Music

Anthrax: For All Kings

Far from a throwaway throwback, For All Kings shows Anthrax sounding like their classic lineup but evolved for 2016.


Anthrax

For All Kings

Label: Megaforce
US Release Date: 2016-02-26
UK Release Date: 2016-02-26
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Vocalist Joey Belladonna replaced Anthrax’s original vocalist Neil Turbin after the band’s first album and helped make the band one of the Big Four Thrash Metal bands of the 1980s (a list that also includes Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer) with his distinctive voice and dynamic range. Anthrax were metal pioneers who managed to not sound like any other metal band out there (partially because Belladonna’s previous gig was in a Journey cover group, if you can believe that). Belladonna was controversially replaced after the band’s 1990 release Persistence of Time with another dynamic singer, John Bush of Armored Saint. Time showed a new direction for Anthrax and Bush fit the mold arguably better than their best known singer.

Anthrax persisted through time and some excellent albums with Bush (and occasional reunions with Belladonna, and then Bush again). With Bush unwilling to come back to the band and their replacement singer not quite working out, Belladonna was enticed to return for Anthrax’s tenth album Worship Music (2011) and the cover EP Anthems (2013) effectively re-reuniting (most of) the classic Anthrax lineup.

Now, in 2016 we are given For All Kings, the band’s 11th full-length studio album featuring Belladonna on vocals along with founder Scott Ian on rhythm guitar, songwriter Charlie Benante on drums, Benante’s nephew Frank Bello on bass and newcomer Jon Donais on lead guitar (the only current member not of the “classic” lineup and his first album with the band). Of course, For All Kings is both luckily and tragically released during a period when classic metal bands are releasing new albums left and right. 2014 marked the release of Judas Priest’s Redeemer of Souls, 2015 saw new albums from Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Slayer and John Bush’s own reunited Armored Saint while 2016 has already seen the release of Megadeth’s new album. Even Metallica has promised a new album in the near future.

So how does Anthrax’s For All Kings stand out or stack up? The easiest thing to do in reviews of this kind is point out that “It still sounds like [Insert Name Here]” and luckily that is the case with Anthrax. With an album like For All Kings and a band like Anthrax, there is no singular sound to cite. As in the band’s heyday with Belladonna in the 1980s, For All Kings stands out as powerful thrash metal with a distinctive sound that is unmistakably Anthrax. True, the band has its fair share of darker lyrics about burned and melted halos and murder and mayhem, in keeping with their latter-day pentagram “A” symbol, but Anthrax is not a band to attempt to emulate all the rest.

Many might expect For All Kings (and their previous two releases) to sound like something of an evolution from Persistence of Time and, to be sure, that element is present. It’s hard to imagine this Anthrax donning colorful surfing shorts and performing more comedic songs like "I’m the Man". However, this is not simply a throwback to the Belladonna albums. Instead, For All Kings proves to be an evolution of the band on the whole, taking cues from the Bush era as much as it does the classic era.

In fact, possibly as a result of so many performances of the Bush era hits like “Only” on Anthrax’s tours, Belladonna’s voice has morphed into something of a hybrid between Bush’s deeper vocal style and the classic high-pitched wail Belladonna (and Anthrax) was known for in the 1980s. What’s more, Anthrax remains true to their longtime messages without welching on them in exchange for the current array of metal topics. On “Zero Tolerance”, the band continues their outrage about social injustice and political corruption, calling out specifically the killing of children. “Breathing Lightning” is perhaps the song that sounds the most like 1980s Anthrax with Belladonna’s voice carrying the melodic song through talk of “the right thing” while Donais’ lead guitar matches him in pitch and ascending harmony.

“You Gotta Believe” kicks off with a beautiful orchestral arrangement before shifting into the hard driving metal that the album showcases. This opening track is a showcase of not only the band’s musical diversity (stretching from thrash to rock to near-classical) but also the complexity of the band’s lyrics. The melodic metal is showcased again on “Blood Eagle Wings”, which layers each instrument throughout its introduction and matches Belladonna’s melodic voice (which descends into a growl for the more disheartened lyrics). The song’s rousing guitar solo breaks out of nowhere and carries the band into the stratosphere before returning to the impassioned chorus. Yeah, Donais is given the chance to prove that he was the right choice for the band’s lead guitarist and he does prove exactly that. All of this is before a beautiful, minimalist outro that punctuates this strong track.

“This Battle Chose Us” is another standout with an infectious chorus and strong, self-assured lyrics without any sort of macho swagger. Belladonna screams “You give ‘em hell! This battle chose us. You can’t choose your battles.” Anthrax wins on this one.

While For All Kings is an overall positive album lyrically, it’s not exactly a happy one. Even “Blood Eagle Wings” prominently features the repeated reference to “darkness in my soul”. “You Gotta Believe” features Belladonna crying out, “You’re just a bag of blood and I’m holding the nail.” “All of them Thieves” includes the lyrics “I will destroy everything” as part of their social outrage and the title track says “all the darkness, inside of my world breathes and I can’t leave”.

Of course, this is metal and the only real question is whether or not this darkness works. The answer is that it does. Like the best of Anthrax, For All Kings balances the band’s darkness with optimism. With music this proficient (and it is that), the end result would be a fine result anyway, but with the lyrics as poignant and interesting as these, addicted fans will be perusing the lyrics sheets not only for meaning but to sing along at full volume.

For All Kings is a great listen, but like many of the more serious and darker albums in Anthrax’s quiver the record is somewhat lacking in “fun”. One might find “fun” a tall order when it comes to thrash metal. After all, one doesn’t listen to Slayer’s library looking for an encoded joke book or tunes about happy clowns giving rainbow balloons to lollipop eating children at a petting zoo. But this is Anthrax and “fun” has often been a huge part of their repertoire. After all, you don’t expect to see the big-headed, mustachioed, laughing “Not Man” running around warming up the crowd at a Slayer show either.

That said, For All Kings is a cohesive and consistent metal album that works on multiple levels. This is no throwaway throwback, but a solid and powerful next step for this classic and innovative metal band. Yes, they are building upon their own legacy and that legacy is still going on strong, so those looking for the more “fun” side of Anthrax are welcome to roll on back to the I’m the Man EP or the more recent Anthems EP for that bit of enjoyment. In truth, these stand up very well alongside For All Kings and help prove this band’s diversity.

As the chorus of the exceptional track “Suzerain” proudly cries, “Nothing is over”! Those predicting Anthrax’s demise after Belladona’s or even Bush’s departures have been proven wrong. The end of Anthrax is clearly nowhere in sight and For All Kings proves not only that the band is still in their prime, but that once again, Joey Belladonna was the right choice for their new (old) singer.

After all, Anthrax should still sound like Anthrax and Anthrax doesn’t quite sound like any other band. Give ‘em Hell, Anthrax.

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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