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Fistful of Metal (1984)
 

Fistful of Metal is the debut L.P. from Anthrax. Released in February 1984, on Megaforce Records, this album is possessed by the same spirit that is present on such albums as Kill 'Em All, Show No Mercy and Killing Is My Business. The main difference is that this record is, primarily, Speed Metal with only bits of Thrash tossed in. Along with this, it is the only album to feature the vocals of Neil Turbin (and the bass-work of Dan Lilker), which gives it a unique feeling among the band's discography.

Growing up in the 80s, Anthrax was one of the many bands that I was exposed to, in a passive manner. However, the first time I really paid attention to them was due to an appearance on "Married With Children", in February 1992. Unfortunately, the first album I purchased by them was Sound of White Noise, which was not what I was looking for. I soon ran across Fistful of Metal, on cassette, and nearly wore the thing out after so many repeated listens. For many, the Belladonna years are what defines the band's character, but I find this L.P. to be just as important and it is always the first one that I go for, when in the mood for Anthrax.

Musically, the album is quite varied. It is not high-speed all the way through, but offers a decent amount of mid-tempo tracks as well. The tone of the songwriting seems more serious than many of the other Anthrax releases, which may have a little to do with the lyrics, too. As a result, the music is a little darker, by comparison. Turbin's vocals suit the music quite well, with a lot of high-pitched screams thrown in. He actually has a good range, able to do the high stuff and to add a bit of a snarl when needed. On occasion, his voice is reminiscent of the old KISS material, which probably helped him land the job in the first place. The lead solos are also worth mentioning, as this album is full of killer solos and they really help the album along. Benante's drumming is excellent, also, showcasing his skill while keeping within the boundaries of what each song needs. The flow of the album is pretty decent, with the faster songs spaced out and arranged so that they hit right when they need to, but the vibe never becomes repetitive. They even manage to make an Alice Cooper song sound natural, among the rest of the tracks. Overall, there is still a good measure of NWOBHM influence, mixed with Speed and Thrash.

The sound of the album is not the best. The production is not quite as strong as that found on the debut albums of Metallica and Slayer, and the master tapes possessed flaws that have been retained throughout the years, never removed from cassette or CD re-releases. Fistful of Metal has that old school early 80s sound that truly fits the music. If the production was any clearer or more polished, the album would lose a lot of its charm. This is one of those cases where the fact that something sounds dated actually works to the benefit of the atmosphere. Everything is clear enough and the mix is quite good, with the guitars driving the album forward yet taking nothing away from the vocals and drums.

Fistful of Metal is a classic Speed Metal album, one that should be in the collection of any old school Metalhead. It offers a different perspective on a band that many people consider to be somewhat 'fun' or 'comical'. One has to wonder just how the band would have sounded had they not abandoned this approach. Either way, this is essential for Speed / Thrash fans.

(9 Nov. 2011)

 
 

Some months after the release of their debut album, Fistful of Metal, Anthrax parted ways with vocalist Neil Turbin and recruited Joey Belladonna. To help their fans (and, maybe, themselves) get better acquainted with the new line-up, they recorded an E.P. Armed and Dangerous, released in February 1985, is more of a collector's item than anything else.

The album cover does nothing to help the band, nor does the fact that the first song starts out with about two minutes of, what sounds like, a ballad. Poor song arrangement aside, this E.P. does include an interesting song that can be found nowhere else, "Raise Hell". It is an average, mid-paced Thrash Metal track, though the production helps make it more enjoyable. The sound is still a little more on the less-produced side, offering the grittier pre-1986 atmosphere. As for the rest, there is not much to say. Two "live" songs that were merely recorded in the studio, like Slayer's Live Undead or Metallica's Jump in the Fire. Joey does a decent job on these, but does not quite surpass Turbin's performance on Fistful of Metal. There is also a cover of "God Save the Queen", which is pretty out of place.

All in all, Armed and Dangerous is not particularly interesting. At least later versions include the Soldiers of Metal 7". It is clear why this was released at the time, but it became much less relevant the moment Spreading the Disease was released, and it probably something that only hardcore Anthrax fans would be interested in.
 
(9 Nov. 2011)

 
 

The sophomore effort from Anthrax, Spreading the Disease, represents the moment when the band transitioned to Thrash Metal, with only one holdover from their Speed Metal days. It was also the first full-length to feature Joey Belladonna on vocals, which marked another change in their sound and was their major label debut, having signed to Island Records. The L.P. was released in October 1985.

This was the last of the old Anthrax albums that I obtained, as it was never in stock during my frequent visits to the local record stores. The time period was a little darker, and thus the music here took on a little darker tone for me, as opposed to Among the Living or State of Euphoria. Part of this may also be a result of the more serious approach, since the band had not yet become labeled as 'fun' Thrash Metal with the goofy lyrics and horrible sleeve photos.

The music still includes some faster riffs, but the mid-paced sections dominate many of the tracks. Nearly all of the riffs are very memorable and quite easy to headbang to. Joey's voice suits the material well and he sounds more natural here than he would on the following release. The guitars possess more of a crunch and this helps to accentuate the heaviness of the songs. Tracks like "A.I.R.", "Aftershock" and "Gung-Ho" retain the more aggressive spirit that was present on Fistful of Metal. "Madhouse" and "Medusa" are quite catchy, though not as intense. Still, they rank among the most memorable songs on the whole album. As for the rest of the tracks, they fit more into traditional Metal territory, or even edging too close to Hard Rock. "The Enemy" comes off almost as a ballad, as does the first part of "Armed and Dangerous". There is certainly a lot of variety on this record and it is enough to satisfy different tastes. However, Spreading the Disease would have only benefited from more songs like "Gung-Ho", one of the final tracks to have been written by Turbin, Ian and Lilker.

The overall production is really good, without sounding overdone. The guitars retain a sharp edge and seem to be the primary focus. Joey's vocals are mixed in well enough, high enough to be effective but not too prominent. On the following album, it would seem that his voice would become too disjointed from the rest of what was going on. The drumming is about the same as on the previous record, though a bit more relaxed in general. Benante's work is at the right place in the mix, never overpowering the drums and with the double-bass parts keeping to the background, where they belong.

Spreading the Disease may be the best of the Belladonna-era Anthrax albums, as it comes off as more natural and serious as well. Following this, the band would do a lot of things to tarnish their credibility, while expanding their fanbase despite everything. This album is highly recommended to anyone that is looking to explore this era of the band's discography, as it is very solid and really captures the spirit of the time period.
 
(10 Nov. 2011)

 
 

After spending several weeks exploring Fistful of Metal, Among the Living was my next acquisition from Anthrax's back-catalogue. My first impression was that this was a horrible album. The vocals absolutely killed it, as well as ridiculous lyrics such as, "I'm the walking dude", which just made matters worse. Belladonna's performance in "Imitation of Life" is about as wretched as it gets and left a bad taste in my mouth. This L.P. was returned within a couple days, as it seemed unbearable. After a month or so, I ended up giving it another chance and putting forth effort to appreciate it for what it was.

Released in March 1987, Anthrax's third L.P. was dedicated to the memory of Cliff Burton, who had died about six months earlier. Among the Living was the band's second release on Island Records and would go on to become their defining opus. One way or another, this is the sound that people identified with Anthrax and the record became somewhat iconic as their definitive statement.

Musically, this record does not live up to its potential. It contains several dark riffs, such as the intro section to the title track, yet fails to capitalize. The atmosphere is lightened by the vocals, which do not seem to fit the music too well. Too many times, it sounds as if Joey is just talking really fast, instead of actually singing. It does not help, either, that the lyrics are less serious and, oftentimes. The themes are quite stupid, at times, such as "Caught in a Mosh" and "Indians". Thrash fans do not care about the plight of Native Americans and, if they do, they need to be rounded up and exterminated as well. There are not enough high-speed songs, as most are centered on the idiotic 'mosh riffs'. A few mid-paced parts are alright, but there was no need to focus on those instead of the faster sections, during which the band sounds much more impressive. That said, Among the Living is filled with memorable riffs and vocal lines as well. While none of the songs reach the level that they could have, songs like "Efilnukifesin (N.F.L.)" and "A.D.I./Horror of It All" are not bad at all.

One of the primary weaknesses of this album would have to be the production. The drums and bass are too high in the mix and, for that matter, so are the vocals. The guitars should always be the main focus when it comes to any kind of Metal, and they just do not possess the saw force as on Spreading the Disease. Had the guitars been higher and the other elements been lowered a bit, the character of this record would have been significantly altered for the better.

Among the Living is a pretty decent Thrash Metal album, though not Anthrax's best effort, by any means. By this point, all traces of NWOBHM influence are long gone. While it may be the one that most people think of when the band is brought up, it pales in comparison to Fistful of Metal and is just below Spreading the Disease in terms of quality and sound. It is certainly worth listening to and not bad at all. Give it a listen and decide for yourself.
 
(10 Nov. 2011)

 
State of Euphoria (1988)
 

State of Euphoria seems to be the one Anthrax release from the 80s that gets the least amount of respect. Released in September 1988, on Island Records, this was the band's fourth full-length album. While it retains some of the same flaws that plagued the previous record, in some ways it is just as solid, if not moreso. Upon acquiring this one, I actually found it to be easier to get into than Among the Living, initially. It is unfortunate that the band (and most of their fanbase) only remember this record for one song, and a cover tune at that.

From the sombre cello, that introduces "Be All, End All" (one of the better songs from this era), to the closing moments of the final track, this album features solid Thrash riffs and memorable melodies and vocal lines. The guitars possess a crushing heaviness, despite the low volume of this record, and the bass adds another layer of doom, at times. There is a dark vibe present in songs like "Who Cares Wins" and "Misery Loves Company". Belladonna's singing kills the atmosphere on some of the tracks, as he sounds too upbeat and the comical lyrics do not help him at all. "Now It's Dark" and "Schism" are too examples of this. Other than this, he does sound more natural here, fitting in better than on this album's predecessor. There is still a rhythmic quality to the music, with the guitars and drums blending together at times, rather than the percussion merely keeping a beat. Overall, the material is a little more simplistic than their earlier efforts, but not too extreme. The lead solos are excellent and suit the songs perfectly.

The production is similar to Among the Living, putting forth a heavy sound but not focusing solely on the guitars. The songwriting is such that the drums have to be as prominent as the guitars since the effect would be lost otherwise. The vocals sound slightly lower in the mix than on the last record, which works out well. The general impression is that the production is rather dry, which is not a bad thing.

State of Euphoria is not a terribly impressive album, but it is not bad either. It includes a handful of really good songs and some that are more boring. In other words, it is like every other Anthrax release from this time period. It should certainly appeal to any fan of the band, so long as you take the bad with the good. One thing is for certain: it is a crime that the band hardly recalls anything on this L.P. aside from the pop-oriented cover song, "Antisocial". There are much better songs on here.
 
(11 Nov. 2011)

 
 

Anthrax's fifth full-length album was a darker and much more serious record than those that preceded it. Persistence of Time was born out of the misery and anger that plagued the band during the recording process as a fire had destroyed their equipment and cost them their studio as well. There was also just the natural progression of a band that was maturing and becoming more comfortable with their sound and looking to take it to the next step of evolution. Unlike the more simplistic State of Euphoria, the band's fifth L.P. featured more complicated song structures and was anything but listener-friendly, for the most part. It seemed as though all the pieces were coming together and Anthrax had recorded their most cohesive album since Fistful of Metal, yet it was all soon to fade away. Just as they finally dropped the goofiness and got down to business, cracks began to appear and, before they could follow up on this, doom was soon to befall them. Released in August 1990, Persistence of Time marked the end of an era rather than the beginning.

I picked this album up, after having an experience with Among the Living so bad that I ended up returning it. This record was a completely different beast. Joey's vocals seemed to fit in with the music much better, and the more serious approach was a major reason for this. Instead of unleashing ridiculous lyrics in an annoying manner, his voice matched the darker feeling of the songwriting, in general. This was listened to, quite a bit, along with Megadeth's So Far... So Good... So What! and really helped me to give some of the other Anthrax albums a chance, rather than just giving up on them.

The tone of the music is dark and ominous, at times. There is a dismal feeling that permeates almost every song. The riffs are heavier and more focused, with more technical song structures than what was found on the previous release. Also, it sounds as if the songwriting favours the guitar riffs, moreso than the percussive rhythmic combination of guitars and drums. The bass also adds to the sombre and oppressive vibe. To go along with this, the songs are lengthier and more involved, requiring more of an investment from the listener as well. As such, the material is more difficult to digest and may prove to be too much for more casual fans. Songs like "Time", "Blood", and "One Man Stands" just roll over you like a tank of pure negativity, leaving you weak and vulnerable. For some reason, the cover tune "Got the Time" is the one song from Persistence of Time that the band most likes to play, even though it is the weak link of the record. The highlight of the L.P. is probably "Belly of the Beast", featuring some catchy guitar riffs and being a little easier to take in. "Discharge" is another good track, picking up the pace and delivering an energetic performance. Though some of the songs take time to grow on you, nearly all of them are memorable in one way or another.

There is no way to know, for sure, where Anthrax would have gone from here had Joey Belladonna not left the band. They may have still abandoned their trademark sound in a feeble attempt to update their music or they might have gone farther down the path of darkness and continued to evolve into a more serious band. Either way, Persistence of Time should have been the turning point where they left childish themes behind and took themselves more seriously, but it was not to be. This is, probably, the most solid release during the Belladonna era and is a safe starting point for anyone looking to explore this band's back catalogue. A must-have for all Anthrax fans and quite essential for Thrash Metal fans as well.
 
(20 Nov. 2011)

 
 

Released in the summer of 1991, Attack of the Killer B's is the last collection of Anthrax tunes to feature Joey Belladonna and sort of marks the end of an era. It is quite sad that things ended on such a sour note, as Persistence of Time showed the sort of seriousness that this band had lacked for many years. Whatever respect that they may have earned with that effort was lost with this abomination.

Attack of the Killer B's is not a completely worthless E.P. (perhaps the longest E.P. ever). The S.O.D. cover songs are quite heavy and aggressive. Benante's drumming is quite impressive, considering how much he has had to dumb himself down over the years. Of course, Joey is a much better vocalist than Billy Milano could ever hope to be. The cover of the Discharge track, "Protest and Survive", is also one of the better songs on here. This one was recorded during the Persistence of Time sessions and would have fit on that album much better than "Got the Time". "Parasite" and "Sects" aren't horrible, but they do not add very much.

The two live tracks, "Keep it in the Family" and "Belly of the Beast" would have been better left unheard. The band is not necessarily at their very best on these songs, so these recordings really just give off the impression that attending an Anthrax concert would be a waste of time. Sadly, these are not the worst tracks on this E.P.

"Startin' Up a Posse" and "N.F.B. (Dallabnikufesin)" just drag the listener back into the pointless realm of humour, which I have never been a fan of. It is perplexing how this band went from songs like "Deathrider", "Subjugator" and "Death from Above" to making pointless comedy tracks like this. The first is a mixture of country music and metal/punk, intended as some sort of commentary against censorship, but ending up as a mess of useless profanity and poor execution. The latter is supposed to be a mock ballad, and it simply isn't funny, nor would it be appreciated even if it was. Things like this are why many people never took Anthrax as seriously as their contemporaries.

The worst offenders on this collection of songs are the the horrendous "Bring the Noise" and "I'm the Man '91". While it is doubtful that Anthrax's forays into mixing rap and Metal directly led to the atrocities of Nu-Metal, this certainly did not help. I blame the Jew Rosenfeld for poisoning Metal with these jungle sounds and introducing unsuspecting white/European youths to this apish anti-culture that has since dominated the globe.

In the end, Attack of the Killer B's features a handful of worthwhile songs that are better off dubbed from someone else's copy or downloaded, rather than contributing money toward this pile of rubbish and multicultural propaganda. This release ended Anthrax's classic era with a whimper and ushered an age of total irrelevance for the band.
 
(22 Nov. 2011)

 
Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't (2011)
 

Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't is the first single from Worship Music, and was released by Megaforce Records in June 1991. Or, rather, it should have been released about twenty years earlier than it was. Instead, it emerged in the summer of 2011 and marked the first new song to be recorded with vocalist Joey Belladonna in a couple decades.

Following Belladonna's untimely departure in 1992, Anthrax struggled with a severe identity crisis. Traces of their sound remained, early on, as one could vaguely connect some parts of Sound of White Noise with its predecessor, Persistence of Time. The first album of the John Bush era had its moments, but ultimately it was a step in the wrong direction. Rosenfeld led his troops through the rest of the 90's and beyond, trying desperately to seem relevant and dumbing themselves down in an attempt to follow any trend that they thought might bring them a few more dollars. The experiments with being Pantera-lite, or even joining the Nu-Metal trend, were complete failures and it seemed as it Anthrax was finished.

Somehow, they reconciled with Joey and managed to get themselves into the studio for the first time in several years and the results were far better than they had any right to be. "Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't" is not without its flaws. Obviously, it is over-produced and has a rather plastic sound. As well, the chorus melodies reek of modernity. However, the bulk of the song feels like a return to the days of Persistence of Time, which is a good thing. In fact, one might say that it is a bit of rehashing of the past, but it is still enjoyable for fans of the old days. The main reason for this is the vocal performance by Belladonna. Two decades later and he still possesses the same talent and ability as when they last recorded together. His voice really makes this work. Even the lyrics hearken back to the band's classic days, dealing with the topic of a zombie apocalypse, while managing to avoid the goofiness that that often plagued them.

This single is by no means essential, but it is recommended for anyone that held even the slightest hopes for this band to again record something enjoyable. While it may be more of a nostalgia trip, it should be a satisfying listen for those that have been sickened by nearly everything this band has done since 1990.
 
(6 Nov. 2014)
















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