The 1980’s begin…
Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States in 1980. From 1981-89 he sparked a nuclear arms race with his rollback policy and survived an assassination attempt. A conservative republican, Reagan slammed the door on the 1970’s and started a “war on drugs”, Just say no was born just as crack-cocaine was reaching its height of popularity. Metal was becoming the soundtrack to a cultural change, a shockwave to the central nervous system… but in a good way. Not only were more radical shaped guitars becoming popular, something crazier was happening, life started changing from analog to digital. Video games were becoming more advanced, cable tv was transmitting hundreds of channels and music was becoming portable with the invention of the very first portable cassette player. As the USA was waking up from a disco nightmare, metal had become a way of life just like its Punk and Disco predecessors had become. It was the counterculture to counterculture.
“…a reaction against the erosion of traditionally available stereotypes of masculinity” – John Clark on the topic of Heavy Metal
Metalheads adopted the long hair, facial hair and pot use from the hippies before them and although the majority of fans were young, white blue-collar males, they still accepted anyone who was metal no matter what color their skin. Leather, denim and T-shirts with band logos had become their fashion. Metalheads took some of this and some of that from the hippies and punks, but their overall look was taken from the fierce european bikers. These men had survived terrorism, economic depression, NATO and Eastern BLOC troops during the cold war. Although metal touched on the political climate of the world, it wasn’t its main gig. Metalheads didn’t care about boring ass politics, they were tired of it. They weren’t a bunch of whiny jerks looking to change the world nor did they want to take over. Unlike punks, metalheads cared about the music, the technique and the showmanship just as much as rebelling. Can you think of any vocal or guitar virtuosi from any punk era? Not really. Why? That’s because punks didn’t have any pride. They were too busy “not caring” and putting Elmers glue in their hair.
Regarding Punk rock:
“…the fact that you’re singing about being a have-not. Then success makes you a have, and the idea of being angry because you’re poor is buried very quickly when your record sells. The idea is great, and the anger and emotion is great, but ultimately you have to move on, and the music’s going to have to do the talking” – Paul Stanley KISS
Metal was evolving, sub-genres were coming to fruition, they emphasized, altered or omitted a variable to customize a traditional metal sound. Punk was old news and metal was multiplying faster than mice. Metal was here to stay.
Thrash is the coolest metal there is. Said to come about in 1983 by the “Big Four” which includes Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth (All-American). Bands who are still currently active well over 30 years later. Personally I think the number is wrong, there were a few other bands in the beginning as well. Metal Church, Overkill and Sepultura are very important as well, the latter not being American but from Brazil. Max Cavalera fronted one of the coolest thrash bands of all time, Sepultura. Aside from being part of the creation of “Thrash” they had elements of early “Black Metal” as well. Igor Cavalera, brother to Max, also happens to be one of the best drummers on the planet. For thrash, they are often overlooked but I assure you along with Overkill (New Jersey), you should check them out. Overkill shows on the east coast are still as energetic as they ever were.
Europeans were right behind the Americans. Not too long after bands like Sodom, Kreator and Destruction proved that thrash wasn’t just an American thing. In Athens, Greece I attended the “Big 4” tour in 2010 and I saw more Kreator and Sepultura T-shirts than any other band. It was also very clear that Europeans outshine us in the devotion department, their religion is metal and their mosh pits are only for the experienced Delta Force mosh monsters. Personally I think that’s due to the infrequent tours to these rather small European nations, either way it’s clear even 30 years later these bands still mean something to the fans.
Metallica to me, is one of the most important metal bands next to Black Sabbath.
Goddamn was Cliff Burton something else. Metal will never recover from his death.
Not only being one of the first thrash bands, they are also truly the heaviest band to ever become mainstream. Originating in San Francisco, California, Metallica is probably the most common metal name to roll off someone’s tongue. Their best albums came out in the 1980’s and were written before any mainstream success. Starting with Kill ‘em All(83), Ride the Lightning(84), Master of Puppets(86) and …And Justice for All(88), Metallica was revered by all the other bands, they all knew that Metallica had something very special. Metallica broke into the big leagues (mainstream) with their self-titled 5th album, otherwise known as the “black” album in 1991. It wasn’t an easy feat though. Cliff Burton, one of the most innovative bass guitar players and songwriters in metal was squashed in a bus accident somewhere in Sweden during the Master of Puppets tour in 1986. Their response to Cliff’s untimely death was their heaviest album ever…..And Justice for All(88). Although they went on to become one of the best selling metal bands, the music was never the same with after that album. Even with all the songwriting talent still available to them they never wrote albums half as good as they did with Cliff Burton in the 80’s. Their job was selling records and the music changed to adhere to that. Their 5th album (Black) broke them into the mainstream and tamed their wild thrash roots. For the first time ever Metallica recorded ballads and even though I enjoyed a lot of the tracks, I always thought it was a sellout move to mold themselves for everyone else’s ears. Anything released after the “Black” album didn’t need help being promoted, they were playing football stadiums, no longer were they headlining Lamour’s in South Brooklyn. They were established and no longer relied on just the support of the metalheads to succeed, they were embraced by all the leftovers who ate up anything with a Metallica label.
Throughout the 1980’s Glam metal worked perfect for radio and tv, between the image and the sound , the masses could not get enough. It was as if Hollywood wrote up Glam the same way they wrote teleplays and film. Metallica was really heavy in the 1980’s, although it’s great listening for metalheads, you’d never imagine them being mainstream. Remember this is the same band who wrote songs like “Blackened” –
“Fire, to begin whipping dance of the dead.
Blackened is the end
In the exit of Humanity
Color our world blackened”
Metallica was so good that even the guitarist (Dave Mustaine) they kicked out after their first album had formed his own thrash band. Considered one of the “Big Four”, Megadeth even rivaled Metallica at one point but in the end, Metallica would eventually win the war as kings of Thrash. Megadeth stayed true to their Thrash roots. Aside from 2-3 albums, Megadeth wasn’t really radio friendly. Metallica won in the money department and so did their popularity but true metal fans respect Dave Mustaine and Megadeth much more for their technique and loyalty to the genre.
Like Black Sabbath, Metallica became a band you really fell in love with, you could tell that although there are a lot of great thrash bands, Metallica sticks out much further than the rest. Forget anything after 1991 ever existed, Metallica didn’t put out one shitty song. Songs like “Fade to Black” or “Sanitarium” show that they were just as melodic and harmonious as the happiest pop band but fucking metal. Even if you don’t consider the cunts they became when they sued Napster, the fact that they barely used solos on some of their later albums or the fact that they cut their hair, Metallica wrote 4 near perfect albums in a row before that.
Slayer, just the name alone bleeds “Badassery”. Slayer played a much darker version of thrash. They touched on sensitive topics such as serial killing, nazi genocide and pretty much anything that matches up with band called fucken SLAYER. Like Metallica they came out in 1983 with Show No Mercy. Since then they’ve stayed on top of the metal food chain as strong as they ever were. If a band’s name ever matched the actual sound of their music then Slayer is number one. They stood on top of the Thrash game releasing Hell Awaits (85’), Reign in Blood (86), South of Heaven (88) and closed the 1980’s with Seasons in the Abyss (90). I’ve seen Slayer in different states, countries and even continents and the camaraderie among the fans is constant. In 2013 they lost their guitar player, founding member and writer Jeff Hanneman. He died from liver failure due to complications related to alcohol and a fucking spider bite. I kid you not, the guitar player from Slayer was killed by a spider. Even with such a dismal event in their timeline, Slayer continues “Slaying”.
Hailing from the East Coast, Anthrax might’ve been the least popular of the “big four”. The thing is, finishing last place in a fat contest doesn’t make you skinny either. Guitarist and founding member Scott Ian attended the same high school I went to but many years earlier (Bayside High) and formed Anthrax with a few other classmates. For years I shit on them for being a suck-ass band. I’m not afraid to say I might’ve been wrong. I believe their legacy has been in the shadows because they never had a stable frontman as powerful as the rest of the successful bands. Their most popular frontman was Joey Belladonna and he lasted from 1984-1992. Most of their biggest hits occurred during the Belladonna era.
Carnivore may have not been as popular as the rest of the their trash brethren but to ignore their music is moronic. In 1985 they released their self-titled album. They touched on the misogyny, war, race, religion and tongue-in-cheek displays of rage and gore. They were image heavy and they wore hockey equipment with spikes attached. Being from Brooklyn, Carnivore may not have made their presence as big as Iron Maiden but the crossover influences between trash, hardcore and metal were there, not to mention my favorite thrash band next to ‘tallica. That says a lot being they only had 2 albums. Peter Steele would eventually play a big role in bringing together the metal/hardcore community during that time. Lead singer and Bass player Peter Steele was ahead of his time. Carnivore wasn’t his last stab at metal.
The Big Four and most of the bands that make up the thrash genre are thriving and they’ll probably be around for a very long time.
To be continued…