Stay Heavy Time Capsule, Volume 1 – 1988: Thrash Metal’s Finest Hour?

I’m a member of a Facebook group that shares media that we’re interested in with one another – music, movies, TV, comic books, novels, and so forth. The group admins throw out a weekly theme that members can follow if they’d like, and last week’s was election-year releases – things released during a US presidential election year. My mind immediately turned to 1988, which is easily one of the greatest years in the storied history of thrash metal, and then a variety of issues arose (work, the sheer volume of 1988 metal (let alone thrash metal), and that goddamn depressing/infuriating election itself) which kept me from sharing any of my picks with the group.

This is me in 1988. My 6th grade yearbook theme was "Building the Leaders of Tomorrow", and everyone was supposed to say what they wanted to be when they grew up. I chose "bass guitarist", and I'm pretty sure I came closer to realizing my dream than anyone else in my class, only because I once owned a bass guitar.

This is me in 1988. My 6th grade yearbook theme was “Building the Leaders of Tomorrow”, and everyone was supposed to say what they wanted to be when they grew up. I chose “bass guitarist”, and I’m pretty sure I came closer to realizing my dream than anyone else in my class, only because I once owned a bass guitar.

I’ve actually been kicking around the idea of writing up a 1988-themed post for this blog for a while now, but I’ve just never made it happen up till now. My lack of participation in the Facebook group theme provided the necessary catalyst to finally sit  down and give it a go. I can’t promise this’ll be coherent and organized, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be long, and it’ll damn sure be opinionated. Please note: I am in no way attempting to put together a complete list of thrash metal albums released in 1988; I am simply sharing some of my favorites, with a little commentary here and there for good measure. I’m just gonna put ’em in here alphabetically, because I don’t have all day.

Anthrax – State of Euphoria (released September 19, 1988 on Island Records)

Anthrax was my first favorite band, and State of Euphoria, which I received for Christmas ’88, was the first album they released after I fell in love with them. That has no doubt played some role in SoE being my favorite Anthrax album (I actually think the follow-up, Persistence of Time, is a better album, but I don’t like it quite as much). Whatever the reason(s), it is an undeniably badass album.

Album opener “Be All, End All” is one of my most favorite songs ever.

Side two opener “Now It’s Dark” was inspired by Frank Booth, Dennis Hopper’s terrifying character from David Lynch’s amazing Blue Velvet, and some of the lyrics are taken from Frank’s dialogue. As such, many a fuck is given in this song, in a manner of speaking.

Album closer “Finale” (pronounced “finally” in the song), contains a chugging riff that cannot be denied, along with an unfortunate use of the word “faggot”, which is its only downside.

Death Angel – Frolic Through the Park (released July 1988 on Restless/Enigma)

Frolic Through the Park is not my favorite Death Angel album (that honor goes to 1991’s Act III), but it has some seriously rad songs, and it was a pretty bold step forward from the The Ultra-Violence, their vicious debut from one year earlier. Elements of funk began to appear, and song structures accordingly became more fluid. The band made a video for “Bored”, and it was apparently a pretty big hit on MTV, but my no-cable-havin ass had no way to know about that at the time.

Album opener “3rd Floor” kicks ludicrous amounts of ass. Gang vocals rule my fucking world, and this song delivers like Jimmy John’s.

Here’s the aforementioned “Bored”. If you had MTV in 1988, you’ve probably heard it at least once before. It can also be heard briefly in the criminally underrated 1990 film Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.

D.R.I. – 4 of a Kind (released on Metal Blade Records, actual released date unknown)

4 of a Kind is not widely regarded as hardcore-turned-crossover-turned-thrash band D.R.I.’s finest album, but it’s my favorite (and like the Anthrax release above, was the first I heard from the band). Spike Cassidy’s guitar is all over this beast, and several of my favorite D.R.I. songs appear throughout.

“Manifest Destiny” relates the story of early European settlers robbing the “New World” from Native Americans.

“Forever moving onward
Said they were guided from above
Actually driven by hate
Disguised as love
But all their false love
Can’t disguise true hate
And the racist diplomacy
Of the church and the State”

“What are you deaf? Shut up!”

I first became aware of “Slumlord” via a full-page ad for the album in (I believe) RIP magazine. It was a comic visualizing the short yet harrowing story of a villainous slumlord who burns down his building, killing 40 innocent residents, just to collect the insurance money. I wish I still had that comic, but such is life, right? “Slumlord” flows directly into “Dead in a Ditch” on the album, and while it’s not a favorite of mine, it’s still a great song, and they work really well together, so I’ve included both here.

Album closer “Man Unkind” is a goddamn masterpiece.

“Man without an answer
Like a bird with broken wing
Wrapped up in his misery
Forgetting how to sing…”

Megadeth – So Far, So Good…So What! (released January 19, 1988 on Capitol Records)

Not Megadeth’s best, and not my favorite, but it does contain “Into the Lungs of Hell/Set the World Afire”, “Mary Jane”, and “In My Darkest Hour”, and the rest of the songs aren’t bad at all. Dave Mustaine has openly discussed the heavy drug and alcohol use that nearly destroyed the band during this time period.

“Into the Lungs of Hell” and “Set the World Afire” have been featured in these hallowed pages before. I like them both very much.

“Mary Jane” is super cool atmospheric little ditty about a witch.

“In My Darkest Hour” has also been featured here before. Dave Mustaine wrote it after learning of Cliff Burton’s death in September 1986. Overall, I’m pretty indifferent about Megadeth these days, but I have to say that hearing this live on two separate occasions has been pretty dope.

Metallica – …And Justice for All (released August 25, 1988 on Elektra Records)

There’s not much I can really say about this album that hasn’t already been said, either by myself or by others, but I can add that my cousin Jason was utterly stoked to pick this up on release day (his alliances ran more toward Metallica than Anthrax). We listened to it a lot, and I still listen to it on a pretty regular basis. I love the songs, but I sincerely hate the production, and Lars still deserves a beating for that.

Nuclear Assault – Survive (released June 13, 1988 on I.R.S. Records)

Nuclear Assault was my motherfucking jam when I was in junior high and high school. When I become Earth President, Dan Lilker will head up my Department of Metal. I prefer their 1989 follow-up, Handle With Care, but there’s nothing wrong with Survive.

“Rise from the Ashes”, like a good deal of 1980’s thrash metal, seems oddly relevant today.

Jesus, so does “Brainwashed”…

Okay, pretty much all of it…

Overkill – Under the Influence (released July 5, 1988 on Atlantic Records)

New Jersey’s Overkill are woefully underrated and underappreciated. I’m still working on a thing about them, so I don’t wanna say much here. I will say that I prefer the albums that bookend this one, 1987’s Taking Over and 1989’s The Years of Decay, but like Nuclear Assault’s 1988 release, you’d be hard pressed to find a real flaw on this one.

Rigor Mortis – Rigor Mortis (released July 19, 1988 on Capitol Records)

Hailing from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, Rigor Mortis played gore-soaked, horror-fueled thrash metal, and on their self-titled debut album, they played it to within an inch of its life. After this album, vocalist Bruce Corbitt left the band, and they released an EP and a second full-length album, neither of which I’ve bothered to listen to, because Bruce Corbitt isn’t on them. Guitarist Mike Scaccia (who also played with Ministry) died in 2012 after suffering a heart attack onstage during a Rigor Mortis show. Before Scaccia’s death, Corbitt rejoined the band, and they recorded and released one final album, 2014’s Slaves to the Grave, which is also amazing.

“Wizard of Gore” is inspired by the 1970 film The Wizard of Gore, directed by the absurdly prolific Herschell Gordon Lewis, who made 35 films between 1961 and 1972. (Impetigo, the legendary grindcore/death metal group from the “heart of Illinois”, also have a song called “Wizard of Gore”, inspired by the same movie. It has nothing to do with 1988, but it’s a fucking rad song (and band), and you should look into it. I’m planning a thing about Impetigo, but it’s somewhere on the list of 60 million things I’m planning, so don’t hold your breath, although it is near the top of the list, so maybe do.)

“Re-Animator” is inspired by Stuart Gordon’s absolutely goddamn fantastic 1985 movie of the same name, which is itself loosely based on weird old H.P. Lovecraft’s episodic novella, Herbert West – Reanimator.

Slayer – South of Heaven (released July 5, 1988 on Def Jam Recordings)

If you’re keeping track at home, this entry means that all four of the so-called “Big 4 of Thrash Metal” released and album in 1988. That alone makes it a notable year, but as you’ve seen already and will continue to see, there really are so many more. I’ve written about South of Heaven plenty, and Slayer plenty more, so I shan’t delve too deeply here, but I would like to reiterate that I believe South of Heaven to be Slayer’s last essential album.

The title track (and album opener) proved confusing for some Slayer fans, many of whom assumed the band would continue along the path forged by 1986’s classic Reign in Blood. “South of Heaven” laid any hope of that to rest immediately, and the rest of the album proved a stellar, mostly mid-tempo confirmation of that.

Album closer “Spill the Blood” is creepy as a motherfucker, and is one of my favorite Slayer songs.

Suicidal Tendencies – How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today (released September 13, 1988 on Epic Records)

Like D.R.I., Suicidal Tendencies began life in the early 80’s as a straight-up hardcore punk band, then began to infuse elements of thrash metal, eventually becoming a metal band with hardcore elements. How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today is the first full-on metal album from this Venice, California juggernaut, featuring the addition of a second guitarist (Mike Clark) to handle rhythm duties, which allowed original guitarist Rocky George the freedom to play more solos. Suicidal Tendencies at their peak were unfuckwithable.

Testament – The New Order (released May 5, 1988 on Atlantic Records)

I’ve written about Testament more than I’ve written about probably any other band (except for maybe Voivod), so I don’t currently have anything to add here, but I could not in good conscience exclude them from this list, because I still listen to The New Order once a week on average.

“Disciples of the Watch” is inspired by Stephen King’s Children of the Corn, and is possibly my favorite Testament song.

This badass cover of Aerosmith’s “Nobody’s Fault” (from 1976’s Rocks) is the primary reason I started listening to Aerosmith.

Vio-Lence – Eternal Nightmare (released on Mechanic Records, exact date unknown)

At a time when many thrash bands were starting to slow things down (notably Metallica and Slayer), Bay Area Thrash upstarts Vio-Lence showed up to the thrash party to remind everyone that speed still kills, and that riffs are still king. Sean Killian’s vocals are a deal breaker for a lot of people, but I’ve always had a soft spot for unconventional vocalists, and I really think they fit the unhinged musical and lyrical themes perfectly. Guitarist Robb Flynn went on to form Machine Head, and other guitarist Phil Demmel joined him a few years afterward.

This album is a goddamn gem, and honestly, I can’t decide which songs to feature, so I’m putting the whole album here. It’s only 35 minutes long, just listen to it already!

Voivod – Dimension Hatröss (released June 29, 1988 on Noise Records)

I’ve written a shitload about Voivod, but like Testament, I couldn’t not feature some songs from this album. It’s 28 years old and still ahead of its time. If you you’d like to learn more about Voivod, check out my multi-part primer: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4, and if you’d like to know more about Dimension Hatröss in particular, give this a look.

With the meat of my 1988 showcase out of the way, I’d like to list a bunch of honorable mentions, most of which were cut due to time constraints…

Blind Illusion – The Sane Asylum (released on Combat Records, exact date unknown)

Progressive thrash metal featuring Les Claypool and Larry “Ler” LaLonde on bass and guitars, respectively. They went on to form a little group called Primus.

Coroner – Punishment for Decadence (released August 1, 1988 on Noise Records)

Technical thrash wizardry from Switzerland. Definitely worth your time.

Forbidden – Forbidden Evil (released September 30, 1988 on Combat Records)

Bay Area Thrash featuring Paul Bostaph, who went on to play with pretty much every band on the planet, on drums. Robb Flynn played guitar in this band before he was in Vio-Lence.

Razor – Violent Restitution (released on R/C Records, exact date unknown)

Lightning fast, razor sharp Canadian thrash metal with lunatic vocals. Highly recommended.

Tankard – The Morning After (released September 1988 on Noise Records)

Tankard hail from Germany, and since 1983, they’ve played songs about drinking beer, partying, and zombies. So basically, they’re Municipal Waste without the Nuclear Assault influence. (I mean no offense to Municipal Waste. They do good work.)

That’s all the time I’ve got for today. I do realize I’ve missed several notable metal releases from 1988, some thrash, some not thrash (Iron Maiden‘s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and King Diamond‘s Them come to mind immediately), but what are some of your favorites from 1988? Discuss in the comments, why don’t you? You can also look me up and continue the discussion on Facebook, Instagram (stayheavyblog), and Twitter (@stayheavyalways).

Thanks for reading, and remember, wherever you go, whatever you do, always stay heavy.

 

 

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