I’ve never really been an Anthrax fan. There, I’ve said it. I feel better. But here’s the thing, every so often not being a fan helps you to view a new album with a greater sense of clarity than if you are viewing the disc with the nostalgic, rose-tinted goggles of a long-time-lover or the jilted, backwards-glancing hatred of a ‘St Anger’ victim – either way the buzz surrounding the latest Anthrax album, the possibility that the Big Four tour had galvanised a band that I previously (and erroneously it turns out) viewed as the runt of the litter, made me want to check out their latest offering, the interestingly titled ‘worship music’ and in doing so I’ve been made to feel slightly foolish because it’s a blinding album, crammed with pile-driving thrash riffs and muscular melodies.
After an atmospheric introduction, business kicks off with the whirlwind of aggression that is ‘Earth on hell’, a track that shares similarities with Testament’s brutalised assault crossed with hints of Slayer-esque aggression and Metallica’s masterly melodies. The riffs are taut, lean and multi-faceted, the drums perfectly played and produced and best of all is Joey Belladonna’s voice. Of the snippets I’ve heard in the past, Anthrax have rarely had weak vocals, but here Joey performs with a passion and precision that marks him out as a vocalist of note and he combines a single-minded aggression on the verses with an astute tunefulness on the choruses that makes them memorable without slipping into the annoying, over-egged faux-passion of your typical metal-core performance. In short this is prime thrash, played with a deafening enthusiasm by a band that have had their fair share of troubles over the years but whom have resolutely refused to die. ‘The devil you know’ is similarly brutal – cleverly aping the sound of traditional thrash and classic rock rather than trying to emulate the new bands on the block, whilst maintaining the gleaming production afforded to major label acts. Better still is the zombie-themed ‘Fight ‘em ‘til you can’t’, a savage, riff-fuelled behemoth at nearly six minutes, with palm muted blasts of power-chord heaven giving way to whip-taut riffs and razor-sharp vocals all of which conspire to make this one of the album’s many highlights. Things calm down a little for the melodic ‘I’m alive’ which has a slow build-up that leads into a shamelessly pop-fuelled chorus complete with silken lead runs and pounding drums. It’s a good track, tailor-made for airplay and you can imagine it being a strong live track just begging for fists to be thrown aloft during the chorus.
A rather bizarre segue track, ‘hymn 1’ briefly breaks the flow before the monumental ‘in the end’ arrives amidst a white-out of feedback and chugging rhythm guitars. It’s the sort of monstrous track that adds a sense of depth and grandeur to these high priests of thrash and it’s my favourite song on the album, allowing, as it does, Joey to shine on the chugging verses whilst the harmonised choruses quickly worm their way into your brain over the pounding backing track. Rather more traditional is the speed-fest of ‘the giant’ which zips along nicely but which offers little to the overall flow of the album before ‘hymn 2’ provides a second segue into the bravely titled ‘Judas priest’ – a track that more than lives up to its illustrious name thanks to a snarling vocal from Joey and some great riffs from both Robb and Scott who excel here paying tribute to one of the greatest names in metal. At the other end of the spectrum is the strangely grungy ‘crawl’ which could just as easily be in a Stone Temple Pilots album as here and it sounds somewhat incongruous as a result, although its a track I’d describe as ‘brave’ rather than ‘poor’… nonetheless, it doesn’t truly sound like it belongs and the album would not be the poorer form its omission. Happily it’s business as usual on next track, ‘the constant’ which has a strong guitar riff kicking things off and well-performed vocals backing it up. Final track, meanwhile, ‘revolution screams’ is a blinding thrash blast that closes the album out on a high and once again reminds us exactly why Anthrax are so highly regarded in the metal community.
Overall ‘Worship music’ is a very strong album that has a lot to offer fans of classic thrash. There are a couple of moments which arguably weaken the overall success of the album – the two ‘hymn’ tracks seemingly offer little to the overall flow of the album and while ‘crawl’ is by no means a bad song, it just sounds stranded and out of place amidst the more metallic fare found elsewhere on the album. Nonetheless, the overall strengths of this album are the often brilliant riffs and the astoundingly good vocals of Joey Belladonna, a man who sings with power and authority and who provides the perfect foil to Scott Ian’s dextrous guitar riffs. As the pounding riffs of ‘revolution screams’ fade away you’ll be finding yourself reaching for that play button to get one more fix and this is certainly an album that has made me re-evaluate my ill-conceived apathy towards the band – something that I intend to rectify as quickly as possible. A bullish, loud, proud, aural assault of an album, ‘Worship music’ ticks all the right boxes and I have no doubt I’ll be listening to this album a lot in the months to come. A powerful, frequently brilliant album, this more than justifies Anthrax’s place amongst the so-called ‘big four’ and will prove to be a welcome addition to any metal fan’s collection.