Every once in a while the metal scene collectively pisses on a band or record and someone needs to step up and defend why they like it. I normally don’t spend a lot of time defending shitty records, but sometimes genuinely interesting or good records get lampooned by an overly conservative heavy metal scene and that calls for a professional contrarian to defend it! If ever there was a professional contrarian, it would be me. So here I am to re-hash a record from my past that I still love that everyone else seems to have soured on (or never liked in the first place).
It was recently brought to my attention by Mr. Fisting’s breakdown of Anthrax‘s Stomp 442, that everybody hates this freaking album but me. Imagine my surprise at being marooned on an island of metallic shame for something that didn’t involve Krokus! While I’m not going to argue this is the equal of classics like Spreading the Disease or Among the Living, I don’t consider it a bad Anthrax album at all. In fact, I see it as their last good album until 2011s Worship Music. How do I find merit in an album that’s apparently the reigning King of the Cutout Bin and the scourge of metal fans everywhere? Allow me to explain and enlighten.
Firstly, it’s impossible to view Stomp 442 in a vacuum and one must fully appreciate the musical environment that birthed it. After a decade plus of increasing mainstream acceptance, metal was riding high as the 90s began. There was serious radio and MTV airplay, album sales were brisk and it was a time of wine and roses for all in the biz. Then Seattle dropped the Nirvana bomb on an unsuspecting world and the grim nuclear winter of grunge and alternative rock soon began to drive metal back into the dark underworld to lurk, foment and mutter of conspiracies and grave injustices.
Every metal band dealt with this harsh musical dystopia in their own way. While Metallica folded up metal shop, adopted rock and country and dropped a Load, Anthrax got righteously pissed, had an epic temper tantrum and released Stomp 442. Yes, it’s a reactionary record, as all metal albums were in those uncertain times, and yes, it represented a change in direction from Sound of White Noise. But, it was a shift born of pragmatism and a desire to stay metal.
You see, only one metal band seemed immune to the flannel-clad plague and actually saw their popularity increase in the 90s. That band was Pantera, and after touring with them and seeing their metal stock continue to appreciate, Anthrax either consciously or unconsciously decided to mimic their oh-so-manly mojo. Even a cursory spin of Stomp shows a stark shift toward Pantera-esque riffing and their stripped-down, bare knuckle aesthetic. Hell, they even got Dimebag to lend solos to the damn album! You can knock them for the bandwagon jump, but at least the wagon they picked had metal wheels (yes, I’m looking at you, Mustaine!). At the same time, they didn’t abandon their old sound entirely, and the album is dotted with references back to Sound of White Noise and even Persistence of Time.
The songs themselves are completely serviceable with a few real gems. It’s hard to argue “Fueled” isn’t a ballbuster of a metal anthem, full of piss and vinegar and ready to rumble (it also shits all over the other song with roughly the same name by you-know-who). “Random Acts of Senseless Violence” teams angsty aggression and hard riffing with surprisingly catchy melodies and vocal patterns. “Tester” is a truly savage screed full to the brim with bitterness and enmity toward the whole alternative rock phenomenon and it’s worthwhile both as a badass metal song and historical primary source.
Even the “lesser” tracks like “King Sized,” “Riding Shotgun” and “In a Zone” have an odd, pissed off charm, and all are loaded up with big, punchy riffs and rough-hewed, angry everyman vocals from Bush. Most of the album plays like a street protest on the verge of turning ugly and they should have marketed it with Anthrax themed bricks or lead pipes.
The thing that always stuck with me most was how after so much angry, edgy, power-driving music, things end with the uplifting energy of “Bare.” It’s such a raw, emotional ballad that reeks of sincerity and it’s the only place John Bush gets to showcase his emotive singing. After so much spleen venting hostility, it provides a truly refreshing closure and lets the listener walk away in relative peace.
The only song of the bunch I never fully bought into was “American Pompeii,” which is uninspiring with a chorus that wants to be memorable, but ends up annoying.
I was a dumb teenager when Anthrax were dumb thrash punks wearing high tops and jam shorts. I was a drunk college kid when they explored their darker edge on Persistence of Time and by the time John Bush came in, I was older and ready for something meaner and harder edged. Stomp 442 was the right shift at the right time, regardless of the reasons for said shift. If you approach it fully aware of the time and context in which it was written, you may appreciate the bile and venom the band unleashes. They had to get it out, and it’s as cathartic for the listener as it was for them. Did I mention it has Dimebag on it? Defense rests!