Anthrax – Worship Music (Megaforce, 2011)

I’m a bit biased when it comes to Anthrax.  I was thirteen years old when the John Bush-fronted Sound of White Noise came out, and to this day it remains one of my all time favorite metal albums.  While that recording marked a darker, more serious turn for the New York-based quintet, I still began to think of them as the “fun” thrash band as I explored their back catalogue.  Here was a band that penned odes to Judge Dredd (“I Am the Law”) and Randall Flagg (“Among the Living”), covered new waver Joe Jackson (“Got the Time”), duetted with Chuck D (“Bring the Noise”) and even penned their own humorous take on rap metal (“I’m the Man”).  Can you imagine those stuffed shirts in Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer doing anything like that?  More than the other members of The Big Four, Anthrax struck me as the band that wasn’t afraid to follow their own muse and give the heavy metal rule book the finger.  There was (and still is) something genuinely endearing about their approach.

But it wasn’t easy to keep up with Anthrax after Sound of White Noise.  Stomp 442 and Volume 8 – The Threat is Real came and went, causing nary a blip on my metal radar, and I didn’t catch back up with the band until 2003’s We’ve Come for You All, a respectable album that seemed to signal a return to prominence.  What followed instead was an album of rushed sounding re-recordings (The Greater of Two Evils) and a slew of live and compilation releases, not exactly the best way to capitalize on a five year layoff between albums.  Then there was the infamous singer fiasco involving Bush, Joey Belladonna, Dan Nelson even Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor… it’s a wonder Neil Turbin didn’t get thrown in the mix at some point.  This, combined with a dearth of new material put Anthrax in danger of turning into a joke.

Fast forward to 2011 and Anthrax is anything but a punch-line.  Fully reunited with definitive vocalist Belladonna and riding a wave of renewed interest thanks to a slew of Big Four shows at various enormo-domes around the world, the band has unleashed Worship Music, their strongest album since Sound of White Noise and a damn fine slab of molten metal that recalls the strongest aspects of each era of the band while at the same time ushering the next phase of Anthrax’s musical evolution.

Nevermind the cello intro, because “Earth on Hell” is Worship Music‘s real opening track, a hammering declaration of badass-ness if ever there was one in the mold of classic Anthrax.  The band grabs you by the throat from the get-go and doesn’t let up for the song’s ferocious three minute and ten second duration.  Up next is “The Devil You Know”, another out-and-out banger that keeps the momentum going and is one of the catchiest tunes the band has ever written. I was skeptical of “Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t” when I first heard it, but I must say that the the band’s ode to the zombie apocalypse works great in the context of the album and sounds a hell of a lot better on CD than on the crappy YouTube clip that was making the rounds earlier this year.  After this trifecta of ripping tunes, Worship Music delves into groove-laden, mid-paced territory that recalls the John Bush era.  Many of these tracks, such as the epic “Judas Priest” the catchy/moody “Crawl” and the thrashy “The Giant” work extremely well, while “In The End” and “The Constant” come off as enjoyable but ultimately skippable filler.  The good on Worship Music far outweighs the bad and the album as a whole sounds surprisingly fresh in spite of its long gestation period.

As to be expected the musicianship throughout the album is top notch.  Charlie Benante has always been one of my favorite drummers, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint here, anchoring Anthrax’s rhythm section with the same pounding authority he has brought to the band since ’83. Scott Ian’s ultra-crunchy rhythm guitar is still the defining characteristic at the band’s core and if anything it sounds that much more crushing on Worship Music thanks to co-guitarist Rob Caggiano’s thoroughly modern but not overly slick production job.  Of course, the wild card in the Anthrax equation is Joey Belladonna, who hadn’t recorded with the band since 1990 prior to Worship Music.  Belladonna’s vocals sound fantastic here and although he doesn’t hit the piercing highs of the band’s back catalogue, it’s obvious that he hasn’t lost a bit of his range.  In fact, I’d argue that his voice is more full and commanding now than it was a decade ago.

And so there you have it.  Anthrax has returned to the fold with an album they can be proud of, an album that largely shits all over anything the other members of The Big Four have released in the past several years, and most importantly an album that long suffering fans such as myself can revel in.  By making the album they wanted to make and demonstrating full commitment to moving their music forward instead of pandering to Big Four/retro thrash nostalgia, they’ve proven that they’re still the band I loved as a teenager, marching to beat of their own slightly warped drummer. With Worship Music, Anthrax are back, bad and metal thrashing mad.