10 Greatest Thrash Power Ballads of All Time | Revolver

10 Greatest Thrash Power Ballads of All Time

Even speed demons have a soft side
metallica 1985 james hetfield GETTY LIVE, Paul Natkin/Getty Images
Metallica' James Hetfield, 1985
photograph by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Heshers have feelings, too. Although power ballads are traditionally the realm of flashy Eighties glam-metal acts, poseur-adverse thrash bands have also forged them.

By definition, a power ballad is a slower, mellower, dramatic song that begins quietly, often with acoustic guitar or piano. The composition eventually builds up to a full-on electrical storm. The lyrics are typically "deep," personal and/or amorous. A windblown guitar solo (or three) is often involved.

Quintessential examples from Eighties hard-rock bands include Night Ranger's "Sister Christian," Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" and Cinderella's "Don't Know What You Got ('Til It's Gone)." But for songs that truly put the "power" in power ballad, we turn to the thrashers of that era and beyond — here are 10 of the best.

Anthrax - "Armed and Dangerous"

The band behind "Caught in a Mosh" aren't known for power ballads, but they did introduce then-new vocalist Joey Belladonna with one. The title track off the thrash OGs' 1985 EP — the singer's first recording with the group — opens with a prog-folk guitar intro before Belladonna comes in with some operatic, Steve Perry-worthy belting. When it's time to go heavier, the grooves are jagged; the vocalist, singing lyrics written by previous Anthrax throat Neil Turbin, starts leaping octaves. The band goes into a Sabbath-y war march, which builds to one last vein-bursting yelp and metallic flurry. Nearly topping six minutes, it's a breathtaking ride.

Artillery - "Don't Believe"

The first 48 seconds of "Don't Believe" could pass as a glam-metal power ballad, but when Artillery singer Flemming Rønsdorf shifts from balladry to napalm shriek, this rose shows its thorns. The Danish band made "Don't Believe," off their 1990 LP, By Inheritance, with producer Flemming Rasmussen. Having done Metallica's Ride the Lightning and …And Justice for All, Rasmussen knows his way around a thrash ballad. "Don't Believe" changes color and shape a few times. There are some brilliant interludes. You don't know what's coming next. High compliment for power ballads, which so often stick to boilerplate arrangements.

Death Angel - "Room With a View"

No, this isn't Aerosmith's "Angel." It's Bay Area speedsters Death Angel. With Diary of a Madman producer Max Norman twiddling the knobs, and guitar player Rob Cavestany taking lead vocals duties, Death Angel created Act III's "Room With a View." The intertwining moody vocals and bluesy strum would fit nicely on an Alice in Chains acoustic cut. Indeed, it takes two-and-a-half minutes to get to the amps and thud. There's a cool false ending to set up a volume-swell guitar solo that sounds like it's playing backwards. But really, "Room With A View" is charmingly more ballad than power — which, when it comes to thrash power ballads, can be a power unto itself.

Flotsam and Jetsam - "Escape From Within"

After losing their bassist, Jason Newsted, to Metallica, Flotsam and Jetsam weren't done by any means. The band responded with 1988's No Place for Disgrace, an album that was sonically shinier than brutal 1986 debut Doomsday for the Deceiver, while still retaining the band's ferocity. In addition to the savage title track and a surprising cover of Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright," No Place for Disgrace boasts an art-house power ballad. "Escape from Within" opens with emergency-siren sound effects. From there, it goes through geometric guitars, dramatic vocals, corrosive crash and a guitar solo that's lost its mind. A race to crescendo, then the sound of an EKG flatline. Yes, it's a killer track.

Megadeth - "A Tout le Monde"

Even Dave Mustaine has a soft side. Enter "A Tout le Monde." Like many entries on this list, the 1994 track opens with haunting guitar arpeggios. On the mic, Megadeth's ringleader tones his snarling down to melodic meditation. Things intensify to a streamlined chug. The lyrics to the chorus — sung in French — translate to "To all the world, to all my friends, I love you, I have to leave." There's a guitar solo hummable enough that it almost qualifies as another chorus. The video was banned because MTV thought "A Tout le Monde" was a "suicide song." But Mustaine has said, "'A Tout Le Monde' is based on a dream I had, where my mother came back from heaven to say, 'I love you.' It's about me talking to her again."

Metal Church - "Watch the Children Pray"

Slide-guitar and power ballads go way back. All the way back to Skynyrd's Seventies Southern-rock monolith "Free Bird." But slide-guitar and Eighties thrash? Not so much. Which makes Metal Church guitarist Craig Wells' use of that bluesy technique on the "Watch the Children Play" intro so clever. Wells doesn't use his slide for Bic-lighter-aloft soloing. Instead, he helps set the atmosphere. And "Watch the Children Play," released on 1986's The Dark, drips with horror-soundtrack atmosphere. For much of the song, singer David Wayne parks his demonic yelp in lieu of Don Dokken-style leather crooning. But mid-song, the fangs come out, amid the band's spider-web chug.

Metallica - "Fade to Black"

If some asshole didn't steal James Hetfield's favorite amp, we might not have "Fade to Black." After a January 1984 Metallica show in Boston amid a blizzard, brazen thieves stole the band's entire rental truck, which contained much of their gear, including Hetfield's beloved Marshall amplifier. A total bummer, but one the band managed to channel into a beautiful tune, namely, "Fade to Black," Metallica's first-ever ballad. Even with its hopeless, death-pondering lyrics, the song was a then-unthinkable pivot after ferocious 1983 debut LP, Kill 'Em All. By the end of "Fade to Black" though, the song's launched into sci-fi shred. Of the lyrics, Hetfield later said, "I'm sure I wasn't really thinking of killing myself, but it was my favorite Marshall amp, man!"

Overkill - "The Years of Decay"

Before he produced hit albums for Nineties stars like Soundgarden, Terry Date was behind the board for Overkill's The Years of Decay. The 1989 LP's title track is a spellbinding saga. An extended acoustic opening evokes Dungeon Master vibes. Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth's vocals sound like he's leading listeners into the mouth of that skull altar on the album's fantastic cover art. "The Years of Decay" continues into catacombs of proggy thrash. There's a castle-climbing guitar solo and finally a tribal-drums-madman-vocals outro. Years later, ex-Overkill guitarist Bobby Gustafson said Dimebag Darrell told him the electric guitar tones on Years of Decay were the blueprint for Dime's sound on Pantera's Cowboys From Hell — which Date also produced.

Suicidal Tendencies - "How Will I Laugh Tomorrow"

In 1988, Suicidal Tendencies added rhythm guitarist and contributing songwriter Mike Clark to their fold. He significantly impacted the band's third album, How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can't Even Smile Today, and its title track. Both are now classics. Peering out from beneath his signature bandana, frontman Mike Muir is a vocal shape-shifter, and "How Will I Laugh Tomorrow" requires nothing less. After unspooling fanfare, the music morphs from melodic to thrashy to punky to proggy and back again. It all builds up to shout-along refrains of "When I can't even smile today — today!" Ironic, because it's hard not to smile while listening to shit this good.

Testament - "Return to Serenity"

Working with producer Ben Platt, who also helped record mega-hits like Back in Black and Foreigner's 4, Testament explored wider sounds on their major-label debut, Ritual. The 1992 album's centerpiece: "Return to Serenity." The track opens with time-fracturing guitar figures. Singer Chuck Billy sounds like a future-mystic, and the chorus goes big without getting crunchy. Interestingly, "Return to Serenity" was co-written with Guns N' Roses road manager Del James, famous for penning the short story that inspired GN'R's monumental "November Rain" video. The result isn't quite that epic, but really, what is?