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One of the more visible and unfortunate shifts in mainstream music belongs squarely on the shoulders of the grunge movement. Grunge within itself is a wide assortment of musical styles ranging from the dark, Black Sabbath worship of bands Alice In Chains and Soundgarden to the muddy hard rock tendencies of Stone Temple Pilots. Although some of these bands were good, even exceptional in some cases, their rise to the limelight opened the floodgates for many respected 80's outfits to follow suit.
In the 1990's, just about all of America's more famous thrash acts began collapsing underneath their own weight of trying to keep up with modern times. Metallica is probably the most famous example of this, but even while that band was hell bent on destroying their credibility as a reliable metal outfit, Anthrax topped even them in this contest. Much of the crap this band released between the mid 90's to the end of the decade flirted dangerously with all out mallcore territory and bottom rung groove metal.
However, Anthrax's first conformity to mainstream trends wasn't quite as abominable, but I can't say it was delightfully good. "Sound of White Noise" was an album I picked up early on in my music purchasing days, and at the time I got immense enjoyment out of it. Needless to say, with age comes maturity and realization that conforming to trends in the name of survival as an artist is hardly a respectable reason for recording and promoting anything below what your band is capable of.
What we hear on "Sound of White Noise" is the sound of Anthrax abdicating their throne of 80's satrical thrash metal for darker pastures. The first recognizable new element to this group is John Bush, former Armored Saint frontman. Bush isn't a terrible vocalist for this style of music, coming out remarkably better than grunge's false icons like Eddie Vedder. Bush reminds me more of Scott Weiland off STP's earlier days, minus the horribly incoherent lyrics and with a more melodic tinge to his voice. Truth be told, I don't mind John Bush all that much on this release, but he's far from what he is capable of, as his pre-Anthrax contributions to music have proven.
Amongst this initiation into grunge discipleship, we have a one song that pass for decent. "Only" is probably the most notable song here, and honestly the only 90's Anthrax song I consider a keeper. It fuses what positive things Anthrax's new sound has going for it and creates a decent song. Beyond that, we have a collection of songs that try desperately to bring in some of the magic that Alice In Chains had going for them. This tends to fall flat, since Anthrax ends up emulating a variety of bands from the era particularly a muddier, heavier version of what was heard on "Core." If this weren't bad enough, Anthrax seems to have donned a Metallica attitude towards songwriting, in that they write songs that are far too long with ideas that are far too few to make those songs interesting. What you then end up with is a collection of grunge rock tributes with a halfway decent vocal job, but obviously nothing any 80's Anthrax fan should ever be caught with.
For what it is, a grunge rock record, "Sound of White Noise" comes out considerably well. Compared to previous material and heavy metal in general, this album succeeds on a few levels but misses out entirely on the more important ones. Ultimately, this album was the beginning of the slippery slope for Anthrax who, like Metallica, ended up ruining most of their credibility by the time the 90's ended. I can't really recommend this album to anyone except maybe grunge enthuaists, but for everyone else avoid it entirely or seek it out second hand.