Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Big Four Score Draw

A while ago on Thee Claw we had the tagline: for when your "Big Four" is not the same as everyone else's.
I don't know whether I'm just a cynical person or if it's because I grew up in Europe and therefore had easier access to more of the continental Thrash, but the "classic" Big Four of Thrash Metal (that's Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax if you didn't know) never really sat too easily with me; I always felt this was a mindset peddled to the public by the likes of Kerrang! and to a lesser extent Metal Forces*.
I always thought that magazines were to eager to keep the status quo, so to speak, rather than go out on a limb and suggest something else to people.
For me, the so-called B4 strayed too far from the sound and feel of Thrash to ever be considered as the genre-defining acts that people claim them to be, except for the curious exception of Megadeth, which I'll come to in a bit.

What, really, did Anthrax bring to thrash metal? Shorts and Hip Hop, that's what.
I hold them personally responsible for Limp Bizkit.
After the initial leather, studs and total thrash assault of Armed and Dangerous and Fistful Of Metal, for me it was thrash by numbers with a large amount of goofiness on a par with the likes of the UK's Acid Reign until the more brooding Persistence of Time which had little to do with Thrash metal.  For me the band never came into their own until the addition of former (current) Armored Saint vocalist Jon Bush, and they were a far different beast by then.

Much like my beloved Everton Football Club, Slayer have been riding on the reputation of a flash of brilliance during the eighties for a long, long time now, using this as a deluded reason to be considered one of the best bands of the genre.
Sure, there was nothing like Reign in Blood before, and there hasn't really been an equivalent of it since, but what exactly have they done since then? A cover of Born To be Wild? Loads of shitty tattoos? The only reason that they are still touring is that their fans are 90% knuckleheads unable to reach out farther than Slayer into extreme metal, or are kids who think they are the next step up and the be all and end all of metal after Lamb of God or Slipknot. They have done nothing interesting since Seasons in the Abyss; after that their albums all become interchangeable.
Dumb music for dumb people.

Right. I think you all know how I feel about Metallica, and here at Thee Claw we have all taken a lot of stick either in comments of emails about how we feel about them.
So, how best to put this without upsetting Metallica Fundamentalists......
Metallica always had aspirations beyond thrash metal, using the tools and trust of the underground to find cross-platform fame and therefore I cannot condone their use as a genre defining act.

Megadeth are an odd fish, to say the least. Megadeth's early raison d'etre was to be faster, heavier and more complex than Dave Mustaine's famous ex-bandmates in Metallica, and to a certain extent, it worked. Through to Rust in Peace,  each consecutive album was a snapshot of current thrash; with some of the best musicians of the genre joining Messrs Mustaine and Ellefson. Like everyone they reacted a bit hastily to the shift away from thrash in popularity during the mid 90's, but some of their recent output is just as thrashy as anything they released in the late eighties, an astounding return to technical form.

Like I have said earlier, for me, a "big four" of thrash should consist of bands playing thrash. It seems obvious doesn't it?

Bands that could quite possibly make up Thee Claw's alternate big four.  There are many factors I'm choosing to keep this list fair; the main being a prerequisite that at least three albums of pure thrash were released by the bands, to keep in line with the media's "big four".

Formed in 1982 and still going strong 27 years later, Gelsenkirchen's Sodom have rarely put a foot wrong in the pantheon of Thrash Metal. A dozen albums of tuetonic thrash later, and having played on all of true metal's biggest stages, I think it speaks volumes that when the bloated excesses of the 80's thrash bands during the 90's, and the trendiness of the 90's Death Metal bands exploded with the counteraction of the second wave of Black Metal; Sodom were one of the biggest influences on the Scandinavian Invasion. If you need any proof, just look at Mayhem; Euronymous's record label was called Deathlike Silence, and all over black meta the performers took on psuedonyms a la Sodom, with a member of Mayhem being called Blasphemer.
Over a quarter of a century on, they still play Blasphemer live, and it isn't seen as a token gesture like when Metallica play Trapped Under Ice. Oh no, silly me, that isn't a token gesture. It's to sell more copies of Guitar Hero. Pah.

Again, from Germany, Mille and co have been thrashing away since, that's right, 1982; sometimes in the limelight, sometimes on the sidelines, but always keeping it true.
In 1988, they were one of the first load of thrashers to be signed to a major label, with Extreme Aggression being released on Epic and going on to cement their popularity around the world.
Strangely, when other thrash bands tinkered with their sound and went for a more polished, radio friendly approach, our boys from Essen went death metal. That's right.
After a few albums of this they returned back to their thrash roots with 2001's Violent Revolution, and much like Sodom, are still to be seen ripping it up all over Europe's truest stages.

Probably a bit controversial.
I think Nuclear Assault are one of the most underrated yet influential bands to have ever played thrash, and probably one of the more quirky ones without degenerating into farce like Anthrax.
After a few years of not really listening to NA for a while, we dug out their album Handle With Care once for a trip to London in Thee Clawmobile. Fuck.
Danny Lilker's proto-Brutal Truth bass sound was SO out of place with John Connelly's high pitched voice, but it fits together SO well.
I'll gloss over Something Wicked which wasn't too bad, but was missing the energy between Lilker and guitarist Anthony Bramante who had both left by now.  2005's Third World Genocide was a welcome return to form.

So now, we are after a fourth band to create Thee Claw's big four of thrash.
Who will I pick? there are so many bands that recorded some amazing thrash metal albums but transcended the genre from the outset (Voivod) or moved on to something completely different altogether (Sepultura) that I would have loved to include but I couldn't, so do you know who i'm going to pick?

That's right. Even with the born-again nonsense.
Skum summed it up best when he said "My big four of thrash are Mustaine, Ellefson, Samuelson and Poland. End of."

*as a genre publication, to me, Metal Forces is almost above criticism. Maybe I'm just being nostalgic, but I remember it with more fondness than I do Kerrang! or Raw.

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