Thrash metal is one of those genres that continue to inspire hundreds of young musicians to get into the music industry. Unlike a lot of modern music that makes use of digital instruments and production techniques, at its core, thrash metal is often a group of guys putting raw, driving power into their music through live instrumentation.
Balls-to-the-wall tempos, guitars, bass & drums with lots of volume (and a fair amount of head banging) shows that trash metal is alive and well on a global scale, with a wider reach than ever before. And even with new genres spinning off left and right from the trash metal traditionalists, it seems like the industry as a whole has accepted the sub-culture of die-hard thrash metal fans and the impact they’ve had on nearly every aspect of modern metal music from hardcore to death metal.
At the core of any thrash track is a brutal bass guitar, keeping tempo as songs hit near supersonic speeds without missing a note. Let’s take a closer look at one of the lesser talked about elements of every great thrash metal song – the bass.
Legendary Thrash Bassists
There have been plenty of bassists over the years that have had a lasting impact on thrash bass guitar playing, even if their primary group might not be considered thrash. Metallica had Cliff Burton, who was known for playing lightning-fast parts finger style – a method almost out of the question for most bass players at high tempos. Motorhead had the undeniable presence of Lemmy, who managed to sing over his distorted, fuzzed out bass riffs on tracks like “Ace of Spades”. Other bands like Anthrax, Slayer & Testament have all seen long, successful careers playing shows to hundreds of thousands of metalheads annually.
And while all of these massively successful bands can be seen headlining festivals today around the world, they all started from the same underground world that exists today with San Francisco & New York City being hotbeds for thrash metal activity (plus the constantly growing global markets seeing a boom in both Brazil and Japan).
What’s In Their Tone?
Whether you’re looking at the music of the past or the present, there are shared commonalities in the bass tones of thrash metal artists. Not ones to shy away from clankier bass guitars, there’s also a warm, fuzzy sheen over the whole thing. For such a sharp, aggressive genre, the bass guitar is often quite warm sounding.
So how do these artists find their balance? Usually in a similar manner to many doom metal bands…
A great, heavy bass tone requires a lot of power to push deep lows and clanky highs. This means high-wattage amplifiers with large speakers to support the lower tuned bass guitars, but that’s not all. They need a warm, driven source to push through those speakers.
Perhaps more than any other genre, thrash metal bassists aren’t afraid to push a tube preamp to its limits for the tone they’re after. Using a preamp as an overdrive isn’t a new concept, but it’s a process they perfected years ago and incorporate as a common part of their studio rig during tracking.
Real Amps or DIs?
The biggest shift in bass recording since the earliest days of thrash metal has come from the use of DIs in the studio. What used to require an amp with huge amounts of headroom (read heavy and expensive) can now be replicated and even improved by recording directly through a direct injection (DI) box right into your DAW. Many bassists have replaced huge amp heads and cabinets with a box not much bigger than their phone, and it’s easy to see why.
Speaking to Rex Brown, the legendary bassist of Pantera, the choice of creating his ideal rig digitally was an easy one. With the development of Bassforge Rex Brown, he was able to take everything he loved about his rig and put it into a plugin – everything from the vintage tube preamp he used before his amp, the 7-band equalizer on the head & the post-processing he would commonly use in the studio.
The end result is a virtual bass rig capable of heavy thrash metal tones without ever having to worry about mic placement or the room (or tour bus) he records in.
Finding The Right Settings
Getting a great bass tone is all about finding the right settings that help you achieve your vision for any given song. While many bassists consider this a lifelong search, a few engineers and producers know how to consistently get the tones they’re after with very little effort.
Check out the Basscrusher: An Unholy Guide to Bass Tone eBook that we’ve made available exclusively to JST VIP members for a limited time if you’re looking to learn a few of their tricks yourself. In the guide, we discuss everything from bass supplementation to two-part bass processing to really get the most out of your signal.