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Outside of Germany's Big Three — Kreator, Sodom and Destruction — Europe isn't generally known for its Eighties thrash output. And while it's true that the genre didn't proliferate across the Continent quite like it did in the U.S., many young European headbangers took up the thrash torch to thrilling effect.
West Germany was the hotbed for much of this activity, but it certainly wasn't confined to that militarily divided territory. From Scandinavia and Switzerland to Belgium and Holland, thrash made a permanent mark all across Europe. Here are some of the underappreciated warriors of that bygone era.
Danish thrash bands are few and far between, but Artillery sit atop the small heap. Taking their name from the Tank song "Heavy Artillery," the band formed in '82 and dropped their vicious full-length debut, Fear of Tomorrow, three years later. They followed that with two more scorchers — 1987's Terror Squad and 1990's By Inheritance — before disbanding in 1993. Bathory mastermind Quorthon was so impressed that he tried to poach original Artillery drummer Carsten Nielsen. As legend has it, Nielsen reckoned Artillery would be "ten times bigger" than Bathory and turned him down. After breaking up and reforming a few times, Artillery remain active today under the stewardship of guitarist Michael Stützer.
Kreator, Sodom and Destruction might be the biggest names in German thrash, but Holy Moses predated them all. They're also notable for being one of the few Eighties thrash bands with a female vocalist. Founded by three high-school friends in 1980, Holy Moses released their first demo, Black Metal Masters, the same year. But it was 1983 that saw the band fully formed with gravel-throated vocalist Sabina Classen (née Hirtz) at the helm alongside her then-husband, guitarist Andy Classen. The band released their full-length debut, Queen of Siam, in '86 and had a respectable run to the mid-90s before breaking up. They reformed in 2000 with Sabina Classen as the only constant member.
You don't hear much about Belgian thrash, but when you do, Cyclone will probably be the first band mentioned. Formed just outside of Brussels in the Flemish Brabant province, Cyclone forged a distinctly American sound influenced by the likes of Anthrax and Exodus. They released their debut, Brutal Destruction, in 1986, and opened for Anthrax, Overkill and Agent Steel that same year. In 1990, they dropped the brashly titled and more tech-oriented Inferior to None, which has been hailed as the greatest Belgian thrash record of all time. Cyclone even briefly featured a young, pre–Fear Factory Christian Olde Wolbers on second guitar before splitting up in 1993.
Holland's progressive death-metal masters Pestilence aren't forgotten by any stretch of the imagination, but few remember that they started out as a thrash band. You can hear the influence of Metallica, Slayer and Exodus all over the band's 1988 debut, Malleus Maleficarum. A year later, Pestilence had pretty much become a death-metal band, cementing their new status with 1989's Consuming Impulse. Before the release of their next album, vocalist Martin Van Drunen would split to join death-doom squad Asphyx, and Pestilence guitarist Patrick Mameli would take over on the mic. He still fronts the band today, but their latest output is a far cry from their thrash roots.
There are deeply embedded factions of metal nerdom who might argue that Iron Angel is a speed-metal band as opposed to a thrash-metal band — even though those terms were interchangeable at one point — due to the high-pitched vocals of lead shrieker Dirk Schröder. But one listen to the Hamburg band's ripping 1985 debut, Hellish Crossfire, will make the distinction moot for most. And while the big three of German thrash veered close to death metal at times, Iron Angel largely avoided that tendency. Sadly, original guitarists Peter "Piet" Wittke and Sven Strüven passed away in 2000 and 2008, respectively, but Schröder is still leading Iron Angel's charge.
You might be forgiven for thinking that Swiss metal begins and ends with Celtic Frost (and, uh, Krokus), but Tom Warrior and company had a handful of contemporaries back in the Eighties. Hailing from the tiny village of Baar, Messiah followed in the hallowed death/thrash footsteps of the Frost, releasing their debut Hymns to Abramelin in '86 and following it up with the ice-encrusted Extreme Cold Weather the following year. On the latter, Messiah managed to combine beer-swilling party thrash with anti-religious fervor by putting a song called "Enjoy Yourself" alongside "Johannes Paul der Letzte (Dedicated in Hate to Pope John Paul II)." They've broken up and reformed several times over the years, and are currently led by original guitarist R.B. "Brögi" Broggi.
These Scandinavian thrashers may be from Norway, but their initial inspiration was clearly Germanic. Taking their name from an early Sodom track and entitling their 1989 debut Auf Wiedersehen, Equinox were all about the vaterland. Though they were a little late to the thrash game, they released three more solid records in the early Nineties, when most of the lesser thrash bands (and even some of the big ones) had passed their expiration date. They appear to be semi-active again — with mostly original members — as of 2017, though they haven't released anything since '94.