Anthrax – arguably the best named of the “Big 4” of American thrash metal bands (Megadeth takes a close second, but points deducted for that not being a real word). I’ve always had a soft spot for the NYC thrashers, to the point where I signed all of my papers in my English class with their namesake. I’d also tried to get “efilnikufesin” printed on the back of my speech/drama team shirt, but there were too many letters. They never seemed to take themselves too seriously, wrote about cool shit (Judge Dredd, Stephen King) and even bridged the gap between metal and rap way before anyone thought to market it (“Bring The Noise” with Public Enemy). Also to their credit, they survived a lead singer change and managed to build an entirely new fanbase with that singer (John Bush). Then the drama happened.
I’m not going to go into the details, but basically what happened was this: band regrouped with former lead singer Joey Belladonna for a “reunion” tour of sorts, John Bush left the band, Belladonna then left the band, Bush rejoined, Bush quit, band hires new singer Dan Nelson, records album, and Nelson quits/gets fired. After all the dust settled, Belladonna is back in the band, and has recorded new vocals for the songs on the previously recorded album, Worship Music – the first new Anthrax album in 8 years, and the first with Belladonna on vocals in over 20. According to reports, some of the songs on Worship Music are new, some were rewritten, and some were left alone, with Belladonna just recording vocals. Sounds like a total clusterfuck to me. So does the resulting album suffer for it?
Not really? It’s hard to tell where the original songs end and the newly recorded material begins and I guess that’s a good thing. Considering that this album was said to have undergone a lot of changes, it sounds surprisingly unified. Some of the songs definitely have the feel of the John Bush-era, while others are a throwback of sorts to their old-school thrash roots. The album starts of strong – “Earth Is On Hell”, “The Devil You Know” and “Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t” are all heavy, thrashy numbers. The band is tight, and Belladonna sounds right at home with the band – witness the thunderous stomp of “In The End”, a track that easily connects Belladonna’s last appearance with the band on Persistence Of Time (see: “Belly Of The Beast”) to the new songs. It’s good to hear Anthrax bringing the thrash again, a nice change from the Bush-era material. But that’s not to say the band has completely abandoned that sound “I’m Alive” swings with a heavy groove, and could easily fit right in on any of those albums from the 90’s. The same could be said about “The Constant” and “The Giant”.
Considering all of the problems surrounding the creation of this album, it works. 8 years is a long time to go without new material, but the band sounds like they never missed a beat. Is this a return to the glory days? Far from it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. In relation to their peers, Anthrax has always kind of done their own thing apart from their peers. Metallica may still be trying to stay relevant, Slayer might still be making the same album over and over, but Anthrax, even with all the personnel changes, somehow still managed to sound like Anthrax. Who knows if Belladonna will stick around longer this time. If there is another album to come, based on what I hear on Worship Music, Anthrax just might be a force to reckon with once more.