Of all the different forms of extreme metal, there is arguably none that captures the raw excitement and energy of music better than black-thrash. A musical manifestation of Venom’s line about “riding hell’s stallions bareback and free”, black-thrash is, at its best, music of unrestrained chaos, tapping in to a raw, primal nature and unleashing it via the medium of savage, lawless metal. Since effectively being given its name by the mighty Aura Noir in 1996 – with debut album Black Thrash Attack – the genre has had a consistently devoted fanbase in the underground, with bands carrying the dark flame that was birthed by the likes of Sodom, Venom, and Sarcófago (pictured above); all done with a wicked grin and blasphemous spirit.
Here, then, are what I feel are five of the best bands of the style; some are veterans, some are young blood keeping the flame burning bright, whilst others are twisting it in to new, exciting forms. Enjoy!
The first band to form on this list, starting out several years prior to Aura Noir, Absu might not be a clean fit with black-thrash, but then, they’re not really a clean fit with any sub-genre of music. Their take on metal has been distinctive ever since they began (even if Barathrum: V.I.T.R.I.O.L had more of a death metal feel than the sound they would later develop), and by the time of third album, The Third Storm of Cythraul, they had really hit their stride. Moving with relentless energy and a sense of the grandiose, Absu represent black-thrash at its most dramatic, with songs like ‘Highland Tyrant Attack’, ‘Pillars of Mercy’, and ‘Girra’s Temple’ coming across not so much as songs, but as epic tales from a half-forgotten history set to extreme metal, with the lyrical themes informed by Sumerian and Celtic mythology, and magic through occultism. It’s been 7 years since last album Abzu, and hopefully the next one will come soon, closing the trilogy that began with the post-reformation self-titled album.
Given that they are responsible, in large part, for black-thrash as we know it today, it would be remiss of me not to include Aura Noir in this list. Black Thrash Attack, given the hindsight of history, now looks like an absolutely key part of black metal being saved from itself. At a time when much of the genre was still reeling from the attention that came with the murder of Euronymous, and with the popularity of symphonic black metal taking the genre in to new heights of pompousness, black metal needed something as vicious and dirty as Black Thrash Attack, that served as a reminder of just what spawned the whole black metal genre in the first place. The band haven’t looked back since, releasing albums that reek of spilt beers and dirt under their fingernails, and coming album Aura Noire is likely to be one of 2018’s highlights.
If any band defines the excess and blasphemy that’s present in all good black-thrash, it’s Bestial Mockery. The Swedish band are responsible for such unsubtle songs as ‘Christcrushing Hammerchainsaw’, ‘Satan’s Devilsaw’, and ‘Metal Fucking Death’. With four albums and thirteen splits to their name – not to mention compilation appearances – the workrate of Bestial Mockery was second only to their utter devotion to blasphemous black-thrash, with their artwork being a perfect representation of what their music sounds like – the cover for Gospel of the Insane, in particular, is incredible. The band walked a thin line between utter Satanic devotion and self-parody – most notably on ‘Hell’s Vociferation’ with its line “do you get turned on by fucking corpses?” and the opening repetitions of “fuck you!” on ‘Father in Heaven’ – but they just about land on the right side of such a divide; and even if they don’t, you suspect the band intended it that way. Also noteworthy is that the band appeared on an anti-NSBM compilation, Burning Roots, released by Euronydead Records in 2007.
Whilst Aura Noir and Bestial Mockery represent the old-guard of black-thrash, Scottish one-man band Hellripper are one of the most exciting black-thrash acts of modern times. After a series of demos and splits, debut album Coagulating Darkness arrived last year, and it more than lived up to expectations. Racing ahead with the kind of tempos and determination normally only found within speed metal, Hellripper’s music is possessed of street metal grit and metalpunk attitude, with more than a hint of Motorhead to many of the riffs – there’s no prisoners taken, no fucks given, just riffs and solos that demand sacrifices to Satan. There’s an energy and vitality to Hellripper’s music that connects it to the greats of classic metal, regardless of genre – it puts across the kind of thrill and excitement that takes you back to when you first heard Killers or British Steel in your teens. It should also be noted that mainman James McBain is a totally decent guy, and has regularly donated proceeds from sales to charity, providing further evidence (were it ever needed) that you don’t need to be a nasty person to write nasty music.
Inconsessus Lux Lucis
Whilst the bands previously mentioned (Absu aside) are black-thrash through-and-through, and represent some of the best examples of the core sound of the style, UK duo Inconsesssus Lux Lucis are instead pulling the genre in to new, uncomfortable positions, merging black-thrash speed, energy, and techniques with dizzying song structures that often have more in common with Aosoth than they do Aura Noir. Latest album, The Crowning Quietus, in particular represents an absolute triumph for the band, full of relentless energy and blasphemous atmospheres – but unlike, say, Bestial Mockery, whose blasphemous atmospheres owe great debts to the excess of first wave Brazilian bands, Inconcessus Lux Lucis tap in to the same sort of darkness as the best orthodox black metal does. This combination of sounds and atmospheres is notable enough, but what really makes them one of the best bands around today is when they move in to classic heavy metal territories, as best evidenced by the closing minutes of ‘Fever Upon the Firmament’ – a song so good that it makes almost everything else you’ll listen to today feel obsolete.
If that’s not enough black-thrashing madness for you, then you might also want to consider spending some time with NNGNN, whose two EPs are excellent (though they have announced today that NNGNN is finished, and have changed direction under the new name Valaraukar); the latest 7″ from The Infernal Sea, Agents of Satan, which saw them embrace black-thrash; Satanic Dystopia, who have recently returned to action; Abigail, whose lyrics can fall on the wrong side of crass, but who can write some ass-kicking songs even if they might spread themselves a bit thin (seriously, Discogs lists them as having 122 releases, with 10 splits and 3 live albums released in 2017 alone); Sabbat, whose album Envenom is an absolute classic; Midnight, who are more Venom than Venom have been for a long time; and Bulletbelt, who are every bit as vicious and metal as the name implies. And that’s without considering the previously mentioned likes of Sarcofago’s I.N.R.I., or the early works of bands like Sodom, which are absolutely pivotal to the genre.