With so many genres, subgenres, and sub-subgenres of metal, it can be hard to classify a band. Are they progressive cyber pornogrind, neoclassical wigger slam, or post-structuralist industrial shred? Sometimes you just can't tell! With that in mind, we assembled this handy guide to identifying one of the most common species in the field: the thrash metal band. Simply go down the list and ask yourself if the following elements are present. Think of it as a Jeff Foxworthy bit: "You just might be a thrash band if..."
I am not sure why thrash bands have such a fixation on toxic waste, but they definitely do. The image above captures the toxic waste thing nicely, as well as a few other memes such as "smug, fat rich guy on the cover." I guess toxic waste was just part of the zeitgeist of the 1980s, as evidenced by the creation of the lamest superhero cartoon ever, Captain Planet. It's almost charming to look back at the 80s thrash movement as a time when people actually cared about stuff, as opposed to the unapologetic self-centeredness of today's popular music (for example, Avenged Sevenfold). By comparison, the idealism and enthusiasm of, say, Sacred Reich is kind of like watching Leave It To Beaver or something.
Examples: Evildead, Nuclear Assault, Sodom
We pretty much said all there is to say about this phenomenon in our 3 part series on metal spokesmen (here, here, and here), but the list certainly wouldn't be complete without a mascot!
Amateurish sociopolitical commentary
For some reason the 80s made every dumb thrash band think they were Noam Chomsky, and every band treated us to their unsolicited, uninformed opinions on social issues delivered in musical format. I don't completely get it, but as Mike Muir taught us, just because you don't understand it don't mean it don't make no sense. And just because you don't like it, don't mean it ain't no good. Because you wouldn't know what crazy was if Charles Manson was eating Froot Loops on your front porch. In any case, a thrash band can definitely write songs about shit like monsters, nightmares, and killer robots, but they have to include at least one or two songs about some kind of social injustice. For example, DRI's "Thrash Zone" has songs about lighthearted fare like moshing, but they also tackle meatier subjects like kidnapping ("Abduction") and that school sucks ("Beneath the Wheel"). That is the kind of effortless ambidexteriy that makes thrash what it is!
Examples: Laaz Rockit, Sepultura, Sacred Reich, Suicidal Tendencies
You really aren't a thrash band unless you have the right axe. You definitely won't go wrong with trusty standbys like Charvel, Jackson and ESP, but they aren't your only options. If you want to mix it up a little, you can go with something a little more exotic like a Washburn, Karmer or even a Guild! As long as it has shark fin fret inlays, EMGs, a Floyd Rose, and a headstock that looks like it would take your finger off if you brushed up against it wrong, then you're good! Bonus points if the headstock is reversed.
It's equally important to know what axes aren't ok. Basically, anything made by Fender or Gibson is off the list. Les Pauls are for punk rockers, and can you imagine Bloodcum jamming on fucking Stratocasters?! Hell no! That's like petting the cat backwards... it's just not done, you know? (By the way, please remind me to do a post on Bloodcum in the near future, I'm seriously shocked we haven't yet and "Death By Clotheshanger" is without a doubt one of the best thrash records ever made)
Examples: Slayer, Exodus, Vio-Lence, Megadeth
(Full disclosure: I stole some of the material in this item from an article KC from Himsa wrote in the zine Hardcore Maniacs back in 93 or so.. so KC, if you're reading, don't be mad!)
Wearing your own band's shirt
You can think of many reasons why thrash bands would wear their own shirts a lot: lack of self-respect/complete disregard for their dignity, being broke, and so forth. Maybe they're just too lazy to do laundry. I have my own theory, which is as follows: they secretly hope that someone will see them at 7-11 or whatever and be like, "Hey bro, sweet Hirax shirt, their shit is hella mass tight," Then the guy will be like, "Thanks dude, that's my band, I play guitar" all nonchalant as though it wasn't the best moment of his life. In his head, though, he is thinking "Fuck yes!! Dude I'm finally getting the fucking recognition I deserve. With any luck, we could even end up on the next Concrete Corner sampler cassette!" But whatever the reason, you simply can't be a thrash band without wearing your own band's shirts.
Examples: Literally every single thrash band ever
The 80s were an intense decade. Everybody was scared of toxic waste, nuclear war, and the Russians. We had to let off some steam somehow, and in the case of thrash bands, they did it by including at least one goofy "funny" song on their album. I mean, you can only spend so much time screaming about Reagan, the Iran Contra scandal, and whatever other social ills were plaguing us back then (junk bonds, maybe??). At some point you have to let your hair down and party!!
Examples: Forced Entry "We're Dicks", Exodus "Low Rider", Anthrax "I'm The Man"
I was too young during the 80s to know anyone other than my parents and all their friends that actually used drugs, but from what I saw in movies and on TV, absolutely everybody was on drugs. Rich people celebrated their financial success by snorting cocaine with $1000 bills in the back of plush limos, and poor people tried to numb the pain of inescapable urban blight by smoking crack. As if that wasn't enough to convince me that everybody was on drugs, all my favorite thrash bands seemed very concerned about drugs use as well! They even went so far as to include the "Winners don't use drugs" seal on the j-card of their cassettes (the image above is from Bad Dudes, but you get the idea).
Examples: Believer, every band on Roadrunner
We are pretty great at our jobs, but we also know the power of crowdsourcing and Web 2.0 because we read Fast Company and Wired. So we ask you, our loyal readers, to help us complete the checklist! What did we miss?