I don’t know what you think of when you hear the term “heavy metal” or more specifically “Christian metal.” Do you think of spandex or goat heads? Hairspray and makeup or the devil? Fortunately for the bands in this list, none of those things are really the issue. I started getting in underground music somewhere around 1988. (Yes, I’m old.) I started out listening to mainstream Christian rock like Petra and Russ Taff, then got into heavier stuff like Whitecross, Sacred Warrior and Jerusalem. And then . . . my musical world changed forever. I discovered thrash.
1. Vengeance (AKA Vengeance Rising) – Human Sacrifice
I was tuning into my local Christian radio station in Oklahoma City one night. They used to have this nightly show where they played heavier stuff—metal, punk, and later on hardcore too. As I was listening one night, the scariest, heaviest, weirdest sounding ‘music’ I’d ever heard came on. My first thought was, “There has to be some sort of mistake—there’s no way this is Christian music!” Luckily for me, I was wrong. And my listening tastes were changed forever. This was the heaviest thing ever released in the Christian scene—probably still to this day. From the gnarly cover art depicting the arms of Jesus on the cross, to the scripture-filled lyrics, this was thrash metal that was through and through all about Jesus. Weird? For sure. But there’s no denying the immense amount of talent and skill this band exemplified. Sadly, the original lineup only recorded 2 albums. Vocalist Roger Martinez tried to carry on after 4/5 of the band left to form bluesy metal outfit Die Happy. Martinez recorded 2 more albums with a different lineup each time, and then shocked everyone by renouncing the faith and becoming a Satanist. Don’t let any of that rule out how fantastic an album Human Sacrifice actually is.
2. Believer – Extraction from Mortality
Whereas Vengeance took an approach of sheer brutal heaviness, combined with a unique fascination for bluesy guitar licks, Believer added a progressive element to the genre heretofore unheard. The thing I always loved about Extraction for Mortality, the Pennsylvania band’s debut, was how each song had a unique intro. The main portion of each song was speed unrestrained, but the intros were incredibly creative and showed another side of the band. Subsequent releases from Believer delved deeper into progressive metal, such that recent releases aren’t even in the thrash subgenre. But Extraction is a stunning example of musicianship and a textbook thrash release.
3. Tourniquet – Stop the Bleeding
Tourniquet are well-known in the speed metal/thrash genre as masters of the medical dictionary. Drummer/founding member/principle songwriter Ted Kirkpatrick’s day job was a salesperson for medical supplies and his knowledge in that field made its way into the terminology of the albums, more often than not as metaphors for Christian spirituality in some way. Stop the Bleeding features lengthy songs with multiple movements, and combination of high-pitched squeals not too unlike King Diamond or the more modern Three Inches of Blood, as well as deeper, thrashy growls characteristic of thrash. Tourniquet were unique in the thrash field not only vocally, but in the way they structured songs—classical influences, particularly Mozart, Bach and Beethoven—were readily recognizable in the band’s sound.
4. Deliverance – Deliverance
Apparently I have a penchant for debut albums from thrash bands, as this list contains yet another debut. Deliverance had first appeared on the scene in the first California Metal compilation with 2 tracks. Their debut dropped in 1989 and featured a different take on thrash than did fellow Californians, Vengeance, despite having shared guitarist Glenn Rodgers at times. While just as fast and heavy, Deliverance emphasized melodic guitar leads and clean singing (not too unlike Geoff Tate of Queensryche) over death growls and brutal riffs. Their lyrics were thought-provoking, and while evangelistic, they also challenged hypocrisy in the church on tracks like “No Time” and “No Love” both of which featured incredible melodic thrashy breakdowns.
5. Sacrament – Testimony of Apocalypse
The second Pennsylvania band on our list, Sacrament was either the first Christian death metal, OR the heaviest thrash metal band, and critics and fans are disagreed about which. Testimony of Apocalypse precedes Mortification’s debut by almost a year, and features blastbeats and technical riffs that hint at death metal, even if one argues it doesn’t go all the way. Lyrics, as so many good Christian bands of the time, focused largely on end time prophecies and the need to turn to Christ before time runs out. If a secular death metal fan of the old school variety was looking for Christian bands to compete with Death, Obituary or early Entombed, this is probably where I’d start them out. Their sophomore release Haunts of Violence took a different approach, venturing into technical thrash, a la Coroner, also coinciding with a change in vocalist.
6. Seventh Angel – Lament for the Weary
Seventh Angel is the first band we’ve covered outside of the United States, hailing from England. Their stellar debut The Torment could just as easily been included here. It included straight-forward thrash, with a generous amount of acoustic interludes, a unique contribution to the field. But it was on their sophomore release where the band made its most profound impact. Lament for the Weary combines the speed and aggression of thrash, but intersperses slowed down, dark and doomy riffs in a way I’ve still never heard anywhere else. To my knowledge, no other band has combined doom metal (characterized by its slowness) and thrash metal (known for its break-neck speed) into a singular, cohesive sound. For this reason, it is one of the most original metal albums of all time, and one of my personal favorites!
7. Mortification – Mortification
Keeping up the international theme, Australia’s Mortification formed out of the ashes of speed metal band Lightforce. That previous band had toyed with speed and lots of time changes, but after changing some members and becoming a power trio, the newly-named Mortification raised the ante in almost every way—speed, heaviness, brutality. To many critics, this is the first label-released album in the death metal genre, played by Christians. Yet, there are many characteristics of thrash metal. While the band would get heavier on their next 2 releases and fully embrace the death metal genre, this debut is definitely one to seek out to find that rare combination of the speed of thrash and the brutality of death metal.
8. Detritus – Perpetual Defiance
Our second and final UK inclusion comes from Detritus. Their debut fuses speed metal and thrash in to a singular whole, reminiscent of early Megadeth, or perhaps more accurately cult faves Xentrix. Their sound, while containing all the clear marks of thrash—speed, growled/shouted vocals, tempo changes, in-your-face lyrics—somehow managed to sound different from all the other thrash bands at the time. Their sophomore effort If But for One is highly critically acclaimed as well.
9. The Crucified – The Crucified
This band from northern California started out playing punk rock, then hardcore punk and released 3 demos before their eponymous label debut. The Crucified exemplifies was is best known as “crossover thrash,” or simply a blend of thrash metal and hardcore punk. As such, the riffs are faster, but simpler than their thrash and death metal counterparts. Their influence on both metal and hardcore punk are immeasurable, as they, along with The Lead, from Florida had a huge impact on what was to come out of the Tooth & Nail/Solid State scene just a few years later. Coming from a hardcore background, the band were notorious about speaking their minds when confronting religious hypocrisy (they tackled both TV preachers and the pope all in the same song), or challenging non-believers (“When you wake up in hell, ask yourself—was your image worth it? Are you proud of yourself? You had a chance to receive, to be a believer, but you turned your back on God to be a crowd-pleaser.”)
10. Living Sacrifice – Living Sacrifice
I am fully aware that this is not the album that many of my readers would choose when selecting a Living Sacrifice album. Fans of the band are largely broken into 3 camps. Those who only like their material from Reborn and after; those who prefer their early material (like myself); and the few who actually like all of it. While LivSac probably endured the most successful evolutionary transformation of any Christian band that has ever existed . . . remember that this is an article about thrash metal. Right from the first notes of Living Sacrifice you know you are in for a ride. Most thrash bands would open their albums with long, elaborate intros that would build until you were ready for speed. Not this Arkansas band—from the first second, they were ripping into serious snare beats signifying a high BPM count. While some critics of the band complained they sounded too much like Slayer, other fans praised them for the comparison. The band only released one album in this style, as the next two went into full on death metal, and then the band reinvented themselves as a heavier-than-most metalcore band with each successive album becoming more and more progressive. Living Sacrifice, however, remains a thrash masterpiece.
Speed, heaviness, bold lyrics at the risk of cultural insensitivity? Check. This is thrash. What albums would you have included? Leave your suggestions in the comments.
Great list for sure! Some of my favorites there… One of my favorites that is missing: Betrayal’s Renaissance By Death. 😀
This is a great list. Thanks for giving some attention to this underappreciated genre. I would add “Nuclear Sunrise” from Hand of Fire, and “Stumbling Through” from The Hoax (shameless plug)
I’d go with Pathogenic or even Psycho Surgery over Stop the Bleeding. Two absolutely amazing albums. Those falsettos on Stop the Bleeding do the opposite to my ears — causing much metaphorical bleeding — however musically the album is nearly as good as the next two. You can’t go wrong with any Believer album. I’d go with Sanity over Extraction, but would take Dimensions over both. I can see why that album wouldn’t be included as it transcends the Thrash genre. I’d go with Weapons for Deliverance, as it saw a much improved band. Either Crucified album, S/T or Pillars,… Read more »
I own all of these and I still jam them regularly. Great list Loyd!
This is great list. I love it. Thank you.I remember, when i finally could go to only FYE for all my music instead of both my local Christian book store & FYE on Saturdays. I walked in FYE & there they were: Tooth and Nail cassettes inc. into the rock section & not separated to the dark, back corner. Even the cool record store dude finally knew what was talking about. He didn’t take me to the Shirley Ceasar & Mississippi Mass Chior that i had been sifting thru for years. This list may have been easier prior to the… Read more »
Yes, doing a more current list would be difficult, but there are some great bands out there keeping the thrash flame burning: Hating Evil, Supresion, Arnion, Divulgence, Ritual Servant, Synics Awakening, Hand of Fire, etc.
A VERY GOOD list indeed, I practically agree with everything, except with 2 topics. 1. There was a band who mixed doom with thrash sounds BEFORE Seventh Angel, and that was Metallica in the ”Justice” album. 2. the album that actually got THE CRUCIFIED into legends status was PILLARS OF HUMANITY, not the debut. so it is that the remastered version with reworked art of their albums was the PoH album, not the debut (although it has been remastered it is usually forgotten next to PoH)
Ok all, since thrash is the main topic here, I’m going to take the opportunity to tell you that you guys need to check out the band Proclaim from Melbourne, Australia. Fans of Messengers (TX) will be pleased and yes I DO consider Messengers thrash not hardcore or metalcore as some have labeled them. You can download 2 songs from a split they released here: https://proclaimhardcore.bandcamp.com/album/the-takehold-proclaim-split
Dowloaded. Will check it out.
Great list! Not much to argue with here, but although I love Extraction from Mortality, it’s Believers 2nd album, Sanity Obscure that I would have included. As far as The Crucified are concerned, I also think Pillars of Humanity is superior although a little less thrashy!
I think for example Seventh Angel would be much more famous if they were not labeled as a christian band. The lyrics was not so preachy.
Preachy! So its ok for some other band with a different set of beliefs to preach if they want eh! If I am hearing you right?
He’s just saying that to the secular public they would have had a larger audience. Also, Christians need to quit playing the victim. They’re the largest religion in the world
And also the most persecuted religion in the world, with around 90,000 killed for their faith a year and rising.
11. Incubus/Opprobrium – Serpent Temptation.
This is the most essential one.
All great records though.
All these bands should be here. I’d pick Weapons of Our Warfare, Sanity Obscure, Pathogenic Occular Dissonance for those three bands but the rest are my favorites. Cool that someone else likes the first Crucified over Pillars. Every other thrash band from back then comes underneath these. Unfortunately I find Christian thrash to be the most elusive of all subgenres. It was my second favorite genre before Christ and I went from hundreds of thrash albums to less than 30. Death metal, black metal there are many quality options. Christian thrash, only a few. Any other great options would be… Read more »
Hand Of Fire on Rottweiler Records
There are a few out there now trying to reawaken and re-energize the genre. Ritual Servant, Synics Awakening (with some DM thrown in), Hating Evil, Supresion (sic), Divulgence, Arnion.
I know what you mean, but I find the death metal pool just as difficult. Yes, there are lots of melodeath bands, but not many old school, IMO.
I could see that. Yet, Blood Thirsty, Death Requisite, Taking the Head of Goliath, Revulsed, Bloodwork, Consuming Fire, Tortured Conscience, Enshrouding, Pantokrator “Aurum,” Renascent, Azorrague (though their second was a death thrash hybrid), Necroblation all have relatively recent material. Plus bands like Flesh Killer (Extol), A Hill To Die Upon, The Slave Eye, Demonciduth, Lamentations, Hope For the Dying, The Burial, Vardoger, Aspiration, Immortal Souls (who I think keep getting better), Hilastherion and others are super solid and mix progressive, blackened, symphonic elements with their stuff and do a great job (Renascent probably belongs down in this list but the… Read more »
Current bands I enjoy in the thrash scene are Grave Forsaken (who have gotten better with each album. Love their latest “And So It Begins”), FreaKings, Hand of Fire, Supresion, Mad Dragzter (sound a lot like Defiance “Beyond Recognition” w some Testament/Metallica), Hating Evil, Julgamento, definitely Hand of Fire. Ritual Servant is going to be amazing when that album finally comes out!
It’s just crazy to me to think in 30 years these are some of the only bands even doing the style! There have been probably 2,000 Christian metalcore bands in that same time period.