In its early days, no one could have imagined that thrash — metal and punk's bastard child, and a raised middle finger to the L.A. glam scene's pretty-boy popularity — would ever give us some of the biggest rock bands of all time, infiltrating arenas, radio airwaves and mainstream award shows. But sometimes great music does in fact rise to the top, and thrash, at its best, is indeed great music. The genre has many essential albums, but what is its single best offering? We asked you that daunting question, and you hit social media with strong opinions and, honestly, not particularly surprising picks. Below are the top five vote-getters.
If there were to be a Big 5 of thrash metal, instead of just a Big 4, all experts — including one Kerry King — agree, Exodus would round it out. Unfortunately, though their landmark debut Bonded in Blood was recorded in 1984, a wider release was postponed until the following year, which may have held the band back in both reach and renown. Still, to those who know, the group's only studio recording to feature wild-man frontman Paul Baloff, is a genre-defining essential. Exodus guitarist (and Jeff Hanneman's replacement in Slayer) Gary Holt says of the record, "I wouldn't ever say that we invented metal, or even thrash metal, but we certainly played our part. And I would claim that Bonded by Blood is the classic thrash album." At least a few of you agree.
One word to sum up Metallica's 1984 sophomore LP Ride the Lightning is furious. From nose to tail, every song on the record is hellbent on massive riffs and absolutely vicious songwriting. "Fight Fire With Fire" opens the record and ups the ante from Kill 'Em All by throwing everything the band possibly can muster into one song for an insane trip under five minutes. Even on the "softest" number on the record, "Fade to Black," every moment of acoustic bliss is backed up by a heavy blast from hell. The record doesn't waste its time with dramatics, instead opting for a reckless thrill ride that more than lives up to the album's name.
Megadeth's tag line was always "The World's State of the Art Speed Metal Band," and with 1990's Rust in Peace, they backed it up. Opening with the multi-part epic "Holy Wars... The Punishment Due," Rust in Peace is a dizzying prog epic of a record that proved that they were every bit as capable as Metallica when it came to complex songwriting. Similarly, with Peace Sells coming before Rust, Megadeth proved their consistency and staying power, as well.
By the time Metallica debuted their third LP Master of Puppets in 1986, they were established rock stars and had found a new home on Elektra Records for an eight-album deal. Master took the formula of Ride the Lightning and ran with it, putting a sophisticated thematic touch on their songwriting, and unleashing an inimitable classic that remains one of the most revered albums in heavy-metal history. The brilliant title track is arguably the most influential eight-and-a-half minutes in the genre, and to date has helped the band sell more than six million copies of the record. Master was actually the first thrash-metal album to ever go platinum, outselling its frequent rival in fan polls (such as this one) and critics' rankings, Slayer's gold-selling Reign in Blood.
Lightning-fast tempos, evil vibes and riffs, riffs, riffs... What is left to say about Reign in Blood? It's the ultimate of its genre, and one of the darkest records ever made of any genre. Slayer may be packing it up, but their music, and particularly Reign, should live on forever.