Old-School Thrash Metal

By Nathan Payne | pablosmoglives | 29 Sep 2023

"So it's late 1986 and me and my 13 year old mates had just discovered metal.  A friend said  "get load of this" and it was peace sells, and we were like woah what the hell was that!  It really was a groundbreaking album... it's difficult to describe now how amazing it felt to listen to something like this in 86."  Comment by Gaspanda on the video below

I agree.  My experience was similar.  I was hanging out with a friend of mine around that time and Peace Sells was playing, and we couldn't believe our ears.  We'd never heard anything like it.  We were instant fans.  Before I reached the end of my first Megadeth song, I became a guitar player.

Megadeth toured a lot, and I saw them at least a million times.  Probably closer to a dozen.  I remember going to see "Judas Priest" at the Rosemont Horizon near Chicago because Megadeth was opening.  We left before Judas Priest started playing, and had no idea why a band like Megadeth would have to open for a bunch of creepy leather dudes who played easy listening music for biker perverts.  We didn't even know what creepy leather dudes or biker perverts were, but we didn't like them.  We were like the AP Beavis & Butthead, advanced-placement metalheads who were in honor's English, got A's and B's in most subjects, and transcribed Metallica songs to relax.  Here's the tablature for "Am I Evil?" from the Kill 'Em All album, I made in high school while learning how to play guitar.


I did take guitar lessons for a short time when I was a Sophomore in High School, and my teacher tried to transcribe this song for me.  I was particularly interested in the incomprehensible rhythmic soup that starts around the 57-second mark, the churning riff that swirls around like so much molten lava.  My teacher did a great job, as far as I could tell.  I never have been able to play that section of the song.  I don't think it has ever been played.  Not even here:

Rust In Peace was a big deal when it came out.  Pre-Nirvana and the self-absorbent angst trip that came with it, it's a masterpiece of the genre.  Though I always preferred So Far So Good... So What! and Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?, Rust In Peace does contain the magnum opus of thrash metal, which I have been revisiting a lot this week.  The algorithm at YouTube has been suggesting Megadeth songs to me lately, since I posted one in my last article.  I remember learning the intro to this song, though the badass guitar playing under the vocals in the first verse is what gets my attention now.  

Pretty great.

I wrote more about this time in my life in the article A Library Full of Empty Maps, marching onto the football field in our Metallica T-shirts to play the halftime show in our morale-proof school band, and the lower-middle-class shop guys "who smoked cigarettes while showing off the engines of their cars in the parking lot at lunch," but that article is more focused on the reasons I fell away from my initial love affair with thrash metal, and even though it was only written 7 or 8 months ago, the story in A Library Full of Empty Maps is a little angrier than I'd tell it today.  And while we may have morphed into realistic variations of the underclass 80s archetypes in River's Edge, when we discovered Megadeth in 1986, we were more like the kids at the beginning of Terminator 2.  Not exactly, since Edward Furlong is about 4 years younger than me (a huge difference in high-school time).  But close enough.


I find myself having to step around a lot of that old-school Megadeth though.  There's a lot of obvious, overt witchiness in it.  Children of the air astrally project above melting, misshapen fallout zombies stranded on islands populated by devils and surrounded by sharks, upon which all kinds of creepy weirdos perform infernal rites on each other in ways that make the denizens of a Led Zeppelin song look like a bunch of joyful Christians.  It's a theme.  A topical minefield through which it is necessary to tread lightly.  If the death-tripping cover art doesn't give you any red flags, song titles like "The Conjuring" and "Bad Omen" should.  The darkness is easy to see, and should be proceeded upon with caution.

(It's like Hitchcock.  Or Stephen King.  I can see writing one "horror" book, or a couple murder mysteries.

But, if everything you write/record/produce is about death, murder, and the like,

I have to wonder if something's wrong with you).

You might be great.  You really might be.  But are you an artist, or a content creator?

As I wrote in the article Good Art vs. Sick Content, "Content creators have an agenda; artists are engaged in the process of discovery.  Creators of content are factory workers; artists are panning for gold.  Artists experience the revealing of the work before their eyes much like a child opening a Christmas present; content creators produce material for consumption (including by themselves).

The two are opposites."


But it's too late to get into all that.  Did 80s thrash metal destroy our minds?  Did it rot our hearts and souls?  Or did it give us a place to vent our rage?  Were we angry to begin with, or was the rage created and suggested by the presence of the vent?  "Oh look, a furious out.  Am I furious?  Should I be?  Were kids in the 1950s this angry?  Will kids of the future be this angry when the world occupied by the Megadeth mascot rises from the ashes of the happiness of the past?"


I dunno.  It's not my music anymore.  I'm not interested in the sick, the dying, and the dead.  Now less than ever.  In the 80s it sounded like righteous, anti-war indignation, even if we were too young to understand the hardcore drunken, drug-addled nuclear witchcraft that shines like a greasy diamond through the first few albums.  It was still the Cold War.  And the music does rock.

And who knows, we might have even been genuinely angry.  My River's Edge article does seem to hold some kind of grudge.  One which I am grateful to see has lifted.  Or lightened significantly, at least.  Whether it's right, wrong, or somewhere in the middle, 80s thrash metal was a groundbreaking sound.  It certainly put the hook in me, jamming in my headphones to double-dubbed cassette tapes at night before bed.  After my AP English homework and Metallica transcriptions were finished, of course.

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Nathan Payne
Nathan Payne

I am a songwriter and bandleader who travels the world in search of the golden ticket.


Replacing my blog at

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