Heavy Month

Spotlight: Thrash

HEAVY MONTH will be full of these but this will be the first one. These will be in depth looks into the genres and styles we are featuring this month. You’ll get my opinions, some history and gear talk.

Ahhh thrash metal, the sound of my youth that became the sound of adulthood as well. I have a bias towards thrash metal because it was the first type of music that I ever fell in love with. I consider myself almost a thrash historian at this point when it comes to the music, the scene, the gear and more. I owe this to the hundreds of books, magazines, albums, interviews, documentaries and everything else I could get my hands, eyes and ears on under the thrash umbrella in my life.

The raw aggression of thrash metal cannot be denied. I would say that 80s thrash is where metal started to become faster, tighter and more precise. It was the era when everyone wanted to be faster and heavier than everyone else while constantly searching for the best players in town. If you could shred, you were in very high demand but if you could shred and had a stack, you had it made.

For me, I can pin point the beginning of my love for thrash to the moment the “cool guy” on my block had a yard sale the summer of ’89 and sold me his entire tape collection. At 11, I’d heard Kiss, AC/DC, Priest etc by that point but when I busted out the stuff Randy sold me that day, it all changed, everything changed. The box had Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Slayer, Testament, Sepultura, Overkill and Ozzy tapes in it and I mowed lawns, washed cars and trimmed hedges to make money for more tapes. (Remember when people had to work to buy music?)

I went back and listened to as much of that era’s thrash that I could and man, so many of those tones really hold up. I have to say that of all of those iconic and legendary guitar tones, the best of all of the rhythm tones for me has to go to Scott Ian of Anthrax. Scott’s playing is a big part of his tone because he’s one of the tightest rhythm guitarists in music history but he’s also always had great gear as well. You can hit up literally any Anthrax album for a number of great examples.

In the heyday of thrash metal, the big thing was scooping out your mids which basically means turning your bass and treble up a bit and your mids down a bit. Then in post EQ the idea is to used the EQ in sort of a V pattern. Do it too aggressively and your tone turns to poop but do it just right and you get a punchy, crunchy kick in the teeth. Then the trick becomes how to fill the mid frequency void elsewhere in the mix. Many bands did this very well across the board. If you want the 80s thrash sound or even the 90s death metal sound, you should get comfy with how to scoop your mids.

For lead tones in this category, I have to give it to Marty Friedman. The lead tones on Megadeth’s “Rust in peace” album are on another planet and like Scott Ian’s lock tight rhythm playing, Marty Friedman’s lead skills have a lot to do with his tone. On “Rust in peace”, Marty’s otherworldly chops are put on display what seems like every 30 seconds so if you haven’t heard this one, please do. Start with “Tornado of souls”.

Slayer’s guitar tone is something to mention here because Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King always had two very different tones working as one. They really worked hard to dial things in so that their tones complimented each other. Their lead tones were also very different and both provide their own atmosphere. To me the Floyd Rose is a pain in the ass and not worth the trouble but Slayer started a style of lead playing that not only spread like wildfire but it also stuck around.

A lot of guys started using delay in the 80s, at times many of these guys were likely using way too much of it. The Boss DD-3 was probably in half the pedalboards on the planet in the 80s and 90s. That said, many thrash lead guitarists went with only a wah pedal or even no pedals at all so really it’s all about the type of tone you want to go for. Marshall was the go-to for lead work most of the time in the earlier days but that opened up as things went.

Thrash amplification has always been ruled by two companies; Marshall and Mesa Boogie but over time, Soldano, Peavey and EVH brought some serious thrash amps to the party. The JMP/Plexi/Super lead and JCM 800 amps were often the go-to amps. A lot of guys modded these Marshalls and a few of the guys that modded those amps went onto big careers in amp building.

Then along came the Mesa Boogie Mark series of amps. It seemed like everyone switched to Mesa from Marshall at one point or another. The Mark IIC+, Mark IV and Mark V are the most notable for thrash history but many of those bands went on to use the Rectifier series of amps as well. The plugin world has more than a few Mesa, Marshall and Peavey/EVH inspired plugins but in my opinion, there isn’t one out there that does the Soldano SLO real justice.

For cabs, you want 4×12, closed back, V30 speakers and a Shure SM57. Marshall 1960A and B cabinets were used by even the guys that switched to the Mesa Boogie amps. Marshall 1960A and B cabs are the first cab that comes to mind whenever I associate a cabinet with thrash metal, new or old. Many impulse developers have their take on these cabs so have a look around for the one you enjoy most.

With thrash, the interplay between the guitar and bass is beyond crucial. The bass drives the low end of the guitar in a huge way so it’s always been important that both be tight and punchy. I suppose this is where some of you are thinking “but what about …and justice for all?” and I am glad you asked because that record sounds like a big dry mid-scooped turd without bass. I love the material on that album so with all these re-issues, would it be such a bad thing to release a version of Justice with bass? C’mon..

Thrash never really fully died but it has been revived from time to time. Bands like Evile, Powertrip, Havok, Municipal Waste, Dew Scented, The Haunted, Warbringer, Dust Bolt, Lazarus AD and many other new era thrash bands man the frontlines while legends like Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, Anthrax, Death Angel, Sacred Reich and many more are still putting out solid material so I don’t see thrash dying any time soon.

When I was a kid, thrash was everywhere and even though it’s not the powerhouse genre it used to be, thrash is still captivating young minds and budding musicians all over the world so the future of thrash is also very likely in good hands.

Research Albums – Classic Thrash

  • Metallica – “Master of puppets”
  • Anthrax – “Among the living”
  • Sacred Reich – “The American Way”
  • Megadeth – Rust in peace
  • Slayer – “Seasons in the abyss”
  • Sepultura – “Arise”

Research Albums – Modern Thrash

  • Evile – “Enter the grave”
  • Havok – “Unnatural selection”
  • Warbringer – “Waking into nightmares”
  • Hatesphere – “The sickness within”
  • The Haunted – “Made me do it”
  • Municipal Waste – “The art of partying”

Coach T