You only had to watch the excited hordes spilling feverishly out of the hospitality area at 2005’s Download and heading off to watch five New Yorkers who had reunited their perceived classic line-up to have some indication of the passion that Anthrax continue to inspire in metal fans. One of the so-called Big Four of the thrash metal movement, alongside Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer, Anthrax’s passion for a frenetic twin-guitar assault, an ability to laugh at themselves and that around them, and an ear which took them beyond the confines of thrash, set them apart from run-of-the-mill acts.
Yet when they formed, in New York in 1981, there was little of the band that would (with Joey Belladonna) break down musical boundaries with their rap/metal crossovers, or later (with ex-Armored Saint singer John Bush) provide some of the most uncompromising metal in the genre’s ever-changing face.
Taking their cues from the metallic attack of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, as well as the aggression of hardcore punk that had also found favour with many of the young emerging thrash metal bands, the fledgling Anthrax line-up featured guitarists Scott Ian and Dan Spitz, singer Neil Turbin, drummer Charlie Benante and bassist Dan Lilker. They recorded 1984’s Fistful Of Metal which gave little indication of the kind of band they would evolve into. However, a year later, with Lilker off to form Nuclear Assault and replaced by Frank Bello, with Turbin replaced by the more vocally adventurous Joey Belladonna, the band released both Armed And Dangerous and Spreading The Disease. The latter gave some indication of the kind of raucous, aggressive metal that would become Anthrax’s trademark.
Spreading The Disease was the first Anthrax record to be released on Island thanks to a deal with original label Megaforce, but its follow-up, 1987’s Among The Living was the album on which they really came to the fore. The mainstream feel of previous releases was replaced by a more hardcore approach and the lyrics took on more social awareness, as well as paying homage to popular culture icons such as Judge Dredd on the breakthrough I Am The Law single.
The band faltered slightly with 1988’s State Of Euphoria, their comic book image often at odds with the social narrative that ran through their lyrics. However, by the time of 1990’s Persistence Of Time everything seemed back on track. It was then that the band began looking to progress musically, resulting in the groundbreaking collaboration with Public Enemy on Bring The Noise which resulted in a joint tour with the rap band. But trouble loomed when the band sacked Belladonna in 1992, replacing him with Armored Saint singer John Bush.
Bush’s first album, 1993’s The Sound Of White Noise saw a more basic yet effective metal approach. Spitz quit, leaving a quartet to record 1995’s Stomp 442. 1998’s Vol. 8: The Threat Is Real was recorded for the Ignition label, and although a good record, was met with a certain amount of disinterest. 2003’s We’ve Come For You All suffered a similar fate, so it was little surprise that the band announced the reuniting of the classic Among The Living line-up and hit the touring trail in 2005.
FISTFUL OF METAL
Faltering first steps
Anthrax’s very first release offers a very different sounding band to the progressive rap/metal stylings of the Joey Belladonna era, or the more mainstream metallic crunch of John Bush’s reign as frontman. Indeed it’s the most mainstream metal offering the band ever released, going so far as to feature a cover of Alice Cooper’s I’m Eighteen. The remainder are all penned by the fledgling band, which featured vocalist Neil Turbin and bassist Dan Lilker for their only Anthrax release. Lilker quit soon after to form Nuclear Assault, whilst Turbin seemingly vanished off the face of the earth, although has recently surfaced with a solo album. Either way, the youthful metal act made some headway, opening for the likes of Metallica and Raven in the States, but with a sound more akin of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, there’s little sign of the innovating thrash act that would follow.
CAUTIOUS CUTS - *IF YOU MUST*
THE GREATER OF TWO EVILS
New band does old songs. Why?
Despite both 1998’s Volume 8… and 2003’s We’ve Come For You All being fine works, Anthrax were largely being viewed as has-beens in the harsh world of modern metal. Fair or not, they were certainly has-beens with pedigree, which is probably why the band opted to re-record songs voted for by fans on the band’s website from the Turbin and Belladonna eras with John Bush and guitarist Rob Caggianno alongside Frank Bello, Scott Ian and Charlie Benante. Turbin-era tunes like Metal Thrashing Mad and Gung Ho are at least injected with some of the refined modern metal in which the Bush line-up indulged. However, dipping into faves like Indians seems pointless when you consider negotiations must have been underway for the Belladonna line-up to reform. Works only for die-hard fans interested in how the Bush line-up would handle old Anthrax songs in the studio.
NEEDED NOISE - *WANT THESE*
WE’VE COME FOR YOU ALL
Bush’s best beyond doubt
By the time Anthrax released We’ve Come For You All they’d suffered a considerable loss of popularity as both changes in the music scene and a reluctance to listen to the public had seen their output suffer ever-diminishing sales. They’d not been on a major label for eight years and also suffered in the wake of the 9⁄11 atrocities as anthrax became a terrorist weapon, bringing the band the kind of press attention they might have once dreamed of, yet for all the wrong reasons. We’ve Come For You All came as a surprise to many. It’s a corker of an album, by far and away the best to feature John Bush. The likes of What Doesn’t Die, Refuse To Be Denied and Black Dahlia combined classic Anthrax with a modern metallic crunch. They hadn’t sounded as fresh for years.
What Doesn’t Die Live At Wacken
PERSISTENCE OF TIME
Persistence pays off
Although it is evident, as was the case with Persistence Of Time’s predecessor State Of Euphoria, that the outstanding track on Anthrax’s fifth album was a cover version, (in this instance a splendid reworking of Joe Jackson’s Got The Time, there is no way that the band were going to allow the album to suffer the same fate as … Euphoria. Unrushed and ditching the jokier image that the band sometimes toyed with, Persistence Of Time is one of the strongest sets of songs that Anthrax ever came up with. From opener Time to closer Discharge, the band rarely let up. Also included is the classic Keep It In The Family, one of the finest songs the band came up with. Anthrax toured alongside Megadeth and Slayer. It was the biggest they’d ever be, which made what would happen after so surprising.
STATE OF EUPHORIA
Comic book capers or comic book crap?
After Among The Living had pretty much set up Anthrax as one of the major players in the thrash metal scene, and the love-it- or-hate-it I’m The Man single had gone a long way to breaking down barriers between the worlds of rock and rap, the band faltered slightly with 1988’s State Of Euphoria. Maybe they rushed themselves back into the studio desperate to cash in on the success of Among The Living, not leaving themselves enough time to stock up a decent album’s worth of material. State Of Euphoria certainly did not help the band’s progression, and if you ever wanted to know why Anthrax slipped to the bottom of the Big Four pile, perhaps you could do worse than start listening to this. Funnily enough, the album starts well with Be All, End All, but it says a lot that the standout track on the record wasn’t even penned by the band themselves, rather a cover of French metal act Trust’s Antisocial!
NOT FOR ALL - THINK ABOUT THESE
Bush-fronted band becomes boring?
Guitarist Dan Spitz followed singer Joey Belladonna out the door after just one album with John Bush as Anthrax frontman, which meant Pantera’s late guitarist Dimebag Darrell stepped into the breach to help bolster the sound of Stomp 442, the new-look band’s second album. The Sound Of White Noise brought some chart success for Anthrax, reaching No. 14 in the UK charts, a placing comparable with every album back to 1987’s Among The Living. The same could not be said for Stomp 442, which became the first Anthrax album to fail to reach the Top 75 in the UK charts in almost 10 years. Much of this probably has more to do with the winds of change that were blowing through metal at the time, grunge and nu-metal both very much to the fore, rather than the music. Tracks like Random Acts Of Senseless Violence and Riding Shotgun are brutal enough, but people just didn’t seem to be listening.
VOLUME 8: THE THREAT IS REAL
[TOMMY BOY, 1998]
The threat of extinction looms
The John Bush-fronted Anthrax reaped ever-diminishing returns as they tried to make headway through the 90s. Not that this was necessarily the band’s fault; they unleashed some immensely powerful metal during the period, but mainstream interest shifted from grunge to nu-metal, leaving the thrash pioneers ignored. The band had left Elektra Records after 1995’s Stomp 442 and there was a definite feeling they might be feeling the pinch when they returned to the studio. So Volume 8… comes as something of a surprise with its variety and the energy evident in much of the music on this record. Yet in amongst the acoustic (Pieces) and even country rock (Toast To The Extras) there’s killer metal in the likes of opener Crush and Born Again Idiot. It’s more than competent, in keeping with the Bush era, but there’s little of the Anthrax that made them the draw they once were.
THE SOUND OF WHITE NOISE
New singer, sound, no new beginning
Anthrax caused shockwaves throughout the metal world when, in 1992, they kicked lead singer Joey Belladonna out the band. Possible friction arising from the band’s increasing rap dalliances was a suggested cause; the melodically inclined Belladonna had auditioned for the band with an a cappella rendition of Journey tunes! Whatever, the distinctive frontman whose Native American head-dress had become such a visual trademark was no more. Typically the band’s sound altered considerably, although there’s no let-up in their power, but the sound was a distinct move away from the Belladonna era’s precision thrash into a more modern, post- grunge metallic attack. There’s good music to be heard on The Sound… in tunes like Only and Hy Pro Glo, but was it Anthrax? Despite the fact that the Bush era band would maintain a fairly consistent level of quality, never once could you consider this album to match Among The Living.
SPREADING THE DISEASE
Spreading the thrash word
Released a year after Metallica’s Ride The Lightning and the same year as Slayer’s Hell Awaits and Megadeth’s Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good, it’s certainly clear to see why Anthrax joined those three as part of what the media termed thrash metal’s Big Four. Spreading The Disease was the first album proper to feature Joey Belladonna, although he’d appeared on the Armed And Dangerous EP. Despite a melodic voice that was perhaps more attuned to power metal, Belladonna’s rich tones helped distinguish their brand of thrash, which on Spreading The Disease was still more akin to Judas Priest than the hardcore and rap that would creep into the band’s later work. Containing the early classic Madhouse, as well as Armed And Dangerous, Spreading The Disease remains one of metal’s seminal releases.
MUST HAVE METAL - NEED THIS
AMONG THE LIVING
Among thrash metal’s very best
From its cover, featuring a potent image that conjured up the sinister Kane character from the Poltergeist series of films, to its better-developed sound, Anthrax made an immediate impression with Among The Living. It was the first Anthrax album to truly show a punkier influence in their metal – adding far more dimension to their sound – as well as the album that saw them develop a more social conscience to their lyrical approach, although paeans to comic book heroes like Judge Dredd were still evident in I Am The Law. Among The Living was released the same year that Anthrax became the second thrash band to appear at Donington [Metallica, who were also on the bill that year, first appeared in 1985], beating both Megadeth and Slayer.
Seemingly brimming with ideas, the aforementioned I Am The Law became Anthrax’s first chart hit single in the UK, reaching n u m b e r 3 2 in F e b r u a r y 1 9 8 7 . I n d i a ns, t h e b a n d ’ s p o l i t i c a l l y charged tale of Native Americans, faltered at No. 44 in the charts, but remains one of the finest songs on Among The Living, whilst Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.) broached the subject of drugs with specific reference to Blues Brothers actor John Belushi who OD’d in 1982. Elsewhere, the aggressive Caught In A Mosh was destined to become something of a live classic for the band.
Sometimes the new attempt at lyrical awareness doesn’t work, but the relentless musical drive of the band always delivers in style. No surprise then, that Among The Living crash landed in the UK album charts at No. 18, announcing Anthrax’s arrival on the big stage, somewhere they would remain for some time to come. 1987 was a golden year for thrash metal as Anthrax and Metallica announced the genre’s attack on hair metal with their displays at Donington. Among The Living was the icing on the cake.
Anthrax’s first compilation Attack Of The Killer B’s appeared in 1991 and is a well worth seeking out collection of rarities, covers and B-sides. The highlight is the band’s Public Enemy duet Bring The Noise though a cover of Kiss’s Parasite and little known surf tune Pipeline push it some way.
Three years later, as the band began a new era on Elektra with John Bush, old label Island issued Anthrax Live: The Island Years, a live recording of a 1991 concert on which Public Enemy also appear.
1990’s Return Of The Killer A’s: The Best Of Anthrax was hardly what its title suggested, concentrating heavily on the Bush years at the expense of early thrash gems from Spreading The Disease and Among The Living. This situation was redressed by 2001’s Madhouse: The Very Best Of Anthrax, released by Island, which concentrated on the period between Spreading The Disease and Attack Of The Killer B’s, which is ideal if Joey Belladonna is your favourite Anthrax vocalist. And finally, The Collection, which was released by Universal in 2002 and once again concentrates on the Belladonna years.
On the video/DVD front there have been a few released over the years and if you can track down 1991’s Attack Of The Killer B’s: The Videos then do. Otherwise, you’re only likely to find 1999’s Return Of The Killer A’s: Video Anthology which features a mix of more modern promo videos with early live footage and backstage material as well. Otherwise it’s Sanctuary’s Music Of Mass Destruction, a live show from the We’ve Come For You All tour which finds the band in fine, fine fettle on stage and in the off- stage interviews as well. Yet given what’s happened with the reformation of the Among The Living line-up, expect a DVD of the latest-look Anthrax line-up to appear in stores very shortly. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?
This was published in Metal Hammer issue 143.
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