John Bush-era ANTHRAX was one of the chief bands in getting me into Heavy Metal. “Sound Of White Noise” is hugely under-appreciated and still gets regular spins today; and the last Bush-fronted album, “We’ve Come For You All," also fails to get it’s deserved respect. On the other hand, I could never quite get into the classic, Joey Belladonna-fronted albums. “Persistance Of Time” had its moments, but was overall a bit too all over the place in songwriting, and I always found the other albums from the period to have too much a care-free attitude. I wanted my Thrash dark and dangerous damn it!
So here we are in 2011 with “Worship Music," the first Belladonna-fronted studio album in 21 years. Many things have happened and changed over the years, obviously, with the members of ANTHRAX getting older and slowing down a bit. Scott Ian has kept his face anywhere he’s been allowed to stick it, becoming a worse media whore than Sebastian Bach, and Belladonna’s voice has deepened a bit with age. ANTHRAX as a band did a reunion tour with Belladona and Dan Spitz, released a nearly countless stream of compilations, live albums, etc. since 2003’s “We’ve Come For You All," and is now participating in the longing-for-our-youth tour that is “The Big Four." In the middle of all that, ANTHRAX also went through the poorly received vocalist Dan Nelson, who recorded vocals for at least part of “Worship Music," only to be canned and have his work forever lost in the archives. Also, for those keeping score at home, John Bush came back, ANTHRAX toured, asked him to re-record Nelson’s vocals, Bush considered, said “no," and was back out. With what I assume was the allure of money in the whole Big Four thing, Belladonna (who previously was un-interested in recording a new album), came back to the fold, re-recorded some vocals, helped write some new tunes, etc., and now we’re at the present. If nothing else, the ANTHRAX guys haven’t been bored.
Anyway, despite all of the crap that’s happened since 2003, ANTHRAX is officially back – at least for the time being – and “Worship Music” is a damn fine album. I went into the album more out of curiosity (remember what I said about Belladona-era ANTHRAX before), and came out the other end impressed. The songs are generally slower, darker, and mostly heavier than the oldies, sounding like the Bush-era mixed with a heavy dose of classic Heavy Metal. I hesitate to call this a Thrash album, as the thrashing is minimal, only really used sparingly throughout. After a short intro, “Earth On Hell” kicks off the album with one the faster tracks, the opening verse leaving me grinning every time. “The Devil You Know” brings a strong Rock vibe, while “Fight Em ‘Til You Can’t” is about as close to classic ANTHRAX as the album gets. “I’m Alive” has a bit of a 70s Rock swagger, complete with big, fat riffs, surprisingly bringing to mind GRAND MAGUS. My personal favorite track, “In The End," is slower, and heavy-as-hell (outside of the sped-up bridge), sounding like nothing I can remember from these guys. The church bells in the song add an almost creepy feeling. The only song on “Worship Music” that doesn’t quite feel like it belongs is “Crawl," with a bit of modern Rock sound in the verses, but the pre-chorus is still pretty cool. The other four tracks are all in the mid/fast-paced range, full of hooks and riffs, and are all enjoyable.
Going into “Worship Music," I wasn’t sure what to expect. ANTHRAX clearly aren’t the same band from 20-plus years ago, and it shows throughout. The album displays the maturity in song-craft that the band really grew into during the Bush-years, but with a decent sprinkling of the youthful exuberance from the early days. Fans of all ANTHRAX eras are likely to find things to like with “Worship Music”, and younger Metalheads have the opportunity to learn a thing or two from the old guard. With that, I’d call “Worship Music” a success.
(Just a note – fast forward after the end of “Revolution Scream” to a little past the 11-minute mark for a nifty cover of REFUSED’s “New Noise.")
(Online September 17, 2011)