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Anthrax’s second album meant a big step forward for the achievement of their characteristic sound, pushing away the topical elements of early thrash they included on the refreshing debut Fistful Of Metal. The crucial changes in the line-up contributed to develop their own style. Belladonna’s explicitly melodic voice would make the band’s music totally unique and peculiar, specially. These guys got rid of a competent bassist and song-writer (Mr. Lilker) but added an also professional player (Frank). This formation already proved itself competent on the Armed And Dangerous EP, though they needed to make it clearer by writing new material if they wanted to compete with the bunch of serious rivals around.
Their ways have become more sophisticated and precise, as the brilliant display of energy and controlled velocity on “A.I.R.” shows, which isn’t exclusively intended to be brutal and harsh, its melody and certain difficulty were unexplored elements on previous attempts. “Armed And Dangerous” embraces a similar scheme, right after that cheesy acoustic intro it turns into raging power thrash, as vibrant and disciplined as the opening cut, professionally constructed and passionate. Other thrashy compositions whose riffs nature fits the subgenre standards are the outrageous “Gung-Ho”, kinda humoristic and stripped-down from the precision of the rest, becoming a chaos at the end intentionally, in contrast with the more serious performance on “Aftershock”, which is fast too but clearly vocal-based with that tiring lyrical repetition making it unoriginal. Velocity and vigor soon get discreet on the rest of the record, deprived of thrashy lines, featuring more calmed tempos and a much notable presence of melody. Well, “S.S.C./Stand Or Fall” is kinda aggressive and loose, though once again the tender vocals make it so accessible. Verses get even mellower on “Lone Justice” and “Madhouse”, on which Anthrax combine heavier riffs, traditional quiet rhythms and insistent lyrics successfully, denying thrash’s basic characteristics. Melody is incessant on those as well, brilliantly materialized by Joey’s delicate voice, who’s even leading the instrumental sections on some “Medusa” sequences. That’s the slowest number of the pack, conceived by a weighty rhythm and powerful rough riffs, the absence of velocity and aggression is scandalous in comparison with the thrashy titles, fortunately the band develops it correctly, even though guitar lines remain untouched mostly.
Back then, Anthrax were denying thrash standards generally, 60% of this record should be rather described as heavy metal, melodic, weighty and polite. The nature of riffs speaks for itself on most of the compositions along with the common tempos. At times Charlie is making use of one bass-drum only, a shocking fact if you compare this with the terminal velocity of S.O.D.. Actually, for this project, it seems Scott preferred not introducing hardcore influences, I guess this was intended to be serious, reflecting a clear inspiration from heavy rock heroes as Iron Maiden and Kiss instead of emulating Motörhead and Venom as most of their peers did by that time. The exceeding percentage of melody and the supremacy of vocals make it evident, which turned the dynamism and fury of the debut into something more refined and commercial. However, the thrashy exceptions must be highlighted. They were the precursors of the splendorous sound these guys would achieve afterwards, determined by those hyperactive rhythms, violent riffs and raw attitude. It seems they did a wrong choice by playing so many casual slow tunes instead of going further into the previous record patterns of speed and intensity. It would’ve been a much more consistent energetic record if they kept aggression and loose riffing stable. Although this material is musically stronger than the primitive debut, inevitably, not only because instrumentally this is more advanced and exact, also because technically they reached a higher level. Of course, it’s not super complex, though structures are more solid, intentions not that vain, melody better defined. On other hand, these numbers lack the stunning energy and roughness of Fistful Of Metal, no matter how musically superior they are. And well, that tremendously dry clean production didn’t help, it particularly made that backing choir sound comical and dumb (voices distorted as Neanderthals screaming!).
They were still looking for their sound, evolving, exploring, step by step they were defining their identity. Spreading The Disease wasn’t the culmination, it obviously contributed to that process, we wouldn’t have splendid later albums if the band didn’t go through this primitive stage. So many cuts here ain’t thrash strictly but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them as long as you tolerate melody and sophistication. The most diehard subgenre fans might find it boring, though after all, these guys have always been transgressing the thrash standards by playing it melodic, including urban lyrics, breaking the usual limitations and clichés proudly, something that made them victims of vituperation for many years, something that took guts for sure.