Beloved by thrash metal fans nigh on four decades, Anthrax‘s unique style, sense of humour and pioneering attitude towards mixing styles and genres of music (yes, rap metal is pretty much their fault but we forgive them) has led to an enviable career which has yielded some of the finest thrash albums in existence.
The only question that remains is which albums stand out as the finest of Anthrax’s illustrious career?
5. Worship Music (2011)
1. Worship (Intro) 2. Earth on Hell 3. The Devil You Know 4. Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t 5. I’m Alive 6. Hymn 1 7. In the End 8. The Giant 9. Hymn 2 10. Judas Priest 11. Crawl 12. The Constant 13. Revolution Screams 14. New Noise (hidden track)
Recommended Track: “Fight ‘Em ‘Till You Can’t”. This track marked a welcome return to the horror inspired thrash from Anthrax’s 1980’s heyday. The zombie’s are coming but Anthrax know what to do….’Fight ’em ’till you can’t fight ’em no more’!
The welcome return of Joey Belladonna on vocals, his first recording with the band since 1990’s Persistence of Time album, also marked the welcome return of pure thrash metal as Anthrax announced that not only were they back, they still thrashed harder and with more conviction than most!
The quality of the album is obvious even on the very first listen; Worship Music is not a ‘grower’, it’s intimidating, immediate and instantly infectious. The opening triumvirate of “Earth On Hell”, “The Devil You Know” and “Fight ‘Em ‘Till You Can’t” (“Worship-Intro” aside) set the scene; punchy, aggressive and a fine summation of all Anthrax were capable of in their third decade together.
Admittedly, “I’m Alive” sounds like a tired re-write of the central riff in Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People” but honestly, who cares? It’s still a stonking track that betters most songs Anthrax recorded in the preceding decade when they went through an uncharacteristically fallow period.
“Hymn 1” and “Hymn 2” we could do without, instrumental interludes can often be unnecessary and these are no exception but all is forgiven when “In the End” kicks in. Here Anthrax unleash an epic and sonically crushing rock-solid, hard-rock tune which morphs into a thrash/power metal stormer, reminiscent of Judas Priest at their most bombastic, at the half way mark. The Judas Priest influence continues on the track respectfully and simply entitled “Judas Priest”; a nod to one of the founding fathers of the heavy metal scene and a fitting tribute to a band that paved the way for bands such as Anthrax in the 80’s.
Elsewhere, songs such as “The Giant” and “Revolution Screams” feature the trademarked Anthrax crunch laced with typical Joey Belladonna melody who puts in his finest vocal performance for decades.
It’s no coincidence that Anthrax’s classic line-up produced a classic modern thrash record and disputes aside (it’s still not clear if Joey and the rest of the band actually like each other), there’s no denying that when they get together magic happens.
4. Sound Of White Noise (1993)
1. Potters Field 2. Only 3. Room for One More 4. Packaged Rebellion 5. Hy Pro Glo 6. Invisible7. 1000 Points of Hate 8. Black Lodge 9. C₁₁ H₁₇ N₂ O₂ S Na 10. Burst 11. This Is Not an Exit
Recommended Track: “Only”. Metallica’s James Hetfield described “Only” as the perfect song and who are we to argue, the man knows a thing a two about heavy metal. It helps that he’s right of course; “Only” stands proud as one of Anthrax’s finest compositions.
Fans could be forgiven for feeling extremely worried when Joey Balladonna quit Anthrax in 1992 to be replaced by Armored Saint’s John Bush. Armored Saint were not thrash, more power metal meets hard rock and although they were a solid band (expectations were deservedly high when they released their excellent March Of The Saint debut in 1984) they were definitely not in the same league as Anthrax and John Bush was a very different singer to Joey.
Consequently, Sound Of White Noise is not strictly a thrash album, more a heavy metal release containing thrash elements but it is home to two of Anthrax’s finest songs; “Only” and “Room For One More”. Both tracks are blessed with choruses big enough to fill arena’s and are foot-stomping, gear-crunching, anvil-heavy classics which were a blessed antidote to the grunge/alt rock stylings that were bothering the charts on its release.
John Bush made a massive contribution to Anthrax and its important to recognise his influence. Admittedly, Anthrax were forced to tailor their sound to match his classic rock style vocals but one thing can be said about his output, the boy sure could sing.
As a result, Anthrax were one of very few Thrash bands to successfully adapt to the death of the genre in the 90’s, channeling their sound to incorporate elements of old and new without sacrificing their trademark crunch. Only Slayer competed with them during this turbulent period and that’s simply because they refused to change at all. Metallica and Megadeth however did not fair as well, adopting a watered-down, commercialised sheen resulting in sub-standard albums (Load and Reload, Cryptic Writings and Risk) which tarnished their respective reputations and lacked the vicious thrash attack fans had come to expect and demand from the Big 4.
Thankfully, Anthrax did not follow the same path and Sound Of White Noise was the unexpectedly rewarding result.
Final score…Anthrax 1 – 0 Metallica / Megadeth
3. Spreading The Disease (1985)
1. A.I.R. 2. Lone Justice 3. Madhouse 4. S.S.C./Stand or Fall 5. The Enemy 6. Aftershock 7. Armed and Dangerous 8. Medusa 9. Gung-Ho
Recommended Track: “A.I.R.” An undeniable thrash classic, sophisticated and controlled, yet bouncy and energetic enough to get any mosh-pit jumping. Refreshingly, neither as harsh and brutal as many of their contemporaries, Anthrax’s knack for writing thrash with melody could not be better exemplified than on “A.I.R.”
Now this is THRASH!
Anthrax found their melodic yet crunching sound on this, only their second full length album, and it catapulted them to the forefront of the then fledgeling Thrash Metal scene.
Containing perennial favourites “A.I.R”, “Madhouse” and “Gung Ho”, this record never lets up from start to finish and ranks as one of the best thrash metal records to emerge from the genre’s infancy.
Joey Belladonna impressively sings, screams, shouts and wails his way through 9 tracks of seriously consistent material which elevated Anthrax to the top of the thrash pack. Belladonna stood out as a vocalist who incorporated significantly more melody than the the generic bark adopted by lesser thrash bands.
Anthrax were fortunate to be blessed with a classic metal vocalist in the vein of Rob Halford and Ronnie James Dio as opposed to the gruff, no-thrills approach adopted by the barking and screeching vocalists of many lesser thrash bands. More importantly, he was a full-time frontman. Unlike Metallica and Megadeth who’s singers also had to play guitar, Belladonna, unencumbered by playing an instrument, could concentrate on singing and his showmanship and subsequently the band benefitted greatly.
Bucking a trend that had barely begun, Spreading the Disease embraced the classic heavy metal of old as opposed to worshipping the likes of Venom, Raven and other New Wave of British Heavy Metal alumni.
It was this nod to the old school that led to an instant classic.
2. Persistence Of Time (1990)
1. Time 2. Blood 3. Keep It in the Family 4. In My World 5. Gridlock 6. Intro to Reality 7. Belly of the Beast 8. Got the Time 9. H8 Red 10. One Man Stands 11. Discharge
Recommended Track: “Blood”. Angry, opinionated and massive in scope, Anthrax’s trademark humour is dropped in favour of 7 plus minutes of ridiculously heavy and epic thrash which never bores despite its lengthy running time.
Persistence Of Time was the last Anthrax album to feature vocalist Joey Belladonna until 2011’s Worship Music and he bowed out with a bang; Persistence Of Time is a timeless thrash record which ranks as an all time classic in the genre.
All but abandoning the recognisable goofy sense of humour which permeated throughout 1988’s State Of Euphoria, on Persistence Of Time Anthrax changed tact entirely and the tone is noticeably more mature. The only track to seem ill-fitting in this context is their insanely popular cover of Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time”, slightly out of place on an album intent on bludgeoning the listener with social commentary and a harder, more mature edge but their sense of humour inevitably had to bleed through somewhere.
Elsewhere, balls-out thrashers “Gridlock” and “Discharge” are powered as always by Charlie Benante’s inventive and powerful double kick drum patterns but the tracks which elevate this album to classic status are the dark and for forboding epics “Blood”, “Keep It In the Family” and “In My World”. Perhaps more reminiscent of Black album era Metallica than Anthrax’s Speed Metal of old these tracks highlight the bands growing confidence and musicianship. By 1990 Anthrax had no option but to up their game in light of the progression made by Metallica, Megadeth et all and this darker sound and mature approach was admirable and frankly necessary.
On Persistence Of Time, Anthrax demonstrated a social awareness previously hinted at (“Indian’s”, from their Among The Living Album springs to mind) but rarely employed as succinctly and with such righteous conviction; less comic book and more social realism penned to exhilarating and challenging thrash metal.
Persistence Of Time is an impressive, against the grain, descent into the plight and perils of urban life but those attributes aren’t quite enough to laud it as the best album Anthrax ever recorded.
That particular honour goes to….
1. Among The Living (1987)
1. Among The Living 2. Caught In A Mosh 3. I Am The Law 4. Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.) 5. A Skeleton In The Closet 6. Indians 7. One World 8. A.D.I. / Horror Of It All 9. Imitation Of Life
Recommended Track: “Caught In A Mosh”; a true thrash metal anthem and one of the greatest thrash tracks ever written.
This is the real deal and one of the greatest thrash records of all time. On “Among the Living”, all the ingredients that make Anthrax great came together to form the perfect whole. Joey Belladonna had bedded in and his melodic yet powerful vocals are exceptional throughout. Scott Ian and Dan Spitz combine thrillingly and cement their reputation as one of the most skilled guitar partnerships in Metal and Charlie Benante’s stunning, highly influential bass drum work propels the band forward at breakneck speed throughout the entire album.
Lyrically and thematically Among the Living combines the comic book/horror movie aesthetic which can be found on Spreading the Disease and State of Euphoria with the social commentary found on Persistence Of Time, resulting in a near-perfect thrash album which holds it’s own against the greatest albums the genre has to offer.
Heavy on comic book, pop culture and horror movie imagery, (the cover artwork depicts the diabolical Rev. Henry Kane character from Poltergeist II & III), the most iconic reference is “I Am the Law”, their tribute to comic book enforcer Judge Dredd. This head-crushing stomp through nearly 6 minutes of coruscating riffs, courtesy of rhythm master Scott Ian, remains a fan favourite an incredible 33 years after it was written.
Another highlight is “Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)” (“nice f*ckin’ life” spelled backwards) which tackles tragic comedian John Belushi’s drug and alcohol addiction and early demise and its shred-heavy riffs and hardcore backing vocals are as effective as ever.
The pick of a very good bunch though are stonewall classics “Indians” (a politically charged indictment of the treatment of the Native American and a nod to singer Joey Belladonna’s ancestry) and the mosh pit anthem “Caught in a Mosh”. These songs stand toe-toe with the best tracks thrash metal has to offer and are as thrilling today as they were way back in 1987.
Anthrax have come very close over the years to bettering this album, 1990′s Persistence Of Time really does run it a very close second, but Among the Living is the real deal and a stone-cold classic.
Stop reading and go listen to it now!
If we’ve committed a cardinal sin and omitted your favourite Anthrax album, stake your claim for Fistful Of Metal, State Of Euphoria, We’ve Come For You All etc in the comments section below.