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Closer to his thrashing homeland. - 70%

hells_unicorn, June 12th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2003, CD, Independent

There are few things to be lauded more in a veteran metal outfit than resilience, and that goes doubly so for an individual member of an iconic band being able to pick up the pieces in quick order and admit to making a massive misstep while trying to appeal to a wider audience. No, the author of this review does not speak of nor even consider this description an apt one for rest of the Anthrax band, who were still firmly entrenched in groove metal pander mode circa 2003 with John Bush struggling to adapt his incompatible voice with one of thrash metal's most iconic bands, but rather the front man that was tossed out like the evening trash in the name of trying to ape the Alice In Chains sound at the height of the grunge explosion. Following his exodus, Joey Belladonna managed to churn out an impressive solo album bearing his own surname that showcased a more slowed down, but still thrashing sound that came pretty close to being the logical successor of Persistence Of Time, but then made a grotesque abomination of a follow up in 1999's Spells Of Fear that somehow managed to descend deeper into the shit-stained tunnels of groove metal's decrepit rectum than Scott Ian and company would ever venture.

As the famed quote from Batman Begins would note a couple years later, "Why do we fall? To learn to pick ourselves up again", thus came Belladonna's third and to date last album simply dubbed 03. In essence, this album is a full on stylistic retread of the melodic, mid-paced thrashing character that typified the eponymous 1995 debut, albeit put together with the bare minimum of personnel (Joey also handles drum duties on here) and with a lower-fidelity production sound that results in a very up close and personal atmosphere. The services of guitarist and arguable metal pariah Peter Scheithauer (affectionately known as Peter Shit-tosser to some given just how terrible his performance and writing was on the previous album) have mercifully not been retained, and in his place is a far more competent writer and performer in Matt Zuber, who also has fielded a number of respectable studio offerings in the progressive metal style and also handles bass duties. Truth be told, when looking at the nuanced songwriting and virtuoso lead guitar gymnastics that grace songs like "Crimes Of Passion" and "Live Up To You", it's arguably that Zuber is probably the most gifted and proficient musician with which Belladonna has ever collaborated.

Nevertheless, despite some solid musicianship and an overall superior attitude to a lot of what passed for metal in the U.S. in the early 2000s, this is not quite what one would dub an exemplary thrash or even a heavy metal album. Overall, this is largely an exercise in getting the job done when no one else is available to do it, doing a bit more than the minimum but coming off as more of a working class collection of songs that don't reach the sort of fever pitch that exemplified Joey's masterworks while in Anthrax. All the same, mid-paced punchy riff machines such as "Never Safe", "Not Buyin'" and "Can't Erase It" have a rustic charm to them that is well above the mixed up and generally uneven character of Anthrax's We've Come For You All. Meanwhile, the somewhat thematically convoluted and quirky character of the slower and more melodic material on here like "Movin' On" and "One By One" seems to be channeling some latent 90s radio rock tendencies at times, and seem to drag on forever despite note really getting much past the four minute mark in terms of length. Overall, despite the quality musicianship, this album kinda lags during the ballad parts due to the lack of atmosphere and depth that this album's production suffers from.

This is an album that is definitely worth hearing at least once, if for no other reason than to remind those fans of Anthrax who were rightly turned off by the direction that they went with John Bush of how much better things would have gone had Belladonna been kept in the fold, even if only to continue putting out slower paced semi-thrash material along the lines of what this album possesses. Some of the material found on here could pass for a mid-paced banger on either Persistence Of Time or State Of Euphoria with a better production and a more involved drum performance as only Charlie Benante can deliver, and one can't help but wonder what sort of magic a technician like Matt Zuber might have brought to the fold had Dan Spitz still exited the picture and the band had never bothered with the less distinctive soloing style offered up by Rob Caggiano throughout the 2000s. It's kind of a moot point now as Anthrax has once again resumed the old ways with Belladonna back in the fold, but for those past-obsessed metal heads who came in at the tail-end of Generation X like yours truly, it is still a point of curiosity.

This review is dedicated to the memory of Christopher Santaniello, aka Diamhea. (R.I.P.)