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ANTHRAX - The True Persistence of Time.

Added 16 April 2021, 6:15 PM

Since it took over the world last year, the global pandemic has continued to interrupt the proper observation of musical anniversaries. Normally, something as monumental as a 40th anniversary would likely be marked by a massive world tour, where fans and the band could join in celebration. But for New York metal legends ANTHRAX, the only way they can mark the milestone of their formation is in the studio, where they are writing the follow-up to 2016’s masterpiece, “For All Kings.” ANTHRAX was able to stand out in the Big Four with not only their authenticity, but also their ability to tackle delicate issues. So they wrote about zombies, comic books, and cars, but they were never afraid TO, NOR did they shy away from, talking about social issues. They were able to challenge the rhetoric of thrash metal, in the same way as did the anti-war sentiment of early MEGADETH and the anti-establishment and anti-religion lyrical content of SLAYER.

The addition of Joey Belladonna did in fact spark the rebirth of ANTHRAX, starting with ‘’Among the Living’’ and ‘’Indians.” In those, they wrote about the unjust treatment of Native Americans by the United States government. The song transcended their whole repertoire and started a chain reaction that impacted the rest of their career. The other standout song, in my opinion, that was not afraid to break boundaries and deal with painful subjects was ‘’Keep it in the Family.” Obviously talking about something so delicate as innocence stolen from a child by a parent is risky, but they tell it like it is. A child’s life, innocence, and trust is all they have, and violating it is unspeakable. What is even worse is not doing a damn thing about it for the sake of your own reputation, for fear of retaliation, or for fear of breaking the family. And in the song, no one said anything at all, to “keep it in the family.” Anthrax was able to honestly present this sensitive situation in a song and denounce the wrongdoings that take place in many families.

The band’s history had been told in a short VH1 special that aired before 2011’s “Worship Music” was released, so it is common knowledge that they had their share of struggles with recording labels. They fought Island Records, who released most of their material during the 1980s up until 1992 (WHY? MAYBE A QUICK SENTENCE HERE TO FLESH THIS OUT?). They signed a multi-year contract with Elektra, and after releasing the album “Stomp 442” in 1995, were quickly let go by the label because of low album sales. When you consider that Elektra barely marketed the album, the band was not really given the opportunity to succeed. When “Volume 8” was released through Ignition Records, that label subsequently went bankrupt, leaving the band again struggling to have a solid record label behind them.

Even when they decided to bring John Bush on board back in 1993, they still talked about things like social isolation, egotistical people who did not care about the world around them, and even personal tragedy. The song ‘’Pieces,’’ sung by bassist Frank Bello, speaking about gang violence and senseless happening in the world that took his own brother. The band also attacked a lingering issue in America in an uncompromising way. You can safely say that the message in a song like ‘’Random Acts of Senseless Violence’’ resonates in each and every American. They were never put in a position to restrain themselves lyrically, but talking about violence as a way of life and the collateral damage it does on all fronts takes some serious guts. Anthrax was ahead of the curve too in speaking about issues like mental health, racism, sexism, and violence. They were never afraid to voice their opinion and did it the best way possible, in their own unique style. Even after 40 years, their fun side and their serious side still co-exist and are part of their everlasting legacy.

What would the world of nu-metal or rap-infused metal be without Anthrax and their collaboration with PUBLIC ENEMY? ANTHRAX were fans of PUBLIC ENEMY and vice versa and the two completely disparate bands formed a unique, organic bond that was unheard of before. Anthrax covered PE’s “Bring the Noise” to great success, sparking a generation of other bands that would combine both genres. The two even toured together. Since the fans of both bands were intermingled, each band had to win the other’s over, and they both succeeded. It was such a ballsy move, and they wound up creating a genre out of the love of both and not out of peer pressure to do something out of the ordinary. As guitarist Scott Ian said: ‘’It was totally organic and it’s because we loved that group” – another instance of ANTHRAX being true to themselves and doing what they love.

ANTHRAX are also the thrash metal kings of the cover song, tackling tracks by bands as varied as CELTIC FROST, BLACK SABBATH, QUEEN, CHEAP TRICK, KISS, RADIOHEAD, and even KANSAS – all bands that have influenced them. All told, they have done almost 40 covers over 40 years. They have participated on compilation albums like “Kiss My Ass” (KISS covers) and “Twisted Forever” (tracks by fellow New Yorkers TWISTED SISTER). They always made the song their own, no matter the style.

When they decided to reunite with Joey Belladonna, it pushed John Bush to the side, and that relationship never really recovered. The struggle with singers has always been a constant in their history, from original vocalist Neil Turbin (who ended up being a distraction and problem for the band), to Joey Belladonna (whose alcohol issues led to his ouster after the “Persistence of Time” tour). After Bush was introduced into the fold in 1993, the band’s style changed, becoming a bit slower and more down-tuned, perhaps mimicking the ‘90s alternative scene. It is an era that is greatly misunderstood, underrated, and under-appreciated – during that time, the band showed how incredibly heavy they could be without reverting to their traditional thrash metal approach. It allowed them to experiment more and bring about new ideas to their compositions.

If you really want all the juicy details about ANTHRAX and their amazing backstory, you really need to read Scott Ian’s book “I’m The Man,” which delves deeply into all the trials and tribulations the band experienced throughout their history. Even though they are grouped into thrash metal’s Big Four, they never got the recognition of peers like METALLICA or MEGADETH. Do they have millions of fans like those bands? Absolutely. But with their line-up changes, label disputes, and changes in musical direction, it seems like they were never seen as being on-par with their West Coast counterparts. But Scott Ian is one of the most gifted composers from that era, fusing hardcore, thrash, and groove metal (even though that did not exist at the time) to create the band’s signature sound. There is something very distinct about his guitar sound, especially in the up-tempo style he crafted in the 1980s, that makes you immediately know who you are listening to.

I started listening to the band for the first time when my brother bought their 1993 live album, “The Island Years.” We had no clue what kind of metal it was, but he was intrigued by the cover and bought it on the fly. That is when his love story with the band started. He knows every song, every EP, every lyric, every cover the band has ever produced. The band is part of his DNA and was his first introduction to metal, other than my METALLICA records. Unfortunately, we only got to see the band for the first time in 2003 when they played at the old Spectrum here in Montreal, Quebec, to promote “We’ve Come for You All.” It is a show we still talk about to this day, as it had taken 10 years to finally see the band live.

I recall really loving the song “Caught in a Mosh” – I think it captures the essence of metal in that it starts slowly and then goes ballistic. This year, I bought their back catalogue (EPs, albums, LP versions), all reissued through Megaforce Records. The last few weeks have been a journey, both diving into their deeper tracks, and back into songs I listened to endlessly back in the day (“Room for One More” being a perfect example). To say the band has had a huge influence on my brother and me would be an understatement, as it is probably the one we’ve talked about the most over the years. I have read recently that John Bush would be interested in performing some of the songs from his time in the band, and I would certainly pay to see that.

I do not know of any other band who has had to fight as much as ANTHRAX did to perform the music they loved. From losing their entire gear in a fire, to experiencing personal turmoil and loss, to not having a singer at one point or a label, the band still persevered. I mentioned the word “persistence” in the title of this piece, because for these guys, it does not represent just a musical masterpiece – it is the core of their personality and their attitude. Forty years later, they are still producing high-quality metal that not only sounds fresh and modern, but also adheres to the themes and traditions of their past. There would not be the metal scene as we know it without this great New York-based band. And it is not just a band, it is clearly a family that Frank, Charlie, and Scott have been a part of since Day 1. My recommendation: crank the volume up on your CDs, LPs, whatever you’ve got and celebrate the 40 years of metal greatness!

-written by Jean Francois-Poulin and Eric Poulin
-edited by Kira Schlechter

Edited 29 November 2022

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