The 10 Best Crossover Thrash Bands

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Suicidal Tendencies
Photo by Pep Williams

Fans of punk and metal nowadays take it for granted that the two genres often manage to intermingle. It isn't uncommon to spot a Black Flag T-shirt at a metal show, or a Metallica T-shirt at a punk show. But during the early-to-mid-1980s, such camaraderie between hardcore punk and heavy metal was non-existent and for a period of time, the two scenes could not peacefully coexist.

But, as the violence, hostility, fights, and mayhem ensued when the fans met at shows, bands were able to use this tension and chaos to usher in a new breed (at the time) of thrash metal and punk rock combined, a hybrid style of music that came to be known as crossover, since it bridged the gap, and crossed between fans of both hardcore and metal.

Ask any one old enough to witness concerts back in the day by bands such as D.R.I., Anthrax, Cro-Mags, Suicidal Tendencies and others on this list and off. Many are still fighting the good fight, putting out new music, and destroying audiences across the globe. Many are not letting factors such as personal health, age or finances stand in their way of bringing bring thrash punk to their fans. It was the first generation of crossover bands which created the backdrop, and spawned a musical subculture to influence new generations of bands today, such as Municipal Waste, Toxic Holocaust, Iron Reagan, Trash Talk and more.

This is the music that slam dancing was made for. We now present our list of top ten crossover bands.

10. Excel

Another band from the cluster within the Venice punk skate/thrash scene, Excel was formed by guitarist Adam Siegel and vocalist Dan Clements. Their peers included Suicidal Tendencies, Cryptic Slaughter, No Mercy, Beowulf and others in the famous Venice music scene of the time. Excel's thrash metal sound soon took hold and the band played shows with bigger names in metal, including Megadeth and Overkill. Excel disbanded in 1995, but new, unreleased material was released in 2001. The band did get some notoriety when around a decade ago, allegations were made that the Metallica hit "Enter Sandman" was indeed a rip off of the main riffs used in the Excel song, "Tapping Into The Emotional Void," from the album The Joke's on You (1989). Since then, with growing interest in the band, a new lineup featuring original singer Dan Clements has formed, and as of 2013, is beginning to play shows for all their fans of skaters, thrashers and punks.

9. Crumbsuckers

Forgotten among the mainstream, Crumbsuckers were a crossover thrash punk band formed in 1982, in Long Island, New York. The band was considered to be part of a network of East Coast crossover bands, including several on this list, and played shows with everyone from Suicidal Tendencies to Pantera and Megadeth. Founded when the band members were still in their teens, Crumbsuckers' skillful guitar playing was well ahead of their time. It blended punk, speed metal, rock and hints of blues to make an erratic crossover style that many bands try to mimic today. Though the band are no longer active, other bands have formed in their wake, and the members have gone on to join other groups, including Life of Agony, Pro-Pain, and more. The lasting impact of the Crumbsuckers can't be denied, as many younger fans are coming to discover their music, as the retro thrashers and punks keep it alive online and through record collecting.

8. Attitude Adjustment

This band formed in the SF Bay Area in the '80s, and fit in with the pure thrash bands of the scene, including Violence, Exodus, Forbidden, Possessed, Death Angel, Testament and more. But Attitude Adjustment added a bit more hardcore punk in their sound and approach and carved out a nice spot in the scene for themselves. The album American Paranoia (1986) has been a widely cited influence to everyone from Municipal Waste to Napalm Death, both of whom have toured with Attitude Adjustment. The violently fast drums, and metal-like screams and punk rock rage, have been at a constant for going on three decades, and the band aren't slowing down.

7. S.O.D. (Stormtroopers of Death)

This was a thrash band formed as a fun side project in 1985 by Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian, along with his band mate, drummer Charlie Benante, former Anthrax bassist Dan Lilker and vocalist Billy Milano. The band's uncompromising assault of punk-laced speed metal blended thrash and hardcore and made songs faster, angrier and louder than most others. Critics over the years have noted the racist, misogynistic and xenophobic lyrics, but the band has always said the lyrics are tongue-in-cheek and meant to be humorous, not taken literally. S.O.D. was a central part of the East Coast wave of thrash and regional wave of crossover in the mid-1980s, and the music speaks for itself, and would cater to fans of Slayer, Exodus, or any other band on this list. With two albums, Speak English or Die (1985), and Bigger Than the Devil (1999), the band also released a live album in 1992, and collection of unreleased material in 2007. It is unlikely the band will ever appear to record or tour again, so fans who got the chance to witness them back in the day are lucky.

6. Carnivore

Another NYC band, Carnivore was formed by the late, great Peter Steele, before Type O Negative came into existence. Only active between 1982 and 1987, the band's hardcore punk roots combine with thrash metal to create a dark and bleak vision of the future. Carnivore showcased much of Steele's sick, twisted, dark and outright disturbing sense of humor and worldviews. Though the band only released two albums, their self-titled debut (1985) and Retaliation (1987), the band has since gained a cult-like following, and even reunited for a few one-off shows in the '90s, and in 2006-07 for a few European festival appearances. But Steele's tragic death in 2010 put an end to the possibility of more shows with Carnivore or Type O Negative forever. 

5. Cro-Mags

Another staple band in the original NYC hardcore punk movement in the '80s, Cro-Mags were born and raised on the streets and have the street credibility, fury and aggression that defines crossover. Formed when the band were still teenage gutter punks, the band's 1986 album The Age of Quarrel is considered by many to be a blueprint for all crossover thrash punk bands to follow. The band's original members have had a hostile, sour relationship, including a 2012 incident where founding bassist Harley Flanagan stabbed several people and was injured himself at a concert the band was playing with original vocalist John Joseph. Despite the controversy and bad blood, the Cro-Mags still make music and tour.

4. Agnostic Front

With an irrefutable reputation as being one of the first and toughest of the early '80s NYC hardcore punk bands, Agnostic Front was formed in 1980 by guitarist Vinnie Stigma, who would later recruit Roger Miret as the band's outspoken, tough-guy vocalist. Though initially only punk, the band's sound morphed to include more thrashy parts, and by 1986's album Cause for Alarm, the band displayed the quintessential crossover sound. With break-ups in the '90s and current reunions, and even the forming of a separate hardcore band, Madball, Agnostic Front still carries on today, with Miret and Stigma still at the helm, leading the way, making new music and touring every chance they get.

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3. Suicidal Tendencies

How could we mention crossover without mentioning one of the pivotal bands that merged hardcore punk and thrash metal in the early '80s? Suicidal Tendencies was formed by Mike Muir and has, in three decades, put Venice on the map for an aggressive, fast music, gang culture, tattoos and skateboarding. For many, ST is more than just a band, it's a lifestyle. With their debut 1983 seminal album, including the band's biggest hit song, "Institutionalized," fans were introduced to a very raw, amped-up, punk-rock version of thrash metal they could pit to. Speed metal and punk had their fates united with this record. But it didn't end there. After the first album, the band offered several more classic thrash metal records, including Join the Army (1987), and How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can't Even Smile Today (1988). The band has had well over two dozen musicians in its lineup over its career, and recorded a dozen studio albums. Muir is still keeping the flame going, inciting circle pits around the world, with the current lineup including guitarists Dean Pleasants and Nico Santora, drummer Eric Moore, and bassist Michael Morgan.

2. Cryptic Slaughter

Almost ignored by the mainstream, Cryptic Slaughter came up in 1984 in the Westside, including areas of Venice and Santa Monica. They were among the first wave of punk/thrash bands to emerge from the Venice skate-punk scene, including bands like Suicidal Tendencies, Excel and many more. Featuring guitarist Les Evans, drummer Scott Peterson, bassist Rob Nicholson and vocalist Bill Crooks, the band's very harsh and abrasive fusion of sped-up punk and thrash metal gave fans a reason to be angry. Whether it was lashing out against corruption, mass consumerism, greed, wars or other societal ills, Cryptic Slaughter took anger, speed and punk ethics, attitudes and social justice issues and was a crucial band in developing the crossover scene in the '80s. The 1986 album Convicted and the next year's follow-up, Money Talks, are classic crossover records.

1. D.R.I.

Dirty Rotten Imbeciles have become synonymous with the terms crossover and thrash punk, and their iconic slam-dancing man logo adorns many of their albums, shirts and patches. Since forming in Houston, Texas, in 1982, the band has slowly evolved from punk to incorporating more speed metal elements. D.R.I. has consistently featured vocalist Kurt Brecht, and guitarist Spike Cassidy. Even into the third decade of performing to rabid fans of pitting maniacs and stage divers, D.R.I. show no signs of slowing down. If anything, they have gotten faster with age. The band's 1987 classic release Crossover is what coined the term to describe the mutation of hardcore punk and speed metal. In 2006, Cassidy was diagnosed with colon cancer and had to have a large section of his intestines removed. Obviously for the time being, while he recovered, all recording and tours were canceled. But since then, he has made a full recovery, and the band continues to create havoc and burst eardrums in any town they can.

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