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Originally published at http://suite101.com
No one can agree on how long it’s been, but it’s generally accepted that the Anthrax camp has been in an awkward spot for quite some time. Ever since classic vocalist Joey Belladonna left the band in the early 90s, they’ve gone through a long wave of commercial obscurity and confusingly constant lead singer switches. Originally intended for a 2009 release, Worship Music is the band’s first album since We’ve Come For You All came out in 2003. It is also the first Anthrax release to feature Belladonna since 1990’s Persistence of Time due to the rather random sacking of touring vocalist Dan Nelson and noncommittal stance of other iconic singer John Bush.
Fans who are expecting the second coming of Spreading the Disease or Among the Living are sure to be disappointed for this effort has very little in common with either of those classics. Instead we’ve got a release that probably wouldn’t have sounded too out of place if it had come out between Persistence of Time and Sound of White Noise. As someone who is only familiar with a handful of the songs Anthrax released with Bush, the rather modern production and larger focus on grooves do give this effort a rather similar feel to that era. Fortunately there are a few old elements such as the signature gang vocals ensuring that no one will confuse this for being some other band.
And with all of the history there is to consider, it is nice to see the band showcase some solid chemistry. The guitars in particular are aided by the production and have a sharp and dark tone that recalls the previously mentioned Persistence of Time. Despite Belladonna still feeling like the odd one out in terms of the overall band dynamic, his vocal contributions are quite strong and fit in well with the songs on display. He has inevitably lost a bit of his upper range with age but makes up for it with some impressive harmonies and contrasts. In a way, he brings to mind a less tired Geoff Tate and may be one of the best vocalists left from the old thrash era!
Unfortunately, the rhythm section doesn’t stand out quite as often as before and seems to get caught in the mix throughout. Fortunately there are some exceptions as drummer Charlie Benante provides some amazing blasting on “Earth On Hell” and “Revolution Screams” while bassist Frank Bello has a brief solo on “Judas Priest” and gives “I’m Alive” a particularly heavy feel.
When taking out the random interludes and looking at the album on a songwriting basis, it appears to have a set cycle of sorts as it starts out fast and then goes into more mid-tempo tracks. This move seems to work in the album’s favor as it shows off the band’s various styles while making sure everything fits in and demonstrating an eye for memorable hooks.
It goes without saying that the opening three songs were among the first singles released for they do provide some great bursts of energy. “Earth On Hell” features some powerful drumming and strong verse/chorus transitions, “The Devil You Know” works as a rocking cross between “Keep It In The Family” and "Caught In A Mosh” while “Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t” recycles the old “Gridlock” riff to surprisingly great effect.
From there, the pace goes a bit more mid-tempo though the next few songs show some nice variety in themselves. “I’m Alive” serves as a catchy anthem, “In The End” is a dramatic tribute to Ronnie James Dio and Dimebag Darrell, and “The Giant” is a catchy number with some solid vocal trade-offs in the verses and some infectious layering in the chorus.
The last four original songs seem to be a mix between the first five while not fully committing to either side. A song called “Judas Priest” would suggest a much faster tempo than the one on here, but it and “Crawl” do feature more excellent vocal acrobatics. In addition, “The Constant” seems to hint at a faster tempo while “Revolution Screams” features some solid groove-influence riffs.
Closing things out is a cover version of “New Noise” by the Refused. While I've only heard the original once or twice at the moment, this does manage to be another solid Anthrax cover thanks to more great transitions and vocal work. In this sense, it isn’t too out of place with everything else on here though one does wonder why they decided to make it a hidden track. At least they didn’t go with the cover of Alice in Chains’ “We Die Young” that was rumored at one point. That just sounds wrong on so many levels…
If you’re looking to hear a thrash metal group from the old guard put on a brutal show that rivals the material from their younger days, then you might want to look into Overkill’s “Ironbound.” Some may continue to hope for a more old school sounding record but this release seems to serve as a compromise of sorts between those days and more recent material. In this sense, Worship Music is a pretty successful effort as it employs some strong songwriting techniques and great musical performances. And if this effort and the recent performances of “Only” are anything to go by, things might not have been too different if Belladonna had just stuck around the entire time. It’s certainly hard to imagine what this would’ve sounded like if Nelson had been on it…
“The Devil You Know”
“Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t”