[28 September 2011]
The Big Four—Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax—were the kings of thrash metal in the ‘80s. Nothing was more prevalent in American metal than those four bands. But as time passed and music changed, The Big Four changed as well, each taking a different direction in attempts to stay relevant and popular. Anthrax encountered the most difficulty of the four bands, and their releases became less and less frequent with time, even though they seemed to be doing fairly well with vocalist John Bush. Then, after 2003’s We’ve Come for You All, Anthrax suddenly disappeared from the public eye. There was always news of the band working on new material, but nothing came to fruition, not even after the band’s brief stint with lead singer Dan Nelson and the attempts to release Worship Music in 2009. It took the band’s reunion with singer Joey Belladonna to finally bring this album to life, and with it, Anthrax hopes to revitalize their career and remind everyone what made them part of The Big Four in the first place.
Belladonna has been out of Anthrax for 21 years, and although he has remained active in music with his solo project since then, it should be understandable that his voice has changed a lot since 1990’s Persistence of Time. In that time, he’s lost some of his higher range, but he makes up for it with much more resonance and rich tone in his middle range. The best way to describe Belladonna’s vocals on Worship Music is that he sounds like a combination of Ronnie James Dio and Overkill’s Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth. Belladonna has added the depth and vocal control that Dio displayed so excellently throughout his storied career while retaining the raw grit of his higher vocals, a characteristic that has always been part of Ellsworth’s history with Overkill. It’s not quite as exciting as Belladonna’s unforgettable performances on Spreading the Disease and Among the Living, but it’s still a powerful comeback piece for a singer that hasn’t done this style of singing in a long time.
Musically, Worship Music is a mixture of Anthrax’s later material with shades of their thrash beginnings mixed in. Most of the album is the Pantera-inspired groove-metal style that the band used for We’ve Come for You All. The thrash elements are mixed into most of the songs in varying degrees, ranging from nearly nonexistent (“In the End”, “Crawl”, “I’m Alive”) to saturating (“Earth on Hell”, “Fight ‘em ‘til You Can’t”, “The Giant”). Hearing both ends of the spectrum gives a good sense of the potential stylistic variety Anthrax still has. Two highlights of this are “Judas Priest”, a song paying tribute to the soon-to-be-retired British metal legends, and the hidden track after “Revolution Screams”, which is a cover of “New Noise”, originally by now-defunct punk act Refused. These two songs aren’t completely outside of Anthrax’s standard fare, but they have enough differences to highlight the growth and maturity that Anthrax has found nearly three decades after their humble beginnings.
Much like Metallica’s Death Magnetic from three years ago, Worship Music isn’t the glorious comeback album that everyone was hoping for. However, it is still a very good album with signs of positive movement for the band. They have not stagnated, nor have they lost their touch after such a long period of inactivity. And while the album does have some unnecessary inclusions, chief among them the two instrumentals “Hymn 1” and “Hymn 2”, most of the album is high quality material from a veteran band regaining their relevance in modern music. Welcome back, Anthrax. We’ve missed you.