Top Ten Thrash Metal Albums of 1987

Here are my favorite thrash albums of 1987…

10. Metallica – The $5.98 EP – Garage Days Re-Revisited

As you can tell by the not-so-serious cover, Metallica were just having a little fun with this EP of cover songs.  Diamond Head, Holocaust, Killing Joke, Budgie and Misfits were all given the Metallica treatment.

A crushing version of Diamond Head’s Helpless opens the record, and it is far better than the original.  This would be Metallica’s second time recording a cover of the forgotten NWOBHMers.  They covered Diamond Head’s best song Am I Evil? for the original “Garage Days Revisited” on the B-side to their Creeping Death single/EP (more info on that record is here).  The inclusion of Misfit’s Last Caress is another highlight.  This song is hilarious for its alarmingly crass lyrics. “I’ve got something to say, I killed your baby today!”  You get the idea.

The 5.98 EP – Garage Days Re-Revisited introduced Metallica fans to new bassist Jason Newsted and also gave them some homework to do — get out and find the original records from the influential bands covered.  These were bands that many Metallica fans had little to any knowledge of at the time.  Diamond Head and Misfits seemed to get the biggest “bump” from the free publicity offered by Metallica.  Note: The CD version was titled The 9.98 EP – Garage Days Re-Revisited.  My score: B

9. Testament – The Legacy

I own Testament’s first four albums, and except for The Legacy, I’m pretty much indifferent to them all.  The Legacy is the exception!  The album boasts almost all of my favorite Testament songs from their early days.  To my ears, The Legacy has more much energy than the albums that followed.  It’s got better ideas and stronger hooks.  The guitar duo of Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson used their fast pick hands to carve out potent thrash riffs while Chuck Billy provided his constipated, humorless vocals on top.  With this well-received debut, Testament established themselves as arguably the most popular “second wave” thrash band of the decade.  My score: B

8. Artillery – Terror Squad

Highlighted by its bone-crushing title track, Artillery’s Terror Squad hits harder than a sledgehammer to the nut sack!

Terror Squad was Artillery’s second LP.  Besides housing the incredible title track, this record pours on the heat with plenty of churning, grinding and chopped up riffs n’ rhythms.  Singer Flemming Ronsdorf screams and hollers above the thrash madness like a rabid animal.  Artillery didn’t rely on speed as much as many of their Euro-thrash compatriots.  Instead, they used a mid-paced crunch that allowed their thick riffage and heavy bottom end to penetrate the skull.  The hostilities commence with the hard-hitting In The Trash.  Eight more cuts follow — each a grenade lobbed right into your defenseless lap.  Artillery close the show with Decapitations Of Deviants, a song which contains the great lyric: “when shit turns to gold, the poor will be born without ass!”  Eat your heart out Bill Shakespeare!  My score: B

7. Laaz Rockit – Know Your Enemy

Laaz RockitAfter releasing two lightly regarded albums for the Target Records label, Laaz Rockit moved over to Enigma Records for their third outing, Know Your Enemy.  Here, Laaz Rockit joined ranks with their Bay Area neighbors among the thrash contingent. Even though almost every song on Know Your Enemy is about the world going to hell in a hand basket, the album manages to be a fun one.  The songs breathe, the singer is decent, and the hooks are fairly catchy.  In many ways, Laaz Rockit remind me of East Coast bands like Anthrax and Nuclear Assault more than Bay Area bands like Metallica and Testament.  It’s good to have a little light to shine through the often smothering thrash abyss. Last Breath, Most Dangerous Game, and Self Destruct are my favorites.  My score: B

6. Death Angel – The Ultra-Violence

Through metal history’s lens, Death Angel sit perched somewhere near the top of thrash’s second generation.  They were not innovators like the first generation, but they made their mark with this energetic thrash album that arrived smack in the middle of the genre’s salad days.

Though Death Angel would expand their musical style in subsequent releases (for better or worse), their debut The Ultra-Violence (released by Enigma Records) is straightforward, pure thrash.  It’s hard, fast, and loose.  Likely due to a lack of money and time, the final product is raw and imperfect.  It sounds as if the boys (just teens at the time) just plugged in and let it rip.  That’s a dangerous game to play — the end product could have ended up a sloppy mess.  But Death Angel had all the intangibles in place, and The Ultra-Violence captures a perfect moment where unhinged enthusiasm and burgeoning talent collide.  The opening track, the aptly titled Thrashers would not seem out of place on Exodus’ Bonded By Blood.  Three more good tracks follow — Evil Priest, Voracious Souls, and Kill As One.  Each will light you up like Christmas!  Onto side two, things gets bogged down by an excessively long instrumental and a few songs that don’t really come together all that well.  Death Angel had plenty of riffs to go around but weren’t really mature song writers (can’t really blame them, they were so young).  When all is said and done it is the high-voltage performances and the band’s sincere commitment to thrash that make The Ultra-Violence as well-regarded as it is.  My score: B

5. Tankard – Chemical Invasion

TankardI like my booze.  But it’s not like it’s my religion or anything.  Tankard on the other hand?  They were committed to the booze 100%.  Nobody could extol the virtues of alcoholism quite like ol’ Tankard.  They pay homage to their favorite elixir with high-speed, spastic songs that flare up like hemorrhoids.  But unlike many thrash tunes which are no more than a patchwork of different riffs, Tankard managed to craft actual songs with good transitions, proper continuity and a sense of resolution.  The frenzy is brought to the brink of collapse by the berserk vocals of “Gerre”.   Drunken wisdom indeed!  When he’s not railing on about alcohol (and cocaine, can’t forget cocaine) Gerre attacks other important issues such as metal posers in Traitor (the best song on the album) and no-good, dirty whores in Farewell To A Slut.  My score: B

4. Heathen – Breaking The Silence

Another Bay Area thrash debut to add to this list.  Though Heathen weren’t the best known band from the region, they were responsible for one of the best albums from the scene.  Breaking The Silence was Heathen’s ’87 debut (Combat Records).  Crisp playing, quality production, and memorable hooks were delivered with both power and finesse by this talented five-piece.

Breaking The Silence opens with its best three tracks right in a row — Death By Hanging , Goblins Blade, and Open The Grave.  Side two takes a slight downturn in quality, though the cover of Set Me Free (by Sweet) is another standout track.

Unfortunately, Heathen failed to deliver a timely follow-up to this solid debut.  Their inability to maintain a stable line-up as well as money woes kept them in purgatory until 1991, when their belated sophomore effort finally arrived.  Those were some prime thrash years that Heathen missed out on.  Perhaps Heathen would have built a bigger legacy if they had been able to hold it together and release more material.  My score: B+

3. Overkill – Taking Over

With the momentum of a wrecking ball in full swing, Overkill annihilated posers with their second LP Taking Over.  Overkill were a remarkably consistent band.  They could always be counted on to shove quality metal up your ass sideways.  Taking Over ain’t no different.  I consider two cuts on Taking Over to be excellent — Deny The Cross and Wrecking Crew.  Both hit like a freight train as they impact your pathetic skull.  Overkill always had a way of injecting their music with plenty of snot-nosed, punkish ‘tude.  They commanded respect!  It’s criminal that Overkill didn’t achieve the commercial success that they deserved.  My score: B+

 2. Accu§er – The Conviction

The Conviction (Atom H Records) was the debut album from the German band Accu§er.  Though not a very well-known act, Accu§er have been around for quite some time — having released nine more full-length albums and a couple of EPs since this debut offering.

I am really surprised I like this album.  The Conviction possesses three traits that usually turn me off from a thrash album — harsh vocals, minimal melody, and a few really long songs.  But for me, The Conviction is the exception to the rule.  What makes this so, in my opinion, is the preponderance of sharp, biting riffs executed to perfection at (mostly) high speeds by Frank Thoms.  The dry mix also helps matters.  The fidelity is such that you can pick out each instrument and zero in on what each player is doing.  The vocals of Eberhard Weyel are grim but clear.  You can understand the lyrics even though he discharges his vocals through curt, ornery barks.  Though not very melodic, Weyel does each song justice through good timing and subtle inflections.  At the end of the day, The Conviction will leave you with bloodshot eyes, a sore neck, and a kicked ass!  My score: B+

1. Anthrax – Among The Living

For my money, Among The Living is the best Anthrax album of ’em all!  Coming off the successful Spreading The Disease LP of 1985, Anthrax cemented their status as heavyweights in the world of thrash with this 1987 classic.  Anthrax were easy to like (IMO) because they were not afraid to show their sense of humor or reveal their inner-geek.  Lyrics on Among The Living take their themes from comics (I Am The Law), as well as Stephen King fiction (Among The Living and A Skeleton In The Closet).  Other interesting topics include the drug-fueled downward spiral of John Belushi’s last days, and the plight of the Native Americans (a matter also tackled by Iron Maiden, Europe, and others).  Anthrax’s lyrical subject matter wasn’t the only thing that made them stand out.  They also had one of the only legit “singers” in thrash at the time (Joey Belladonna), as well as one of the best drummers in the biz (Charlie Benante).  All of it was held together by guitarist and brain-trust, Scott Ian.  Favorites include Among The Living, Caught In A Mosh, and Indians.  My score: A+ 

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