Over the past few years a lot has been made of Thrash Metal’s Big Four, and rightfully so, they are after all the giants of the genre. For those of you not in the know, the Big Four are Anthrax, Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth and collectively responsible for the biggest and most important albums in the mid/late 80s Thrash Metal scene. For years fans dreamt of them sharing the same stage and the Big Four tour has finally given fans what they want, albeit a decade or so too late.
Like many males my age, Thrash Metal was one of the defining musical genres of my youth. I was obsessed with it for a good 4 year period, before moving on to pot, rap and college. Though I left the music behind I still keep my collection of beloved Thrash albums for trips down memory lane and to release stress. Over the past few years I have found myself increasingly dipping back into my collection o’ metal, to the point that recently I started buying metal magazines again.
I still manage to diversify my musical bonds, but truth be told I have been on a major metal kick for the past month or so. As usual I started back in with some early Iron Maiden, worked my way into Megadeth, followed by my Slayer collection, a then something weird happened. Usually I get Slayer fix and put it all away for a few months, but a few weeks ago while looking through Facebook I came upon a video posted by none other than Ryan Adams and it was life changing.
The video was for the song Brainwashed by NYC Crossover band Nuclear Assault.
Brainwashed lead me down a rabbit hole of Crossover madness the likes which have not been seen in the Baker household since 1988. For the uninitiated Crossover is a brand of metal that is equal parts Thrash metal’s punkier sibling. The sound is equal parts speed, aggression, political anger, and fear of nuclear annihilation. Think Anthrax if they were into politics instead of comic books.
If I am being honest I all but forgot about most of these bands, which is kind of shameful because at a time they were such a big part of my collection. Obviously, as with most bands from our youth there is a slew of shit that aged horribly, but there are a handful of great Crossover artists that have been filling my ear buds for the past 3 weeks. Most notably the fore mentioned Nuclear Assault, Stormtroopers of Death (S.O.D.) and Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (D.R.I.); using modern parlance of the genre they would be the big three for me*.
*I just downloaded the first two albums by Corrosion of Conformity (C.O.C.) which might give me my big four.
Nuclear Assault is based out of Queens, NY and was founded by former founding member of Anthrax, Dan Lilker and guitarist/vocalist John Connelly. These fuckers have riffs for days, the music is aggressive as shit, Connelly’s vocals are raw as Fuck and the overall effect is heavy as hell. When I think of back on the days of my youth, and the signature thrash sound, it is the pulsating thrill of Nuclear Assault. Complex compositions, riff heavy mosh breaks and hard edge music. There is nothing not to like about Nuclear Assault.
Recommended Album: Survive and Game Over.
Stormtroopers of Death (S.O.D.):
S.O.D. are so fucking hard. They are Crossover Thrash, literally, without their seminal album Speak English or Die there probably wouldn’t be Crossover. S.O.D. is Scott Ian and Charlie Benante from Anthrax on guitar and drums, Dan Lilker from Nuclear Assault on bass and Billy Milano on vocals. It very much seems to have been a joke project, something done during some downtime for fun. However the tracks on Speak English or Die are some of the best the genre has to offer. Musically it is pure thrash/hardcore. The riffs are fucking famous, so much so that the main riff for the track Sgt. D. became the intro music for MTVs Headbanger’s Ball. The only problem I can see people having with this album is the content, especially in this day and age. It couldn’t be farther from P.C., but it is very tongue and cheek and if you don’t have a sense of humor about shit Fuck off. Speak English or Die probably has my favorite songs of the bunch but there is also a handful of filler, but the songs are so short that it doesn’t slow up the momentum.
Recommended Album: Speak English or Die
Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (D.R.I.):
D.R.I. is an interesting case because they started out as a punk band in Houston, TX during the early 80s. Eventually they made the transition into a more metal sound, almost announcing it with their 1987 album Crossover and again with their 1989 album Thrash Zone. I was a big fan of their early punk records, and hold them up as staples of the sound, but I wasn’t fully on board with D.R.I. until they went a little more metal. In my opinion Kurt Brecht has the defining voice of the period; it is gravelly, filled with piss and vinegar and wholly unique to D.R.I. The thing I find most appealing about D.R.I. is that their sound evolved naturally, it doesn’t sound like they were chasing a fad. You can hear just as much of the early energy and sound in their later works as you can hear the seeds of the future in their early offerings. They truly are one of the more slept on bands in either genre.
Recommended Albums: Crossover and Thrash Zone – I would also check out the Violent Pacification EP and the Dealing With It album.