Sunday, January 24, 2016

Caught In A Mosh With Anthrax (Part 1)


Spreading The Disease (1985)
Among The Living (1987)

At the end of February Anthrax will release the new album “For All Kings” and to celebrate that fact we will now make a two part journey through the albums that made Anthrax part of the Big Four and established them as one of the most important bands of thrash metal.

Back in the mid-80’s thrash metal had gained so much speed that nothing could stop it. Bands like Slayer, Metallica and Exodus had established the genre to a wider audience outside the Bay Area. In New York Anthrax released their debut “Fistful Of Metal” in 1984 and had made some ripples on the scene but not much more. The main problem according to guitarist and co-founder Scott Ian was  Neil Turbin who handled the vocals in the beginning and on the debut album who had an ego that grew into a monster. For the follow up changes needed to be done.

Enter Joey Belladonna.

With the exit of Turbin (and original bass player Danny Lilker) and the addition of Belladonna Anthrax got a front man with a voice that gave the band their unique sound that we all know and love when it comes to Anthrax. His vocal range surpasses Turbin's by far and adds that nice NWOBHM-element to the hardcore infused thrash metal that the band had come up with so far. Ian's vision of a band that got it’s main energy from bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest was fulfilled.

And on “Spreading The Disease” Anthrax really did achieve something special and is the starting point of what many consider the classic setting of the band with Belladonna on vocals, Charlie Benante on drums, Frank Bello on bass, Scott Ian on rhythm guitar and Dan Spitz handling the solo guitar. Together they would release some of the true classics of the genre starting with “Spreading The Disease” and ending with “Persistence Of Time”.

“Spreading The Disease” contains some of the best riffs that Scott Ian ever wrote. The riffs in the album opener “A.I.R”, “Madhouse”, “Medusa”, “Gung Ho” and to sadly underestimated songs like “Lone Justice” and “Aftershock” are immortal. Bone crushing and heavy they crawl upon you like a tank. The rhythm section has always made me happy when it comes to Anthrax. Benante and Bello lay a rock hard foundation for the mosh and Frank Bello's bass is comfortably put up front in the mix which is an unmistakable part of the Anthrax sound and as a nice homage to Steve Harris.
When the album ends with the galloping “Gung Ho” in which Charlie Benante reaches subsonic speed on the double bass drum you can do nothing but realize the greatness of this thrash metal classic. How could it be possible to evolve from this?

The answer is of course “Among The Living”. On the third album of Anthrax's career the songs are better, the vocals are stellar and it comes with a truly iconic artwork. Thematically the lyrics really dig in to the band members big interest in comics and Stephen King novels in songs like the title track, “I Am The Law” and “Skeletons In The Closet”. But it also makes some serious statements about the world in tunes like “One World” and “Indians”. And they promote the thrash metal ethos of good ol’ fun and violence in front of the stage in bangers like “Caught In A Mosh”.

But what always gets me when I spin this one is the sound of the album. For the production of the album Anthrax managed to enlist Eddie Kramer who is a true legend of the mixing board with some of the truly iconic rock albums with Kiss and many more classic bands of the 70’s. On “Among The Living” he created a sound that is nothing but timeless. It still sounds fresh and crispy until this very day. It got the perfect balance of the mix with a nice dry sound to the guitars and with the bass and drums upfront as it should be. And Joey Belladonna's voice has some of its finest moments on this one.

“Spreading The Disease” and “Among The Living” are LP’s that made Anthrax such a great band back in the days. When the band released these two albums it was exciting and new. They infused energy into the thrash metal scene that had been missing. On stage they were a tornado. Never a dull moment. They had humor and wit combined with some of the best riffs in the business.
In 1987 Anthrax were at their best to put it simply. What would happen next?

To be continued in part 2.

-The Void

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