The Metal Observer ranks the Anthrax discography from worst to best.
As members of the coveted ‘Big Four’, but never really attaining the same status as their peers – East Coast thrashers Anthrax have certainly had their ups and downs over the 36 years of their existence. From Grammy nominations, to having their studio burned down — Scott, Frankie, Charlie and *insert appropriate vocalist/lead guitarist here* have managed to produce some truly great metal albums – but definitely weren’t immune to the odd stinker. One thing’s for sure — the band are currently on a winning streak, and they look hungry to conquer the world once more. Meanwhile, TMO is presenting our first ‘Shredding’ feature — where we rank a band’s discography from worst to best — and the New York veterans are first on the chopping block…NOT!
11. Stomp 442 (1995)
In the heart of the controversial ’90s, where ex-Armored Saint frontman John Bush took control of the microphone, lies Stomp 442 (whatever the hell that means). The production was grimy, the songs were lacking in Scott Ian’s trademark riffs, solos were non-existent, and Anthrax’s sense of fun was all but gone. There are some stand-out moments, like the abrasive “Random Acts Of Senseless Violence”, or the breakdown in the middle of “Drop The Ball” – but overall it’s a boring, indistinguishable mess with the most ludicrous, nonsensical album art in metal’s history.
Best track: “Random Acts Of Senseless Violence”
10. Volume 8: The Threat Is Real (1998)
I do believe this album frequently gets unfair judgement. There are many things about it to enjoy: Bush’s voice reaches an edgy pinnacle, there are a few damn fine groove metal anthems, and the gritty guitar tone is probably the heaviest in the band’s catalogue (just listen to the opening riff of “Inside Out” – what a monster!). Unfortunately, there is some truly useless filler (“Cupajoe”), and some fodder tracks that lack the balls this album was capable of producing. With the length dragging out to 70 minutes, it’s worth just checking out the few highlights and ditching the rest to avoid tedium…but only if you like your metal groovy!
Best track: “Inside Out”
9. Fistful Of Metal (1984)
Anthrax’s debut displays thrash metal in a pleasingly primitive form. Speedy numbers like the awesome “Panic”, the underrated “Subjugator”, and the live staple “Deathrider” (which is still played live now!) laid the groundwork for what thrash would become. Whilst the NWOBHM influence is at its strongest here, I’ll say what we’re all thinking: Neil Turbin’s voice ruins the whole thing. He doesn’t sing, he doesn’t growl – he wails and screams with all the tuneful vigour of a cat in a cement mixer. The production is pretty raw (even by 1984 standards) and the Alice Cooper cover is a little superfluous – but cast your mindset back 30 years, and there’s enough thrashy goodness to have a rollicking good time.
Best track: “Panic”
8. Worship Music (2011)
An unforgiving eight years after their previous outing, and seemingly at the lowest point in their career, the line up finally became stable in 2010. Worship Music is a slightly schizophrenic record, in that it contains the mediocre elements of the golden ’80s era, mixed with the best parts of the ’90s era. Thrash is still very much at the heart of the album, with tracks like “Earth On Hell” and “Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t.” But the melodic groove came alive in such a way, John Bush may as well have been on the mic. Good job too, because the mid-tempo stomp of “I’m Alive” is one of the band’s finest melodic anthems. Far from perfect, but a pleasure to hear the band re-energized, this is definitely a ‘fans only’ LP.
Best track: “Revolution Screams”
7. Sound Of White Noise (1993)
This album is frequently hailed as the best of the Bush era; and while it definitely has its moments of genius, it’s far too drawn out, and downright sluggish at points to be praised as much as it is. “Sodium Pentathol” and “Burst” are completely forgettable, and “Potters Field” is such a bad choice for an opener. Also “Only” must be one of metal’s most overrated songs ever (James Hetfield even described it as ‘a perfect song’). Thank god for the darker, heavier bursts of rage like “1,000 Points Of Hate” and “This Is Not An Exit” which show off what Anthrax could have sounded like throughout the ’90s: modern but fiery. Despite the creepy “Black Lodge”, and the frankly awesome riff of “Invisible” – Sound Of White Noise began the period of division in an unsure fashion.
Best track: “Room For One More”
6. State Of Euphoria (1988)
Perhaps overlooked due to being sandwiched between the band’s best albums – but it’s definitely not as impressive. Dropping soon after the hilarious I’m The Man single, State Of Euphoria definitely explored the Anthrax’s lighter side, as they donned shorts and bright t-shirts for most of 1988’s concerts. This goofiness probably repelled many a purist metalhead, which is a shame – because, with a close ear, this album packs a hell of a punch. The crushing opening, and immortal riff of “Be All End All” has made it a live staple to this day; the expansive “Who Cares Wins” was a lyrical triumph, hinting at where the New Yorkers would expand their sound on the following record; and the satire of “Make Me Laugh”, combined with its vicious stop/start riff, makes it a thrash anthem. Sure, the latter half of the album kills the energy, especially with the useless “13” – but the quintet are sure to leave you with a smile on your face thanks to the frantic and vibrant “Finale”. Overlooked? Definitely. Does it deserve to be overlooked? Perhaps not.
Best track: “Finale”
5. We’ve Come For You All (2003)
The anthrax terrorist attacks of the early 2000s left the band in a sticky situation; with many urging them to change their name. ‘Thrax were positively defiant; emerging onstage in November 2001, clad in white jumpsuits, upon which were inscribed the words ‘WE’RE NOT CHANGING OUR NAME’. So when the time came to record album number eight, the title We’ve Come For You All was a real promise. Rocketing out the speakers with the vehement “What Doesn’t Die”, and ploughing through 50 minutes of material which rarely drags, was just the statement Anthrax needed to make. Frankie does some vocals, Charlie plays guitar, even Dimebag Darrell is in on the action, providing the awesome shout at the beginning of “Refuse To Be Denied”. The studio must have been like a party! It’s a varied journey; the driving tracks like “Taking The Music Back” contrasting wonderfully with the massive grooves of “Think About An End” or “Any Place But Here”. There’s some classic rock (“Cadillac Rock Box”), a monstrous drum feature (“Nobody Knows Anything”), blast-beats (“Black Dahlia”), and even a genuinely heartfelt soft-rock number (“Safe Home”). So this is a real smorgasbord of metal! Ignore the useless filler, and this is a fun album full of attitude.
Best track: “What Doesn’t Die”
4. For All Kings (2016)
After the commercial success of Worship Music, it’s surprising that it took five years for the next full-length. However, this is a manifestation of the phrase ‘worth the wait’. A strengthened line-up, thanks to the virtuoistic guitar skills of Jon Donais replacing Rob Caggiano, released this multi-faceted monster in February 2016. Self-aggrandising artwork notwithstanding, this is a confident tour de force which explores the many aspects of Anthrax’s musical history – but has its roots firmly planted in thrash metal. It’s a finely structured journey, dipping and peaking through each song, so nothing ever stagnates. This record contains some of the finest riffs Scott has ever penned; like the hammering “All Of Them Thieves”; the slightly off-kilter title-track; and the straight-for-the-jugular “Suzerain”. For All Kings has its fair share of highlights. “Evil Twin” would fit in perfectly on Among The Living; “Blood Eagle Wings” is an epic doom-laden anthem; and “Zero Tolerance” is the frantic closer that would put a smile on any thrasher’s face. 35 years into their career, it’s an absolute pleasure to hear veteran metallers produce relevant material that begs to be headbanged to. ‘I am fire, I am death – I’m out!’
Best track: “Zero Tolerance”
3. Spreading The Disease (1985)
The general consensus among the majority of ‘Thrax fans is that the Joey Belladonna years were the ‘golden age’ – with Spreading The Disease being the kickstart for the era. His powerful pipes brought an air of professionalism to the band, and became iconic thanks to some performances on this very album. Listen to the start of “Armed & Dangerous” and it’s instantly clear why he was the man for the job. The NWOBHM influences still flow through this record, but Scott’s riff writing is maturing, penning some true thrash greats like “Medusa” and the immortal “A.I.R.”. The speedy songs are interjected equally with mid-paced rockers, making this a dynamically interesting listen. “Aftershock” and “Gung-Ho” are two high-speed monsters with brutal lyrics and vicious riffs – a massive middle-finger to those who question the band’s thrash credentials. On the flipside, “The Enemy” explores an epic atmosphere, and the legendary “Madhouse” displays the band’s humour while knocking you on your ass with a real shout-a-long chorus. Still revered by many 32 years on, Spreading The Disease is one of those unavoidable albums which launched a winning streak for Anthrax.
Best track: “Aftershock”
2. Persistence Of Time (1990)
Despite being known as the light-hearted quarter of the big four, with a penchant for humour, the reason this opus succeeds is because it’s so dark and angry. Fueled by rising tension within the band and the burning down of their rehearsal studio in January that year, Persistence Of Time is bitter and sinister – but all the better for it. It opens with an ominous ticking clock which rapidly accelerates to merge with a blur of fuzzy guitars – then Charlie’s booming toms, Scott’s chugging riff and the irregular time signature ensure this is a wholly different beast from State Of Euphoria. The songwriting has matured further, with most tracks averaging between six and seven minutes. The production is atmospheric and moody, with the most crushing guitar tone in the band’s discography – best displayed on the bone-crunchingly heavy “Keep It In The Family” which will make your neck ache, no question. Also, Dan Spitz’s solos reached their inventive pinnacle here. Even the single “In My World” is a badass anthem with lyrics that will make any metalhead grimace. Held in high regard by most fans, Persistence Of Time is Anthrax in their darkest hour, but it definitely ends the ‘golden age’ with one of the finest records of the ’90s. (It’s also worth pointing out that the main riff for 2011’s “Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t” is lifted straight from “Gridlock”).
Best track: “Keep It In The Family”
1. Among The Living (1987)
Was there ever any doubt? An iconic and immortal album which holds its own against the Master Of Puppets and Reign In Bloods of its time. This is the Anthrax album to own because it is the perfect fusion of their well-developed chugging riff style, characteristic gang-shouts, light-hearted nature, and excellent songwriting. There’s a reason most of the band’s hits are from this very record. “Caught In A Mosh”, “Indians”, “Efilnikufesin”, “I Am The Law”…there will be many non-fans who would’ve still heard these tracks at some point, such is their impact on the metal community. However, even the b-side is chocked with thrash masterpieces oft-neglected. “Imitation Of Life” is a frenzied affair with a neck-busting breakdown; “One World” is one of the most pure-thrash songs the New Yorker’s ever wrote; and “The Horror Of It All” is an eight-minute, multi-faceted gem. There are comic book characters, Stephen King references, and even a song about John Belushi (!) – but despite the antics, Among The Living is, most importantly, heavy as hell. Don’t believe me? “Skeleton In The Closet”.
Best track: “Skeleton In The Closet”
Anthrax are currently preparing for their tour of the US with Killswitch Engage. Catch ’em if you can because the old guard are currently on a roll. In the meantime, give their Facebook page a like, and get yourself some sick merch here. Thanks for reading. Over, finished, gone, done, out!