Like Metallica, Anthrax delivered their first album on Johnny Z's Megaforce label, and along with Slayer and Megadeth they became known as the "Big Four" of American thrash metal. Unfortunately, Anthrax are clearly #4 in both importance and (in my opinion) quality, which isn't to say they weren't a very good band (and maybe they still are, though I stopped following them years ago). In my opinion, based on what I have heard the band were at their best at the beginning, and this first album, the band's only one with Neil Turbin handling vocal duties, is extremely underrated, as many people seem to dismiss it while simply noting its violent, attention grabbing album cover (which featured a fist coming out of a mouth). True, Turbin wasn't as distinctive or as good as future singers Joey Belladonna or John Bush, but he's more than adequate, and this album, though perhaps a bit too raw and rushed, delivers consistently blazing thrash metal. Though they would refine their craft, in many ways the band never got purer than this album, on which the band's enthusiasm in recording their first album shines through. By and large the best songs - "Deathrider," "Metal Thrashing Mad," "Panic," "Death From Above," and "Howling Furies" come to mind - feature hookier melodies (such as a catchy chanted chorus) while still blazing away. A fair amount of the album kinda comes and goes, but while it's on it's always energetic and exciting even when it isn't especially memorable, and the band's cover of Alice Cooper's "I'm Eighteen," though inferior to the classic original, is nevertheless enjoyable as the band expands upon it and definitely make it an Anthrax song, particularly on its call and response vocal parts. Elsewhere, Maiden-ish guitars appear on "Panic" and "Howling Furies," "Metal Thrashing Mad" and "Soldiers Of Metal" deliver convincing statements of purpose, and "Across The River" delivers scorching thrash metal that's over and done with almost as soon as it begins (1:23). So, as you can see, all in all I'm rather fond of this much-overlooked debut, as quite simply it works, despite the primitive production. Alas, as previously mentioned Turbin would leave after this album, as would bassist Dan Lilker, who formed Nuclear Assault, to be replaced by Frank Bello. In the interim between this album and Spreading The Disease, rhythm guitarist Scott Ian and Charlie Benante (always the leaders of the band and its only constant members along with Bello from this point forward) joined forces with Lilker and M.O.D. vocalist Billy Milano as Stormtroopers Of Death, whose Speak English Or Die album became an influential cult hit.
Spreading The Disease (Island ‘85) Rating: A-
Helped by the emergence of new lead throat Joey Belladonna, whose high-pitched vocals (an acquired taste to many) made the band stand out from their thrash contemporaries, Anthrax hit an inspired peak with this album (and the next one). Though I wouldn't say that many of these songs stand out from one another, the group’s speedy, hard-hitting heavy metal is still tremendously satisfying on a pure gut level. The best songs here typically feature super-fast riffs and rapid-fire drums, along with Belladonna's vocal theatrics and a chanted chorus or two. Just about every song here is impressive to some degree, but my favorites are probably "Madhouse," "S.S.C./Stand Or Fall," "Armed And Dangerous" (whose two minute power ballad intro provides the albums lone attempt at diversity), and "Gung-Ho." Sure, the band’s nonstop flurry of activity can be a bit draining after a while, and lead guitarist Danny Spitz is no Kirk Hammett or Marty Friedman when it comes to soloing. However, the band's rhythm section is stellar, and Anthrax has retained the amateurish zeal of Fistful Of Metal while delivering stronger songs and an improved overall sound.
Among The Living (Island ‘87) Rating: A-
This album is primarily played at one speed (fast), and your stereo should play it at one volume (LOUD). Among The Living offers consistently blazing thrash metal, with lightning quick drumming and big crunchy (but sometimes generic) speed riffs. Hyper kinetic singer Joey Belladonna rants over the mayhem, often to be joined by his bandmates on shouted, anthemic choruses that show off the band’s punk rock roots. Aside from being influenced by hardcore punk and having a super-speedy delivery, what helped distinguish Anthrax was that they had a sense of humor and weren't above injecting social commentary into their songs. Alas, though musically this album is extremely strong, if a bit long-winded at times, the band's preachy, politically correct message music ("Indians") and naive idealism (“Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.),” “One World”) can be a bit annoying. Fortunately, those are still excellent songs, musically speaking, as are other forceful in-your-face songs such as “Among The Living” (inspired by Stephen King), “I am The Law” (inspired by Judge Dredd comics), and “Caught In A Mosh” (inspired by moshing, duh). That said, though most people regard this album as the band's best, I slightly prefer Spreading The Disease, with its more precise attack and sans any pretentious attempts at "importance".
State Of Euphoria (Island ‘88) Rating: B-
I realize that the last two reviews were kind of short, but there's a certain propinquity to the band's albums that leaves me with little to say about them. Still, for all of their one-dimensional faults, both Spreading The Disease and Among The Living are minor classics of their type, though unfortunately the same can't be said for State Of Euphoria, whose best song is a cover (Trust's "Antisocial") and whose most notable attribute is its obnoxious yellow album cover. There are some good tunes, such as "Be All, End All" and "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind," but much of the album is surprisingly uninspired, with overly long songs and whiny socially conscious lyrics (as a friend of mine would say, "there's no crying in thrash!") again presenting major problems. For example, "Make Me Laugh" was another in the long line of anti-evangelist songs that everybody did back then - and they do it rather weakly. "Who Cares Wins" lyrically echoes Phil Collins' "Another Day In Paradise" only worse, while the lyrics of "Schism" make War's "Why Can't We Be Friends?" (a song that I like, mind you) look like Shakespeare. Still, this is heavy metal music, and I don't listen to metal for its lyrics; distractingly bad though these can be, I could easily overlook them if the music was more memorable. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad album, but it is a very disappointing one, as the sound doesn't have the same punch as previously and I'm hard pressed to remember too many of its songs when all is said and done.
Persistence Of Time (Elektra ‘90) Rating: B
Tired of the media focusing on their silly skatepunk clothes and their more lighthearted image than the other members of the "Big Four," and obviously influenced by Metallica's more technically demanding, progressive-minded And Justice For All, Persistence Of Time sees the band delivering a dark, aggressive, expansive set. Unfortunately, the band doesn't have the songwriting talent or musical chops of Metallica, so routinely stretching songs out to six and seven minutes wasn't really the best idea. The first four songs alone clock in at around 28 minutes, almost the entirety of Slayer's Reign In Blood! Granted, there are some good songs here, such as "Blood," "Keep It In The Family," "In My World," and a surprising cover of Joe Jackson's "Got The Time." The band's tougher delivery is welcome as well, as Belladonna dispenses with the high-pitched histrionics, and though the lyrics are again at-times problematic, at least there's a thematic consistency this time out as the band pleads for tolerance and harmony within a hopelessly fractured society. Unfortunately, aside from "Intro To Reality," which provides a nice break in the action, few of these songs are memorable (where are the hooks?) or stand out from one another, and an hour's worth of this stuff seems like more of the same after a while. I appreciate that the band tried to branch out here, but maybe dark simply isn't what this band does best, and when I look back at 1990 and all the strong metal albums released that year (Megadeth, Slayer, Pantera, Judas Priest), it's pretty obvious that at this point Anthrax was second tier at best.
The Sound Of White Noise (Elektra ‘93) Rating: B+
Sensing that a creative lull had enveloped the band (feel free to skip 1987's I'm The Man EP and 1991's odds n' sods collection Attack Of The Killer B's; you won't be sorry), Anthrax severed ties with Joey Belladonna and stole John Bush from Armored Saint. Now Anthrax was ready to kick down the doors and head into the ‘90s full steam ahead, with guns a blazing. Emboldened by a more gruff voiced and forceful (if less distinctive) lead vocalist, a great production job from Dave Jerden, and a pummeling drum performance from Benante, the group relies less on thrash tendencies and guitar solos and instead incorporates industrial touches, striking a nicely updated mix that still hits bloody hard. Killer tracks such as “Only” (for my money the band's best song ever), “Room For One More,” and “Packaged Rebellion” ride catchy choruses that are missing from too many of the other tracks here, but standout performances by all makes every song register on some level. Influenced by the massive success of Metallica's Black Album and grunge, the band slows down the tempo at times, and they even attempt an atmospheric ballad on "Black Lodge," though the intensity level remains high throughout. Explosive and angry (sample lyric: "the only thing that makes me smile is your pain"), this menacing album's main flaw is its overly long length, as The Sound Of White Noise starts to sound like more of the same after a while (sound familiar?). Longtime fans should be pleased, though, since this is a sweaty, bare knuckled effort that’s worthy of both respect and admiration, as the band changed with the times and came out on the other side all the better for it. Alas, for whatever reason, subsequent albums have pretty much tanked, and as previously noted I lost interest somewhere along the way (maybe I've never forgiven them for helping birth rap metal with "I'm The Man" and "Bring The Noise"?). Truth is, after the anthrax scares that plagued America in late 2001, this New York band is now arguably more notorious for their name than for anything else. As of 2010, since 1999 Anthrax has had six compilations, three live albums (and as many lead singers with Bush and Belladonna joining and leaving and Dan Nelson joining for a brief stint), and a whopping one album of original material. They can still bring it live, however, that much I can vouch for, having seen them open for Megadeth and Slayer with Belladonna back in tow on October 8, 2010 (they played a short but impressive set in front of their hometown New York fans).
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