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 blowing you away 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

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