Anthrax// Worship Music
Rating: 3.5/5.0 —The sound of white persistence.
Label: Megaforce Records | Nuclear Blast
Websites: anthrax.com | myspace.com/Anthrax
Release Dates: EU: 12.09.2011 | US: 09.13.2011
Wow, the Thrax is finally back! After endless bullshit, drama and ridiculous delays, the revolving door of vocalists that saw John Bush and Joey Belladonna coming, going and coming again is over (for now). In the peculiar saga that saw John Bush depart so Anthrax could record an entire album with unsung voice Dan Nelson, only to scrap it for planned re-dubs with Bush and then later with original singer Joey Belladonna, we finally get the refinished product. Confused? Yeah, me too. So after an eight year wait, is Worship Music worth the metallic soap opera and histrionics fans had to endure? Well, the hype circus is already in full swing, with the band themselves saying its their best material and some early reviews comparing the quality favorably to genre classics like “Heaven and Hell” and “Stargazer.” Well, allow me to take a step back and simply say, NOT! It’s good and definitely interesting, but Steel Druhm shall not be among the throngs of metal press that hail this as some crowning triumph or the best work of their long career. While it isn’t in the same league as their classics, it’s enjoyable and finds them trying new things without completely ditching the classic Thrax sound. Despite a few excellent songs, Worship Music isn’t the release of the year that many (myself included), hoped it would be.
After a brief intro, the boys from Brooklyn come roaring out with considerable rage and passion on “Earth on Hell” and seem determined to make a statement that they’re back and mean business. Driven by angry, intense riffing and recurring blast beats, this is Anthrax at their most vicious. When we finally get to hear the 2011 version of Joey Belladonna on the mic, it’s a bit of a shock. He sounds quite different than he used to and has a deeper, rougher voice and bases himself more around a mid-range rough and tough style that will remind many of, well, John Bush. Confused? Me too. As strange as Belladonna channeling Bush sounds, it works well and its a good opener (with a blistering solo at 2:12). They don’t really hit their stride until “The Devil You Know” which is infectious from the get-go and has that classic Anthrax riffing and swagger. The big surprise comes at the chorus which is startlingly melodic and hooky, even for Anthrax, and results in one of their best songs in years. “Fight Em Til’ You Can’t” starts life sounding like it was written during their late 80′s period and even has those classic Thrax gang shout alongs. Again, the chorus is big and super melodic, almost to the point of sounding out-of-place (especially on a song about zombies) but its a winner (though it was pointed out to me by an astute metal fan how strikingly similar this is to “Gridlock” on Persistence of Time). The other two standouts are “I’m Alive” with its smoldering, intense style and HUGE chorus (although it doesn’t sound much like Anthrax) and “In The End” which has riffing like modern-day Exodus paired with pained, impassioned vocals and enough dramatic atmosphere for six high school productions of Hamlet.
Alas, poor Yorik, all good things eventually get plagued by filler and that becomes an issue on the back half of Worship Music. While tracks like “The Giant” and “Judas Priest” (listen for all the song references) are solid enough, “Crawl” is pretty tame (despite Belladonna’s amazing John Bush impression) and “Revolution Screams” feels generic and boring (but contains an interesting hidden track). Likewise, “The Constant” isn’t up to the level of the earlier tracks despite cool moments. For the most part, the new material is closer to that of Bush-era releases like Sound of White Noise or Stomp 442. However, flashes of the Among the Living and Persistence of Time sound can still be heard in the choruses and riff phrasing.
The guitar-work by Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano is rock solid across the album and there are some mighty sharp riffs scattered about. They also drop some urgent and energetic solos at the right times on several tracks (3:35 on “Fight Em” is a good example). Belladonna’s vocals are also well done although he sounds reborn as John Bush. Seriously, I’m not bashing the guy at all but a lot of his vocals sound as though he’s trying to beef up his voice to sound more raw and whiskey-soaked. If Anthrax wanted that, why didn’t they just keep Bush who is far better at this style of singing (or Dan Nelson who’s been described as “John Bush on steroids”)? Regardless, he sounds good and its nice to have the classic line-up almost all together again. The production here is huge and loud but avoids feeling sterile or empty. The guitars have bite and grit and the drums have a real snap to them.
We’re finally graced with the 2011 version of Anthrax and for the most part, they didn’t screw the pooch like many expected. They sound older, wiser and more mature than I ever expected from those party dudes in jams shorts and high tops. While the first half is significantly better than the second, there are no flat-out awful songs and when they get it right, its pretty damn right. It’s probably their best album since Sound of White Noise and if you avoid the overhype and approach it with muted expectations, you should be pleasantly surprised. It’s a good start to the next era of Thrax and I hope they can hold things together for a while. At the very least they can rest easy knowing this is far better than anything Metallica has put out in the last twenty years. N.F.L.!