Over the years Anthrax have struggled with the centre spot. Although the band made some fantastic music during the various periods in which errant frontman Joey Belladonna was absent, there is a strong argument that the band are at their best when Joey’s inhabiting the centre spot. Certainly Anthrax, since Joey’s somewhat unexpected return, have been on the sort of form that most bands can only dream of and, far from indulging in nostalgia, the band managed to come out with one of their strongest albums in years, the stunning ‘worship music’. That the reunion has lasted is, in itself, an achievement, but the real question is whether lightning can indeed strike twice. The answer, as opening number ‘you gotta believe’ attests, is that it most certainly can and Anthrax look set to continue to ride high on the back of an album that seems like a reward for all those fans who have kept the faith over the years.
The album opens with a brief, uncredited, intro track entitled ‘impaled’, that sets a sombre tone before the virulent blast of ‘you gotta believe’ comes surging from the speakers with all the power of a thunderbolt. Make no mistake, Anthrax are aware that young pups have been snapping at their heels and this is their ferocious response, a blistering, state-of-the-art thrash anthem that shifts through a variety of tempos and moods before concluding in a race-to-the-finish assault that will have fans head banging like Beavis and Butthead on steroids. Nor is the opening track a fluke. Without allowing so much as a moment for the listener to draw breath ‘monster at the end’ is a pummelling cut that sees brutal riffs pitched against a brilliantly memorable chorus and, at the heart of it all, Joey Belladonna, that force of nature, is singing his goddam ass off. With the entire band putting in an astonishing performance, there’s a strong argument that ‘for all kings; doesn’t just match ‘worship music’, it tops it – no idle statement. Staying very much at the heavier end of thrash, the title track sees Charlie Benante delivering a monumental performance on the drums that underpins the sort of incisive blitzkrieg that will leave listeners bruised and battered. An album very much focused on the mosh pit, Anthrax have truly stepped up to the challenge set by their own impressive legacy and delivered an album that is set to top album of the year polls everywhere. A song with a more epic feel, ‘breathing lightning’ may have a hefty groove to it, but it grows out of acoustic guitar and huge power chords, the band laying the ground work for a track that trades speed for power, whilst the melody that lies at the heart of the chorus guarantees the song’s longevity.
Another uncredited track appears next. Entitled ‘breathing out’ it is a short, yet beautiful acoustic piece that is both subtle and delicate and which serves to underscore just how brutal the scything riff of ‘suzerain’ is. One of those rare tracks that perfectly marries full-on metal with a classic rock vocal that would not sound out of place on a Dio album, this is melodic, molten metal at its very finest and the band’s live tour cannot come around soon enough. Somehow finding the inner strength to take things one step heavier the band then give us the devastating ‘evil twin’, as ferocious a track as the band have ever recorded. A slower-paced track, ‘blood eagle wings’, has a Sabbath-flavoured chorus, and, once again, Anthrax utilize multiple riffs and elements to give the song an impressively varied feel that more than warrants repeated plays. With solos that blaze across the surface of the song and well-developed harmonies, ‘blood eagle wings’ is an album highlight, a monster of a track that makes up in complexity what it lacks in speed, and Anthrax have rarely sounded better than they do here. That’s not to say that the band can’t unleash a hellish firestorm when they want to. ‘Defend/avenge’ takes a moment to emerge from the quiet conclusion of its predecessor, but, when it does, it’s like the band bottle lightning and were able to unleash it in the studio, electrifying all present. Equally impressive is ‘all of them thieves’, a thunderous blast of epic heavy metal that makes you want to throw your horns in the air as the band tear into the song like men possessed. With a series of blistering solos concluding the song, this is pure, heavy-metal heaven, and yet further proof (as if any were needed) that Anthrax are on the form of their lives. A methodical, lumbering beast of destruction, ‘the battle chose us!’ is a weighty, yet melodic, piece. From Frank Bello’s evilly distorted bass to the chunky riffing of Scott Ian and Jon Donais, it sees the band laying down epic metal that is liable to leave you breathless. The album ends, all too soon, with ‘zero tolerance’, a track that does much to leave the listener wanting more. Once again there’s a classic feel to the song writing underpinning the essential heaviness of the music and the result is yet another track that combines dynamic riffing, hyper-speed percussion and a sense of melody into a package that is both memorable and irresistible.
Overall, ‘for all kings’ is a remarkable piece of work. It would be unfair to call this a Joey Belladonna showcase because the band all deliver performances that rank amongst the very best they have ever delivered across their impressive careers, but, regardless of that, Joey delivers a performance of such authority and power that he is comparable to Dio at his finest. From start to finish the entire band is white hot and there’s not a single dull moment – each song delivers a powerful gut punch and Anthrax have perfectly combined the benefits of modern production with a more classical approach to song-writing that will easily guarantee the longevity of the tracks on offer here. Not just the best Anthrax album of late, I would gladly put ‘for all kings’ alongside the classic Anthrax albums of the eighties. Moreover, the album flows beautifully from beginning to end (helped by those brief additional tracks) and you can imagine the band performing it as on piece before then going on to play the hits. In short, despite the band’s impressive history, ‘For all kings’ could well be considered Anthrax’s masterpiece.
Special edition notes:
There are two editions of ‘for all kings’, one featuring just the main disc, the second housed in an attractive digi-pack and offering up an extra disc which, whilst short, showcases the band’s current live form perfectly. Well designed, the digi-pack is held within a see-through outer case marked only with the familiar Anthrax logo and album title, whilst the pack itself eschews a booklet in favour of an eight panel affair with the lyrics and liner notes printed upon it. The bonus disc offers up four tracks, presumably from the last tour, although sadly, the liner notes don’t give detail about where it was recorded. The tracks themselves are decent enough, although they have that slightly tinny feel of a radio broadcast and there’s nothing here that fans won’t have already (and better) from the ‘Chile on Hell album’. Nonetheless, given that at time of writing the difference between the standard and deluxe versions is just £1.00, it makes sense to get the expanded package and there is always the argument that you can never have too much Anthrax!