2016 was a big year for popular thrash metal bands from the ’80s, as Metallica released a new album (Hardwired… to Self Destruct), Megadeth released a new album (Dystopia), and Anthrax released a new album (For All Kings). Somehow, all three of these records evoked their respective bands’ heydays, and all of them were pretty solid in their own right (although none of them truly measured up to their most celebrated predecessors).
Perhaps the quietest of these releases was For All Kings, which did a fantastic job of sounding like classic Anthrax. There are the requisite fist-pumping anthems (“Breathing Lightning”), headbanging thrashers (“You Gotta Believe”), and even the occasional levee-breaking dirge (“Blood Eagle Wings” — well, the first half of it, at least). It’s not really the statement-of-repurpose that Metallica’s album was, nor is it the single-minded slab of evil cynicism that Megadeth produced; rather, it sounds like a collection made by dudes who went into the studio and said, “Hey, let’s make an Anthrax album.” For the most part, listeners were pleased (despite the appeal being largely limited to the hardcore fanbase).
In fact, it’s only the hardest of those hardcore fans that this re-release of For All Kings is targeting. It is the same album as before, only housed on ten seven-inch records — one song per side — with the “Breathing Out” coda appended to the end of “Breathing Lightning” as a single song. The rest of the package consists of instrumental album demos, a couple of cover songs, and “Vice of the People”, an outtake that also appeared on both the Japanese version of the LP and the recent “tour edition” re-release. A few of the demos and the covers are exclusive to this collection (for now), so there is certainly some incentive to shell out for this version of For All Kings if you’re a major devotee.
The music itself is a dicier proposition. The demos are well-produced and well-performed, but almost to a fault because they sound less like raw demos and more like pre-vocal versions of nearly finished songs. It’s no secret that singer Joey Belladonna doesn’t really get along with the rest of the band, so the tracks are largely completed by the time they get to him. As such, if you’re looking to bust out some Anthrax karaoke or blast some great thrash tunes without vocals while you do other things, these demos are great; however, if you’re looking for some insight into Anthrax’s creative process, you’re not going to find all that much evolution from the demos to the finished products. That said, packing six different A-sides with their demos on the B-sides is a smart decision that allows for easy and direct comparisons (if that’s your ultimate goal).
As for “Vice of the People”, it’s a fine track, even if it’s easy to see why it was left off the album: it doesn’t really add anything that wasn’t already there. Still, solid thrash tunes in 6/8 are always welcome, and it’s pretty hilarious to hear Belladonna do his best Mustaine growl at the bridge.
Then there are the covers songs. All of them are relegated to their own seven-inch singles, which, to be honest, feature the best sleeve art of the bunch by far (due mostly to its White Stripes-inspired representation of the members). This, of course, is related to the cover of “Black Math”, a surprisingly faithful version of one of the White Stripes’ quickest and loudest tunes, right down to Belladonna’s imitation of Jack White’s cackle halfway through. The guitars are heavier here, though, and Belladonna is clearly a different kind of vocalist from Jack White, but other than that, this is the song as it was written. The same can be said for “Carry On”, the band’s cover of Kansas’ instantly-recognizable classic “Carry on Wayward Son”. If anything, this one sounds even more like the original than “Black Math”, thanks to the inclusion of keyboards and Belladonna’s more convincing Steve Walsh impression. All in all, both covers are fine — and they sound like the band is having fun — but neither one lights the world on fire.
Sadly, that could be said of all of the new music on this special edition of For All Kings. It’s fine, yet none of it is worth whatever price this ten-record box set is going to command (again, a set like this is less about the music and more about having a thing, something that says “I am a fan, and this is the proof”).
(Note: PopMatters was given the audio of this edition to review, so we cannot speak firsthand to the quality of the packaging, though it sounds fantastic and photos of it look extremely colorful and appealing. Chances are, if you’re buying this because it looks and feels cool, you’re not going to be disappointed.)