It may sound funny to say that Anthrax never quite got their due, but they didn’t. On the one hand, yes, they’ve sold millions of albums and have successfully toured the world for decades. They’re part of the famous Big Four of thrash metal, with ultra-heavyweights Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer. And they released two bona fide masterpieces—Spreading the Disease (1985) and Among the Living (1987).
On the other hand, if there were, instead, only a Big Three, it’s pretty clear that Anthrax would be the group cut. Anthrax’s sense of collaboration and comradery are part of their New York street kid appeal, but it’s meant that their frequent lineup changes had a more striking effect on their albums’ consistency than, say, Megadeth’s. While they were early to the rap/metal scene with “I’m the Man” and, later, “Bring the Noise” in collaboration with Public Enemy, they unfairly took some of the blame for the later onslaught of obnoxious rap/metal.
Anthrax is lyrically more varied than their peers, although also less reliable. (“Caught in a Mosh” is arguably the best song with the worst line: “You’re always in the way like a beast on my back / Were you dropped as a baby cause brains you lack.”) They’ve been nominated for the Best Metal Performance Grammy six times, but they’ve never won.
Of the Big Four, Joey Belladonna is the best singer, Charlie Benante the best drummer (Slayer fans: “Dave Lombardo grumble, grumble”), and Scott Ian can hold his own against James Hetfield’s rhythm guitar. During the 1980s, I saw Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax live, and I could not choose a favorite. Anthrax is easily the most fun and funny.
So what happened?
According the band themselves, State of Euphoria happened.
“I was sure it was only a matter of time until people started realizing how shitty State of Euphoria was,” Scott Ian wrote in his 2014 autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax.
In a Billboard interview promoting the newly released, newly remastered two-disc 30th anniversary reissue, Charlie Benante offers a more generous explanation: “the band felt that [the album] was not finished. We could have used a little more time with it.” And considering the other albums released in 1988—Metallica’s …And Justice for All, Megadeth’s So Far, So Good… So What!, as well as, say, Living Colour’s Vivid, Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking, and Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime—maybe the competition was too thick, State of Euphoria too frivolous in comparison.
Yet listing to State of Euphoria now, after a decades-long distance, by God, it’s excellent, in many ways, far better than the ellipses-riddled albums by the two Big M’s. Now, free from competition and context, despite Ian’s lament, on State of Euphoria Anthrax sounds like a band having a great time. It’s a rootsier, looser thrash, indebted at least as much to New York’s hardcore and crossover scene (Ian and Benante, along with former bassist Dan Lilker, moonlighted in Stormtroopers of Death) than the more histrionic and arguably duller metal of …And Justice for All or So Far, So Good… So What! If State of Euphoria feels a little slacker and, well, shittier than Among the Living, in the larger retrospective of the band’s career, the album feels less like a misstep and more like a breather. Feeling unfinished, even rushed, may have been more of an advantage than Ian or Benante could have understood at the time.
In the ensuing 30 years, then, most of the songs, especially “Be All, End All” and “Finale”, still stand up and out. And while in its own time, “Antisocial” had fans (and Scott Ian!) worried that the best song on the album was—gasp—a cover, it’s worth listing to the original by French band Trust. Anthrax’s rendition is less a cover than a makeover, a transformation, mining the metal ore concealed in the original. And although Mort Drucker’s Mad Magazine-style cover might suggest more goofy humor along the lines of “I’m the Man”, the album does a fine job of balancing its comedy with darkness (not unlike, I guess, Mad Magazine itself), especially on songs that don’t get much attention anymore, like the weirdly catchy “Make Me Laugh”, the impossible drumming and progressive guitar solo on “Schism”, or the strange way in which “Now It’s Dark” and “Misery Loves Company” now seem like the most quintessential, the most Anthrax-y, of Anthrax songs.
In the end, thanks to the reissue, Anthrax finally got to have more time with the album they felt pressure to finish too soon. Is it a coincidence that their next album would cover (and paraphrase its title from) Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time”? But in the end, I’m not sure whether it’s the reissue itself—which also contains the requisite demos and extras and notes and CD candy that will satisfy fans—as much as the reexamination of the album that the reissue occasions.
With State of Euphoria, Anthrax tempered some of the excessive ’80s metal tendencies of their vocal, lead guitar, and song arrangements, reaching back toward something more viscerally punk as the ’80s ended. And so when the ’90s hit, and so many ’80s metal bands were pushed aside exactly for something more viscerally punk—you may have heard of it? “Grunge”?—Anthrax were well poised to craft their next album, the better-received Persistence of Time, in 1990. That album is more serious, and Jackson cover aside, far less fun, which I suppose fit the mood of the era.
But if we’re going the nostalgia route, I’ll take State of Euphoria. May all rock and metal albums remain a little rushed, a little unfinished. May the best bands never receive a fucking Grammy. “Who Cares Wins”, ostensibly about a homeless man, was also, always, about the band, too: “I can’t see you / I can’t hear you / You don’t see me.”
We can. We care. As the song implores, we’ve opened our eyes.