Fans of the pioneering thrash metal group Anthrax had to wait eight years for a proper studio album follow-up to 2003’s We’ve Come For You All. Last month, the legendary New York band’s tenth studio album Worship Music was finally released.
Within that long period of time, the group toured around the world quite a bit, but had a hard time keeping a steady lineup intact, as singer John Bush (ex-Armored Saint) left twice, once in 2005 and then again last year after briefly reuniting with his former bandmates for big road shows in 2009 and 2010. Before 2009, Dan Nelson commanded vocal duties, but he quit the band after a three-year stint (2007-2009). When Bush refused to commit to recording a new album last year, that’s when (ace rhythm guitarist) Scott Ian and (longtime drummer) Charlie Benante successfully got singer Joey Belladonna back into the fold to record his first album with the band since 1990’s Persistence of Time. And as this reviewer will explain below, it’s a damn good thing he did.
No offense to the Bush era (1992-2005), but the Belladonna era is considered by most fans and critics to be the golden era of Anthrax, with Spreading The Disease (1985), Among The Living (1987), and the aforementioned Persistence CD being among the classics Anthrax recorded with him on the mic. Sure, the Bush era was more commercially successful, with “Only,” “Inside Out” and “Safe Home” being among the hit singles Anthrax had with him on board. But the band known for numerous classic thrash metal cuts, including “Caught In A Mosh,” “Antisocial” (a Trust cover) and “Madhouse” had Belladonna’s acrobatic vocals leading the way.
Besides the eight-year length between official studio albums, Worship Music itself had been in the works for nearly three years before its September 13, 2011, release (which conveniently came one day before the band’s huge show at Yankee Stadium alongside the other members of “The Big Four” pioneers of thrash metal, Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer). But again, getting the right vocalist for these songs proved to be a very difficult task.
Though there has been speculation otherwise, for Worship Music, the band did away with any and all vocals recorded by Nelson and had Belladonna go into the recording room with co-producer Jay Ruston to cut all new vocals for all the tracks, according to Benante. So, is this new Anthrax record worth the long wait? You bet your metal ass it is!
Not counting the short and scary movie soundtrack-ish instrumental intro “Worship,” the tracks “Earth On Hell,” “The Devil You Know” and “Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t” is one of the best and most explosive one-two-three punches Anthrax has ever had to start an album. Between the lightning fast guitar lines and double-kick drum attacks on “Earth…” and “Fight…,” and the (drop-d tuned) heavy, tight, catchy riffs and tempo changes on “Devil,” it’s enough to keep you occupied with the repeat button for quite a while. And it’s been quite a while since one has been able to say that about an Anthrax album.
Elsewhere, Belladonna sings on “The Devil You Know” that “I’ve been a man of brutal means.” Well, this is not a stretch, as this band, 30 years on, has demonstrated it still has the capability to be brutal on the senses.
This 13-track-long record slows down a bit as it moves forward, with cuts that resemble more latter day Anthrax, like “I’m Alive,” a song clearly about military leaders selling kids on the false glory of war, and “Crawl,” which is only a decent track. There’s also a pointless, short interlude, the marching drum-based “Hymn 2”. (Perhaps an even shorter version of it could’ve been used as the actual intro to the song that rhythmically and literally follows it, “Judas Priest,” instead of it being a separate, 44-second-long drum track.) And on “In The End,” the chugging metal riffs give life to this epic and dark cut, but this reviewer wishes it was just a minute or so shorter, as it runs a bit too long at 6:47.
But this strong album has more big highlights, including the violent and apocalyptic “Judas Priest” (which is not, in fact, a tribute to the British metal pioneers), “The Giant” (which has a punk-ish feel to it during the verses), and album ender “Revolution Screams.” The latter tune also contains a hidden track, a cover of Swedish hardcore punk band The Refused’s one and only hit from the late ’90s, “New Noise.” Though not as ear-shattering as the original, it’s a fun and rockin’ end to the record—and at least with Belladonna singing it, you can finally understand the lyrics!
Yes, We’ve Come For You All was considered a comeback album when it came out in 2003, and it had its moments early on (such as the thrash attack of “What Doesn’t Die”), but Worship Music is the comeback record Anthrax fans have longed for, no doubt about it. More than that, it is also a welcomed return to Belladonna-era form Anthrax. And who can quarrel with that?
The only aspect worth arguing now is whether or not this album should be considered one of Anthrax’s greatest albums. While it’s not quite #1 for me (as that vote goes to Among The Living for this fan), it does belong in the conversation. Therefore, let that discussion begin.