Anthrax: Music of Mass Destruction

[19 July 2004]

By Adrien Begrand

PopMatters Contributing Editor

Back in the heyday of American thrash metal, between 1987 and 1991, New York’s Anthrax were one of the genre’s most important bands, as they and their other “Big Four” metal brethren Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth, in their own distinct ways, helped turn contemporary metal completely on its ear. Metallica combined British metal with a streetpunk attitude, Slayer took both doom and speed to their absolute extremes, Megadeth added unparalleled musical dexterity, and as for Anthrax, well, simply stated, Anthrax brought the heart. The music was honest and fun, and through the mid-‘80s, the band gradually built up a loyal following, their career climaxing during those halcyon days later that decade, with albums like Among the Living and Persistence of Time leading the way, and their most important innovation, the meshing of metal and rap (on songs like “I’m the Man” and “Bring the Noise”) foreshadowing the massive trend that would explode in the late ‘90s.

When the band recruited former Armored Saint vocalist John Bush in 1991 as a replacement for the departed Joey Belladonna, it seemed to signal the end of Anthrax for many fans; despite the fact that 1992’s The Sound of White Noise was the band’s highest-charting album, interest in metal in general took a nosedive in the wake of the grunge fad, and many people just simply forgot about Anthrax. The thing is, they never went away; to their credit, Anthrax have been soldiering along with their no-frills metal, delivering album after album through the ‘90s, their tenacity finally rewarded with the very well-received 2003 album We’ve Come for You All. Their new combination CD/DVD package, Music of Mass Destruction, recorded in late 2003 in Chicago, is not only a tribute to their longevity, but a big, warm thank you to their fans, and most importantly, a perfect chance for thousands of erstwhile Anthrax fans to see just what they’ve been missing.

To put it bluntly, Music of Mass Destruction will be a revelation for many, an intense reminder of just how good this band still is, as well as a tribute to the absolutely fanatical Chicago fanbase, who matches the band step for step on the album; just listen to the passion, the fervor during “What Doesn’t Die”, as the crowd belts out the chorus, the perfect rallying cry for all underground metal: “You! Cannot kill! What doesn’t die!!!” The band tears through a taut, fiery set, the songs coming mainly from the post-1990, Bush-era albums, such as the poignant “Safe Home”, an absolutely raucous performance of “Refuse to Be Denied”, “Inside Out”, and the 1992 hit “Only”. Bush, who for the past 20 years has been one of the best vocalists in the genre, does a great job on early, “old school” classics such as “Got the Time”, “Caught in a Mosh”, and “I Am the Law”.

The accompanying DVD is even more fun. Whereas the hour-long CD has only 12 songs, the DVD boasts the entire Chicago set, and is very well filmed, putting you right in the middle of the extremely intense action in the tiny venue. Notable oldies we’re treated to that didn’t make the CD include “Belly of the Beast”, “Indians”, “Be All End All”, an energetic version of “Bring the Noise”, and best of all, a special bonus performance of the 1984 classic, “Metal Thrashing Mad”, captured in Flint, Michigan, on the same tour. Not only does the concert look and sound great (presented both in two channel stereo and 5.1 surround), but there are tons of bonus features, including two songs with a multi-angle feature, an extensive interview with comic book artist Alex Ross (who did the album’s cool cover art), and four terrific vignettes profiling each member of the band. You get to see affable drummer Charlie Benante profess his love for comics and horror flicks as he goes collectible shopping, John Bush have fun with his buds in his bar at home, guitarist Scott Ian show clips from the band’s tours while providing some very funny commentary, and one of the best “new guy” initiations you’ll see, an extensive montage of new lead guitarist Rob Caggiano caught in various extremely embarrassing situations.

Only two original members have remained with the band over the past decade, and longtime bassist Frank Bello left the band early this year after close to 19 years of service), but it’s clearly evident that the proverbial fire still burns. Music of Mass Destruction is one of the best bargains you’ll come across this year, as Anthrax have presented a heartfelt gift to everyone who has stood by them for so long. As for those of us unfortunate souls (like yours truly) who have tuned out Anthrax over the past ten years, this outstanding live document is guaranteed to re-ignite the love for this great band many of us had thought was long gone, and if you know your Anthrax, you’ll know they’ll welcome the old crowd back. As they sing, “One more place at the table / Always room for one more.” Skooch over, boys. We’re coming back ... for good, this time.

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