Sunday, March 8, 2015
Jumped The Shark - Anthrax
Sometimes I feel like the only one who is really unhappy with where Anthrax have gone. I'm used to it - I'm alone on a lot of things, and it's shockingly not to just simply be the guy who goes against the grain with what your opinion is. I'm certain every musical example of this will be brought to light here somewhere down the line, but in the meantime lets stay right here, or better yet let's go back to 1989...
I made a cassette copy of all three versions of 'I'm The Man' from the EP of the same name after hearing it from my brother's room because I liked all the swearing in it (I was in fif grade). Sometime not-so-shortly after that, Megadeth's 'Take No Prisoners' sired me from a giggly little spectator who borrowed his mother's Walkman for the long bus trip to Catholic School to a wickedly curious and budding fan of the genre who was beginning to feel as though he'd found a niche in something that tapped into a part of him that wasn't so giggly. Naturally, from my previous brief exposure and access to my older, more jaded and mad-at-the-world brother's (man I miss that guy - no, he's not dead - he just smoked so much weed in College that it permanently morphed his temperament from the pissed off psychofuck Buzz Osborne-looking bad guy in the original Mad Max to Jeffrey Lebowski on a Quaalude drip) thrash-heavy cassette collection, I gravitated towards Anthrax's Persistence Of Time.
POT was an amazing record, and to be fair, still is an amazing record all things considered I guess. That led to the back catalogue, and I indulged in all of it (except for Fistful of Metal and Armed and Dangerous - just never did anything for me)... Spreading The Disease, State Of Euphoria, Attack Of The Killer B's had just been released, Among The Living - which rivaled the amazingositousnessessess of the aforementioned POT. My brother, reveling in a new found kinship with his previously fucking pest of a brother saw the flower opening and stuffed it with a whole bunch of other goodies, including S.O.D.'s Speak English or Die, which he thought I'd enjoy seeing as he was always having to remove his Anthrax albums from my deck when he wanted them. I was a fan of the band.
I still have a very vivid memory of a phone call that took place between my then-friend-now-brother-in-law Jeff, that took place on May 25th 1993. It was the day Sound Of White Noise came out - Anthrax's first album with a new singer. The new single 'Only' had been out for a few weeks and was pretty fuckin' good, but we were all a bit apprehensive about the final product and what to expect. This new Anthrax certainly didn't sound like old Anthrax. Neither of us had the album yet, we were waiting for our Moms or siblings to free up to drive us to Sam Goody to buy it, but it was a deep conversation between two fourteen year olds about the unavoidable miasma of doubt and disappointment that lay dormant in our senses of uncertainty that ebullient spring afternoon - "what do you think it's gonna be like?" "I don't fuckin' know, man".
Well without getting too much into it let me just say that it was really good. Yeah, they changed - and looking back they changed with the times. What do we call that when you change your sound to stay relevant? Selling out? I didn't see it that way then - probably because my tastes had already changed to the stuff that was relevant. Pantera, Prong, Biohazard, Fear Factory - I was soaking in the groove-laden heaviness of 90's metal, and Anthrax was too - and it worked. The new sound was so much less monochromatic than anything they'd previously done. Actual emotions were actually being conveyed! There were more dynamic to the songs during the years that Bush fronted them as a band, songs like 'Catharsis', 'Black Lodge', 'Burst', etc wouldn't have had the power, emotion, and inspiration in their beings had the formula remained what it was prior to 1993... Before Sound Of White Noise anything that was released outside of it's one-toned thrash element was a B-side or just something completely silly - and it was never anything that Belladonna sang on: 'Startin' Up A Posse'? 'Bring The Noise'? (Dallabnukifesin is an exception) Even as far back as 'I'm The Man'. Belladonna is a singer, not a vocalist. When did he ever sound like he was even remotely desperate or pissed off? And isn't that what heavy music is really all about? I don't know - I guess it really is all subjective, my argument wouldn't hold water in a sewing circle with hardcore Belladonna advocates... For me personally, there was no going back after Bush - because I just kept imagining what those songs would have sounded like with his little bit of rasp and lack of range (which he more than made up for with a certain amount of realism behind his vocals) - a little grittier, a little more emotional, better (and which I got in 2004 with the live studio re-recording of the 'classics' in The Greater of Two Evils). Somewhere along the second half of the band's existence I just came to realize that stylistically in the genre Belladonna was a fossil, whose delivery just seemed too caked in the over-the-top bullshit cock rock singing of some of the 80's more popular 'Heavy Metal' bands.
Granted, my tastes were getting heavier... And by the time Volume 8: The Threat Is Real (1998) had come out Anthrax wasn't a go to group to get my hair standing on edge and my vessels dilated. Instead they'd become a really fun hard rock band that was consistently making enjoyable records start to finish. I started to realize I was almost never going back to visit those older albums, because they didn't have a place for me any longer. If I wanted speed, groove, thrash and moshable rhythms I had a shitload of other bands that were doing it better as a whole package than what Anthrax had done back then. To feel all those aforementioned qualities come rolling at you like a stomping boot, that introduction and build up, letting the catharsis swarm onto your conscious like flies on shit in a mass grave - and then Injun Joe comes bouncing in with his fuckin' hair and his falsettos "Paranoia time!", bleeargh.
Sometime after 2004 Bush decided that he didn't want to tour anymore, he had a kid at home whom he just wasn't seeing grow up and felt as though he wanted to take a break from music. Anthrax moved on. They hired Dan Nelson, from a band called Devilsize as the new lead vocalist. Years went by and eventually new songs began to make their way onto social media in live form. I gotta tell you, I wasn't missing Bush one iota when I heard 'em. This guy even felt like a step up! But it didn't work out, in less than a year Nelson was already out of the band, reasons unknown (and it sounds like a settlement out of court will make it reasons unknown forever). Anthrax went back to Bush who had a new found fire lit under his ass and played a few shows that the band had committed to, he was ready to come back full time from my understanding but wasn't ready to just sing over the songs that were already written with Nelson in mind, which is what the band wanted him to do. So Bush flew the coup again...Anthrax called up Joey Belladonna, who had been sitting at home the last 26 years curling his hair in anticipation of this moment....
This is where I stopped listening and paying attention. The record hadn't even come out yet and I could give a shit. It had been snowballing for some time unfortunately - especially considering that the group had released a ridiculously underwhelming four studio albums of new material in 21 years. Even if I had been on the fence about whether or not I was still interested in Anthrax, this little ditty from an interview with Scott Ian circa 2010 pushed me to the other side:
"I don't think people should worry so much about what's going on in the band. I understand being a fan and I understand loving a band and being dedicated to a band, 'cause I'm a huge fan of many bands. But I don't have any control over whether or not FAITH NO MORE's gonna make a new record. I want FAITH NO MORE to make a new record, but I can't control that, [so] I don't worry about it. There's bigger things to worry about in life. So if you're a fan of the band and you like what we do, just have faith that eventually we're gonna make a record and it's gonna be a great record. I don't think we've ever let anyone down in the last 26 years of making records and touring. Yes, I understand it's taken us a while to get to a new album, because we've been through some crazy circumstances, but that's just the set of circumstances we're in, and there's no reason for us to rush anything. That would be the biggest mistake, 'cause if we rush something now, then we risk putting something bad, and then the fans would really be upset."
I don't know, I just kind of felt like he was telling all the people that put him there to fuck off. I mean, it had been 7 years since the last album; maybe for your fans that's a legitimate gripe Scotty.
Belladonna came back with his stupid fuckin' nightstick microphone and gladly sang over all the songs that became 2011's Worship Music. I can totally understand the excitement here for a lot of folks, I mean I'd say welllll over half of the band's fan base were spawned from the early days when Joey was the front man, so hearing that he's coming back after over two decades and then some was probably a really cool notion for those peeps. At the time, for me however, I felt like the ulterior motives were being ignored. Metal bands from the 80's and 90's had been following this fucking bullshit trend of stopping their forward motion and going backwards. There were so many groups who had begun playing their best - and by that I mean their top selling - albums in full front to back totality as a tour package. There were bands like Slayer, who got their original skinsman Dave Lombardo back into the fold, recruited the guy who did the art for their early albums, and then released a record that tried to look and sound like the shit they put out in 1986 (this was after a tour of playing Reign In Blood in it's totality) because that was the pinnacle of their career and that's what the "fans wanted". It's what your fucking wallet and ego wanted. Remember Metallica going back to their roots for Death Magnetic? Oh you fucking assholes. Megadeth's 'Rust In Peace' tour? Fear Factory making amends with Dino Cazares after they eviscerated each other in the press and getting Demanufacture producer Rhys Fulber back in the fold for 2010's Mechanize? Korn III!? Is that really what the fans want? To watch these bloated, fifty year-old creatively dried up fucks striding purposefully backwards to their glory days to inflate the narcissistic longing to hear those ballrooms chanting their names again before the encore? I guess you gotta put food on the table. Anthrax's reunion with Belladonna felt like a move in that direction to me. And hey, it even got them on that Big Four bill!
And then, all those now forty-something year old patched jacket dudes who set up camp in 1987 with their arms folded and scoffed at anything that pushed outside of the realm of Thrash suddenly felt their dicks move for the first time since 'Unforgiven Too' hit the airwaves. They were all into it again, Anthrax was back and the new album was Amazeballs. But why? Admittedly, I was wrong. Worship Music wasn't the total wanna-be nostalgia trip that I thought it would be, and how could it be? The songs were written with a different vocalist, somebody new who would help the band's sound move even further forward. Musically, Worship Music was what I would expect, and even be impressed with as, the follow up to 2003's We've Come For You All. But as I listened to it every song just got filtered through my brain with the distant sounds of how much cooler each track would be with John Bush singing, or even that peon Dan Nelson. Yet those aforementioned thrash dudes chained to a tree in 1987 who hadn't turned an ear to anything after Attack Of The Killer B's were now singing the praises of Anthrax's latest release, despite the fact that it's still kinda sorta a Bush-era album, just sucked of all it's life by Injun Joe.
It makes perfect sense, as both an artistic move and a business move I suppose. The new guy is out, John Bush is out, why not take advantage of the aforementioned trend and kill a few birds with one stone (though I do recall strong rumors of Slipknot's Corey Taylor being in serious talks with the band as a fill-in before Belladonna got the call). In my naïve and stupid little world, if circumstances had been the same after Nelson's premature exit stage left routine, I would have loved to see Anthrax do something different than reach for the third stringer with dollar signs in their eyes. They've always been good at pulling off really cool shit for the fans (4 albums in 21 years - not one of those things): Dimebag filling in in the studio when Dan Spitz quit, the cool re-recording of the old shit with Bush, the B-sides album before B-sides albums were really a thing, even the 'Ball of Confusion' track with both vocalists singing together. The band had an album done and no vocalist - how cool would it have been to just have a compiled work of their peers stepping up and singing on different tracks. Corey Taylor, Phil Anselmo, Max Cavalera, Tom Araya, Mike Patton, shit even John Bush would contribute for a song in that fashion - the guy's not an asshole, and throw Belladonna a bone too. Yeah, it would be different, and may not sound wholly like an Anthrax record - but what a cool and unprecedented move for an established band like that. Also probably a contractual nightmare with an ocean of red tape to cut through so it would never work, not to mention scheduling conflicts and label drama, but that was a scenario I was childishly clinging to before they dropped the bomb about whathisface coming back. Fuck it why didn't Ian just fuckin' yell the whole album? Schnarf.
I just don't like Joey Belladonna's voice. I could have saved us all a whole bunch of wasted time and just typed that. Am I the only one? Because it certainly feels that way out there in internet land. I only listened to Worship Music maybe twice, minus the un-excusable and horrendous Refused cover they did as a bonus track - I'm fairly certain every time somebody plays that god-awful piece of shit butchering of a song a child's puppy turns inside out and dies slowly somewhere. So maybe I didn't give it a fair chance, but I think my Belladonna days are just over. You know how you just love Chinese food, like it's your favorite food and you always look forward to eating it and then one day you're just done with it - but everyone still thinks you like it so they keep fuckin' ordering it, and then you grow to actively, maybe even passionately dislike it? Belladonna. Nails on a fuckin' chalkboard. Shit, maybe worse than Fred Shneider...You get the point.
I will say this, I'll put my big hobbit foot in my big stupid mouth and say this: I went back as I was writing this and listened to those old Anthrax records with Joey properly for the first time in probably like some 12 years or so. God that songwriting was good, and his voice does offer a very unique take to that kind of thrash music, it's definitely a combination of sounds that is identifiable as it's own thing - and filtering it that way in my brain may offer the ability to rekindle an ember deep in there somewhere, so maybe I owe it to myself to stick my toes back in the pool in an effort to fan the flame. I mean a man can change and then change back in a matter of 12 years - scientists say with the constant shedding and re-growing of cells our body does as an act of homeostasis that technically we are physiologically a completely different person every 7 years. Look it up. So I guess I also owe it to myself to give Worship Music a proper listening to as well I suppose, another chance as I am starting to like Chinese Food again. Respectfully, I should do it before I post this to be fair, ahh fuck it....