Thursday, March 3, 2016

Anthrax - For All Kings album review

Rewind 30 years to March 1986. Metallica has just released Master of Puppets. Megadeth are recording Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? in between trips to their drug dealers. Anthrax, on the back of breakthrough album Spreading the Disease are about to record their seminal classic Among the Living.

Would anyone, back in little old 1986, have guessed that some 30 years later, Metallica would be the biggest live metal ticket on the planet? That Megadeth would still sound distinctly pissed off about the state of the world, despite Dave Mustaine making peace with Metallica, and Dave Ellefson becoming a pastor? That Anthrax would produce great albums with two distinctly different singers?

Most importantly, would anyone back in 1986 have guessed that so many of those classic thrash metal acts – not just the Big 4, but also the likes of Overkill, Exodus, Death Angel, and Testament – would still be producing great, contemporary metal music in the year 2016?

I’m guessing not.

I mean, I can’t really figure it out either and, aside from Megadeth and Metallica, I’ve really only discovered most of those bands in the past 5 years or so. The best guess I have is that these acts care first and foremost about producing kickass metal music, and somewhat less about popularity, image and all that sort of hype. All those bands have survived multiple line-up changes, health scares, personal tragedies, and massive industry change. While all that could easily make one pretty jaded, the one constant that all of these bands have hung on to through those times is the desire to make great metal music.

In Anthrax’s case, that desire is arguably stronger than ever right now. Revitalised by the release of 2011’s excellent Worship Music, the hugely popular Big 4 tour, and the support of a label that isn’t broke or a pain in the ass, there’s a sense of confidence and optimism about the band at the moment.

The result is their most assured-sounding record since 1987’s Among the Living. While the tone is relatively dark and somewhat bereft of the traditional Anthrax humour (even Worship Music had a song about fighting zombies) – For All Kings is a top-shelf effort worth every minute of the 5-year wait since their last album.

Musically, the band sound insanely tight. I mean, they were pretty damned good on Worship Music – the schizophrenic Earth on Hell being a particularly fine example – but For All Kings takes it up a notch. Sure, it helps that the songs were written with singer Joey Belladonna in mind this time around – and he does an outstanding job – but you can almost visualise drummer Charlie Benante, rhythm guitarist Scott Ian and bassist Frank Bello huddled together grinning at each other during the breakdown of Evil Twin.

This is not to say that there’s no risks taken. Breathing Lightning is uplifting, melodic with a catchy almost-pop chorus, whilst Blood Eagle Wings starts out with the sort of mid-tempo hard rock groove more typical of Anthrax’s John Bush-era albums in the 1990’s.

At first listen, it seems like there’s some clear standout tracks – opener You Gotta Believe elicited more than one ‘holy shit!’ from me the first time I heard it, and the savage intensity of closing track Zero Tolerance is matched only by its biting lyrics.

But the real test of this is repeat listens, and the more I play For All Kings, the more it becomes an end-to-end listen, thanks partly to some very well-layered tracks on the album’s second half that reward a keen ear. As much as I know Zero Tolerance is going to be awesome when I get to it, I just got really hooked on this drum line in All of Them Thieves that I hadn’t really noticed before. You get the idea.

As much as there are highlights throughout the album, it’s hard to pick a better moment than the chorus of This Battle Chose Us – the lyrics undoubtedly a reflection on Anthrax’s at-times tumultuous 35 years:

"Hell this ain't no warning

You give them hell because you must

It's a long hard road we're walking

Because this battle chose us"

For Anthrax to be putting out records of this calibre 35 years into their career… well you’d have to say they’re winning. And if you were to go back in time to 1986 and tell the band that they’d put out one of 2016’s best albums – well I think they’d certainly call that a huge win. There’s still a lot of potentially excellent music to come this year but I have no doubt I’ll still be listening to For All Kings a lot by the end of the year – and beyond.

Actually, now there’s an idea… a concept album whereby Anthrax go back in time and meet the younger versions of themselves…

1 comment:

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