Anthrax – Worship Songs (2011)

Posted: September 5, 2011 in Music

When rumors surfaced early last year of the “Big Four” tour – featuring metal stalwarts Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax – I questioned the inclusion of the latter. After all, for as dominant as they were back in the 80s and 90s, the thrash metal legacy of Anthrax had honestly fizzled out a decade ago. The last decent album (in my opinion) was 1993’s The Sound Of White Noise, and they hadn’t recorded any new music since 2003’s We’ve Come For You All.

That said, if you had to pick ‘four’ godfathers of metal, I have a hard time finding a fourth more qualified than Anthrax. While Exodus, Overkill and Testament come to mind, none matched the popularity of New York’s metal kings – if you consider the impact they had at their peak.

Then again, a decade plus of ‘who-cares-itude’ makes it difficult to throw the band into same bag as the other three ‘bigs’ – who have all continued to release albums and stay highly relevant to the metal scene. But all that is about to change, as Anthrax’s September 13th release “Worship Songs” just might turn the tables and create a power shift among metal’s heavyweights along the way.

Worth noting is the return of frontman Joey Belladonna. While one of eight – yes, eight – lead singers for the band over their thirty career, Belladonna is easily the most recognizable. After all, the band’s rise to popularity happened with Joey firmly holding the reigns. His departure from the band, for reasons too complicated to delve into here, led to a slow disappearing act of one of metal’s most formidable bands – and his return here is just the kick in the ass needed to return Anthrax to its former glory.

But before we jump headfirst into this, I think it’s necessary to attest to the fact that, while known as a ‘thrash’ band, Anthrax has always brought far more to the table. They have been melodic at times, shown flashes of groove metal, and have even whored themselves out to rap-metal silliness. So as we move forward with this review, we are talking about Anthrax the band, not Anthrax the thrash band…

Just about every metal album I’ve listened to this year has started out with a short instrumental piece, and “Worship” is just that – but it feels different than most in that you can cut the tension with a knife. You can’t see it or hear it yet, but you just ‘know’ something sinister is sneaking up from behind.

Drummer Charlie Benante unleashes a shit storm of snare hits, and you know – almost immediately – that Anthrax is back. I actually had to turn down the volume a bit during “Earth On Hell” to regulate my ears to the ‘punch-in-the-face’ assault this track threw at me. If ‘heavy’ had a bigger, meaner brother, that’s what you would have here.

The pummeling continues with “The Devil You Know.” As mentioned before, the band is most recognized for their thrash metal, and this is as good as it gets. The chorus tries to smooth out the head-banging aspect of it all, but guitarists Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano are determined here to keep it hard and heavy. It may not be the most mosh-inducing song they’ve ever recorded, but it had me pumping my fist hard enough to make my back hurt.

“Fight ‘Em Till You Can’t” is another solid thrash anthem, and was actually released as a free download on the band’s website in June to ‘thank’ the fans for their dedication and patience in anticipation of the album’s release. It plays well here, but could have just as easily been part of State of Euphoria recordings over twenty years ago.

When a tune is just great metal, there is no need to get all ‘genre-happy’ in trying to define it. And that’s what “I’m Alive” is – just a great metal tune. A galloping rhythm guitar and bass whip this track around, and Belladonna stands tall. For someone who did everything he could to destroy his voice (through legendary indulgences of drinking and smoking), he sounds as good as, if not better than, he did when Ian still had hair…

“Hymn 1” is a much appreciated interval of orchestral strings that alloted me just enough time to catch my breath – but barely. The cellos and violins lead into chimes – which lead into “In The End.” I wish I could just say this song is excellent and move on, but I’m sure you want to hear a little more. The problem is that it is a little hard to explain. It has all the dedication and intent to be a slower song, but it’s not. I guess the best way to explain it is a darker, spookier sound than I’ve ever heard from Anthrax. It has hints of gothic and doom metal – believe it or not – yet somehow still maintains that trademarked thrash groove. While I’m doing an awful job explaining it, I can tell you with confidence that this track does not disappoint. It’s powerful and shows the serious side of this band, which many people never payed attention to.

The chugga-chugga riff and near-spoken lyrics that open “The Giant” had me fearing another “I’m The Man” debacle, but fortunately the track blends out to a decent groove-metal track. The instrumentals far outweigh the vocals here, and for the first time during the listen, I was drawn away from Belladonna – instead catching all the drum beats and bass licks. It may be the ‘weakest’ track on the album, but that doesn’t mean it is weak. Chimaira’s whole album – even at it’s best moments – was worse than this song, so don’t get to upset just yet…

Another ‘interlude’ of sorts comes with “Hymn 2” which is a marching drum cadence that leads into the oddly-titled “Judas Priest.” Originally titled “Maniacal,” Ian and Benante decided – through the course of re-working the song – that the riffing and style was so definitively ‘metal’ that it warranted a tribute to their heroes, and arguably the best metal band to ever come out of England. As Ian stated in an interview with Guitar World magazine “The song isn’t ABOUT Judas Priest, but it’s definitely a tribute TO them…”

Another stray from the norm is “Crawl,” which comes across as a ‘Nirvana-meets-Korn” type of amalgamation. It has an alternative metal backbone, yet still manages to wear the skin the band has always worn. It’s nice to see the band – in it’s 30th year – still willing to throw away the ‘tried-and-true’ recipe and start something from scratch. It may not agree with every fan’s stomach, but it was a nice change of pace for me.

“The Constant” does its best to take groove-metal to the next level with beefy bass and thumping drums. Again, great guitar work fuses perfectly with Belladonna’s rejuvenated vocals. It shows that Anthrax is just as ease playing true metal as it is making you run around in circles and throwing elbows. I can’t really call it ‘calmer’ than thrash, but it is decidedly a more straight-forward approach with amazing results.

Often I give away all the nuances to the albums I review, so I’m going to keep you in the dark in regards to the album’s near-eight minute closer “Revolution Scream” (Don’t miss it, or the ‘hidden’ track – I’ve said too much…)

It’s hard for me to say that – after a three decade career – the best of days for Anthrax may be ahead of them, but that’s exactly what this album will make you consider. Nothing is sighted short here, and the band has crafted an accomplishment far beyond expectation. The resurrection of this band was highly anticipated, and they took the opportunity to blow the roof off the fucker. You are not only going to enjoy the music – every track included – you just might end up up ‘worshipping’ it…

9.5/10

Tracklist:
01. Worship
02. Earth On Hell
03. The Devil You Know
04. Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t
05. I’m Alive
06. Hymn 1
07. In The End
08. The Giant
09. Hymn 2
10. Judas Priest
11. Crawl
12. The Constant
13. Revolution Screams

Buy at Amazon

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