, September 26th, 2011 09:29
Worship Music the tenth studio album by New York thrash metal pioneers Anthrax, is the culmination of some of the most turbulent years in the band's career – surely saying something for an outfit who know more than most about intra-band strife. During their late 80s heyday while sparring with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer for thrash metal's top spot, Joey Belladonna's unique, upper-register vocal delivery was – along with a zany comic-book sense of humour – the attribute that clearly separated Anthrax from their peers, while also opening up other cross-over avenues courtesy of a successful collaboration with rappers Public Enemy. Then began slow meltdown...
Belladonna's acrimonious departure and subsequent replacement in 1992 with long-term Armored Saint front-man John Bush took the band into a territory where – while they still made some solid but unspectacular records and retained some but not all of their core audience – they seemed to have also lost that x-factor which made them so unique in their prime. Admittedly, heavy metal as a whole was suffering from its own identity crisis for most of these years, but on balance, Anthrax weren't done any particular favours by ill-timed personnel changes and getting shafted by the occasional record label.
So, with Bush himself replaced by the relatively unknown but vocally gifted Dan Nelson in 2009, Anthrax seemed to be on the way back, with excellent vibes circulating about what would be the first-coming of Worship Music. Suddenly – with the album ready for mixing and with no clear explanation – Nelson is dismissed and replaced by Bush again ( for touring purposes only) until in early 2010 it is announced somewhat bewilderingly that Joey Belladonna would return to work on the Worship Music sessions which we now have in finished form. So, after all this, is it any good? Absolutely. In fact, it may just be Anthrax's most consistent material since Among The Living in 1987.
Immediately noticeable on first full track 'Earth On Hell' is that Belladonna's voice sounds even better than it ever did. While he always did the high notes better than anyone else, time has given him a Dio-esque snarl which adds serious muscle to already beefy, bass-heavy sound. Similarly impressive are all-out thrash-fests 'Fight 'em 'Til You Can't' and 'The Devil You Know' – both of which could be dropped straight onto Anthrax's Greatest Hits, should such a compilation exist. Surprisingly though, for a band founded on speed, it's the slower, moodier tracks where Worship Music best displays its effective tempo palate: the stunning 'I'm Alive' and 'In The End' being particular highlights if you're forced to choose.
The only gripe - and honestly it's a minor one is that at a fleshy 14 tracks in length, Worship Music could easily ditch the two instrumental interludes 'Hymn 1' and 'Hymn 2' without losing any of its considerable impact. In summary then – a surprisingly potent return from one of metal's most important bands.