Thrashback – Best of 2016

When I first heard Dave Mustaine shredding faster than ever on ‘Fatal Illusion’ it was clear something had shifted. Sure, Megadeth and a bunch of other bands have all continued releasing thrashy records over the years, but it had all gone a bit stale. So when Dystopia dropped and suddenly Megadave was sounding fresh and exciting, it meant something was in the air. And sure enough, little by little, thrash bombs kept dropping and exploding through my headphones with a ferociousness and fervour I hadn’t heard in years.

As in 1986, three of the big four have released killer records this year, but as well as the big guns there are a crop of other groups who have also put out some of the finest work of their careers and some of the finest thrash albums ever. The list of quality releases this year is quite literally massive, the genre as a whole sounding vibrant and exciting.

I put this down to the marginalization within the music industry; now that there are so few major labels, all of which concentrate their eggs firmly in the mainstream basket, there is a gaping hole on the alternative side of things, so counter culture is thriving, and it is largely fueled by the internet. This has meant that smaller boutique labels like the fantastic Nuclear Blast have been able to deepen otherwise niche markets like that of thrash. A quick flick through the label’s roster and it’s obvious that much of the current excitement on the thrash scene can be laid at their door. Then there’s Metal Blade and Roadrunner and their enduring dedication to the metal scene.

Also, now that we live in super slick, social media obsessed, internet madness, there seems to be a kind of retro cool about the old school sound, suddenly, it’s OK to go back to the eighties, so the older groups now sound relevant rather than dated. Anyway, this eighties vibe and vibrant alternative scene has translated into some mighty fine records and made 2016 the biggest year in thrash since the glory days. Here’s what it’s all been about…

Suicidal Tendencies went back to their roots to great effect with ‘World Gone Mad’, their most defiant and most hardcore record in years. It was great to hear Mike Muir as passionate as ever, and with Dave Lombardo putting in a titanic drum performance they managed to retain a thrash edge despite the album’s punkiness. Meanwhile, Danish veterans Artillery put together a good old fashioned riff heavy superfly thrasher on Penalty By Perception, which is one seriously riffy record. Of the younger bands kicking up a storm, the standout is undoubtedly Vektor, whose ambitiously conceptual Terminal Redux makes for a technically excellent record and is well worth investing a bit of time in. They put their abilities to good effect, creating a keen sense of drama that resonates between the multiple layers of this highly textured epic. There have also been noteworthy releases from the likes of Voivod, Flotsam and Jetson, Vader and the massive Gojira. However, for my top five it’s strictly old school.

5) Testament – ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’
Of this year’s releases it was ‘Brotherhood of the Snake that was the most pleasantly surprising. I always had a soft spot for Testament and loved their early material, but there was always a feeling of unfulfilled potential with ‘Souls of Black’ failing to deliver on their early promise, despite selling well. Therefore, it was brilliant to hear them produce a record as strong as ‘Brotherhood…’; they sound harder, heavier and faster than in their heyday, but have managed to incorporate their melodic tendencies with some killer hooks; Chuck Billy is sounding incredible, with the kind of performance younger singers could learn a lot from. ‘Black Jack’, ‘The Number Game’, ‘Stronghold’, ‘The Pale King’ are just some of the stand outs on this relentless collection of all killer no filler.

4) Megadeth – Dystopia
There are moments on ‘Dystopia’ that could slip easily into Megadeth‘s impressive cannon of material. The above mentioned ‘Fatal Illusion’, which rocks as hard and fast as anything on ‘Peace Sells…’, being one, the ‘Rust’ish ‘Bullet To The Brain’ another. Then there’s the double punch of the massive ‘Poisonous Shadows’ and instrumental ‘Conquer or Die’, where Kiko Loureiro (Angra) and Lamb of God Chris Adler really earn their salt, proving the catalysts for this reinvigoration. Sure, ‘Dystopia’ has its flaws, but this is without doubt Mustaine’s strongest album in years and with the current line up they actually sound exciting again.

3) Anthrax – ‘For All Kings’
Despite sounding a little overblown on first listen, For All Kings has stood up well and repeated listens have revealed more and more depth to this excellent record, the songs are excellently crafted and there is a surprisingly strong sense of melody to temper their ever present thrashiness. Joey Belladonna is quite simply outstanding throughout and musically speaking there is plenty to get your ears around, from stone cold bangers like Evil Twin to textured epics like the sprawling ‘Blood Eagle Wings the entire album rocks.

2) Metallica – ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’
At its best ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’ is up there with Metallica‘s finest work. The first half of the album, or disc one of the CD, delivering in spades. However, the second half is found wanting and lends a slight sense of disappointment to what could have been their best record since ‘Puppets’. Once again, the band’s incapacity to self edit has meant that some really good riffs are wasted on some really average songs. Even so, when it works, it nails it in style; ‘Moth Into Flame’ is their finest single since Enter Sandman, ‘Dream No More’ will be massive live and ‘Halo on Fire’ plays like a retrospective of their entire career. There is a welcome ‘Kill ’em All’ vibe underpinning the record, with some serious classic riffing liberally peppered around the album, and all in all it is very, very good, but just misses out on being the modern classic we were hoping for.

1) Death Angel – The Evil Divide
Without doubt the most vibrant thrash release of the year is ‘Evil Divide’; with stacks of sublime riffing from Rob Cavestany and absolutely superb vocals from Mark Osegueda. From the moment opening track ‘The Moth’ starts racing away on the back of some fly riffage, the album hits a pulsating thrash fury that is relentless. The full on attack of each and every track is nothing short of killer, it sounds fresh and exciting, yet has a foot firmly in classic thrash territory, while boasting an energy and groove that is hard to beat. ‘Hatred United, United Hate’ is simply awesome, while the performances on the emotion fueled ‘Lost’ are nothing short of stunning; then there’s the killer guitar work on tracks like ‘Breakaway’ and the excellent arrangements of songs like ‘It Can’t Be This’ and ‘Father of Lies’. Not only is it an immediately likeable album, but it stands up – it doesn’t get tired with repeated listens and at a tight ten tracks there’s no baggage and it never gets indulgent. Great fucking record.

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