I must admit, I was a bit worried about reviewing this; I am a fan of Anthrax, but not to the extent of either the editor, Mr Adams, or Mr Stronge, both of whom saw the band on their first visit to England in the early part of the eighties. Neither of them wanted to review XL, as neither wanted to have to declare it a Lemon. Idiots.
Because, although born in trying circumstances, XL has to be one of the best greatest hits/best ofs/live albums ever committed to whatever medium it is you decide to buy it on. And buy it you should, if you’ve any sense. Opening with a newer number, the excellent Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t, the band then launch into twenty minutes of absolutely peerless brilliance, banging out Madhouse, Caught In A Mosh, Metal Thrashing Mad, Got The Time and an off-the-chain I Am The Law with dizzying amounts of pizzazz, not to mention sheer, unadulterated heavy metal thunder. Scott Ian‘s grinding rhythm sound is front and centre, natch, but early on you also realise just what a valuable addition lead player Jonathan Donais has been to this outfit. He’s largely unheralded, as many of the post-Spitz six stringers have been in this band, but his soloing is on point time and time again throughout this recorded, and the spacious, crunchy mix gives you the chance to hear him at his peak throughout.
Old fans may bemoan the lack of tracks from the first album – Panic, especially, say my elders and betters in the Sentinel Daily office – and newer fans might wonder why the best of the Bush years is also missing, but, damn it all, you have to give these guys a pat on the back overall for their tune selection. Keep It In The Family is a grinding, churning behemoth of a song, Frank Bello and Charlie Benante (and my word, in an album full of great performances, Charlie holds his end up behind the kit with a monstrous showing) driving it forward in devastating style, whilst Lone Justice is a surprise early trip back to Armed and Dangerous. At this point I must mention the often unfairly-maligned Joey Belladonna who, exposed vocally by the circumstances of the ‘live in the studio’ format of this release might have had an absolute nightmare – but no. He warbles a little – and let’s face it, anyone singing music of this intensity is allowed a little warble every now and then – but overall he delivers with surprising power and poise.
The new material holds up very well against the classics – and it needs to, when it’s taking the space some might thing should be occupied by Only, or, more importantly, Cupajoe, with The Devil You Know in particular sounding like a comfortable old fave, but you’re probably here for Antisocial, Bring The Noise and Indians, right? And why not? All three are delivered in a style that’ll have you worrying about the safety of your fillings, and here’s good old Chuck D to give a most welcome leg-up to Bring The Noise too! If you’re a longterm fan of the ‘thrax, it really doesn’t get too much better.
Aftershock is frankly staggering, as is Skeletons In The Closet, but I’m going to stop picking highlights now and just tell you to scrape all your available cash together and expedite the purchase of this memorable time capsule as soon as is humanly possible. You won’t regret it. Here’s to the next forty years!
XL is out today.