Thrash metal, an extreme form of heavy metal music, was formed in the 1980s and quickly became the most popular metal genre throughout the decade. As the style continued, more bands from across the world would come to join the fun.
But who are the most popular thrash metal bands who have dominated airwaves since the start of the genre? If you’re interested to learn more, we’re here to help. Read on for our list of the 13 greatest and most famous thrash metal bands.
As a note, this list isn’t in a specific order—except for the first four, who are known as the Big Four of Thrash! Let’s get started.
Top of our list is the California band Metallica, considered the greatest thrash metal band by most fans. One of the first bands to have engaged with the genre, Metallica remains the most famous band in thrash.
With an aggressive sound and fast tempo, Metallica has released some of the genre’s well-known songs, like their early ’90s hits “Enter Sandman,” “Nothing Else Matters,” and “The Unforgiven.”
Nowadays, Metallica is less of a thrash band—their sound would change genres several times, from the infamous St. Anger to a collaboration with Lou Reed. Despite eventually fading from the genre, Metallica remains a hard-to-dispute first-place pick for the most famous thrash metal band of all time.
Another member of the Big Four of Thrash, many consider Anthrax to be the most underrated of the group. Formed in 1981 in New York, the band was one of the first to come from the East Coast of the States.
Fans might be familiar with some of their works, like “Only” and “Black Lodge. Despite not having a lot of charting songs, Anthrax won several Metal Hammer Golden Gods awards, including Best Metal Band.
Over the years, the group has had many lineup changes, leaving guitarist Scott Ian as the only constant member. Anthrax has endured, however, with their 12th studio album currently in the works.
What’s more metal than naming your band after the unit of measurement for 1,000,000 deaths in nuclear warfare? Megadeth is our third Big Four band and undeniably one of the most famous thrash bands of all time.
Just before Metallica released their debut album, Kill ‘Em All, the band fired Dave Mustaine in mid-April of 1983. In response, Mustaine vowed he would form a band that was faster and heavier than Metallica.
While Megadeth certainly hasn’t topped Metallica in fame, Mustaine’s goal of a heavier band has been undeniably met. Just listen to their debut album, Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! Talk about speedy riffs!
The final band of the Big Four, many consider Slayer as the heaviest thrash metal band from their era. Formed in 1981 in California, Slayer’s fast, violent style quickly pushed them into the limelight.
Countless modern metal bands cite Slayer as one of their greatest influences. With a profound impact on the metal scene and worldwide fame, and songs like “Eyes of the Insane” and “Final Six,” Slayer’s popularity is impossible to ignore.
Lasting over three decades, Slayer would embark on a farewell tour in 2018. The tour lasted from May 2018 to November 2019. After the tour was over, Slayer officially disbanded in late 2019.
With the Big Four discussed, there are still plenty of thrash bands that have left their mark. You can’t discuss thrash metal without discussing the Brazilian thrash/heavy metal band Sepultura.
With a name that translates to “Grave,” Sepultura was formed in the mid-1980s by brothers Max and Igor Cavalera. As their 39-year career continued, they released 15 studio albums. Roots, their sixth, is considered their best, ranking within the top four in Australia’s, Austra’s, and France’s charts.
Sepultura would experience multiple lineup changes. However, with Igor’s departure in 2006, there are no original members left, but the new members continue their legacy.
Formed in 1981 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Sodom started off as a black metal band. But they weren’t taken seriously at first. It wasn’t until they made the shift in sound to thrash that they began to gain fans and rise in popularity quickly.
Their album Persecution Mania is a must-listen for the perfect example of their extreme speed and loud, forceful music. During the early and mid-1990s, Sodom deviated from the thrash sound, but to fans’ relief, they returned to the genre with the release of their ninth studio album, Code Red.
Considered a member of the Big Four of Teutonic Thrash Metal, Sodom’s influence is impossible to understate. Having sold over two million records, they are one of the top-selling thrash metal acts in history.
Seventh on our list is one of the earliest thrash bands known. Formed in Richmond, California, in 1979, Exodus had quite the success during the 1980s, particularly with their albums Pleasures of the Flesh and Fabulous Disaster, which landed spots within the top 100 on Billboard‘s Hot 200 chart.
However, Exodus has had a tumultuous history. Feuds between members, several hiatuses, and the deaths of former band members has left its mark. The most consistent member is drummer Tom Hunting, who’s left the band twice but kept steady membership since 2007.
8. Suicidal Tendencies
Singer Mike Muir founded our next thrash band, Suicidal Tendencies. Formed in 1980 in California, the band is considered one of the four Fathers of Crossover Thrash for their music blend of hardcore punk and thrash.
Rated the “Best New Band” in 1982, the band is far from without its black marks. They endured a rough start and even were called the “worst band” shortly after their debut.
However, Suicidal Tendencies eventually had commercial success, particularly with their late 1980s albums, like How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today and Controlled by Hatred/Feel Like Shit … Déjà Vu the year after.
Another California band, Testament, was formed in 1983 under the name Legacy. This name was changed in 1986, soon after they signed up with Atlantic Records.
Testament’s start was slow going. Their first two albums were met with mediocre success, but this changed with their third album in 1989, Practice What You Preach, which entered in the top 100 of the Billboard Hot 200 chart.
Their next two albums were also quite successful, but nothing compared to the resurgence in popularity they had in 2012. Their 11th album, Dark Roots of Earth, climbed up to #12 on the Hot 200, becoming their highest-ranking album to date.
10. Bonded By Blood
Our next thrash band got its name from Exodus’s debut album. Formed in 2005 by Jose Barrales, the California group is considered one of the bands who spearheaded the era of thrash metal revival.
The group got their start after winning a battle of bands in 2006. Two years after, they released their debut album, Feed the Beast. This was followed by Exiled to Earth in 2010 and The Aftermath in 2012.
Though not quite as popular as other bands mentioned here, touring has helped Bonded by Blood gain momentum in their career. They were inactive for some years after the release of their last album but have since announced their return in 2021.
Jumping back to the East Coast, we have next Overkill, formed in New Jersey in 1980. Sometimes called the Motörhead of thrash metal, their style was known to be fast and aggressive, heavily influenced by punk rock and British metal.
Overkill would fade from US popularity in the 2000s, though they remained in the airwaves of Europe and Japan. In the 2010s, the band released three more studio albums that landed within the top 100 of the charts, rocketing them back to Stateside popularity.
Though not quite as well-known as big-name thrash bands like Metallica, Overkill has still influenced many of the modern thrash groups out there, like Mantic Ritual and Evile.
Our penultimate band, Kreator is considered the undisputed king of German thrash metal. Pioneering the death and black metal genres in the 1980s, the group has since released fifteen studio albums and several other projects.
Kreator’s fame took some time to grow worldwide. Despite being one of the first European thrash bands, it wasn’t until 2012 that their album Phantom Antichrist brought them worldwide fame.
Eventually, Kreator would sell more than two million units worldwide, and more still, as they’ve recently released the album Hate Über Alles, in 2022. The group also has plenty of touring plans over the next years.
The only Canadian thrash band on the list, Annihilator, formed in Ottawa in 1984. Though more popular outside of their homeland (and the US, for that matter), the band remains the highest-selling Canadian thrash metal group in history, with more than three million albums sold.
Despite forming in 1984, it would take until 1988 for Annihilator to sign with Roadrunner Records and release their debut album, Alice in Hell. Worldwide tours would see them opening for bands like Onslaught, Exodus, Testament, and more.
Disbanding around 1994 and reuniting to release Criteria for a Black Widow in 1999, Annihilator would undergo more lineup changes before continuing. Their current lineup is still active, having released their most recent album, Ballistic, Sadistic, in 2020.
Summing Up Our List Of Popular Thrash Bands
With worldwide popularity and millions of albums sold, the thrash genre remains a favorite for music fans who prefer fast, heavy, aggressive beats and dark themes.
Whether you prefer the original thrash music of the ’80s or of the revival era of the 2000s, these bands have you covered. Give them a try, and maybe you’ll find a new favorite.
However, these 13 we’ve listed are far from the only relevant thrash metal bands. Who have we missed off? Let us know and we’ll add them!