Guitarists Scott Ian and Dan Lilker formed the band in 1981 and after various teething problems and line-up shifts the original settled version began to make inroads on the New York club scene. After releasing Soldiers of Metal, produced by Ross the Boss of Dictators/Manowar fame, Anthrax threw down the gauntlet with Fistful of Metal (1984). We pick that steel glove up for Spreading the Disease (1985), 43 minutes of insanely enjoyable thrash. By now Belladonna is on the mic and Dan Spitz and Scott Ian are driving the hooks over the rock solid rhythm section comprising Frank Bello and Charlie Benante. Stand-out cuts include the controversial “Madhouse” and signature anthems “Armed and Dangerous” and Gung-Ho”. Arguably, Among the Living is even more accomplished. It’s certainly their breakthrough disc. As if “Indians” and “Caught in a Mosh” weren’t reason enough to dive in there is also a Deluxe Edition featuring alternate takes and mind-blowing live set recorded in London in 1987.
State of Euphoria will now align them with the thinking metal brigade as they take inspiration from novelist Stephen King and director David Lynch. Fan faves “Antisocial” (a Trust cover) and the insanely hard core “Who Cares Wins” make this a necessity.
Belladonna’s last album in a while will be Persistence of Time (1990), a darker more progressive proposition that eschews the comic book wit of earlier discs but takes the listener into an atmospheric world that turns a mirror upon the taboo side of urban collapse. “In My World”, “Belly of the Beast” and “Discharge” are mighty and monolithic and tours during this time find the band operating at their maximum with former Blue Oyster Cult men Rick Downey and George Geranios doing the light and sound honours.
They return to the fold in 2003 delivering the almighty We’ve Come For You All, a supersized slab of pristine rock noise and a notable shift in emphasis elsewhere towards groove and the radio friendly arena. Traditional and modern by turn, it was clear to those with ears that thrash was never a cul-de-sac for these guys although they hardly soften up during “Black Dahlia” and “What Doesn’t Die.” The emergence of Rob Caggiano on lead guitar and the departure of vocalist John Bush don’t take the boys off track. This is completely recommended for rediscovery. Seven years on they reconvene to unleash Worship Music and sound as good as ever.
We also have a selection of dynamite live recordings: The Island Years, Music of Mass Destruction, Alive 2: The Music and the London-bound Caught in a Mosh: BBC Live in Concert that also captures them in their metal pomp at Donington’s Monsters of Rock festival, 1987 twenty years before its eventual release. It’s one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises in their fine catalogue. They also feature next to Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth on The Big Four: Live from Sofia, Bulgaria.
The Anthrax compilations are all excellent value and are well thought out. Attack of the Killer B’s (1991) collates their previously unreleased B-sides. Madhouse: The Very Best of Anthrax is over an hour of the good stuff while Classic Anthrax: Universal Masters Collection and the greatest hits styled The Collection (both 2002) are extremely handy primers to lure newer listeners in. Also, don’t forget the remix album, The Greater of Two Evils (2004) where they return to New York and record live versions of their old-school tracks as chosen by die-hard fanatics.
Bringing us up to date is Anthrology: No Hit Wonders (1985-1991) where all the songs are remastered to provide hours of enjoyment, including the uncensored rap metal blueprint “I’m The Man” and their downright peculiar reconstruction of Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time”. The cover art is a parody of The Beatles’ own Anthology and is another reminder that Anthrax have managed to exist within their own sphere while having the integrity and nous to reference the old masters.
Great news at time of writing is the promise of a new 2015-birthed Anthrax disc. According to Scott Ian when asked about the style of the new material, Scott jokingly replied, "Anthrax. I don't need to tell anyone what style is it. It sounds like Anthrax."
Further focusing on the group's work ethic, Ian added, "We always go in with the same attitude when we're writing songs or recording or touring. Nothing's changed; the way we work is exactly the same as it was in 1983. We just try and do the best we can. It's been the same attitude since day one."
One of the most credible metal acts ever and undisputed kings of thrash – that’s Anthrax. It’s catching, but in a good way. Worship them, worship music.
Words: Max Bell
Anthrax's lineup had not yet solidified when they recorded their debut album, and neither had their style. Fans of the group's peak-period material are likely to find Fistful of Metal off-putting, as the band sounds more like a Judas Priest knockoff with rather silly, stereotypical heavy metal lyrics than the thrash innovators they would become. Bassist Dan Lilker, who subsequently left to form Nuclear Assault, is present for this album, while vocalist Joey Belladonna is not.
Words: Steve Huey
Anthrax's first album with vocalist Joey Belladonna is a huge leap forward, featuring strongly rhythmic, pounding riffs and vocals that alternate between hardcore-type shouting and surprising amounts of melody. Two tracks left over from the Dan Lilker days are here as well. The traditional metal lyrical fare is more original, while also introducing a penchant for paying tribute to favorite fictional characters and pop culture artifacts ("Lone Justice" and "Medusa" are prime examples). One of Anthrax's best efforts.
Words: Steve Huey
Generally considered the band's best album, Among the Living broadened the scope of Anthrax's subject matter with socially conscious lyrics addressing prejudice, violence, drug abuse ("Efilnikufesin [N.F.L.]," a rip on John Belushi), and the hollowness of the music business, as well as a politically correct ode to the "Indians." However, the band refuses to take itself too seriously, also recording tributes to Stephen King and Judge Dredd. Musically, the band delivers a powerful, aggressive roar driven by impossibly fast riffing and the changing tempos and collectively shouted vocals of hardcore, especially on the classic "Caught in a Mosh." The brutal rhythm guitar work of Scott Ian and the explosive drumming of Charlie Benante relentlessly push the songs along while still maintaining a solid groove, and more than make up for some lyrical awkwardness. Among the Living remains arguably Anthrax's foremost achievement.
Words: Steve Huey
The proper follow-up to Among the Living was somewhat disappointing in its inconsistency. While there are some good moments -- "Be All, End All" is one of the band's most melodic moments, and several other tracks catch fire -- the best thing here is a cover of Trust's "Antisocial," and it doesn't bode well when covers outshine original material. The lyrics continue the self-consciously intellectual, PC approach begun on Among the Living, but about half of the album is surprisingly dull.
Words: Steve Huey
Persistence of Time rivals Among the Living as Anthrax's best album and might even be a clear-cut favorite if some of the songs had been trimmed a bit. The more cartoonish side of the band is missing here, trimmed in favor of a dark, uncompromising examination of society's dirty underbelly -- nearly every song rails against hatred and prejudice, but without an excess of optimism. The standout track is, once again, a cover -- Joe Jackson's "Got the Time" -- but the rest of the album is strong enough to hold its own. This is the album for those who want Anthrax's serious side without any of the pop culture references and tributes; others might miss those elements, particularly since there has always been a sort of clumsiness to some of the more intellectual lyrics. However, Persistence of Time is their most lyrically consistent album, and the music simply rages.
Words: Steve Huey
Anthrax continued their downward spiral with Stomp 442, a generic collection of speed metal bombast. Previously, the band had been able to save their weakest material by the sheer force of their personality, but by the time they recorded Stomp 442, they had lost a number of their key members. Instead of recharging the band, the new members make Anthrax seem somewhat unsure of where to go next -- they pull out their old bag of tricks, but none of their blistering riffs, thundering drums, or hip-hop experiments carry any excitement any more. A handful of tracks suggest that the band could save itself, but Stomp 442 is a disheartening experience for the band's dedicated followers.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Anthrax fans have had no choice but to be very patient waiting for the arrival of the group's tenth studio album overall, 2011's Worship Music. Doubling as the first Anthrax studio album since 2003's We've Come for You All and the first with singer Joey Belladonna since 1990's Persistence of Time, Worship Music was also recorded once before with singer Dan Nelson, and was to be released in 2009. After the group parted ways with Nelson shortly before the album's projected release, Belladonna was welcomed back into the fold, and all the vocals were re-recorded. But to Anthrax's credit, it all fits together seamlessly, resulting in arguably their finest studio album since, well, the last one that Belladonna sang on! With vintage '80s metal sounds reconnecting with the masses in the early 21st century, one of thrash metal's originators picked a fine time to unleash a strong and inspired effort, especially on such standout stompers as "The Devil You Know," "Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't," and "In the End." And while the subject of "Judas Priest" is not the heavy metal band of the same name, the track still serves as a tip of the cap to one of heavy metal's all-time greats (and what makes the tribute even more fitting is that the year that Worship Music was released, Halford and company announced their impending retirement from touring). As with past Anthrax records, it's not all about pushing the pedal to the metal from start to finish, as evidenced by the slowly building beginnings of "I'm Alive" and "Crawl." Despite the long Boston/Def Leppard-esque layoff, Anthrax certainly deliver with Worship Music.
Words: Greg Prato
This 70-minute concert recording from October 1991, issued after Anthrax had switched record labels, provides a good overview of the band's first seven years, including songs from the albums Spreading the Disease, Among the Living, State of Euphoria, Persistence of Time, and Attack of the Killer B's. Public Enemy joins them for "Bring the Noise," and there are two tracks, the otherwise unavailable "Metal Thrashing Mad" and "In My World," recorded live in the studio in January 1992.
Words: William Ruhlmann
Looking back through the pages of '80s metal mags at photographs of Scott Ian wearing Bermuda jams with "Not" shaved into his chest hair (Hit Parader or Metal Circus, anyone?), it's easy to forget that, on-stage, Anthrax were a serious force to be reckoned with. Caught in a Mosh: BBC Live in Concert relives the experience of hearing the thrash megaliths perform in their heyday with two shows from 1987, just on the heels of their first gold record, Among the Living. Here in their classic lineup, singer Joey Belladonna, lead guitarist Dan Spitz, bassist Frank Bello, drummer Charlie Benante, and rhythm guitarist Scott Ian furiously pound through two sets: one from a sold-out Hammersmith Odeon show and the other from Castle Donington's massive Monsters of Rock festival. Both performances are equally great; totally inspired and brutal. Belladonna's Bruce Dickinson-like caterwauling is in top form on the ripping "I Am the Law," "Madhouse," and "Caught in a Mosh" as Benante's rapid-fire double kick drum flutters in time with Bello's heated bass and the distorted twin riffage of Ian and Spitz -- to get the English crowd worked into a frenzy. It's completely plausible that these shows invented moshing.
Words: Jason Lymangrover
Not just for devoted fans, this collection of B-sides, covers, rarities, and obscurities actually presents a surprisingly solid overview of the range and diversity of Anthrax's material in an engaging, entertaining manner. Listeners wanting to hear more of the band's sense of humor will be pleased with the bizarre "Milk (Ode to Billy)" (one of two S.O.D. songs redone here), the hilarious power ballad satire "N.F.B.," and the anti-censorship tune "Startin' Up a Posse," which uses rather predictable tactics to make its point but has such a gleeful, idiotic bounce that it's difficult not to be amused anyway. Two live songs from Persistence of Time are included, capturing the band's serious side, and their various influences are documented through covers of Trust, Discharge, Kiss, and even surf rockers the Chantays. But the most important item here is the slamming (and highly influential) duet with Public Enemy on that group's classic "Bring the Noise," which paved the way for a host of other bands to mix the aggression and intensity of heavy metal with hip-hop.
Words: Steve Huey