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It's weird, after the release of the awesome Worship Music, to look back at what Joey Belladonna was releasing during his exile as the vocalist of Anthrax. He was never really a fan of heavy metal or punk like the rest of Anthrax, preferring bands like Journey and Rush. So I guess any attempt at thrash or metal on this album is a way of giving to the Anthrax crowd, rather than something Joey would do naturally by himself. I would've been happy with a hard rock album, quite honestly. Instead, Belladonna is a confusing mix of power, thrash and heavy metal, none of which really works.
If any songs were to be recommended, I guess they would have to be 'Blunt Man' and 'Two Faced'. 'Blunt Man' is probably the most straight forward track, structurally speaking, on the album, which instantly makes it one of the more enjoyable. There's also some neat drumming, with some double bass pedalling. It is, in part, an attempt at emulating songs like 'H8 Red' from Persistence of Time Anthrax. 'Two Faced' is probably the best in terms of memorable lyrics and vocals:
'You're two faced like a bad penny!
I know what you're doing,
You lie to me like you lie to so many,
Deceit in your mind, it's always brewing!'
It might plod along a bit without definition between verse and chorus, but it's definately the one song you should listen to (if you absolutely MUST listen to anything off this album).
Most of the problems with the album boil down to two aspects: 1) Joey trying too hard to be Joey, and 2) These aren't the most exciting compositions known to man, and some of them are just strange. On what seems like every song, there's a long, held 'Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah' or something similar ('Powertrip', 'Rob You Blind', 'Perfection' and 'Down and Out' to name a few...), as you would expect with this vocalist. However, crossing over with the second aspect, none of them are really very exciting or impessive and sometimes just clash with the rest of the song. Often times, just to make sure his vocals 'shine', a song will just go off in a completely weird direction ('Powertrip', 'Rob You Blind' especially). Ultimately, the general standard of songwriting is either pretty average, or it feels like a bunch of not-too-bright ideas bolted together to sound... progressive? Songs like 'Injun' seem to go from section from section without ever feeling 'whole'.
The absolute worst aspect of the album is the guitar tone: too muddy for power or thrash metal, leaving the instrument unsuitably relegated to the background. Any riff with potential is held back, really hurting the album's enjoyability. The guitar riffs in 'Nothing to Hide', 'Injun' and 'Mixed Emotions' would probably give people a reason to listen the band. Instead, the washing machine tone robs them of appeal. In fact, besides maybe Joey's vocals, the whole album feels more like a demo, or as though the recording hadn't reached post-production. The drums are quite powerful but sound dull and the bass has a really fast attack more suitable for funk than anything present on the album. Listening to 'Taken By Force', which I guess sounds a bit like Black Sabbath, it is marred by bass pops and clicks (most obviously in the intro).
There is a sad bitterness to the album (all of which is clearly aimed towards the rest of Anthrax) that really prevents me from being able to recommend it. It's almost, almost funny how negative these songs sound: 'Powertrip', 'Rob You Blind', 'Two Faced', 'Down and Out', 'R.I.P.', 'Nothing To Hide'. Joey clearly wasn't experiencing any 'Mixed Emotions' here! (Sorry). It could have at least been an uplifting and fun romp through a tired metal theme or two. Instead, it's a depressing album that makes me extra glad the band took Joey back eventually. Oh, but there is one bit of praise I can give it: it isn't Spells of Fear.
Remember that sappy commercial from the 80s with the Native American guy walking through a trash covered yard weeping for the desecration of his land? Remember the guy actually being some Italian guy that was dressed up like an Indian? Well, this isn’t that commercial, but one has to wonder if Joey Belladonna’s return to the world of metal a few years after being wrongfully booted by Anthrax didn’t borrow some ideas from it, right down to an Italian guy (Belladonna himself) being in tradition native attire on the cover. This album, simply titled “Belladonna”, is all but a total blast from the past, in direct contradiction to all the pretentious modernizing of sound going on amidst the rest of the Big 4 membership.
While obviously thrash metal had all but become a four letter word in the mid-90s, where everything was either post-grunge or groovy Pantera worship, Belladonna represents that small but sizable minority of older generation of metal heads who got the memo and proceeded to tear it to shreds. This is a full out throwback to when Anthrax still played real music, albeit a throwback to recent history where the thrash style had become a bit more restrained and mid-tempo (the early 90s), but still cooked a hell of a lot more than the rubbish that came in with John Bush both during and after “Sound Of White Noise”. Had Nirvana not came in and helped usher in a musical recession in the early 90s, this album would probably have been a logical successor to “Persistence Of Time”.
It is important to note that while this is a solid album, it is not quite in the same league as what passed for thrash back in the glory days of the mid 80s. In fact, the melodic content put forth in Joey’s voice on here and the general tenor of the guitar work is more along the lines of a thrashing flirtation with late 80s USPM. The guitar work is largely conformed to the same minimalist style that Scott Ian put forth when Belladonna still shared the stage with him, and the lead work channels a similarly restrained and melodic character of Dan Spitz, though not quite as well. In fact, apart from a much more restrained drum presence that isn’t really in line with anything Charlie Benante has done, this is basically an Anthrax album with 3 different people handling the instruments.
There are plenty of memorable moments to grab on to here, and a few songs that can measure up to the standards set by Anthrax. The first 3 songs, in particular, really brings home that formulaic yet highly satisfying display of crunchy riff work and sing along chorus work that typified the most commercially accessible of the Big 4. “Nothing To Hide” and “Injun” also mix it up a bit with some really solid guitar lines, though they actually show Joey using an out-of-character low range vocal style that actually sounds a little like John Bush, oddly enough. There’s also a slew of half-ballads littered on this album with flowing clean guitar lines that bring in a slight Testament flavor to an otherwise straight up riff fest with a restrained tempo. There isn’t really a bad song on here, but largely things tend to run together a bit in a sort of 2-dimensional fashion, which is sufficient given that this music tends to be more vocally oriented and hook driven.
Some like to argue that Joey got the last laugh with regards to the question of 90s Anthrax. I’d add that he not only got the last laugh, but also one loud and obnoxious enough to make Dan Spitz wished he quite the band before “Sound Of White Noise” and Scott Ian and the rest of them regret not resisting the commercial forces that turned their genre to shit almost overnight. This is not the greatest thing to ever come out of the genre, but for 1995 this is among the better things to get put out that was in any way tied to the 80s thrash metal scene, even outclassing a number of Overkill’s less thrashing works. This is a criminally underrated album that anyone with the slightest iota of loyalty to Anthrax’s true era should buy just on general principle.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on July 20, 2011.
I know it doesn’t look like it, but that strange looking Indian on this album’s cover is Joey Belladonna. And in case you too have discovered his solo album sitting somewhat dejectedly in your local music store’s used bin and written it off as some sort of potential disaster (see: Nuno), let me assure you, it’s definitely a metal album. Having been unceremoniously discarded from the mighty Anthrax in order that they might make an utter farce of themselves, Joey decided to give the whole ‘heavy metal band’ thing another shot. Belladonna, the first album released by his solo band, is no classic, but considering the various musical horrors that his old band would release upon the world in his absence, it’s good enough to say that Joey got the last laugh after their parting.
Now I hate to compare this to Belladonna-era Anthrax (as Joey is the only member from the band performing here), but his eponymous solo debut sounds like where Anthrax might have gone after Persistence of Time in some alternate universe where Belladonna was still in the band. Where as with John Bush fronting the band, Anthrax went toward a sort of amorphous, groovy-nu-metal/rock abomination, this album doesn’t completely abandon the 80’s aesthetic. What we get instead is 90’s thrash, or as some might call it, “half-thrash” or “whiffle-thrash.” Yes, this is what would happen if Anthrax had combined Testament’s “The Ritual” with Exodus’ “Force of Habit” instead of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and Pantera’s “Far Beyond Driven.”
Now whiffle-thrash isn’t exactly an enticing prospect, I understand, but considering the alternatives (you know, what Anthrax was doing around the time of this release…), it seems that Joey’s little project obtains the upper hand. Most songs resemble the mid-paced or slower works from Anthrax’s later Belladonna-era (SoE, PoT) as well as the aforementioned Exodus album. Expect simple, hook-oriented riffs that occasionally batter the listener like a real thrash album might, but never overtake the vocals. The bass is punchy and the drums fit pretty well with the riffs, but nobody is really showing off here except for Joey, and only for the occasional scream. His voice is actually quite decent on here: no worse than his later Anthrax work and often better, as he gets a chance to tap his melodic reserve a bit more often. Indeed, melodic NWOBHM-friendly passages creep into the songs quite often and help to give some of the blander tracks a bit more character. Only one really concentrates on this (“Down & Out’); the others (excepting “Taken by Force,” which sounds like a lost Alice in Chains track) are fairly uniform to the sound established on the first few tunes.
The only persistent problem on the album is the production. While the drums and bass have a crisp, clear sound appropriate to their decade, the guitars try to imitate an 80’s sound and thus sound a bit weaker than they might have otherwise (especially the solos…no impact whatsoever). There’s also something about the way the vocals were recorded that bugs me from time to time, but my lack of audio engineering experience prevents me from pinpointing exactly what that is. Too dry perhaps?
But though the production is the only real ‘problem,’ the album is still a 90’s thrash album, meaning that there’s about 1,000 thrash albums from the 80’s you should get first, including all of Anthrax’s albums prior to John Bush joining the band. However, this Belladonna album is still markedly better than anything Anthrax has released since they kicked Joey out, so big fans of his work with them should consider getting this; at the very least, it offers closure for one of thrash’s most well-known vocalists and makes for a good listen on occasion.
The CD starts weak, I actually felt kindda of deceptioned with the first songs. I read an interview with Joe that he stated that "On Anthrax, Scott limitated everything that I could do on vocals, the only Anthrax albums that they gave me freedom to sing the way I wanted where on Spreading the Disease and some parts of Among the Living", so I was waiting a classic on the melodic power-thrash that they had on the 2 mentioned albums, rather, the first 3 or 4 sound like a sub par version of "Persistence" Anthrax with a lot of "modern rock" influences. things start to improve a lot by the 5th or 6th track, and then the albums really shows up its good characteristics. Ranging from strong Powerthrash ( 2 faced ) to more power metal ( In Jun ) to hard rock ( mixed emotions ) and power ballads ( Down and Out ) Joe shows a lot of versatility and talent on singing on the various different ranges of metal still mantaining a uniform quality as if he had played with bands from all of these metal variants. The instrumentation is tight, but far from being highly technical or something, they just do a good job on playing the great songs presented on this CD after the quite disapointing start. Joey sings on the vocal range he used on "Persistence", not the brilliance of "Spreading the Disease" , but still a great vocal job. I can guarantee to any Anthrax fan that, despite of not being a classic, this first Belladonna CD is beats any Anthrax album recorded after SOWN and also State of Euphoria in terms of vocals and musicianship.