You are here

The History of Thrash Metal

The History of Thrash Metal

"Lars would always say, 'I'm gonna start a band one day,' and I'd be like, 'Sure man, whatever,'" says Slagel. "He had this little drum set in the corner of his bedroom, but it wasn't even set up. I'd always laugh when I saw it because it was just a big mess. But when I started compiling Metal Massacre, Lars came to me and said, ' If I get a band together, can I be on the album?' Since he was a good friend I said, 'Absolutely.' "

Ulrich contacted an 18-year-old guitarist from Downey, California, named James Hetfield, whose metal band, Leather Charm, he had auditioned for unsuccessfully. Hetfield had been unimpressed with the novice drurrmier's skills, but the news that Ulrich had the opportunity to release a song on an actual vinyl album instantly made him a more attractive bandmate. The two got together at Ulrich 's house and, using a cheap four track machine, reworked and recorded an old Leather Charm composition called " Hit the Lights." Ulrich played drums, Hetfield handled guitar, bass and vocals, and a local Jamaican guitarist named Lloyd Grant was brought in to play the solo. Credited to "Mettallica" on Metal Massacre's first pressing, this early version of "Hit the Lights" gallops along at breakneck speed, punctuated by lurching tempo changes. It may very well be the first American thrash metal song. At the very least, its racing guitar riffs and frantic drumming laid the blueprint for the sound that would soon take over the world.

As Metal Massacre made its way through the underground scene in the summer of 1982, other thrashminded bands-Slayer in Southern California, Anthrax in New York and Exodus in San Francisco-were sprouting up across the country, completely independent of one another. Like Metallica, each band was made up of teenagers fueled by a desire to take the heavy metal music that they loved and build on it to create something that was completely new and entirely their own.

"People ask me all the tim e how our sound came about," says guitarist Gary Holt, who joined Exodus in 1983 after seeing the band perform in his high school music room. " In my case, the answer is that I didn't know any better. I was just this kid sitting in his bedroom trying to write the fastest, craziest shit I could."

Few bands played faster or looked crazier than Huntington Beach's Slayer, whose corrosive, buzz-saw guitar riffs and coarse, shouted vocals reflected the influence of hard core punk acts like the Adolescents, Minor Threat and G.B.H. as much as they did the inspiration of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Venom. In addition, the band initially wore thick black eye makeup and spiked armbands and collars. The overall effect was far from subtle.

"People hated us at the beginning because they just didn't know what to make of what we were doing," says guitarist Kerry King. "We'd go into a club and blow the roof off the place."

As a result, few Los Angeles-area venues were willing to book the band. So while Metallica tried their hand, for the most part unsuccessfully, at Hollywood clubs like the Troubadour and the Whiskey, Slayer went a different route. "We stayed away from the Sunset Strip because that's where you had all the bullshit glam acts," says King. " Instead, we mostly played around Orange County, at places like Woodstock and Radio City."

The East Coast bands faced similar problems. "In '81 and '82 there was absolutely nothing going on," says Scott Ian. "Unless you were Twisted Sister, the clubs wouldn't book any groups doing original material. They only wanted cover bands, and even then , they didn't want the type of covers Anthrax were playing-stuff like Priest, Motorhead and the Ramones."

Stay tuned for Part 4!


Billy Sheehan Breaks Down Eddie Van Halen's Technique in 1985