Anthrax - Worship Music
2011 Megaforce Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
The particulars behind Anthrax's latest album Worship Music are controversial, to say the least. Yet when all the smoke has dissipated and four-fifths of the core lineup are once again in arms, the end result resonates in spectacular fashion. Worship Music is a freakin' metal party and we're fortunate to attend it in unison as fans who've prayed for this moment.
Before moving forward, let's give John Bush a rousing applause. Sound of White Noise and We've Come For You All are two masterful records in Anthrax's recorded arsenal and a generous portions of those albums' successes is the confident, manly swagger of John Bush. Scores of Anthrax fans have spent more than a decade debating which of Anthrax's most-beloved vocalists, Joey Belladonna and John Bush, are the most worthy. Bush did a tremendous job for Anthrax, but it's all moot at this point.
Joey B. is back in the saddle, even when it looked like the retro 'thrax reunion a few years ago would pan out to merely that, a novel get-together for kicks. More than a few heads twirled quizzically when neither Bush or Belladonna were announced as Anthrax's lead singer when beginning the recording process for Worship Music. The quasi-legend of in-and-out vocalist Dan Nelson will probably continue to haunt Anthrax, but not for much longer once the metal public soaks up the final cut of Worship Music with Joey Belladonna doing what he was meant to do.
When I spin this album (and it's been in the double digits already), I drift in thought to 2003 and 2004, when I spent some private time interviewing Joey Belladonna. Joey was in the midst of keeping together some sort of career, which even found him smacking the drum kit while peeling off his trademark male-valkyrie pipes at a memorable solo gig. Joey had mentioned back then how much it would mean to him to lay down one more album with Anthrax. Neither of us saw much future in it back then, honestly.
I think of these candid conversations with Joey when I hear him rip out "Fight 'em Til You Can't," "In the End," "Crawl," "I'm Alive" and "The Devil You Know" on Worship Music. As a longtime fan of Anthrax, I spent an entire high school career jabbing back at "the normal kids" that this was a righteously badass band that had nothing to do with cattle disease. My teenage years were filled with Neil Turbin and Joey Belladonna wailing in my ears. I probably scribbled Anthrax's logo on my textbooks more than most others back in the day, Iron Maiden notwithstanding. It took me some time to get used to John Bush fronting this band and not Armored Saint, yet for all of his polish and command, it was always Belladonna for me. All that being said, Worship Music ends up being Joey's catharsis--and how.
Yet it's not just the exhilirating mike performance Belladonna puts in for Anthrax. His vocals are even more refined than his first tour of duty in the band and it's nearly mind-blowing how youthful and exuberant Joey sounds on this album. He's seized the moment and if you didn't believe in him before, believe it now, suckers. It helps a great deal the rest of Anthrax steps up to the plate with Joey and in the end, this becomes the most passionate album of their career since Persistence of Time.
Not to flush away the merits of Sound of White Noise and We've Come For You All, but there is a resurrection effect to Worship Music which finds the songwriting to be mindful of both Belladonna's and Bush's previous eras. It's sometimes fast, occasionally brutal, unbelievably mathematic, always melodic. This is an album for all Anthrax fans.
Rob Caggiano has been more than trusty in his duties since joining Anthrax, yet his solos on Worship Music are just stellar, as is the titanic riffing between him and Scott Ian. Charlie Benante is so in the pocket, yet you can tell he's feeling a little giddier this time than usual. His uptempo beatdown on "The Giant" is a telltale sign Benante is one happy camper. Frank Bello is a maniac onstage and Lord, does he bring that low-end energy to this album. You might have to go back and focus on just him since the rest of the band is so strikingly on.
"Earth On Hell" is the pure thrasher of this album, yet for all the variations of speed and mid-range velocity on Worship Music, it's how detailed Anthrax is that speaks above the speed selectors. "Judas Priest" carries a mighty crush set upon its deliberate NWOBHM stomping tempo, along with some delicate solo spots set throughout this tributary mini-epic. Anthrax threw out a cheeky little outtro featuring a nod to Priest's "Love Bites" on "Strap It On" from We've Come For You Fall. This time, they honor Halford and company in mega fashion as the latter band bids its farewell to the metal world.
Though "Fight 'em Til You Can't" is reported to be the first single from Worship Music, there's no sane reason "Crawl" shouldn't storm the airwaves. Reflective of AOR without being AOR, "Crawl" is a muscular though introspective power pump that could've been sung by either Bush or Belladonna. In fact, Joey's first few notes haunt of Bush until the amps kick on and then it's fully his tune to carry. His emotional repeats of "I'll follow, I'll follow..." overtop the backing vocals on the chorus will affect you. FM radio is afraid to play this tune, even though it would sit snugly next to Theory of a Deadman and Avenged Sevenfold. Not to diss those bands, but "Crawl" would kick their tails in succession. Go on, radio programmers, I triple dog dare you...
Even "The Constant" carries a similar grind on its verses until jacking up the rat-a-tats on the bridges and breakdowns so miniscule yet so striking they serve as a manual on how to do them tastefully. When Anthrax does a breakdown on this album, they annihilate you. Proof positive with "Earth On Hell." Proof positive on "The Constant," a headbanging jam with planted acoustic lines and a lead singer who proves how much he wants this. While we're talking about single candidates from this album (as well as ones with hefty breakdown sections), "The Devil You Know" is another gimme. Play it enough times, you might think it ought to regularly follow "Caught In a Mosh" in Anthrax's future live sets. "I'm Alive," another one for its massive strut and headstrong choruses. Listen to Joey spit into the mike while knocking this tune out of the park. That's some fang, people.
Thankfully, Joey Belladonna's bandmates want this as much as he does, and it's why Worship Music becomes an album to beat in 2011. We're still waiting for Mastodon and Opeth to check in with their new albums, but Worship Music is an undeniable triumph that reveals more and more with successive listen. You might hear quite a few heavier albums than this, but judge Worship Music upon its substance, its layering and its determination to win you over.
As one of the Big Four bands set to tear up their home turf in New York, Anthrax stands up to their peers with an album to rival Megadeth's Endgame, Slayer's World Painted Blood and Metallica's Death Magnetic. Goddamn, these are good times...
Friday, August 05, 2011
Anthrax - Worship Music