Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Anthrax - Worship Music

Worship Music
Nuclear Blast Records

No band within the metal scene has been guiltier of shooting themselves in the foot more than New York based outfit Anthrax. And if proof were needed, then one only has to look at the soap opera that has surrounded the band since 2004.
For those unaware, the story generally goes like this. After thirteen years in the lead vocal role, John Bush announced his split from the group mere months after the release of ‘The Greater Of Two Evils’. While some were disheartened by the news (Including myself), the announcement of plans to reunite the classic line-up of the band (Vocalist Joey Belladonna and guitarist Dan Spitz would once again join rhythm guitarist/vocalist Scott Ian, bassist/backing vocalist Frank Bello and drummer Charlie Benante) soon had fans in a frenzy over the possibilities of Anthrax reclaiming their rightful place amongst ‘The Big Four’ (Who also include Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth). Things seemed to be going well, with the band receiving high acclaim for the live album/D.V.D. ‘Alive 2’ in 2005.
But by early 2007, the honeymoon was over. Both Belladonna and Spitz were once again out of the band. By the tail end of the year, ex-Devilsize vocalist Dan Nelson was announced as Belladonna’s replacement and long-time lead guitarist Rob Caggiano was enlisted to fill the void left behind after Spitz’s split with the band. Not surprisingly, work on a new album was started.
Fast forward two years, and by all reports, Anthrax’s new album was near completion, with a release projected around May. But in July, it was confirmed that Nelson had decided to resign from the band, and that the completed album would be shelved indefinitely until the situation was sorted out. Of course, Nelson had a different recollection of events, and a war of words between the two camps ensued – much to the dismay of Anthrax fans who were hoping for a return of the band.
In a surprising turn of events, Bush returned to the band to help fulfil live obligations, and for all intents and purposes, seemed to be back with the band full-time. Needless to say, nothing about a vocalist’s position within Anthrax is set in stone, and by the tail end of 2009, Bush had moved on, and Belladonna was once again back as front man for Anthrax. Here we are, a year and a half since then, and Anthrax has finally released ‘Worship Music’, which is their first album of new material since 2003’s ‘We've Come For You All’.
If you’re a diehard fan of Anthrax (Like me), it's hard not to be sceptical of ‘Worship Music’. After all, this album has already been recorded twice – once with Nelson, and now with Belladonna. And it begs the question - just how much involvement did Belladonna have in the song writing if the album was already finished before he had rejoined the band?
Well, after giving the album plenty of time to sink in, all I can say is that while the details on who wrote what isn’t exactly clear, ‘Worship Music’ is quite simply a killer Anthrax album.
After a slow building instrumental piece (‘Worship’, which brings to mind ‘Contact’ from ‘We've Come For You All’), the band are quick to get down to business with the intense blast of ‘Earth On Hell’. Over the course of three and a half minutes, Anthrax thrash it out like its 1990, but with an edge of maturity that can only come from the perseverance the band have endured being the underdogs for the better part of the last two decades. While the riffs are executed with a viciousness, and Benante belts the hell out of his kit, its Belladonna here that steals the show. His voice has never sounded so in control and self assured, which really gives the song the edge needed to move away from sounding threatening, and actually going in for the kill.
‘The Devil You Know’ (The second single lifted from the album) is something different from the band, with the thrash choruses intertwined with huge catchy and infectious choruses, but works exceeding well, while ‘Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't’ sees the band returning to the thrash territory of ‘Earth On Hell’, but with an added injection of melody that pushes the song well and truly into the classic realm.
The heavy rock/metal sound of ‘I'm Alive’ is something that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the band’s Bush led era albums (In particular ‘We've Come For You All’), but its Belladonna who really gives the song its personality and character with some great melody structures and his masterful performance throughout, while on ‘In The End’ (Which is preceded by the short intro ‘Hymn 1’), the band create a huge epic atmosphere with the song’s darker and melancholy feel, without losing any of their trademark crunch on the guitar front.
In terms of speedier material, the melodic thrash based ‘The Giant’ and ‘The Constant’ are infectious numbers that combine huge crushing grooves with choruses that simply beg to be cranked up, while the moody and darker tinged rocker ‘Crawl’ is without a shadow of a doubt Belladonna’s single stand out performance on the album, with the album’s heavy-handed closer ‘Revolution Screams’ coming close to the top spot at second place.
In fact, the only weak spot I could find came in the form of ‘Judas Priest’ (And its short instrumental intro ‘Hymn 2’). Although solid enough, and featuring some great breakdowns and drumming from Benante, the choruses didn’t grab quite the same way as some of the other tracks, and the lyrics have little to do with its namesake (Which only seems to confuse the issue).
Prior to this release, I doubt many had huge expectations of a genuine return to form from Anthrax on their new album. Sure, it was always going to be a solid effort, but I doubt many would have expected anything to rival the band’s classic releases of Belladonna’s early years.
To put it in simple terms, Anthrax has proven just about everyone wrong. ‘Worship Music’ is right up there with the best work that Belladonna and Bush have produced in the past, and have once again proven their worthiness amongst ‘The Big Four’.
Provided the band don’t shoot themselves in the foot and stay together in the future, Anthrax may once again return to glory, and find a fan base that has a mutual interest in worshipping music.

For more information on Anthrax, check out - http://www.anthrax.com/

© Justin Donnelly