Growing up in the original thrash era, I loved the big stars of the Bay Area thrash explosion dearly, but as a native New Yorker, I always had a special soft spot for Brooklyn/Queens born Anthrax. Not as evil as Slayer, way less poser killing than Exodus and far less technical than Metallica, Anthrax was the good times thrash band with the New York attitude. I loved them through their different eras and was even willing to defend their much reviled Stomp 442 album in these very webpages. All that fanboyism didn’t mean I expected much from their long-delayed, drama-filled comeback album, Worship Music. With all the acrimony surrounding that release, how could it be good? But it was very good and got the band back on track in a major way, yet I worried they wouldn’t be able to keep that momentum going with an equally solid follow up. Well, the boys came through again with For All Kings, surpassing Worship Music and dropping one of the best albums in their long discography. Anthrax and Megadeth both dropping killer albums in the same year? Has the very fabric of time and space been torn? Have I journeyed back to the glory days of metal? More importantly, should I be shopping for a tux for my goddamn prom?
After a dramatic intro befitting a Manowar opus, the mosh party gets started with the vintage Thrax thrash of “You Gotta Believe” and it’s as if you’re magically transported back to the band’s heyday1. The classic bouncing crunch of the riffs, Joey Belladonna’s trademark sing-along vocals and that ever important manic energy; it’s all there. The song is long by Anthrax standards at seven and a half minutes but it avoids feeling that way by mixing in slow, tense segments and emotive solo breaks. “Monster at the End” is an instant classic with fat riffs, a hook-tastic chorus and some great lyrics. It’s the “The Devil You know” of this album and I’ve been spinning it nonstop.
The title track begins with an epic vocal piece where Joey channels Eric Adams before becoming a traditional cruncher with a winning mix of fury and frenetic energy. Lead single “Breathing Lightning” slows things down and features an exceptionally catchy chorus that wouldn’t be out of place on an alternative/indie rock album (think Alter Bridge) but it works very well. “Suzerain” and “Evil Twin” sound like hits from Among the Living that fell through the cracks of time only reappearing now, and both are absolute killers with huge hooks at chorus time. The surprise is “Blood Eagle Wings” – a nearly eight minute dose of experimental emo metal with a very dark tone. Somehow it works and the chorus is a moody wonder you just can’t forget.
The remainder of For All Kings is strong and cuts like “All of Them Thieves” and “This Battle Chose Us” are born to play live. However, the best cuts all come on the album’s first two-thirds and the Filler Bug makes an appearance on less essential tracks like “Defend Avenge” and “Zero Tolerance.” Neither is bad at all, but on an album of monster tunes, they’re underwhelming in comparison. Running an hour in length, For All Kings is pretty long-winded and I wonder why they wouldn’t just eject the lesser cuts and go for a much more consistently ass kicking platter. Drop the “filler” and this is an easy 4.5. Another minor issue is the band’s increasing refusal to edit themselves. Several songs hit close to eight minutes and could use some trimming2.
Performance-wise everyone sounds superb. Joey’s voice has held up remarkably well over the decades and he sounds more confident and comfortable on this material. A big part of that may be due to these songs having been written for him specifically, which was not the case with Worship Music. Scott Ian and new axe Jonathan Donais (Shadows Fall) riff up a hellstorm of hellish proportions across the album and damn if they don’t sound like there’s a bonfire under their asses. Many of the riffs are simply awesome and greatly exceed expectations. Add in another rock solid turn behind the kit by metal’s most under-appreciated drummer, Charlie Benante and season with Frank Bello’s rowdy bass-work and you have a truly impressive slab of classic thrash.
As Metallica tries to tamp down expectations for their “long awaited” follow up to Death Magnetic, Anthrax drops an album good enough to follow Among the Living or State of Euphoria. Let that sink in for a moment. Late in their career and after more upheaval than any 10 bands ever experience, Anthrax found the fountain of youth and they’re chugging from it like thirsty frat dudes at an unguarded Sam Adams wholesaler. Definite Album o’ the Year material and another big NOTch in their belts. Get down with the Anthrax sickness.
- I won’t go into the oddity of a band full of Yankees fans using the Mets’ rally cry for a song title, but I’m officially against it. ↩
- The band need only look to the recent career of Metallica to see a talented act brought low by a complete inability to self-edit or restrain themselves in the studio. ↩