For All Kings Proves Anthrax May Be Old, But Not Obsolete
By Jeff Feuerhaken
Let me be clear: The glory days of thrash metal are behind us. Far behind us. It was roughly 30 years ago when bands like Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax (who have since been dubbed ‘The Big 4’ of thrash metal) enjoyed their heyday and the peak of the genre’s success. Take a moment to let that sink in. 30 years! People who were born after that time have already grown up and had kids of their own. Put that in perspective, and it’s actually pretty remarkable that each of ‘The Big 4’ is still not only playing actively, but also releasing new albums. Three of the four bands have debuted new records in the last 6 months alone (see our review of Megadeth’s Dystopia here), and the fourth, the mighty Metallica, has promised a new album before the sun sets on 2016. Of course, these newer albums are not necessarily capturing the same bottled lightning of the masterpieces that preceded them (Master of Puppets, Reign In Blood, etc.), but hey, who’s complaining? There’s a novelty in hearing a new Slayer or Megadeth album 30 years later that just shouldn’t be taken for granted. And it’s not like these bands are just dialing it in. They’re simply battling father time, who remains undefeated. No one stays at their peak forever.
Having said that, the brand new album from Anthrax, For All Kings, might very well be the best thing they’ve ever done. Stop laughing, I’m dead serious. As in the case of it’s predecessor, 2011’s welcome comeback surprise, Worship Music, the tongue in cheek sense of humor and rap-and-surf-shorts silliness of the old days have been replaced by intricate riffs and a brutal heaviness that delivers the most metal version of Anthrax yet. The opener, “You Gotta Believe”, sets the tone right off the bat with a solemn, orchestral overture that serves as a prelude to the intensity that follows throughout all of the album’s 11 tracks. The breakdown in this song’s bridge serves as an example of just how much more attention is directed towards songwriting than it has been in the past. There are some complex song structures here, folks. Primary songwriters Scott Ian (rhythm guitar) and Charlie Benante (drums) have likely undergone some kind of mind-melding as a result of playing together over the decades, because the instrumental arrangements on this album are incredibly locked in and tight, even more than usual for an Anthrax album.
You can’t be a band for three decades without undergoing some lineup changes, and Anthrax has seen it’s share over the years. After taking over for original vocalist Neil Turbin, Joey Belladonna had a lengthy run as the voice of Anthrax. He exited after 1990’s Persistence Of Time. His replacement, John Bush, had fronted the band through some classic albums, including 1993’s The Sound Of White Noise. Bush ultimately then left the band, eventually paving the way for Belladonna to return. Belladonna then left again, paving the way for Bush to return. Bush left again, paving the way for Belladonna to return once more (see a pattern?) Belladonna has remained the band’s vocalist since then, and I have to say, compared to most metal singers from the earlier era, his voice has held up pretty damn well. Sure, there are some moments that exhibit a whiff of 80’s cheese, but overall the vocal performance on the album is strong and solid. Speaking of lineup changes, For All Kings introduces a new lead guitarist into the fold, ex-Shadows Fall shredder Jon Donais. Rob Caggiano had left some pretty big shoes to fill when he left Anthrax to join Volbeat, but man, Donais really fills those shoes nicely. The leads, of which there are many, showcase Donais’ technical prowess, but they are done in a way that is tasteful and which serve the overall song.
For All Kings is a consistent album, but it’s also a dynamic one, filled with memorable sections that stand up on their own. From the heavy, thrash picking of “Suzerain”, to the John Bush era-y main riff of “Monster At The End”, to the power groove bridge of “Blood Eagle Wings”, to the double-time manic riffery of it’s closer, “Zero Tolerance”, this is an album that absolutely must be experienced by even the most casual metal fan. In the immortal words of the Terminator, Anthrax “may be old, but not obsolete.”