“School’s a job, but you won’t get paid!”
The band that more-or-less coined the term “crossover” in regards to thrash metal, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (or more commonly DRI) took thrash as a genre to new heights. In my eyes, they bridged a lot of gaps between the pioneering bands and the revival bands. They’ve been around since the early ‘80s, beginning with music so aggressive that it likely pushed the powerviolence movement (see Dirty Rotten EP). But as the decade progressed, they became one of the essential building blocks of crossover thrash alongside Suicidal Tendencies, Cryptic Slaughter, and perhaps Nuclear Assault. By 1989, they had crafted possibly the greatest album of this style, the almighty Thrash Zone. And what better day to talk about its influence than on its 30th birthday?
What made this so revolutionary is that despite being so rooted in hardcore alongside thrash, it kept things extremely concise and injected so many hooks that the songs stand apart in their own merits. Their companions Cryptic Slaughter crossed over with such an abrasive and barbaric degree whereas DRI took a platform similar to Anthrax and just iced the cake with the hardcore approach and even more humor. Album opener “Thrashard” rings in clear influence from the classic “Caught In A Mosh” not only in style but in lyrical content. Overall, their structure was bottomed out with a more cemented foundation relished in intricate and meaningful craft. “Gun Control” is an easy example because of how it takes a serious political stance and delivers it in a more sophisticated way than the band is known for. But I honestly find this in “Strategy” as well for the same reasons, musically.
If that’s not enough, the hookiest moments can be found scattered across the whole thing. “Beneath The Wheel” is one of the best songs DRI have ever written because Spike Cassidy’s riff work here is stomping, memorable, and rides alongside Kurt Brecht’s vocals exceptionally. Meant to be relatable to high schoolers, it’s also a shout against those who look down on people who are less book-smarts oriented. The slower, bouncy passages jumping back and forth with the speed metal riffs are remarkable.
The sillier and more ridiculous songs blend in quite well too. “You Say I’m Scum” basically takes the hardcore slams and launches them into breakneck speeds for a blistering and repetitive chorus. The song ends in under two minutes, yet it manages to achieve everything it’s set out to do. What’s important is that it matches the same idea vocalized in “Beneath The Wheel.” “Give A Hoot” is also a bit of a humorous one meant to project a satirical image, alongside its superior companion “The Trade.” That one specifically capitalizes on the life of being in a band like DRI, and has so much energy; Felix Griffin’s drumming alongside the bass passages boost things into overdrive. Songs like that are what prevent Thrash Zone from falling out of the DRI roots. Another favorite of mine is “Enemy Within” just because it shines their barbaric nature onto the hookier notes.
Thrash Zone is also not without moments that go completely against the grain, and namely, I’m talking about “Kill The Words.” The long, instrumental intro would have made this a fun enough track on its own because there are groove-drenched melodies all over the place alongside even more pummeling bass-lines. The aforementioned “Thrashard” also uses John Menor’s thumping rhythms to its advantage by filling the sudden stops with bounciness.
Really, this is a perfect album. It’s almost fifty minutes long, yet the songs don’t dry up or get boring in the slightest. That’s an issue that most longer thrash and death albums have, but the dynamics here are so sharp that everything’s necessary. Thrash Zone could not be more fitting of a name since the subject matter focuses on the thrash scene itself, societal issues common for thrashers to touch, and really the riffs couldn’t be anymore pit-friendly. Every moment feels genuine; nothing is phoned-in. Any thrasher who hasn’t given this a listen is starving themselves of some essential nutrients.
Thrash Zone came out on October 10th, 1989 through Metal Blade Records. It’s available in CD, LP, and cassette, mostly only existing on older pressings. All can be found here.