There are times when listening to a record — like Death Angel’s “Act III” or Havok’s “Conformicide” — elicits a specific response: “Damn, this band was/is on fire!” As with most heavy metal, said fire usually comes from three different musical areas. Vocals. Guitars. And drums. OK, fair, bass, too if we’re talking Colin Marston (Gorguts) or Art Liboon (Mordred) or Robert Trujillo (during his Suicidal Tendencies stint). But most of the time, it’s the primary three instruments, with the guitar leading the pack. Over the years, guitarists usually get their due. They get featured in a guitar magazine, maybe even a cover, or they get to guest up a musical notch. But some guitarists don’t get their praise, their kudos, for whatever reason. While there are many great guitarists in metaldom, we’ve centered on the Top Five Thrash Guitarists deserving high praise.
Now, again, there’s a big swath of time — ’80s, ’90s, ’00, and beyond — to consider. There are other factors, too. Like is said fretboard wizard still active? Still with his/her main act? Is the guitarist making significant progress to his/her own music, and thus the greater scene? Decibel considered the eras, activity, and albums, coming up with five six-stringers who, for all intents and purposes, remain under the radar but are high-flying in their own bands. Some recently out of the gate. Some 20-plus years into their respective careers. Like relative newcomer Vektor’s David DiSanto. And like veteran Annihilator’s Jeff Waters.
Certainly, lists polarize, but if anything’s accomplished from this piece it’s awareness of 5 top-level string-burners and their music. Time to thrash ’em all!
5. David DiSanto (Vektor)
David DiSanto is from Neptune. No doubt about it. Since forming Vektor on a spaceship ride between his home planet and Earth in C.E. 2004, DiSanto, whose real moniker is DDIG-88, has transformed his favorite form of human music known as thrash. By pulling in disparate influences—from Ihsahn and Alex Lifeson to David Gilmour and Mike Sifringer—DiSanto has created a style that’s entirely thrash-prog-black metal, with elements of Neptune’s atmosphere (mostly hydrogen and helium) coming in to levitate things to unheard of levels. DiSanto riffs so hard and so well, it’s almost as if he’s not really playing at all. His most finest riffage can be heard on ‘Charging the Void’, ‘Tetrastructural Minds’, ‘Oblivion’, and ‘Black Future’. Vektor’s latest, “Terminal Redux”, is a must-hear.
4. Michael Stützer (Artillery)
Michael Stützer’s legacy as a first-rate ripper goes all the way back to 1985 when a then-young Artillery were preparing the release of their debut album, “Fear of Tomorrow”. Neat Records, the Danes’ label, had no idea they had one of thrash metal’s earliest innovators. While most Americans weren’t familiar with Artillery, the Danes were likened to a Euro version of Megadeth and Slayer, but were probably closer to Coroner insofar as Artillery didn’t play the occult card. Always fast, always technical, Stützer helped push the thrash envelope with songs like ‘By Inheritance’, ‘Khomaniac’, ‘Beneath the Clay (R.I.P.)’, and ‘7:00 From Tashkent’. Stützer’s still riffing like it’s his last riff on Artillery’s well-received album, “Penalty by Perception”.
3. David Sanchez (Havok)
Since 2004, Sanchez and team Havok, especially Sanchez’s formidable sideman/soloist Reece Scruggs, have spearheaded the charge of the present-day thrash metal. Over the course of four full-lengths–“Conformicide”, the group’s latest, is superb–Sanchez has blazed familiar and new territory across the fretboard. Starting at age 13, Sanchez wood-shedded like most diligent would-be stars, practicing to Metallica. In short order, Sanchez’s right hand was mastered. Early influences included duos Hammett/Hetfield, Ian/Spitz, Hanneman/King, Holt/Hunolt, and Pantera riff-master Darrell Abbott. Later, Sanchez widened his horizons by absorbing the wild musical antics of Danny Elfman and the jazz-fusion tact of Al Di Meola. To zero in on Sanchez’s finer work, check out: ‘Hang ‘Em High’, ‘Prepare for Attack’, ‘Point of No Return’ and ‘F.P.C.’
2. Jeff Waters (Annihilator)
Jeff Waters isn’t an unknown, but his work in Annihilator has largely gone unrecognized, unheralded, and unglorified. Let’s change that. Waters picked up the guitar at age 7. His first guitar wasn’t a Flying V, but rather an acoustic guitar that he played for hours a day. By age 12, Waters was enrolled in classical guitar lessons where the teacher taught the aspiring Canadian technical perfection. Inspired by Angus Young, Jeff Hanneman, Gary Holt, and Eddie Van Halen, Waters eventually formed Annihilator in 1984. Over the course of three demos, the Ottawa-based outfit secured a deal with Roadrunner Records. Some of Waters’ best work—mega-riffs for days!—can be heard on the inimitable ‘Alison Hell’, ‘The Fun Palace’, ‘King of the Kill’, and ‘Wicked Mystic’. Waters remains a force to be reckoned with, as heard on Annihilator’s 2015 stunner, “Suicide Society”.
1. Rob Cavestany (Death Angel)
Rob kills fretboards daily. Since 1982. What more can be said about thrash metal’s most versatile player? Feel, technicality, solos, attitude are all present when Rob powers up his Jackson signature. Really, what more can be said about Cavestany’s superb proficiency? OK, let’s just list choice songs: ‘Bored’, ‘Seemingly Endless Time’, ‘Discontinued’, ‘The Moth’, ‘The Ultra-Violence’, ‘Cause for Alarm’, ‘Thrashers’, ‘A Room With A View’, ‘Thrown To The Wolves’, ‘Veil Of Deception’, and ‘Kill as One’. OK, five more: ‘Hatred United, United Hate’, ‘Lost’, ‘3rd Floor’, ‘The Dream Calls for Blood’, and ‘Disturbing the Peace’. Cavestany remains a five-star riffmaster, as heard on Death Angel’s latest full-length, “The Evil Divide”.