Music: Battle of Thrash – Comparing Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeath, and Slayer

I won’t belabor the point tonight because I have episodes of Californication and House of Lies to watch :) I did want to make a few quick observations about thrash though.

A few weeks back, I posted about anger and I am still in a sort of angry state of mind and thus the recent leaning towards metal and particularly thrash in my musical listening of late. Here’s a rough view of the four originators of thrash:

Anthrax: The music is fast and furious as you’d expect. The thing that annoys me about them after a while is the opera-like voice of Joey Belladonna reminds me too much of Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden. The lyrics are a bit hollow too – kind of like rap music, but metal. The music itself is pretty much verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus with some sing-a-long chants (“fight fight fight” or something like that). There was a joint album they did with Public Enemy that was pretty good which demonstrates a bit of open-mindedness as well as their cover of French metal band Trust’s Antisocial. The thing is that I can only take about two or three Anthrax songs and my fingers are searching for the skip button. They might be Soldiers of Metal, but they are not the Metal Militia. Misery Likes Company but I prefer My Friend Misery personally.

Megadeath is, of course, Dave Mustaine’s post-rejection-from-Metallica band. A staple on the thrash circuit with great drumming and guitars, the lyrics drive me crazy. As does Dave’s voice to be honest. As opposed to stealing the vocals from Iron Maiden, they seemed to have borrowed an older version of Eddie for their album covers. I guess the one album that I can almost listen through is either Rust in Peace or Peace Sells but Who’s Buying, but it is really hard to resist the Skip button. I feel bad for saying it, but I am glad that James Hetfield ultimately replaced Dave in Metallica because his voice just doesn’t work for me. As for the atmosphere, it is a lot of war (as opposed to disease in the case of Anthrax) and a little bit of pseudo-mythology and the inevitable hell references. It all gets a bit tiresome for me.

Slayer is the closest to punk rock of any of the thrash titans. And the most explicit, violent, and difficult to appreciate at least for me. The vocals are what makes the music sound so raw and remind me of the northern Cali punk of my youth. But, the imagery is so incredibly dark and hopeless that I cannot listen to more but a few songs from Slayer. I thought I’d give them another chance while writing this article, but I don’t know. There is this like guilty feeling that I get as if I should be sacrificing a lamb or dog when I am listening to them. Every song on every album is steeped in Satan, Evil, Hell, etc. It is almost absurd and seems so extreme that it is hard to buy into the atmosphere. At least when they sing Am I Evil, I think they are not in the least bit remorseful about answering Hell yes.

And then there was Metallica. I place them on a pedestal because, although they sometimes exhibit the faults of metal in general (over-reliance on adolescent imagery and angst, hell and devil shit, etc), they are probably the best musicians of the lot. Lars Ulrich is a monster on drums, Kirk Hammett is clearly in the top 5 of best metal guitarist ever, Cliff was a monster bassist, Jason was great, and Robert Trujillo is a true beast on bass. Now, I left out the soul of the band intentionally. James Hetfield stands on his own with the most distinctive voice with an excellent range and with the most personal lyrics of any of the Big Four. Yes, they went through a long dry spell after And Justice for All until the recent Death Magnetic, but when you listen to the lyrics and study a bit of their history, you realize the enormous ground they have traveled over the 30 years of their existence. James bears his injured soul to us particularly on St Anger where he is working through rehab and the near dissolution of his band. Musically, the songs are so well-structured and melodic that I continue to listen to them over and over again. Something I can’t do with more repetitive music. For example, while writing this article, I went through about 20 Slayer songs and listened to the first few seconds and then some where in the middle – in about 70% of the cases, I couldn’t really make a difference between the songs. Doing the same with a same of Metallica songs, they all are so different and original. Even on Kill ‘Em All where the lyrics were childish (particular Jump in the Fire and Phantom Lord), the music is blistering and there are so many transitions. Ride the Lightning has moments of true genius (particularly Fade to Black) and Master of Puppets is probably the best metal album ever recorded. Yeah, I am a fan. Fuck it all and no regrets.

OK, now for some TV :)

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About Michael Finocchiaro

IT Architecture Guru for large PLM software company but dabbling in Web 2.0 and other stuff.
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