Anthrax – Worship Music (Megaforce, 2011)

I’m a bit biased when it comes to Anthrax.  I was thirteen years old when the John Bush-fronted Sound of White Noise came out, and to this day it remains one of my all time favorite metal albums.  While that recording marked a darker, more serious turn for the New York-based quintet, I still began to think of them as the “fun” thrash band as I explored their back catalogue.  Here was a band that penned odes to Judge Dredd (“I Am the Law”) and Randall Flagg (“Among the Living”), covered new waver Joe Jackson (“Got the Time”), duetted with Chuck D (“Bring the Noise”) and even penned their own humorous take on rap metal (“I’m the Man”).  Can you imagine those stuffed shirts in Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer doing anything like that?  More than the other members of The Big Four, Anthrax struck me as the band that wasn’t afraid to follow their own muse and give the heavy metal rule book the finger.  There was (and still is) something genuinely endearing about their approach.

But it wasn’t easy to keep up with Anthrax after Sound of White Noise.  Stomp 442 and Volume 8 – The Threat is Real came and went, causing nary a blip on my metal radar, and I didn’t catch back up with the band until 2003’s We’ve Come for You All, a respectable album that seemed to signal a return to prominence.  What followed instead was an album of rushed sounding re-recordings (The Greater of Two Evils) and a slew of live and compilation releases, not exactly the best way to capitalize on a five year layoff between albums.  Then there was the infamous singer fiasco involving Bush, Joey Belladonna, Dan Nelson even Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor… it’s a wonder Neil Turbin didn’t get thrown in the mix at some point.  This, combined with a dearth of new material put Anthrax in danger of turning into a joke.

Fast forward to 2011 and Anthrax is anything but a punch-line.  Fully reunited with definitive vocalist Belladonna and riding a wave of renewed interest thanks to a slew of Big Four shows at various enormo-domes around the world, the band has unleashed Worship Music, their strongest album since Sound of White Noise and a damn fine slab of molten metal that recalls the strongest aspects of each era of the band while at the same time ushering the next phase of Anthrax’s musical evolution.

Nevermind the cello intro, because “Earth on Hell” is Worship Music‘s real opening track, a hammering declaration of badass-ness if ever there was one in the mold of classic Anthrax.  The band grabs you by the throat from the get-go and doesn’t let up for the song’s ferocious three minute and ten second duration.  Up next is “The Devil You Know”, another out-and-out banger that keeps the momentum going and is one of the catchiest tunes the band has ever written. I was skeptical of “Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t” when I first heard it, but I must say that the the band’s ode to the zombie apocalypse works great in the context of the album and sounds a hell of a lot better on CD than on the crappy YouTube clip that was making the rounds earlier this year.  After this trifecta of ripping tunes, Worship Music delves into groove-laden, mid-paced territory that recalls the John Bush era.  Many of these tracks, such as the epic “Judas Priest” the catchy/moody “Crawl” and the thrashy “The Giant” work extremely well, while “In The End” and “The Constant” come off as enjoyable but ultimately skippable filler.  The good on Worship Music far outweighs the bad and the album as a whole sounds surprisingly fresh in spite of its long gestation period.

As to be expected the musicianship throughout the album is top notch.  Charlie Benante has always been one of my favorite drummers, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint here, anchoring Anthrax’s rhythm section with the same pounding authority he has brought to the band since ’83. Scott Ian’s ultra-crunchy rhythm guitar is still the defining characteristic at the band’s core and if anything it sounds that much more crushing on Worship Music thanks to co-guitarist Rob Caggiano’s thoroughly modern but not overly slick production job.  Of course, the wild card in the Anthrax equation is Joey Belladonna, who hadn’t recorded with the band since 1990 prior to Worship Music.  Belladonna’s vocals sound fantastic here and although he doesn’t hit the piercing highs of the band’s back catalogue, it’s obvious that he hasn’t lost a bit of his range.  In fact, I’d argue that his voice is more full and commanding now than it was a decade ago.

And so there you have it.  Anthrax has returned to the fold with an album they can be proud of, an album that largely shits all over anything the other members of The Big Four have released in the past several years, and most importantly an album that long suffering fans such as myself can revel in.  By making the album they wanted to make and demonstrating full commitment to moving their music forward instead of pandering to Big Four/retro thrash nostalgia, they’ve proven that they’re still the band I loved as a teenager, marching to beat of their own slightly warped drummer. With Worship Music, Anthrax are back, bad and metal thrashing mad.

http://anthrax.com

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5 thoughts on “Anthrax – Worship Music (Megaforce, 2011)

  1. @ Sam R. – that’s an extremely astute observation re: Belladonna and Bush’s vocals and how they fit into Anthrax. I completely agree with you that Joey sounds better than ever on the new one and that John’s vocals sounded like they’d lost some of their luster on We’ve Come For You All. I’ve only heard a handful of tracks from Stomp 442 and Volume, so I don’t know if it was a gradual decline in his vocal ability or if he just wasn’t feeling it by the time WCFYA rolled around.

    I had no idea that Anthrax’s video for “Who Cares Wins” had been banned by MTV and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the video either, sounds like a little YouTube searching might be in order!

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  2. Ah, Anthrax, the only band I know of to ever have had a video banned from MTV not for profanity or nudity, but rather bleak social consciousness (“Who Cares Wins”); Imagine my surprise when I picked up “State of Euphoria” and found them to be the only Big 4 band that smiled. Things turned darker with “Persistence of Time,” though, and that darkness was cemented with “White Noise” (which, even though I found these guys in the Belladonna years, I agree is an absolutely amazing album) The band let Belladonna go between those records, feeling he just didn’t have the gravitas to go where they were going musically and lyrically. And at the time, they were right; he was already sounding thin in spots on “Persistence.” Hence my apprehension at him returning to the helm, disappointed as I’ve been by EVERY John Bush release post-“White Noise.” Joey’s really the surprise here, though, as his voice has acquired a girth and commanding presence it never quite did in the past. It helps that the material is so strong musically, and that he’s got Scott Ian’s patented bellow backing him up here and there, but yeah, this really is Belladonna’s moment. The last Bush album, “We’ve Come For You All,” saw John Bush rendered inexplicably monotone, and that just doesn’t cut it with a band like Anthrax; these guys need some melody in the vocal lines to contrast with the often 1-or-2 note staccato thrash rhythms that make up most of their music, instrumentally speaking. Really the only problem an album like this has for old-schoolers like me is that its up against 20 years of repeat listens to the band’s classics; I suspect if this had come out in 1992, though, I would hold it in the same (nostalgic) high regard as all the others.

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  3. Completely agreed. Sound of White Noise was amazing and nothing has come close since. But I gave Worship Music a shot only cause I was curious as to what they had been up to since the Stomp 442 & Volume 8 fiasco. Boy was I surprised to hear the what was pumping out of my earphones! Love the new album & I hope this is a sign of things to come. Fingers Crossed!!!!

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  4. I’ve heard (read) a lot, good and bad (mostly bad) about this. But it’s nice to get a perspective from somebody approximately the same age as me–

    ‘White Noise’ was one of the first CDs I ever bought, and to this day it remains among my favorites. So it’s hard to gauge how I’ll feel about the new one based on others’ opinions, since so many people prefer the band’s earlier work. But hearing so many comparisons to that era of their career, feels pretty encouraging…

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