Anthrax’s last album, Worship Music, was a bit of a corker. It couldn’t fail, of course, coming in as it did on the back of the return to the fold of ‘classic period’ vocalist Joey Belladonna, but the fact that it stood on its own two feet fairly and squarely in a musical sense meant that the whole project was an unqualified success. Anthrax don’t have that upsurge of goodwill following them on new album For All Kings, and there’s been a five year break in between the two records as well, an absolute aeon in today’s fast-paced entertainment world; has that time been kind to Anthrax?
On the whole, yes. FAK isn’t as consistently good as its predecessor, but it certainly has its moments. And in new guitarist Jonathan Donais the band at last seem to have found a full time guitarist who can give a bit of melodic heft to their always chunky, sometimes overpowering riff assault.
You Gotta Believe makes for a bright enough start, the chugging guitasrs backing Belladonna’s slightly gruffer than normal vocal to a tee. The track combines the perkiness of Among the Living with some of those darker, more depressive tones that crept in on Persistance of Time, the whole being a satisfying slab of classic-sounding thrash metal. Monster at the End isn’t as successful, sounding to these ears at least a bit fillerish; Hardcore fans will probably end up skipping this track and moving on to the more fulfilling title track, which opens with a nice a capella from Belladonna before setting off back into that tried n’ tested Among… syncopated stomp. One of the things you’ll have noticed by now is how comfortable Belladonna is on this record, singing a whole bunch of songs written with his voice in mind. He grabs every song by the scruff of the neck and rings out probably his best personal performance since Spreading the Disease, and it’s good to hear. Especially as that record is now thirty years old.
Breathing Lightning is one of the album’s two big highlights, as Anthrax unfurl that fortunate talent they have for bolting hummable choruses onto wrought iron slabs of unforgiving riffage; It doesn’t quite hit the spot like Fight ‘em Til You Can’t did on Worship… but if radio still worked like it used to in this band’s late eighties heyday this would be a sure-fire rock radio classic in the making. And that gorgeous piece of harmony guitar at the end from Donais (who slips in a splendid solo in the middle of the song too) and stalwart riffer Scott Ian is an absolute joy to behold. This is what we want!
Next track Suzerain doesn’t work as well, though it doesn’t exactly let the side down, with Frank Bello adding some nice, bubbling bass to the mix underneath Belladonna; But overall the track doesn’t quite offer the sustained melodic attack of FAK’s best moments. That said the skittering mid section, where the band (completed, like you didn’t know, by Charlie Benante on drums) lock together whilst Donais produces another spiralling solo, is rather good.
In fact Donais, is probably MVP on For All Kings; His style of fluid, melodic soloing is exactly what Anthrax need in 2016 and, like Belladonna, the man takes every opportunity to shine whenever afforded the chance.
Evil Twin is much more like it if it’s old school Anthrax you’re after, but the overlong Blood Eagle Wings doesn’t work nearly as well. There are good elements to the track, particularly the clever vocal work before the solo and, again, Donais’ superb solo playing, so maybe it’s nothing a bit of editing wouldn’t have rectified. As it stands, the track just stops a little bit of forward movement that had been built up.
The slightly sour taste left by Blood Eagle Wings is rendered unimportant however, by the utterly rampant Defend Avenge; this is absolutely the prime mid-paced crunch of the sort this band cornered the market in in the mid eighties, and it’s an absolute stormer of a track. Every member of the band stars here, and if you are of the sort of age that means you were around the fist time the band was writing songs like this you won’t fail to crack a huge, shit-and-everything-else eating grin every time you hear it. All of Them Thieves opens with a superb, grinding riff, accompanied by the sort of off-kilter melody favoured by Belladonna sometimes. It’s the sort of noise that leads you to believe he’s falling off the melody a bit, but he always steps back from the abyss and hits that resolving note on the head to confound any doubters that might still be listening to the record.
Indeed if there are any doubters left at this point in proceedings then surely penultimate track This Battle Chose Us will have them eating their words voraciously. The second of this album’s big highlights, TBCU is quite frankly the best thing I’ve heard from Anthrax since, ooh, there on-point cover of Joe Jackson’s Got the Time in 1990. Put simply, this is the type of song that put Anthrax where they are now, and with bloody good reason. Sparkling riffage, rock solid rhythmic propulsion and a chorus most bands could only dream about, it’s the sound of a band remembering where they hid the golden ticket, and it’s glorious.
Closing track Zero Tolerance is good, but not great, though it might suffer unduly from following something as glorious as This Battle Chose Us; It’s by no way a duffer in any one’s book and still rounds out the album leaving the listener wanting more.
So there you have it. That’s three quarters of the big four returning to form in the course of the last year – what price Metallica returning to the glory days of Ride the Lightning with their next release?
For All Kings is out on February 26th on Nuclear Blast