Heavy Metal: The 1980s (Part 3) – The Emergence of Thrash Metal

During the era of 1980s heavy metal music, countless bands rose to fame that stuck to the traditional sounds of Black Sabbath and other pioneers of the 1970s. Others, such as Poison and Motley Crue dawned long hair, makeup, and outrageous outfits to form the hair bands of the 80s. During this decade, however, another subgenre materialized that produced what many consider to be the best metal bands of all time.

Thrash Metal Appears

Although heavy metal was already much faster paced than its rock predecessor, it was not quite fast and heavy enough for some. As the music of bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and became quicker and harsher, other bands took notice of this sound and built upon it. In 1981, two Southern California musicians came together to form Metallica, which many consider to be the first thrash metal band.

The Big Four of Thrash Metal

Although there were several early influences, and many bands formed that can be classified as thrash metal groups, there are four acts commonly referred to as the “Big Four.” These groups are Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax.


Forming in 1981 in Southern Los Angeles, this is the group that many people consider the first true thrash metal band. Interestingly, their original guitarist was fired just prior to the recording of their first album and would eventually found another of the “Big Four,” Megadeth. Metallica produced several extremely popular records, and is considered to be one of the best heavy metal bands of all time.


Slayer was founded the same year as Metallica, 1981, in Huntington Park, California. Their first album was self-produced, and was popular in the underground circuit. After earning enough money to hire a producer, they released many commercially successful albums. Fans of the group enjoyed their dark, satanic tones and very quick tempos. Like Metallica, Slayer is considered among the top metal groups in history.


After being fired from Metallica, Dave Mustaine formed his own group in 1985 named Megadeth. They released a debut album after having fired their producer and blowing much of their budget on drugs. Despite these incidents, the album was well-received. They would go on to produce several hit albums well into the 21st century. Many people rank Megadeth very high among the list of top bands.


Like Metallica and Slayer, Anthrax came together in 1981. Unlike their three counterparts, however, they were founded in New York instead of California. For their first several years, including the timeframe that their first album was released, the members of the band would shuffle on a regular basis. Members were constantly leaving and new musicians were being hired. This made it difficult to establish a presence. Finally, the lineup was completed in 1984, and the band produce several popular albums into the early 1990s. They then produced albums with a new lead vocalist from 1992 until the mid-2000s.

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