Four best thrash metal bands of the 1990s

Thrash is not for everyone, but those who do love it will know these bands from the 1990s.
Slayer Performs At Pacific Coliseum
Slayer Performs At Pacific Coliseum / Andrew Chin/GettyImages

Thrash is an amalgam of distorted guitar sounds, aggressive tones, and fast tempos. This sub-genre of heavy metal was hugely popular among hard rock enthusiasts in the 1980s. Rightfully so.

Though it would later be upstaged in the public eye by grunge and nu-metal, thrash bands were in demand in the early 1990s, as well. The big four were Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax.

Fortunately, all of these bands are still touring. Most are still making good music. Each has a catalog worth exploring.

Thrash bands from the 1990s who were awesome


Metallica formed in Los Angeles, California, in 1981. They later relocated to San Francisco’s Bay Area. The band’s early line-up consisted of James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Dave Mustaine (who was replaced by Kirk Hammett in 1983), and Cliff Burton.

They released their third studio album, Master of Puppets, in 1986 and toured the U.S. as supporting act for Ozzy Osbourne. After Burton’s death in a tour bus accident in 1986, Jason Newsted was selected as the band’s new bassist. They recorded their next album, ...And Justice for All, and released it in 1988.

The critically acclaimed Metallica, commonly known as The Black Album, was released in 1991. Though this album proved a departure from Metallica’s signature thrash style, it was their best seller and brought them mainstream success.


Slayer also formed in 1981 near Los Angeles. Singer/bass player Tom Araya was 20 years old at the time, and fellow band members Jeff Hanneman, Dave Lombardo, and Kerry King were teenagers. Their brand of thrash was “a new hybrid of metal and punk – heavier, faster, and darker than the rest,” according to the band’s website.

They released their third album, Reign in Blood, in 1986. This was followed by Seasons in the Abyss, produced by Rick Rubin, in 1990. The fast tempos and thunderous guitar solos on the album’s songs melded with dark lyrics about nuclear war, the savagery of combat zones, and serial killer Ed Gein.


Megadeth formed in Los Angeles in 1983. (There must be something in the water there that inspires so many thrash bands!) Singer Dave Mustaine recruited David Ellefson, Greg Handevidt, and Dijon Carruthers as his original bandmates. 

Their second album, Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?, was released on Capitol Records in 1986. The album “combines a punkish political awareness with a dark, threatening, typically heavy metal world-view,” according to AllMusic.

Rust in Piece, the next album, was released in 1990. It is considered “one of the best thrash metal albums of all time” and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance. Countdown to Extinction followed in 1992, establishing Megadeth as one of the most popular thrash bands.


Anthrax was formed in New York City in 1981 by rhythm guitarist Scott Ian. The core line-up of Ian, Joey Belladonna, Frank Bello, and Charlie Benante was established in the mid-‘80s. State of Euphoria, their fourth studio album, was released in 1988.

Persistence of Time followed in 1990. Lyrics on the album’s songs dealt with dark topics such as racism (“Keep It in the Family”) and mental illness (“In My World”). Like Megadeth’s album from the ‘90s, Persistence of Time was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance.

Next. Brilliant live albums from the 1980s. Brilliant live albums from the 1980s. dark

Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax played together on the Clash of the Titans tour from 1990 to 1991. After selling out large venues in Europe, the thrash heroes returned to conquer the United States. I was fortunate to see all four bands at different stages of their careers and can attest to the power of a group of fans screaming along with their favorite metal songs.

More music news and analysis: