A matured band releasing a matured album
USA's Anthrax, a legendary band, pioneers of the East Coast thrash movement in the early 80's and part of the "Big 4", which also includes three other legendary bands Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica. While maybe not as huge today as they were back in the 80's and 90's, Anthrax rose to metal stardom early with albums such as 'Spreading the Disease' and 'Among the Living'.
Vocalist Joey Belladonna, who joined the band in 1984, became the face of Anthrax (as well as guitarist Scott Ian) and enjoyed the band's more fruitful years before being unexpectedly fired from the band in 1992.
Anthrax recruited John Bush from Armored Saint and then began the second evolution of the band; moving away from the shrinking thrash metal scene and delving into a more groove/heavy metal style. Albums of note include 'Sound of White Noise' (1993) and 'Volume 8- The Threat is Real' (1998), Anthrax really re-invented themselves during that period.
The band had numerous label problems in the mid to late 90's which ultimately took a toll on everyone involved. By 2001 Anthrax found a new home with Nuclear Blast (Europe) and released 'We've Come for You All' in 2003. From there came instability in the line-up (that I like to call the Van Halen syndrome) which saw both bassist Frank Bello and guitarist Rob Caggiano leave the band (Bello returned the following year), while John Bush was ousted in favour of a reunion with Joey Belladonna and guitarist Dan Spitz. For the next few years this revolving door continued between the abovementioned members - Belladonna out, Bush back in, Spitz out and Caggiano back in; and in between a new vocalist Dan Nelson would come and go and still no new material produced in almost seven years. The sad soap opera had one final twist in 2010, when once again Belladonna reunited with Anthrax and John Bush was again shown the exit.
That brings us to now and finally after eight years of instability, playing favourites and other bullshit, Anthrax have released a new album, entitled 'Worship Music'. Firstly there's a bit of nostalgia in the air, hearing Joey Belladonna's untarnished voice on an Anthrax album for the first time in 21 years and I must say that he's still got it after all this time. The main difference between Joey and John Bush is that Belladonna is far more melodic and sings at a higher pitch. On 'Worship Music', Belladonna's vocals are quite melodic, more matured but overall much like where he left off from 'Persistence of Time'; and some of the songs are a reflection of his vocals, containing more melody than ever before.
Sound-wise, Anthrax have quite a different mix thrown to please the fans of both their 80's thrash and 90's groove/traditional metal eras. While they still have their goofy side incorporated somewhat into their music and lyrics, for the most part the song-writing and perception is fairly serious, much like how they performed on 1993's 'Sound Of White Noise' album. The opening speedy and gritty track "Earth on Hell" is very much old school Anthrax, in which the song could have slotted in easily on their 'State of Euphoria' album, while the impressive "Fight 'Em Til You Can't" could have come from either 'Spreading The Disease' or 'Fistful of Metal'.
As usual we get nothing short of greatness from versatile rhythm guitarist and original member Scott Ian, and arguably one of the best drummers in the world, Charlie Benante. Anthrax's next current member after Belladonna, guitarist Rob Caggiano also proves to be worth his weight in gold, with a very solid, energetic and professional performance that is full of hard groove and thrash-esque riffs and excellent solos.
The remainder of the album sits somewhere between the sounds delivered from albums such as 'Stomp 442' up to their previous effort (which seems like an eternity ago) 'We've Come for You All', but in a far more matured and polished fashion. Those jam shorts and the antics the guys used to wear and get up to have finally been locked away and burned on the pyre; this is Anthrax all grown up and it sounds good. By far the best track on the CD has to be the brilliant and infectious "The Devil You Know", just for its supreme guitar riffs and creativeness; overall it's almost the perfect metal song and easily one of Anthrax's best in their entire discography. Other tracks that makes 'Worship Music' a very good but not utterly fantastic album would be the bold and purposeful "I'm Alive", the melodic and emotional "In the End", the respectable homage to "Judas Priest" and the groove-infused head beater "The Constant".
Has 'Worship Music' been worth the 8 year wait? Well to die hard Anthrax fans, the answer would be a strong hell yes, as the album is very solid and for the most part quite entertaining and diverse. Any fans from the beginning who have since moved on should find that this release may rekindle their interest in the 'Thrax, while thrashheads of old will also find it hard to resist the new album. So for the moment, Anthrax have a stable line up, so let's hope it stays that way and another album finds its way to our ears in the next few years. A great, matured and honourable effort from the boys that I personally thought they could not achieve, but have been pleasantly surprised.
(Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment)