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A toast to what could have been. (part 1) - 90%

hells_unicorn, May 24th, 2009

In later 2005 I was suddenly filled with a sense of hope for the future. No, it wasn’t because world peace was finally in our grasp, nor that aliens had landed and promised to teach us all the secrets of the universe. No it was something much greater than all of the trivial stuff, and that something was the reformation of the classic lineup of Anthrax. This was the same group of musicians that gave us the insurmountable classic speed metal magnum opus “Spreading The Disease”, the famed and well respected “Among The Living”, and the progressive and forward looking “Persistence Of Time”, thus we come to further understand the trivial nature of all that other stuff that people hope for. And in true, original lineup fashion, they deliver all of the original goods with the same caliber that they did 18 years prior.

From the first riff of “Among The Living”, the signature epic thrash song that they are most recognized for, until the end of the punk inspired rocker and cover “Antisocial”, everything just pummels the airwaves like a ton of metallic mayhem. Belladonna hits all of the notes, usually sticking to the original melodies with little breakage, and occasionally throwing out those high end vocal gymnastics that he mostly utilized exclusively on “Spreading The Disease”. The monster Dan Spitz is back as well with his impressive yet high structured and memorable solos, further contemplating the retro nature of this concert. With the exceptions of Ian and Benante, everybody’s hair is long, but only Belladonna has retained the exceptionally long 80s hair. But rest assured that none of these guys play or slay with their hair.

For all of the euphoria that was likely in the air the night this was filmed, both on account of the band and the fans, it is surprising that the band didn’t engage in any long diatribes about this or that, and stick to getting the songs going with a few nice words in between. Audience participation is encouraged here and there, but for the most part this show is played as if it’s being recorded. The set list is definitely constructed for audience approval with a disproportionate amount of songs from “Among The Living” being present, but surprisingly enough the band does make a good amount of time for the other albums, including one of their earliest songs “Deathrider”, which is the only song on here where Belladonna seems to struggle a bit, which was the case when they played this song back in the 80s. There’s very few people who can sing as ridiculously high and over the top as Neil Turbin could, but Belladonna’s performance is adequate and the song kicks ass.

There are several points on this album where everything is just so together that it really stands out, though this is a solid performance all around. The first of these is “NFL”, where the most audience participation can be heard, and where Belladonna really comes into his own. Consistently throughout all of this band’s live performances, the vocals always tend to be the best towards the middle of the show, perhaps because it takes Joey a little while to really get warmed up or maybe they put most of their best songs in the middle of the concert. Another is “Time”, more so because of how different it is from everything else, and how together it stays despite being a bit slower than everything else. But the pinnacle of the whole concert is “Medusa”, as it leaves the thrash metal realm completely and just reaches back to that early NWOBHM style that spawned the band’s genre. The melodic material is extremely conducive to Belladonna’s range, and also gives him an opportunity to demonstrate just how large it is.

The fact that this concert didn’t lead to a studio album by this lineup was a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Rumor has it that Scott and a couple of the others wanted to stay on tour for an extra year or so rather than record, while Belladonna was ready for a new album. Just as they did in the early 90s, things self-destructed and now essentially Anthrax is back to square one, looking to like jump on board with the modern groove/metalcore craze given the talent that they’ve recruited to replace Belladonna and Spitz. Fate is a cruel thing, but thankfully this was allowed to happen before the end came yet again, and given the lack of DVD re-releases of the band’s 80s concert VHS offerings, this is the album to get if you have all of the studio albums and want a true quality live performance to go with them.