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. 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 blue, 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+