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Pizza Thrash Is Ready to Eat the World

Fans say it's fun, naysayers claim it's derivative. One thing’s for sure: It’s gloriously cheesy
Crisix, who say pizza is in their DNA, pose as pizza guys for 'The Pizza EP.' (Credit: Victor Gómez)
Crisix, who say pizza is in their DNA, pose as pizza guys for 'The Pizza EP.' (Credit: Victor Gómez)

With 350 slices consumed every second in the USA, pizza is possibly the universal food. But despite its beloved status, the cheesy foodstuff is at the heart of a contentious cultural debate in a corner of the metal world. Meet pizza thrash: the microgenre proving as divisive as dropping pineapple pieces on a Sicilian slice. Fans say it’s fun, naysayers claim it’s derivative. One thing’s for sure: It’s gloriously cheesy.

Thrash metal, the high-speed riff-fest pioneered by bands like the Bay Area “big four” (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax), was once largely considered a relic of a bygone era until a wave of bands like Municipal Waste, Gama Bomb, Warbringer, Evile, Havok, and Power Trip dragged the genre back to life in the new millennium. If the aughts was the official thrash revival, today thrash is well and truly resuscitated, with new bands crashing into existence all the time. 

Starting in the late 2000s, as more and more new bands started cropping up, “pizza thrash” came to be a pejorative, usually deployed by metal fans online to attack bands who didn’t take themselves too seriously—those who championed the ’80s sounds and aesthetics but with lyrical themes about beer and partying. 

In rebellion, a growing number of proud pizza thrashers are now leaning into high-octane, ’80s-influenced tunes packed with unabashed Troma-style schlock art and a self-deprecating sense of humor, making pizza thrash a mini-genre unto itself. There’s Pizza Death, with their Reign of the Anticrust LP. There’s Axeslasher, whose logo features pizza slices arranged into a pentagram. There’s Pizzatramp, whose website summary says it best: “Formed at the end of 2014, and specializing in one minute blasts of horrible punk noise, they will be appearing in a toilet near you soon, so go and fucking watch them.”  Then there’s Belushi Speed Ball, who have built a cult following for their insane live shows and whose latest single, “My Favorite Color Is Pizza,” was recently released on an actual slice of New York-style pizza with a speaker embedded amid the cheese. 

“I personally love being labeled as ‘pizza thrash’,” says vocalist Vinny Castellano of Belushi Speed Ball, whose animated video for “The Spinelli’s Slam” features a roided-up pizza slice causing havoc in the pit, and whose madcap live antics involve wild crowd participation. “What a pathetic, sad attempt at an insult, created by some neckbearded metal elitist as a way to gatekeep! Pizza is the greatest food ever, and you’re attempting to compare our style of music to one of the most desired cuisines of all time?”

Bands like Pizza Death—whose latest album Reign of the Anticrust credits local Italian food spots in the liner notes—have taken the cheesy vibes a step further, with tunes like “Capricciosa Decapitation,” “Avoid the Noid” (referring to the antiquated Domino’s mascot), and “Meat Sweats.” Vocalist Pat Simkin says dropping the more typical themes of social ills for pizza has allowed the band to “be ourselves” and “not pretend to be tough like a lot of heavy bands too” while still making heavy music.

“Looking at a crowd of people who are all grinning ear to ear while you’re playing loud, fast, and heavy music will never get old,” Simkin says.

Meanwhile, Igualada, Spain thrashers Crisix met the challenge head on and have thrown themselves into the pizzaverse more than most. For their The Pizza EP, Crisix released their own pizzas with the sauce arranged in an inverted pentagram, and then published a cookbook, Speed Metal Kitchen Of Doom, a kind of food diary on tour with accompanying recipes. They’ve brought a pizza bike on stage for their exuberant live shows, and surprised fans by delivering those special-edition fresh pizzas straight to their homes. 

“We are deep into a lot of genres and styles that we blend with our sound,” says guitarist BB, who delivered pizza before Crisix blew up. “We don’t consider ourselves to be pizza thrash—but it’s part of our DNA. Back in the day, no one knew who was delivering pizza to them, so watch out. Maybe you’re being delivered pizza by the next rockstar generation. It happens.”

This playfulness with themes and genre is redolent of a wider flexibility to toy with genre, derision, or negative perceptions, suggests Lindsay Bishop, metal anthropologist at University College London. Just look at death metallers Party Cannon, she says, as a band that uses humor in their aesthetics but who remain dedicated, accomplished musicians.

However, while some bands have embraced the pizza, others are less convinced. 

With their “Gamabombinable Snowman” mascot Snowy, B-movie-inspired artwork, and fondness for lyrics about Kurt Russell and ninjas, you couldn’t possibly accuse Irish thrashers Gama Bomb of taking themselves too seriously. But amidst all this, they also write about serious topics like the rise of the alt-right and antifascism, and have fundraised for the Dublin Simon Community homelessness charity in Ireland and UNICEF in Gaza

Gama Bomb vocalist Philly Byrne says the phrase is like “when you were in school, and people tried to coin an annoying nickname that didn’t have any imaginative spark. Such a shit nickname! And it’s been used in that way by people who thought it was terribly clever and hurtful. That’s annoying after a while.”

“We didn’t put our heart and soul into this to ascribe to a name people would use to run it down—we take our music seriously,” Byrne says. “I love many artists who don’t take music seriously but, I always think of us more like AC/DC or Iron Maiden or KISS who don’t take themselves seriously, but their music is real. I’m uncomfortable with ‘pizza thrash’ because we’ve taken a lot of heat and had our lives threatened for telling uncomfortable truths about things like racism. My worry is people would say, ‘here come those wacky bastards again,’ and then that gets swept away.”

Among the metal forums, social media and Reddit, opinion remains divided. Some fans worry the out-there antics can detract from the legitimacy of the genre or overshadow newer bands. Others, though, think it’s harmless fun, like one spirited defense on Reddit: “pizza is fucking great and thrash is fucking great so pizzathrash must be fucking great.” It is complex terrain to navigate. 

Although original Lich King vocalist and band founder Tom Martin wrote goofy lyrics—something he says is actually harder than the “old prosey bullshit about war and nihilism”—he worried the band was being pigeonholed early on, as joke groups began to form more and more. Here, music was often an afterthought, where music is a joke delivery device like a saltine cracker is for a piece of cheese.

“We were being lumped in with them by the term ‘pizza thrash,’” Martin says. However, he eventually came around and now “grudgingly admits” that “lyrical tone can be an anchor, no matter how much I believe it shouldn’t. Would …And Justice For All loom in my heart like it does if instead of Blackened, it was called Sylvester Calzone? Pizza thrash is now pretty much an established subgenre. Lots of people enjoy grabbing a slice. They’re here to have fun, and metal is supposed to be fun. I still chafe because it’s widely considered the kids’ table. Maybe in time that will soften and the legacy will mean something different.”

And while Municipal Waste vocalist Tony Foresta says he originally “poo-pooed” pizza thrash as unoriginal gatekeeping, he came to a realization too. When he was younger, he’d make fun of the bigger metal bands for taking themselves so seriously: “I never wanted to be like that, so if I get pissed off because someone calls us pizza thrash, that just makes me into that kind of guy. Fuck that. I’m okay with it now.”

“For the record, we never wrote one single song about pizza, and if you call us that because I’m Italian, that’s kinda messed up,” Foresta adds. “But metal, thrash, and hardcore are killing it right now, and it’s a very exciting time. I hope we had some sort of influence in that, and we are honored to still be a part of it after all these years. Call it what you want: We’re just glad to be here.”

“It’s great to be in a genre that’s alive,” Byrne agrees, “to see the music that we love, and we love to play, come to the fore to the point where there could be cultural arguments about its validity. There was no conversation when we started this band.”

And so with all the doom, war, social ills, and alienation unfurling at the rate of a blastbeat, perhaps it’s no wonder some metalheads are choosing to order in a little escapist pizza thrash. “It might be silly to think ‘Pizza Thrash’ can help individuals through tough times,” says Vinny of Belushi Speed Ball. “But I am living proof. When I’m feeling down, I throw on some Terror Shark and all’s right in the world.”