2011 is truly a historic year for metal veterans Anthrax, who are celebrating 30 years of solid, take-no-prisoners thrash/speed metal. Reunited with vocalist Joey Belladonna – who last recorded with them over two decades ago on Persistence of Time – the band made a momentous return this week to their old stomping grounds in New York City to play at Yankee Stadium along with fellow metal gods Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth (the grand climax of the "Big Four" tour that began last spring), and now they've unleashed their tenth studio album Worship Music, their first new record in over eight years. It seems the stars of the metal cosmos have aligned perfectly for the band... but does that harmonic convergence come across in the new tunes? Read on and find out if this one is truly horns-worthy...
Written over a four-year period, Worship Music went through quite a creative evolution – especially since the return of Belladonna, leading the band to rewrite or completely reject some early material to make a better foundation for Joey's vocal style, even though they'd completed several tracks with former vocalist Dan Nelson. Despite those frequent shifts, I've always figured founder/guitarist Scott Ian and company tend to go for what they know, and for the most part they've stayed true to their balls-to-the-wall approach (apart from that rap-metal phase), which will definitely be a comfort to those of us who loved them back in the day. That said, their 2003 release We've Come For You All, which featured yet another band lineup, was a near-classic and a major success... so the bar was already set pretty high, and fans weren't exactly sure what to expect after the long wait.
Well, you can all rest easy, because listening to Worship Music is like coming home again... and you'll know it within seconds. The eerie intro "Worship" serves as an early warning that you'd better hang onto something quick, because the band is about to ignite a firestorm with "Earth on Hell," the blistering riffs of Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano nailed down solid by dead-tight blastbeats from Charlie Benante and the fluid, gut-shaking bass of Frank Bello, with Belladonna in top vocal form. In these first few minutes, the band finds the right balance between old-school brutality and modern metal production – the best of both worlds. "The Devil You Know," the album's second single, is built on a swaggering rock base, but it's brutal as old times, with masterful riffage and a powerful chorus that should remind any posers exactly how the pros handle this game.
Scott Ian's passion for horror reaches its peak with the first single "Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't," which features a George Romero-inspired intro and launches into an impossibly frantic, apocalyptic tale of battle against undead hordes (making it a perfect tie-in to Ian's appearance as a zombie on a Greg Nicotero-directed Walking Dead webisode). It's not only one of the year's best horror-themed songs, it's one of the most brutal and powerful tracks the band has ever recorded, with all the thrash components tuned to perfection. I'd even stand it up against "I Am the Law" as the band's signature anthem – a testament to thirty years of fighting tooth-and-nail against all odds.
The tone changes a bit with the doomy, mid-tempo vibe of "I'm Alive," which marches forward with pent-up energy before eventually sweeping you away on Caggiano's superb leads. The brief instrumental "Hymn 1" (a little reminiscent of Apocalyptica) gives way to "In the End," which again starts slow but leads to a roof-raising chorus sporting some of the most dramatic guitar & vocal work on the entire album. Joey's voice, which has roughened up a bit since the '80s (bringing him closer in tone to former vocalist John Bush), is at the peak of its melodic power here. "The Giant" is another flashback to the band's classic era, firing off harmonic call-and-response vocals against rusty-hacksaw riffs.
The military march of "Hymn 2" segues into "Judas Priest," which may be only slightly inspired by the band of the same name, but mostly represents a slight detour into prog-metal territory, and "Crawl" is a moody, down-tempo piece which works quite well as a platform for Belladonna's stunning vocals. "The Constant" bears the mark of the band's latter-day material, but it's also one of many great examples of Benante's rhythmic wizardry. "Revolution Screams" is an uplifting shout-it-out-loud anthem that brings the album to a rousing conclusion (unless you count "New Noise," an interesting cover of the Swedish hardcore band Refused, which pops up about five minutes later on the same track).
Not only is Anthrax firing on all thrusters with this release, they somehow found a way to make their '80s sound feel like it's fresh out of the box. Worship Music is not just a feel-good nostalgia project, either... it represents the band at the absolute top of their game. For real, the title says it all: these dudes worship the infinite, timeless power of music, and you can feel that life-long devotion come through in every track on this record. Give this one a spin or two, and I'm positive they'll make a believer out of you.