14 Thrash Albums You Need to Own

The American thrash-metal movement brought us the Big 4–Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax–but there are numerous other bands to come out of that scene who are worthy of whip-lashing along to: Exodus, Testament, Overkill, and many more. Here is our sure-to-be controversial list of the 14 most essential classic American thrash albums. Check it out and let us know what you think in the comments.

By Martin Popoff


Exodus, ‘Bonded by Blood’
Metallica got the glory (and Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett!), but this Bay Area institution was actually first to take thrash from punky primitivism to virtuosic technicality, plying its trade for a good three years before Bonded by Blood cemented the band’s status. And 17 years before singer Paul Baloff tragically dies after a stroke. R.I.P.

Possessed, ‘Seven Churches’
Disciples of proto-black metallists Venom and Bathory, San Fransisco’s Possessed grounded their metallic madness in lo-fi production values and blasphemous imagery Pure chaotic speed was key, yet the playing of guitarist Larry Lalonde was experimental and adventurous enough to eventually land him a spot in prog-funksters Primus.

S.O.D., ‘Speak English or Die’
This Anthrax side project ended up as a left-field underground hit (selling over a million copies worldwide by 1999), likely due to its novel fusion of metal and hardcore, with Scott Ian providing the hard-nosed riffs and trouble-maker Billy Milano spoting the provocative lyrics behind 21 ruthlessly short, always amusing songs.

Metallica, ‘Master of Puppets’
1984’s ‘Ride the Lightening’ established Metallica as the thrash act with not only the most personality but also the most skill and ambition. Its follow-up took James, Lars, Kirk, and Cliff’s newly epic palette into cinemascope–and did so with such mastery that the album consistently polls as the greatest metal album of all time, period.

Carnivore, ‘Carnivore’
Pete Steele’s recently restructured pre-Type O Negative band Carnivore crossed bleak doom with hardcore to create a knowingly knuckle-dragging form of thrash. Raw, cynical, almost avant-garde, this album is best remembered, however, for its misanthropic, though wryly humorous lyrics on songs like “God is Dead” and “World War III & IV.”

Slayer, ‘Reign in Blood’
Mastering fast on their third full-length, Slayer were the new snarling face of speed metal, and yet, they were so confrontationaly evil that they could have easily been considered death and black metal, too. Confounding genre tags in 28 minutes of howling fury, ‘Reign in Blood’ proves Slayer to be simply great.

Dark Angel, ‘Darkness Descends’
Before doing time with Death, Testament, and Strapping Young Lad, drummer Gene Hoglan made this album roar, holding together the lesser performances of his bandmates, who just seem to want to out-heavy Slayer. While not achieving that goal, Darkness Descends’ vicious, messy attack does live up to Dark Angel’s motto: “Too fast, my ass.”

Megadeth, ‘Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?’
Major label deal in hand and a chip on his shoulder, ex-Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine channeled personal bitterness and pointed politics though his signature snarl and superior shredding, creating this thrash masterpiece.

Anthrax, ‘Among the Living’
Besides helping to put the word “mosh”into the pop lexicon (“Caught in a Mosh”) and featuring the best metal song about Native Americans since Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” (“Indian”), Among the Living showcased Charlie Benante’s insane speed drumming and Scott Ian and Dan Spitz’s hardcore-inflected guitar work, which together made for a total beat down, NYC-style.

Sacred Reich, ‘Ignorance’
On their debut album, Phoenix, Arizona-based speedsters Sacred Reich tackle political and social injustice, turning singer Phil Rind’s outraged diatribes into perfect slam-dance fodder. The band would go on to become unwitting pioneers of metalcore, particularly influencing the more ‘core acts of that scene, such as Hatebreed.

Testament, ‘The New Order’
The thrash credo of “Into the Pit” dominates Testament’s mosh-ready sophomore disc, with the San Fran quintet positioning themselves as genre purists. The inventive playing of uber-shredder Alex Skolnick, makes the band true proponents of a new order.

Suicidal Tendencies, ‘How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today’
‘How Will I Laugh Tomorrow’ found motor-mouthed Mike Muir and his Suicidals sprucing up their skatecore rants with semi-complicated riffs and solos, and longer song structures. The end result was crossover thrash with a fresh, gritty sound that came from a hardcore headspace.

Nuclear Assault, ‘Survive’
Post-Anthrax and S.O.D., bassist Danny Lilker took his low-end chops into this political East Coast thrash act. The S.O.D. influence is apparent in the occasional silly bits (such as the tongue-in-cheek Led Zeppelin cover), but the most notable is Randy Burns’ wall-of-sound production and the band’s balance of technicality and primal power.

Overkill, ‘The Years of Decay’
On the last album to feature guitarist and songwriter Bobby Gustafson, these New Jersey tech-thrash stalwarts boasted thick, doomy riffs on epics like the 10-minute “Playing with Spiders/Skullkrusher” and a somber earthiness less evident in the band’s West Coast competitors.


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  • Christopher Morales

    It’s always challenging to make a list like this as they are subjective from person to person. While there are albums that I definitely agree with and albums that I felt were left out, I understand and absolutely love what you guys did. By choosing only 1 album per band, you were able to show some love to many other underrated thrash bands that never make other peoples thrash list like Overkill. Thrash metal definitely extends past the Big 4.

  • Steve Tripa

    Most definitely! I also like the lineup, but!!
    You did leave out a few! Agnostic Front should be there, and you can’t forget the great grinding thrash of DRI!!!

  • Jay Cee

    Sepultura – Beneath The Remains is better than most of those albums!

  • George

    No DRI? Please. Dealing With It smokes most of these albums.

    • angrymetalguy

      Dealing with it was a fantastic album, but DRI were still a hardcore punk band at that point. DRI didn’t really become a Thrash band until 4 of a kind. Crossover was just that….Crossover.

      • George

        Please. Dealing with it, and 4 of a kind are both bathed it metal. Just because popular culture hadn’t come up with the word ‘Crossover’ yet does not change the fact that it is 100% thrash. I don’t need made up labels to tell what something is. My ears tell me that. Their fan base may have been more punk than metal at the time, but that does not change what the music was. 100% Thrash Metal.

        • Metal Militiaman

          With those simple punk riffs and shorter song lengths? No, ‘crossover’ is indeed crossover thrash. Don’t know why that is an issue, as S.O.D’s debut is on here, as is a ST album. And their early stuff had almost no metal at all, though they were good albums.

          • angrymetalguy

            Yeah, I don’t consider S.O.D. Thrash. Maybe Crossover thrash, but they were meant to be a NYHC side project of Scott Ian. They had no guitar solos, no complexity, and most of the songs were under 2 minutes. M.O.D. were more of a thrash band than S.O.D. By Suicidal Tendencies third album “how will I laugh…” they were pretty much a metal band. I really only considered their first album “punk”. Join the Army was when Rocky joined the band and his guitar playing basically turned them towards a more a more crossover thrash direction. That and Suicidal Tendencies second album was 5 years after their first album. The addition of Mike Clark as song writer/guitarist on Suicidal Tendencies third album basically turned them into a full fledged thrash band. And I don’t care what anyone says D.R.I. did not start to become a metal until around their third album. Dirty Rotten LP and Dealing with it were straight up Hardcore Punk. That’s why they named their third album “crossover” is because they were acknowledging that they were starting to go in a more metal direction. S.O.D. wrote longer songs, with more complex riffs than any of the songs on Dealing with it! And the term crossover existed before D.R.I. named their third album that. Crossover came out in 1987. In 1985 S.O.D. used the lyrics “Crossover to a final scene” in their song United Forces. Which was basically about Punks and metalheads learning to get along. And anyone who thinks Dealing with it is a Thrash album really has no clue what thrash actually is. Discharge’s Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing has more of a right to be called a thrash album than Dealing with it…..and it’s not. Although Hear Nothing has some great riffs on it. Agnostic Front’s Cause For Alarm(co-written with the late Pete Steele) was more of a thrash album than Dealing with it. End of Story.

        • angrymetalguy

          You have no clue what Thrash metal is than.

  • David Mardakhayev

    I think rust in peace is better but that’s just me.

    • Hunter Neidlinger

      Amen to that brother. I’ve always thought that too.

      • Mauricio Hernández Díaz

        RIP might have better playing, but Peace Sells has stellar songwriting.

    • Jimmy Calhoun

      The musicianship on that record is off the charts. Good call.

  • G.N.

    I think that ’14 American Thrash Albums You Need To Own’ is more appropriate title for this article. Don’t get me wrong, I like this list, but I, personally, think that albums like Coma Of Souls by Kreator,Sodom’s Agent Orange or Beneath The Remains also have place in this list.

    • Refined-Iron Cranium

      I agree. This is an amazing list, but some really iconic non-American thrash was left out. I prefer Schizophrenia from Sepultura though, it’s just so vicious and filled with so many great riffs!
      Morbid Tales would have been a good inclusion too, but that album is too difficult to classify.

    • Elvirian Khannock

      Agreed If you are going to include worldwide Kreator has to be on the list, Pleasure to Kill, Endless Pain, Coma of Souls, Extreme Aggression, etc etc etc …. you name it, almost any of them could make the cut

  • Chris Topher Hill

    There are several albums missing from this list. Violence – Eternal Nightmare. A few Kreator albums, but I’ll pick Extreme Aggression. Death – Leprosy, Testament – The Legacy, S.O.D – Stormtroopers of Death, The list goes on for quite a ways, but essential albums… These are also must haves. This list should be the top 25…

    • http://metalmofos.com/ Metal Mofos

      Top 25 would be much better, I agree.

  • cKHAVIKk

    Yeah, it’s a pretty standard list that would have read WAAAAAAAAAAAYY differently, had I written it. Some other honorable mentions:

    Heathen – Victims of Deception
    Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales
    Whiplash – Power & Pain
    Hirax – Raging Violence
    Exumer – Possessed By Fire
    Tankard – Zombie Attack
    Dirty Rotten Imbeciles – Crossover
    Artillery – Fear of Tomorrow
    Holy Terror – Terror and Submisson

    …and about a hundred others.

    • Mauricio Hernández Díaz

      No Accounting for Taste, man

    • http://metalmofos.com/ Metal Mofos

      Your list is good, but their list is much better. Those are impact albums that influenced metal as a whole. I’ll that one over yours if I had to choose. Good list though.

      • cKHAVIKk

        Mine were just honorable mentions, not meant to replace the original list.

        The list they give is altogether too white bread, though.

  • heavymetalist

    I think Metallica’s Kill Em’ All album should have taken this list over masters. Its just raw and defines thrash metal to the fullest

  • Warbrain

    I think it’s a decent list. I owned 7 of the records back in the day and listened to 4 more a lot at my friends house.

  • Damian Adkins

    to make this simple for anyone interested in any type of extreme metal here are 13 albums you need to know venom-black metal, bathory-under the sign of the black mark, death-leprosy, metallica-kill ’em all, slayer-hell awaits, morbid angel-altars of madness, sepultura-beneath the remains, celtic frost-to mega therion, possessed-seven churches, deicide-once upon the cross, autopsy-severed survival, obituary-slowly we rot, hellhammer-satanic rites

    • Todd

      I would add in CARCASS HEARTWORK but yeah, that covers is :)

    • Jimmy Conway

      You mentioned them. Good Job

  • Mauricio Hernández Díaz

    at least there’s no mention of Pantera

  • Gab

    What about Spectrum of Death by Morbid Saint?

  • Patrick

    Crumbsuckers – Beast On My Back and Uncle Slam – Say Uncle

  • Metal Militiaman

    Morbid Saint – Spectrum of Death.

  • boner

    kill em all – metallica
    persecution mania – sodom
    power from hell – onslaught
    morbid tales – celtic frost
    pleasure to kill – kreator
    war and pain – voivod
    show no mercy – slayer
    eternal devastation – destruction

  • Slammm

    Metalchurch – Metalchurch
    Mercyful Fate- The begining
    Piledriver- Metal Inquisition

  • Jimmy Conway

    I’m surprised nobody mentioned Venom

  • Nathan Noah

    Some essential ones I would add:
    Holy Terror-Mind Wars
    Toxik-World Circus OR Think This
    Death Angel-The Ultra-Violence
    Forbidden-Twisted into Form
    Gammacide-Victims of Science
    Heathen-Breaking the Silence
    Sadus-Swallowed in Black
    Vio-Lence-Eternal Nightmare

  • Daniel Boyadjian

    Beneath the Remains (Sepultura) out of the list????

  • Daniel Boyadjian

    I think the articled is restricted… there are only AMERICAN thrash metal bands.

  • Nikola Šerer

    missing lot of cult thrash/crossover bands: Kreator, D.R.I., Protector, Destruction, Sepultura, Sodom, Onslaught, Tankard… :)

  • Tom Denton

    Wrong Carnivore album. RETALIATION is one of the greatest ever!

  • Michael Watters

    How could you pick Peace Sells over Rust in Peace?

    • Metal Militiaman

      Peace sells is a bit overrated. Rust in Peace is far superior. But the best embodiment of the dark, heavy and punkish simplicity that thrash started as is ‘So Far, So Good… So What!’

  • Luis

    Pleasure To Kill from Kreator, Persecution Mania from Sodom, really?

  • Kramaslabovitch

    Voïvod – War and Pain

  • slowride

    This is a pretty damned good list. I like the inclusion of Overkill’s Years Of Decay, Suicidal Tendencies’ How Will I Laugh Tomorrow? (When I Can’t Even Smile Today), Carnivore, and Nuclear Assault.
    I would add either Pleasure To Kill or Terrible Certainty by Kreator and Beneath The Remains or Arise by Sepultura. I would also put So Far, So Good,…So What over the overrated Peace Sells.
    That’s my two cents. Thanx

  • Elvirian Khannock

    Okay there are some good albums mentioned here, But I have been bashing my brains for almost 50 years now and I can’t believe you guys passed over some of these albums ….
    Amorphis – The Thousand Lakes. If you have never heard this … get it. You will never hear a better death metal album from that era – including Beneath the Remains.
    Mercyful Fate – Melissa. Seriously, not one of you guys mentioned it. If you have never heard it, you haven’t had a full education, as it is the influence for both black metal and a lot of the operatic stuff as well.
    I would have picked Overkill’s Feel the Fire (Just a more Raw sound – though I like all their stuff), Sepultura I would have picked Arise or Chaos A.D. (B.t.R. is good, but isn’t really a reflection of their earlier stuff or their later stuff. And their stuff is so much more technically sound, just my opinion, though.) I would have taken Anthrax’s Fistful of Metal and Slayer’s Show No Mercy – again just personal preference.
    I know this is really about American thrash bands, but none of just listened to American bands exclusively I think, and thankfully Thrash has kinda gotten reprise recently after a hiatus there for awhile.

  • its me

    Znowhite – Act Of God

  • Is it really?

    Wrong Testament album, ‘The Legacy’ is what you want

  • Patrick Duffy

    I think that rust in peace should be put on here instead of peace sells and I also think that sacrifice by motorhead should be on here. Its such an underrated album and its very thrashy.

  • Alex Ferus

    i agree with everything but the testament album other testament albums

  • bob


  • Thrash Metal Enthusiast

    The list is very good; packed with influential albums but I would tweak it by swapping:

    1. Megadeth, ‘Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?’ for ‘Rust in Peace’
    2.Testament, ‘The New Order’ for ‘The Legacy’
    3.Suicidal Tendencies’, ‘How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today’ for Death Angel’s ‘Act III’
    4.Sacred Reich’s ‘Ignorance’ for Armored Saint’s ‘Raising Fear’.
    5. S.O.D.’s , ‘Speak English or Die’ for Forbidden’s ‘Forbidden Evil’.

    With these changes the list represents the U.S. Thrash scene in the early 1980’s to mid 1990’s.