Guitar players of different levels often wonder whether there is a particular thrash metal tuning, since it is one of the heaviest metal subgenres known to man.
Other permutations of metal, especially in the 21st century, utilized certain tunings that gave definition to a multitude of styles. For example, the metalcore mania of the mid-2000s featured guitarists that often favored the drop C tuning. Meanwhile, djent groups of the 2010s relied more on 7 or even 8 string guitars to deliver a massive sound that was recently unparalleled in metal.
Thrash metal is no exception as the subgenre has seen a myriad of tunings being utilized by various axemen, although the E standard remains the most prevalent tuning in most songs.
From the early 80s till the early 90s, Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica and Slayer, collectively known as the “Big Four,” dominated metal alongside other thrash bands such as Exodus, Death Angel, Kreator and Testament. A thrash metal revival also saw the subgenre gain resurgence once again in the 2000s and 2010s, with bands like Havok and Municipal Waste carrying the torch.
Combining the dark and technically-challenging elements of metal with the politically-charged lyrics of hardcore and menacing energy of punk rock, thrash metal is responsible for instigating tremendous amounts of chaos on countless mosh pits throughout the decades.
The success of thrash metal also helped pave the way for more extreme variants of metal which eventually tore down the boundaries set by their predecessors. Subcategories such as death metal and black metal later on deviated from thrash metal and introduced a more savage, more malevolent variant of metal.
Is there a specific thrash metal guitar tuning?
Aside from the raging drums, overdriven basslines and guttural vocals, thrash metal is also highly regarded for the incredible guitar work by the likes of Marty Friedman, Jeff Waters, and Alex Skolnick, as well as Dave Mustaine, Jeff Hanneman and Kirk Hammett.
Believe it or not, a great number of thrash metal’s heaviest hitters were composed and recorded in standard tuning. This is a testament to how certain techniques can make any kind of music effective, as long as they are executed with perfection. A combination of ominous lyrical imagery and wrist-breaking, galloping riffs, can easily produce some serious headbangers without the need for a fixed thrash metal tuning.
The pioneering wave of metal from the 70s to the 80s are an exceptional bunch in that they didn’t rely exclusively on alternate tunings to create a sinister atmosphere. However, even the earliest metal bands such as Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, widely experimented on dropped tunings either to achieve a much heavier mood, or to accommodate a certain vocal range.
Some of the most popular thrash metal songs in EADGBE tuning are Anthrax’s “Caught in a Mosh,” Megadeth’s “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due,” and Sepultura’s “Arise,” to name a few. Moreover, a majority of Metallica’s early works including “Battery,” “Creeping Death,” and “Master of Puppets,” are also in E standard tuning.
Are there thrash metal songs that feature dropped tunings?
Just like the entire legion of metal genres, thrash is not limited to the standard tuning frequently used in a lot of songs. After all, metal is all about challenging the status quo and not conforming to the norms, so it is expected that some bands will ultimately branch out and experiment on the vast sonic possibilities that lie ahead.
Unlike in metalcore and nu metal, drop C and drop D are not very common in thrash metal. However, many guitar players have chosen to tune in standard but at least ½ (D#G#C#F#A#D#) or a whole step down (DGCFAD), to get that darker, heavier feel and tone. Next to the E standard, the D# or Eb standard is probably the second most-utilized tuning in thrash metal since the subgenre’s earlier days, until recent iterations.
It was Slayer however, that shattered the norms of thrash metal tuning, when they employed C# standard and drop-B, as well as 7-string guitars on their 2001 album God Hates Us All and their 2009 release World Painted Blood. Slayer’s “Here Comes the Pain” is a great example of a thrash metal track that puts the 7 string guitar to good use.
Being one of the pioneers of the subgenre, Slayer’s entry into uncharted territory proves that even veterans like them are more than willing to try out different tunings to come up with fresh ideas. This is not surprising at all since thrash metal is born out of the desire to surpass previous milestones in metal.
Whether you are doing covers or churning out original material, feel free to be like the Kerry Kings of the metal kingdom and use any tuning that you deem appropriate for your material. Always keep in mind that most tunings can be used as a “thrash metal tuning,” and you have all the freedom to utilize which one fits your style best.
What matters the most in thrash metal is that the music should be immensely brutal and ferocious for it to be considered legit.