)  Howe was a big step up in the vocal department for Heretic.  His impact was immediately felt on the crushing album openers Heretic and And Kingdoms Fall.  Guitarist and principle songwriter Brian Korban deserves primary credit for the band’s crunchy “power thrash” style — a style which calls to mind the pioneering approach of Metal Church.  In fact, Breaking Point was co-produced by Metal Church founder Kurdt Vanderhoof.  This was just the beginning of the curious relationship between Heretic and Metal Church.  After Breaking Point, the two bands would become forever linked in a strange bit of heavy metal history when Howe left Heretic to sing for Metal Church, while Korban and fellow Heretic members Dennis O’Hara and Stuart Fujinami hooked up with ex-Metal Church vocalist David Wayne to form Reverend.  Essentially, the two band’s swapped singers!  Breaking Point was thus the last Heretic album (until Korban re-booted the band over twenty years later).  My score: B

7. Coroner – Punishment For Decadence

The black-hearted trio of Coroner were masters of technical thrash metal.  Punishment For Decadence (Noise Records), the band’s second album, showcased the band’s disciplined wizardry at dangerous speeds.  I usually proceed with caution with any band labeled as “technical” thrash, because I fear I’ll get lost in a maze of abrupt tempo changes and masturbatory playing.  Yes, “technical” can often be boring to all but the niche listener, but Coroner were a notch above (in my book) because they would often, seemingly out of nowhere, bust out these slower, bone-crushing grooves.  The song Absorbed is a great example of Coroner at their best.  The song comes on full-throttle with fast riffing and intricate playing.  The speed is almost dizzying.  Then at about the 1:18 mark the first chorus hits with a killer groove that will bang even those heads that refuse to bang!

The vocals on Punishment For Decadence are a little rough around the edges, but work in the context of these dank, dark tunes.  The vocals (by bassist Ron Royce) are buried in the mix so it’s not easy to make out the lyrics, but there are a few lyrical pearls on Punishment For Decadence if you listen with a keen ear.  My fave is the line “I see you smile, it’s like a punch in my face!” from the song Shadow Of A Lost Dream.  That line would make a great Valentine’s card.

The original German pressing of the LP featured this cover.  In the United States, the “skeleton” cover seen above was used on the LP.  As far as I know, all subsequent releases (including all CD releases) use the black skeleton cover.  Evidently, Noise Records made this cover change soon after the original German release, without Coroner’s consent.

Some versions of Punishment For Decadence include a cover of Purple Haze as a bonus cut.  My hope is this was intended as a joke because MY GOD IT IS AWFUL!  My score: B+

6. Forbidden – Forbidden Evil

Got riffs?  Their cup runneth over.  With an arsenal of teeth-rattling riffs, Forbidden’s guitar tandem of Glen Alvelais and Craig Locicero made an impressive showing on Forbidden Evil, the band’s debut (Combat Records).  Future Slayer drummer Paul Bostaph provided the drum heroics, and vocalist Russ Anderson was responsible for the diabolical (some may say “ear-raping”) vocals.  All in all, I find Forbidden Evil to be an enjoyable thrash album because the playing is tight, the production is crisp, and a few (though not all) of the tracks just plain crush!

This album houses one of my favorite thrash songs ever — Forbidden Evil.  What a sinister track!  The opening riff is a wicked one, and the nut-punching one that ensues at about 0:21 kicks the song into another gear!  Furthermore, Anderson’s villainous vocal performance (“Unbelievers hold evil!  Learn or burn!  Torment, hate and torture!  Your soul will burn!“) is a mean-spirited display of pure evil.  This is one nasty tune.  The opening number Chalice Of Blood is another favorite, and Off The Edge and Through Eyes Of Glass round out the very enjoyable side one of the album.  Side two maintains the intensity of side one, but does not measure up in terms of great tracks.  Nevertheless, Forbidden Evil lives up to the quality standard one expects from Bay Area thrash.  (And the cover art is very cool, too!)  My score: B+

 5. Suicidal Tendencies – How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today

All the bands on this list were cool, but Suicidal Tendencies were a special kind of cool.  They had a different look and a different sound.  Suicidal Tendencies blended the cultures of surf, skate, punk, and metal.  As such, Suicidal Tendencies appeal spanned over a large swath of America’s vast teenage wasteland.  Led by the provocative lyrical mind of Mike Muir and the tasty playing of lead guitarist Rocky George, Suicidal Tendencies transitioned from their earlier hardcore punk sound to the world of thrash metal with the How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today LP.  In doing so, S.T. became one of the signature crossover acts of the eighties.  I don’t think any other of the major crossover bands even came close to the level of sophistication and breadth of Suicidal Tendencies.  Standout cuts include Trip At The Brain and Pledge Your Allegiance.  My score: B+

4. Meliah Rage – Kill To Survive

Somewhere in that gray area between pure, old school eighties heavy metal and thrash metal lived Boston’s Meliah Rage.  Debuting with Kill To Survive on Epic Records, Meliah Rage offered up seven tracks of relatively straightforward “power thrash” that cut right to the bone with juicy riffs and violent lyrics.  Rather than try to dazzle you with technical fireworks and blinding speed, Meliah Rage opted to bludgeon the listener methodically with a heavy sack of doorknobs — leaving ’em black and grinning ear to ear!  The production job on Kill To Survive is excellent for its vintage — emphasizing the thick, biting guitar tones of Anthony Nichols and Jim Koury.  Check out the simple, but devastating riff that kicks off the great Enter The Darkness.  The testosterone-fueled vocals of Mike Munro can’t go without mention.  He slays with evil ferocity!  Highlights include the aforementioned Enter The Darkness, album opener Beginning Of The End, and my personal favorite, the blood-thirsty masterpiece Bates Motel.  My score: A-

3. Overkill – Under The Influence

In my personal opinion, Metallica are the best thrash band of the eighties.  However, Overkill are probably my sentimental favorite.  (Metallica has enough fans, they don’t need me!)  There’s just something about Overkill that gets right to the heart of me.  Overkill were remarkably consistent back in the day — you really can’t go wrong with any of the four LPs they released in the eighties.  Under The Influence wasn’t their best, but it was still a pretty kick-ass record.  Overkill had a fire in their collective belly that was contagious.  Their best weapon was singer Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth.  Blitz was a great vocalist and lyricists — a true BOSS!  He flapped his gums non-stop, delivering drunken wisdom in the form of vicious, cynical rants.  Blitz was the perfect bad-ass front man for a band that climbed out of the gutter to give your ears a savage beat-down.  Faves include End Of The Line, Never Say Never, and Overkill III (Under The Influence).  My score: A-

2. Flotsam And Jetsam – No Place For Disgrace

If you’ve been reading this list from the beginning, and as we close in on my number one pick, you’re probably wondering why the f*ck Testament’s The New Order, Slayer’s South Of Heaven, Megadeth’s So Far, So Good… So What!, and Anthrax’s State Of Euphoria aren’t on the list?  All were released in 1988, and all are well-regarded releases.  Well, truth be told, I don’t think any of those albums are all that great!  I think there were much better thrash albums that came out in ’88.  In the case of Testament, I’ve never been a fan.  As far as Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax go, I feel the albums they released in ’88 were rather disappointing with respect the the albums preceding them.  South Of Heaven, So Far, So Good… So What! and State Of Euphoria sold pretty well, though.  I’ve always lamented the fact that, despite the abundance of quality thrash bands around in the eighties, only a select few actually had decent sales.  In fact, the only thrash bands that can claim platinum albums in the eighties are Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Metallica.  I wish some of that fanfare had been spread out a little more evenly to some other well-deserving acts.  For example, it would have been nice if Flotsam And Jetsam’s No Place For Disgrace had gotten a little more love!

No Place For Disgrace was Flotsam And Jetsam’s sophomore release, following their 1986 debut Doomsday For The Deceiver on Metal Blade Records.  With the help of the buzz generated by their first album, Flotsam And Jetsam signed a major label deal with Elektra Records (home to Metallica at the time).  It certainly seemed the stars were aligning for the band to break big, but it didn’t turn out that way for whatever reason.

If I were asked to describe Flotsam And Jetsam’s sound on No Place For Disgrace, I would say that it is a combination of thrash (of course) with melodic speed metal (think Agent Steel) and the ethereal prog metal of early Fates Warning.  Singer Eric “A.K.” Knutson does a great job on this album.  There are three reasons I love A.K.’s performance.  First, he sings pretty well (consider how hard it must be to sing over these crazy-ass songs).  Second, I can clearly understand the lyrics he’s singing (I can’t stress how much additional enjoyment I get from a song when I can actually understand the lyrics).  And finally, A.K. has a great, ear-piercing scream that sends chills down the spine!  Another note about the lyrics — they are excellent.  The lyrics are simple and to the point, and the subject matter is very interesting,  For example, No Place For Disgrace is about the ritual suicide of hara-kiri, and I Live You Die is about gladiators fighting to the death in the arena.

The are some serious thrashterpieces on this album!  No Place For Disgrace is a KILLER song with a really mesmerizing middle section which creates a heightened sense of drama as A.K. describes (in gory detail) the ritual of hara-kiri.  Hard On You and I Live You Die are also unbelievable tunes.  I even love Flots’ cover of Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting.

In my humble opinion, No Place For Disgrace deserves to be considered one of the classic albums of eighties thrash!  If you don’t have this record, stop reading this, get off your ass, and go get it!  NOW!  My score: A

1. Metallica  – … And Justice For All

Alright, so we’ve arrived at my number one favorite thrash album of 1988.  Not a big surprise here… it’s Metallica!  The scowling foursome delivered a sixty-five minute slab of granite that damn near cracked the earth when it crash landed in the summer of 1988.  … And Justice For All was a double LP that was bloated, overly sterile, and famously lacking the bass guitar in the mix.  However it is nevertheless an essential heavy metal release that no self-respecting collection can go without!  The flaws of … And Justice For All are merely a spec when compared to the sheer enormity of the tracks within.  Blackened, … And Justice For All, and Eye Of The Beholder kick off the album in stunning fashion — Metallica packing in more riffs per song than ever before, proving a point that they could be both complex and accessible at the same time.  The classic One follows.  This would be the band’s first video single (and what a disturbing video it was).  Four albums into their career, Metallica had finally stepped foot into the MTV mainstream.  Metallica were no longer heavy metal’s best kept secret.  With One, Metallica were unleashed upon the rest of the world (much to the dismay of their hardcore fans who wanted to keep the band to themselves).  Thus … And Justice For All became the final chapter of Metallica’s thrash years.  Their weightiest effort yet, it was as if Metallica intended … And Justice For All to be the “be all end all” thrash album of the eighties — one last exclamation point on the first phase of their legacy.  Metallica were ready to shed their skin, re-invent themselves, and become the biggest band on the planet.  They did just that with their next album, 1991’s Metallica.  My score: A+

D’Molls – “D’Molls” (1988)

D'MollsD’Molls were an androgynous and emaciated quartet of glam-boys that came to Hollywood from Illinois to score a record deal.  Atlantic signed the band and their debut D’Molls came out in 1988 (and subsequently flopped pretty hard).  The formula was a simple style of bubble-gum glam rock that sounded thinner than a hobo’s wallet.  D’Molls sassy but minimalist approach made fellow glamsters Poison sound like Led Zeppelin in comparison — but it still kind of worked for them.  D’Molls ace in the hole was their charismatic singer Desi Rexx, who had a good voice and a cheeky ‘tude.  The band’s lead video single was the skeletal 777.  Unfortunately, this track comes off like a bad re-do of Billy Squier’s The Stroke.  I think 777 was a poor choice for a lead single.  The best song on D’Molls is most definitely Hi ‘N’ Lo.  D’Molls may not have made much of an impact, but it’s hard to hate on their good time party rock.  My score: B-

D’Molls – “Warped” (1990)

D'Molls - WarpedNo-hit wonders D’Molls returned in 1990 with their second album Warped (Atlantic Records).  They toned down their “sexually fluid” looks for this second kick at the can.  Fellow glam bands Poison and Cinderella did the same thing in 1990.  (Times, they were-a-changin’.)  D’Molls did, however, maintain their signature glam sound — though Warped didn’t come out nearly as thread-bare as their ’88 debut D’Molls.  The beefed-up sonics were achieved by simply ratcheting up the guitar and bass in the mix this time ’round.  Despite the cheesy name and the cheesy looks, D’Molls’ music found a way to side-step cheesiness (much like Enuff Z’nuff).  I dunno folks, there’s something about these guys I kind of like.  Maybe it’s their total commitment to the craft of glitter rock.  Singer Desi Rexx is a trip — rolling his r’s all they way up and down the Sunset Strip as he struts his way into your heart.  Album closer Father Time lays it on pretty thick as far as power ballads go, but I’ll be damned if I’m not a sucker for the schmaltz.  Other faves include Down T’ Nothin’ and The Answer.  My score: B

Top Ten Thrash Metal Albums of 1989

Here are my favorite thrash albums of 1989.  To make this list, I first considered the albums released in 1989 that qualify as thrash (or semi-thrash), and then chose my personal favorites.  It’s that simple!  I didn’t rank them by the thrash-iest, or the fastest, or the most “brutal”.  I ranked them by how much I enjoy listening to them.  There are a few notable omissions on this list — omissions I’m sure will generate some sneers.  But just remember this list is based on only one fan’s subjective taste!

10. Bezerker – Lost

Lost was the only album by Australia’s Bezerker.  It was independently released by Extremely Fine Records.  This was probably a private pressing financed by the band themselves — or maybe their parents?  Who knows, but it’s rare as f*ck!  (Here’s the back cover of the original LP.)

I’m really kind of surprised this album doesn’t get even a little recognition.  I mean, over at Encyclopaedia Metallum there are loads of glowing reviews for terrible thrash albums all over the place, yet Lost (which is actually half-way decent) only has one solitary review.  The most distinguishing feature on Lost, for me, would be the clean vocals of Pat Cummins.  Though the songs on Lost are very spastic, Cummins tries his damnedest to “sing” over the top of them with some semblance of melody.  At the very minimum, he manages to makes things interesting.  While some tracks on Lost (particularly towards the end of the album) don’t really coalesce into anything all that memorable, there are a few really good tracks to cherry pick.  The tracks Take All and Halloween are two particularly nasty cuts.  My personal favorite, however, is a song called I Lost.  This thrashterpiece is frantic and schizoid (in a good way) — with a really memorable chorus that comes out of nowhere.

Bezerker’s Lost was re-mastered and re-issued on CD in 2013 with a new cover. My score: B

9. Paradox – Heresy

When folks think of German thrash from the eighties they often think of merciless aggro bands devoid of melody — bands like Kreator, Destruction, and Sodom.  But there were more tuneful brands of thrash co-existing with the savage bands in Germany.  Paradox was one such act.  These lesser-known Germans actually spiced things up with a pinch of melody and a shade of nuance.  Heresy was Paradox’s second album.  It’s a concept album about a religious sect that practiced Catharism in France during the 11th, 12th, and 13th century.  They were slaughtered by the Catholics during the Albigensian Crusade in a massive pyre.  Quite the history lesson indeed!  The subject matter obviously fueled Paradox’s creativity on this album.  The band delivered heavy thrash mixed with the blurry speed (and melody) of early Helloween and Angel Dust.

Heresy begins with its title track — a number with an epic feel and the clear highlight of the album.  What follows is a relentless barrage of speed metal/thrash.  Truth be told, the mix is a little too in-your-face for my liking.  The drums and guitars are very loud.  The rapid fire of the snare drum can seem like a hammer pounding on the skull after a few songs.  The vocals are a bit back in the mix.  It’s unfortunate because the singing is quite good (kind of reminds me of Anthrax, if you can believe it).  Though Heresy is very intense, the band doesn’t forget to sprinkle in a few softer passages and melodic hooks.  The last third of the album leaves the listener on good footing — Serenity and 700 Years On are fine slabs of Teutonic steel.  The album closes with a classical instrumental piece called Castle In The Wind.  My score: B

8. Metal Church – Blessing In Disguise

Metal ChurchAfter two very good albums that didn’t give them the breakthrough success they probably deserved, Metal Church started a new chapter with Blessing In Disguise (Elektra Records).  Mike Howe replaced David Wayne as Metal Church’s vocalist.  Howe had previously recorded the solid Breaking Point album with Heretic.

I am a big fan of what Metal Church is all about — a very heavy brand of “traditional” American heavy metal mixed with a healthy dose of thrash.  I cannot say that Blessing In Disguise is better than either Metal Church (1984) or The Dark (1986), but it is book-ended by two absolutely incredible songs in Fake Healer and The Powers That Be.  While I am a bit disappointed by the remainder of the album (some of the songs are too long and the hooks don’t grab me) one should never underestimate Metal Church’s ability to uncork a classic metal song.  Fake Healer and The Powers That Be are both amazing tunes!  Check out those killer riffs, great hooks, and vicious vocals!  My score: B

7. Toxik – Think This

Though overlooked at the time of its release, Think This by New York’s Toxik is now recognized as somewhat of a cult fave.  Think This was the second (and final) Toxik album.  Comprised of technical thrash that crossed over into power metal territory, Think This showed Toxik’s ability to combine decent hooks with impressive chops.  The production job on Think This is very clean and modern, befitting the band’s surgical precision and smooth delivery.  The vocal performance of Charles Sabin is packed with tons of high notes, which he performs with bulletproof ease.  Fortresses of steel are erected on standout cuts like Think This, Greed, and Spontaneous.  The ballad-like There Stood The Fence provides a (courageous) change of pace to the sequence.  Another fave is Toxik’s killer rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Out On The Tiles — maybe my favorite Zep cover EVER!  (Note: The original vinyl omitted both Out On The Tiles and Technical Arrogance, but the original tape and CD included them both.)

Overall, I think Toxik fancied themselves as a sort of thinking man’s thrash band — much the same way Queensrÿche did with the traditional metal genre.  But Toxik were wise not to alienate the average listener (like me) by going overboard with the technical stuff.  Think This is thinking man’s metal that doesn’t out-think itself!  My score: B+

6. Onslaught – In Search Of Sanity

Let’s check in on the career of one of metal’s greatest singers, Steve Grimmett.  After the demise of his band Grim Reaper, Steve took his amazing voice and word-class mullet over to another British band, Onslaught.  The union lasted for just one album, but what a fine piece of hardware it was!  With the addition of the corpulent one to their lineup, Onslaught made a sonic shift from a butt-ugly, Venom-inspired brand of thrash to a melodic thrash style (in the vein of Metallica, Anthrax, or Testament).  Indeed, the thrash world had never had a voice of Steve’s caliber in its ranks, and the juxtaposition of Grimmett’s traditional metal voice with Onslaught’s newer, crisper brand of thrash was certainly something to behold.  This new dynamic can be best heard on the brilliant title track, where Grimmett’s soaring vocals lift the chorus to majestic heights.  My score: B+

5. Wrathchild America – Climbin’ The Walls

Wrathchild America was a talented Maryland band that had been around for quite a while (known only as Wrathchild) before this debut.  Climbin’ The Walls is a very good album.  At times, downright kick-ass!  The first half of the album is fine and dandy.  Not mind-blowing, but some good stuff.  Vocalist (and bassist) Brad Divens conveyed a kind of smug, snot-nosed vibe.  The lyrics, on the surface, were quite cliché (devils, boning, vampires, insanity… the usual suspects), but I think it was all meant to be a little sarcastic.  More of a satire on heavy metal norms than anything else.  However, most reviews I’ve read for Climbin’ The Walls seem to take the lyrics at face value, which, in my opinion, misses the point.  The drumming on Climbin’ The Walls was performed by Shannon Larkin, who had been with the band since its inception in the late seventies.  Great drumming by Larkin.  He later joined Ugly Kid Joe (a cool band with a similarly sarcastic edge), and then Godsmack (huh?).  Check out this old clip I found on YouTube documenting Wrathchild (America) before they were signed.  Pretty cool.

The second half of this album really kicks it into high gear!  Silent Darkness (Smothered Life) houses the album’s most infectious main riff.  Damn I love this song!  Time is a Pink Floyd cover that stays true to the original.  I’m not a real fan of covers, but this one is in such stark contrast to the rest of the album that it makes for an interesting sojourn.  The finale of Climbin’ The Walls is a real gem of a tune called Day Of The Thunder.  This one has a very strong chorus and a great vocal.  It is absolutely my favorite track on the album!  My score: B+

4. Whiplash – Insult To Injury

Insult To Injury was the third release by Whiplash.  It was their first as a four-piece — with Glenn Hansen coming on board to relieve Tony Portaro of vocal duties (Portaro had previously handled both guitar and vocals).  Switching from the harsh barking of Portaro to the clean singing of Hansen was a HUGE upgrade for Whiplash.  This new addition added a much-needed melodic element to Whiplash’s mayhemic mosh madness.  All the while Whiplash continued to thrash away at high velocity, showing a tremendous amount of technical prowess in the process.  Insult To Injury is one of those albums that you can just push play and never have to skip a single tune.  My score: A-

3. Annihilator – Alice In Hell

Led by Canadian guitarist Jeff Waters, Annihilator arrived on the scene just as the thrash genre was reaching its short-lived crest as a commercially viable product.   Annihilator’s debut Alice In Hell appeared on Roadrunner Records in 1989.  They were the last of what I consider to be the “classic” thrash bands to arrive during the Golden Age.

Jeff Waters made a great case for himself as one of the best thrash guitarists alive with his amazing work on Alice In Hell.  He was a riff master with an almost O.C.D. level of precision to his playing.  Water’s choice for a vocalist was the wonderfully psychotic (and possibly drunk) Randy Rampage.  A great choice (IMO) because Randy’s rabid, off-the-chain vocals were a great counterpoint to Water’s highly disciplined, clinical guitar style.  Tremendous cuts include the maniacal Alison Hell and the phenomenal Word Salad.  My personal favorite track (and one of my ten favorite thrash tunes EVER) is the album’s crushing finale Human Insecticide!  Waters’ riffage is just insane here, as is the bass playing (also by Waters I believe), and ol’ Randy Rampage sounds ridiculously deranged on this face-melting thrashterpiece!  (Check it out here!)  If you don’t like Human Insecticide — you suck!  My score: A-

2. Reverend – Reverend

After two excellent albums with power thrash pioneers Metal Church, vocalist David Wayne split from the band (reportedly on very bitter terms).  He was eventually replaced in Metal Church by Mike Howe of the band Heretic.  Out on his ass, “Reverend” Wayne was looking for a new project when, ironically, the guys from Heretic contacted him.  In a weird switcharoo, Wayne joined forces with some of the remaining members of Heretic (three of whom had performed on 1988’s Breaking Point album with Howe).  This included guitarist and principal Heretic songwriter Brian Korban.

The band called themselves Reverend and debuted in 1989 with a four-song, self-titled EP on Caroline Records.  Few have heard this album, which is unfortunate because it kicks serious ass.  The album is heavier than a brick shit-house!  Korban and crew provide crushing riffs and rhythms for Wayne to spew his poisoned-tongued vocals over the top.  Whether you like his voice or not, there is no denying that Wayne was one of a kind on vocals.  No one sounded like him.  Every time he stepped to the microphone its was a psycho circus!  I’m not sure who wrote the album’s lyrics (all writing credits go to Reverend) but I am going to assume it was Wayne.  These lyrics express paranoia, rage, cynicism, and an overall bad f*cking mood!  Very smart lyrics, and Wayne just owns every last syllable.  I’m not sure if this is supposed to be some kind of revenge album, but it damn sure sounds like these guys are out for blood on this seething, jaded mini-masterpiece.  Check out the phenomenal Ritual.  My score: A

1. Overkill – The Years Of Decay

OverkillAlmost every song on The Years Of Decay is the audio equivalent of an extended middle finger right in your ugly f*cking face!  Overkill may not have been the masters of riff writing like Metal Church, Metallica, or Annihilator, but they sure as hell knew how to put their own defiant stamp on their songs.  Instead of awing you with guitar pyrotechnics, Overkill liked to throttle your bones with bass-heavy grooves and percussive guitar playing.  The key, of course, was the ATTITUDE.  Few exuded as much piss and vinegar in their vocals as Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth.  He could run his mouth like a motor, scream with the best of ’em, or even carry a tune (he “sings” pretty well on the title track).  Blitz could do it all.  Overkill really came through with a well-rounded album when they unleashed The Years Of Decay!  Its got fast ones to wreck your neck, slower and sludgier numbers if you want to get stoned, and even a half-ballad/epic if you’re looking for something a little deeper.  Standout cuts include Elimination (a fast one — possibly about AIDS?), I Hate (another fast one, with hilariously venomous lyrics), Who Tends The Fire (an ominous cut with a nice mid-paced groove) and The Years Of Decay (a really cool song about the physical and emotional toll of being on the road — and how it’s all worth it).  Essential!  My score: A

Poison – “Flesh & Blood” (1990)

PoisonYou’re probably thinking I’m going to tell you how much Poison sucks.  Sorry, but I can’t do such a thing.  You see, I like Poison.  They were shamelessly glam without trying to disguise themselves under any other pretense.  You don’t have to respect Poison, but you can certainly enjoy their tunes.  What I’m saying is — love ’em or hate ’em, you’ve gotta love ’em.

Poison’s third album was arguably their best yet.  They were older, richer, and in the case of Bret Michaels, balder.  By this point in their career Poison had softened the girlish looks they flaunted at the time of their debut (when they looked like almost bang-able chicks on the cover of their first album).  Anywayz, in a thematic sense Flesh & Blood takes stock of the previous few years of Poison’s ascent to the top.  They experienced, as Everlast would say, “the good side of bad and the down side of up and everything between”.  This album explores the bright and the dark side of Poison’s status as toast of the town in Hollywood.

Had Poison matured with Flesh & Blood?  They probably thought so, but the change was not significant.  Poison knew where their bread was buttered.  Glam rock was their game, and they wisely didn’t stray too far from a working formula.  The key here, I think, is the sticky sweet backing vocals.  Credit producer Bruce Fairbairn (and Poison themselves) with crafting perfect pop backing vocals that really bring out the “glam” in these preening poof pieces.  The quintessential bubble gum glam single on this album is Unskinny Bop — a brainless escape that goes down like a candy flavored shooter.  Another fine slice of hair-sprayed pop is the “deep track” Let It Play — one of the few really good Poison songs never released as a single.  I also think that the band’s ode to motorcycle culture Ride The Wind is one of their best songs.  If balladry is your guilty pleasure, Poison has two good ones on tap — Life Goes On and the smash hit Something To Believe In.  The latter is a great tune (IMO) with some heartfelt lyrics from Bret.  It tugs on the heart strings enough to almost bring a tear to my eye.  ALMOST.  My score: A

Wild Dogs – “Reign Of Terror” (1987)

Wild DogsThe leather-clad mongrels of Wild Dogs released their third album in 1987, and first with new singer Michael Furlong.  Wild Dogs’ first two albums came out on Shrapnel Records, but they leveled-up a rung to Enigma Records (home to Poison and Stryper) for Reign Of Terror.

Reign Of Terror is a heavy album featuring jack-hammer riffing and machine gun drumming.  Furlong is the band’s weakest link as he sounds a bit wheezy on the microphone.  This might explain why he was buried in the mix.  A more charismatic singer may have helped bring these songs to life.  The best tracks are the first three — Metal Fuel (In The Blood), Man Against Machine, and my personal favorite Call Of The Dark.  Overall the Reign Of Terror album is a bit mallet-headed and singular in its over-the-top metal approach.  It’s also unintentionally Spinal Tap-y at times (there’s a song called Siberian Vacation), but Wild Dogs still got their point across with fist held high.

Side note: Wild Dogs’ drummer was none other than Deen Castronovo — one of rock’s all-time journeyman drummers.  During the eighties he was the go-to guy for a bunch of Shrapnel Records projects like Dr. Mastermind, Cacophony, and Marty Friedman.  And a true journeyman’s journey wouldn’t be complete without a stint in the actual band Journey!  Yes, Deen was with Journey for about fifteen years in the 2000’s until trouble with the law got him fired.  My score: B-