In the early 80s, a revolution was happening in heavy music, and it was Anthrax, a wild bunch from New York City, who gave it a name. In three bands’ debut albums from 1983 – Metallica’s Kill ’Em All, Slayer’s Show No Mercy and Exciter’s Heavy Metal Maniac – a new form of metal took shape. Harder and faster than anything before it, it was inspired by Motörhead, Venom, punk and hardcore as much as by Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. And on Anthrax’s debut album Fistful Of Metal, cut from the same cloth and released in 1984, a fast-driving song, about driving fast, proved hugely significant. British rock journalist Malcolm Dome bastardised the song’s title, Metal Thrashing Mad, in a phrase that defined a genre: thrash metal.
The guy who wrote the words to Metal Thrashing Mad, Anthrax singer Neil Turbin, was in the band only for that one album. But in the years that followed, Anthrax, with Joey Belladonna as vocalist, became one of the so-called Big Four of thrash, alongside Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth.
For all the fury that Anthrax whipped up in landmark albums such as Spreading The Disease and Among The Living, there was a degree of levity that set this band apart from their peers. They wore board shorts instead of the regulation thrash attire of jeans and leather jackets, and spoofed hip-hop in the 1987 song I’m The Man. But their love for rap music was genuine, and in 1991 they collaborated with Public Enemy on the genre-crossing classic Bring The Noise.
Guitarist Scott ‘Not’ Ian has steered Anthrax since it the band came together in 1981. Another founding member, bassist Dan Lilker, departed in 1984 to form Nuclear Assault, but joined up with Ian and Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante in the controversial hardcore crossover project Stormtroopers Of Death.
Ian, the primary lyricist, and Benante, chief songwriter, are the only members to have appeared on every Anthrax album. In the 80s the band’s line-up comprised Ian, Benante and Belladonna plus guitarist Dan Spitz and bassist Frank Bello. After Belladonna’s exit in the early 90s, Anthrax made four albums with ex-Armored Saint singer John Bush, beginning with a brilliant post-grunge reinvention on Sound Of White Noise. But after some lean years, it was 2011’s Worship Music – their first with Belladonna in 21 years – that breathed new life into the band. They carry on as they started: metal thrashing mad.
Among The Living (Island, 1987)
Three of the Big Four delivered defining albums in 1986: Metallica with Master Of Puppets, Slayer with Reign In Blood and Megadeth with Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?. In 1987, Anthrax weighed in with what drummer Charlie Benante called their “signature album”. Among The Living was their breakthrough, hitting the UK Top 20, and it stands tall as a thrash classic. The album thrums with a fierce energy, a combination of breakneck speed and heavy grind proving brutally effective in the title track, Caught In A Mosh and the Judge Dredd-inspired I Am The Law. And in Indians, Anthrax had their Run To The Hills.View Deal
Spreading The Disease (Megaforce/Island, 1985)
They got a foot in the door with their first album, Fistful Of Metal. With the follow-up they kicked it wide open. Spreading The Disease was an explosive record with which Anthrax asserted their authority on the thrash scene.
New singer Joey Belladonna was an upgrade on Neil Turbin, with more control as well as power. Equally, the band’s songwriting moved up a gear; Madhouse and Medusa, with slower, chugging riffs, were as catchy as they were heavy, and in Armed And Dangerous an atmospheric intro had Belladonna channeling Ronnie James Dio before a frenzied thrash onslaught.View Deal
Fistful Of Metal (Music For Nations, 1984)
Anthrax’s debut, like Metallica’s Kill ’Em All, had a daft cover image, a crude and grisly interpretation of the album’s title. It also gave a strong indication of the music within.
Fistful Of Metal is the sound of a young, hungry band going at it hammer and tongs. Their primary influences, Iron Maiden and Motörhead, were evident. Singer Neil Turbin wailed like Manowar’s Eric Adams. And while a cover of Alice Cooper’s early hit I’m Eighteen was, as Scott Ian admitted, “cheesy”, the full-throttle attack of Deathrider and the epochal Metal Thrashing Mad identified Anthrax as a cutting-edge band. View Deal
Persistence Of Time (Island, 1990)
Their first album in a new decade also signalled the end of an era for Anthrax. As Ian said: “We felt we were more than just a thrash band.” Persistence Of Time was a transitional album, made amid much creative tension, and the last from the classic line-up fronted by Belladonna.
A bleak mood prevailed as the band dialled down the gonzoid thrash of old and Belladonna, reluctantly, cut the histrionics. A spiky cover of Joe Jackson’s Got The Time was fun, while it was the heaviness and complexity in Keep It In The Family and Belly Of The Beast that defined Anthrax’s darkest album.View Deal
Sound Of White Noise (Elektra, 1993)
It was a radically different Anthrax that emerged on Sound Of White Noise, with a new singer in John Bush and a new sound influenced by grunge. The result was a darkly powerful album, and the band’s biggest US hit.
While Bush was a great metal singer, his gritty voice was also perfectly suited to material in an alternative rock vein. Lead single Only was described by James Hetfield as “a perfect song”. Black Lodge and This Is Not An Exit had the heavy aura of Alice In Chains, while the frantic Hy Pro Glo was a throwback to early thrash. An atypical Anthrax album, it was arguably their greatest victory.View Deal
Worship Music (Nuclear Blast, 2011)
With Joey Belladonna singing on an Anthrax album for the first time since 1990, 2011’s Worship Music was a triumphant return to form. But it might have turned out very differently. Belladonna had rejoined Anthrax in 2005, and left again two years later. When work started on Worship Music in 2008, Dan Nelson was the singer. It was only after Nelson was fired, and John Bush briefly reinstated, that the album was completed with Belladonna. From this chaos came a tightly focused album, on which the band rolled back the years in full-on thrashers such as Earth On Hell, and created modern epics in I’m Alive and In The End.View Deal
State Of Euphoria (Island, 1988)
After the huge success of Among The Living, which sold a million worldwide, with their next album Anthrax didn’t mess with the formula. State Of Euphoria was another sizeable hit, but from a band playing it a little too safe the album was mixed.
Be All, End All, the opening track, was a straight-up thrash blaster with an irresistible momentum. There was also a thunderous version of Antisocial, a fiery protest song by French punk-metal cult heroes Trust. But a series of dull, repetitive songs – Misery Loves Company, Who Cares Wins, Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind – suggested a rethink was needed.View Deal
Attack Of The Killer B’s (Island, 1991)
As the tongue-in-cheek title indicated, this compilation album featured B-sides and tracks taken from EPs – including covers of the 60s surf rock hit Pipeline and the Kiss classic Parasite. It also included one of the band’s most important songs, a metalised take on Public Enemy’s Bring The Noise, featuring Chuck D and Flavor Flav.
In addition, Anthrax’s own rap song, I’m The Man, was updated, as were two Stormtroopers Of Death tracks from the outrageously named album Speak English Or Die. Funniest of all was N.F.B. (Dallabnikufesin), in which the rock power ballad was expertly parodied, years ahead of Steel Panther.View Deal
For All Kings (Nuclear Blast, 2016)
With credibility restored by Worship Music, Anthrax carried that impetus into the follow-up. There was another line-up change, as Jonathan Donais replaced Rob Caggiano on guitar. But with Joey Belladonna properly bedded in from the start, For All Kings had the band sounding as tight as in their glory days of the 80s.
The spirit of those times rang out loud in the high-speed bludgeoning of Evil Twin and Zero Tolerance. A more considered and melodic approach was evident in Breathing Lightning. And Blood Eagle Wings, a gloomy, eight-minute set piece, was one of the deepest songs that Anthrax ever recorded.View Deal