Sunday, January 8, 2012


I've been listening to Anthrax' Worship Music lately, their reunion with singer Joey Belladonna.  To me, it was the best metal album of 2011, and I know a lot of other people feel the same way.

It got me listening to what is probably the band's best album, Among The Living, which was released in 1987, the year I graduated from high school, a time when I was really into thrash metal. This album blew my mind. As everyone knows, they were part of the "Big 4" of thrash metal, along with Metallica (the album was actually dedicated to the then-recently departed Cliff Burton), Slayer and Megadeth. But those other bands were from the west coast, Anthrax definitely brought a lot of east coast flavor and culture. I wasn't familiar with hardcore punk at the time, but the New York's hardcore scene was definitely an influence on the group, as was hip-hop music, which was exploding in New York at the time, and in my opinion (I know, I'm old) was much cooler back then.

They seemed really different from other metal bands: they kind of had more of a sense of humor (as seen in their "NOT" mascot), they dressed differently (Run-DMC style training jackets, boarder shorts) and had really cool lyrical influences that I definitely related to: comic books (I knew that Scott Ian was a bit fan of Frank Miller's Batman Returns) and Stephen King. There were also songs with some kind of consciousness to them: "Indians," like Iron Maiden's "Run To The Hills" was about how Native Americans got screwed over. As I mentioned, I didn't know much about punk rock at that time, so the idea of having a social consciousness in heavy music was a new concept to me.  Also, "N.F.L." about the stupidity of John Belushi's death: not many metal bands sang about the real pitfalls of drug abuse like that. In "One World," they sang about "Russians - they're only people like us!" and "Americans: stop singing 'Hail To The Chief!'" A lot of the metal audience is more politically conservative today, I wonder how it would go over.  But man, what a ballsy move. Even "Imitation of Life" really resonated with me.  It was about phony people, and it also ripped on hair metal bands (even though years later, Anthrax would agree to open some shows for motley crue).

The above is all well and good, but when I listened to the album, it still sounded so great, so powerful, and that's what matters. I'm not always the biggest fan of Joey Belladonna's voice (I prefer John Bush, who replaced him), but I had to admit, he sounded great on last year's Worship Music, and he's perfect on Among The Living. The other thing that separated Anthrax from the other Big 4 bands was that their singers didn't sing, they were shouters.  Which is fine.  But Belladonna gave Anthrax a connection to other metal legends with great singers, like Maiden and Judas Priest.

I always felt that Anthrax didn't ever really get their due, but they have achieved a kind of legendary status.  This album explains why.  By the way, I was listening to the 2009 expanded reissue, not a bad package.  The liner notes by metal fan/comedian Brian Posehn make it worth the price of admission.  The bonus tracks really don't.  But the bonus disc is the "home video" (as they called it back then) Oidivnikufesin (N.F.V.) on DVD, which is cool.

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