First things first, if you are a farmer and are looking for disease control tips, look elsewhere. Wrong site. Not your fault of course. Naming a band after something that is more harmful to dumb animals than the X-Factor audition process is always going to lead to confusion.
Exciting news for Anthrax fans in the last week or so: work has begun on a new album. Guitarist Scott Ian tweeted last week: “Today Charlie Benante and Frank Bello are coming over to start writing for the next record. The few skeletons that are rattling around sound vicious!”
In the meantime, there’s something of an anniversary going on. A minor one anyway…
Whilst the 25th anniversary of the release of Anthrax’s fourth best album (“State of Euphoria”) may not be a milestone up there with the Queen’s 60th Jubilee or even, frankly, my wedding anniversary, it seems as good a time as any to talk about a band as influential as any in the eighties, yet are relatively unsung. It’s also a good reason to dig out my 25 year old photos of the band, which no one else has seen before, except perhaps my mum – and to be honest she feigned an interest to be polite, but I could tell she wasn’t the biggest Anthrax fan. The photos were taken at Anthrax’s headline show at Hammersmith Odeon on 14th March 1989. I was right in the middle, aisle seat, third row back.
Here’s ten reasons why you should care about Anthrax:
- Anthrax are one of the “Big Four” thrash metal bands that defined the genre in the mid eighties. The others are Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth.
- The genre combines influences from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (Iron Maiden, Diamond Head) with hardcore and punk, and typically features a double kick-bass drum sound originally pioneered by Motörhead on the song “Overkill”.
- It was Anthrax’s song, “Metal Thrashing Mad” that was an early reference for the term “Thrash Metal” way back in 1984.
- Whilst much thrash metal grew from the West Coast of the USA, Anthrax are East Coast New Yorkers, and were strongly influenced by the CBGB underground hardcore and punk scenes. This punk influence perhaps explains the high tempo of so many of their songs.
- Anthrax broke down fashion barriers within the traditional denim-clad metal fraternity. They made it okay to wear stuff other than denim and leather at metal gigs. Honestly, that was a revolution. I’m not saying they had the smartest long term solution (they dressed in huge Bermuda shorts and similar surf gear) but it was interesting that at the Hammersmith Odeon show I went to a significant proportion of the crowd also wore shorts rather than jeans. The only previous occasion I had heard of a non-jeans wearing audience member at a rock gig was two years before when a stray dog somehow managed to get onto the site at Donington.
- Anthrax were pioneers of the combination of hip hop and metal. They recorded “I’m The Man” – a rap/metal song on a b-side in 1987 and covered “Bring The Noise”, touring with Public Enemy in 1991. Not segregating themselves from different genres means they laid the ground for the likes of Rage Against The Machine and were an important influence for later Nu-Metal bands including Limp Bizkit, but let’s not hold them wholly responsible for that.
- Anthrax also updated metal’s lyrical themes with cultural references to films (“Efilnikufesin” is about John Belushi), comics (Judge Dredd) and books rather than traditional lyrical heavy metal themes such as a) heavy metal b) how horrid the devil is c) swords, sorcery, dungeons and dragons, d) war and disembowelling people generally e) recipes and flower arranging. And yes, I am checking to see if you’re still concentrating. Okay, so the literary references might not be quite as high-brow as Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, but frankly I’d rather read any Stephen King novel than that dreadful tosh (E. Bronte, not K. Bush) any day of the week (Skeleton In The Closet was based upon King’s book “Apt Pupil”, “Among The Living” is based on “The Stand” and “Misery Loves Company” is about “Misery”).
- Only the second band to use the word “Mosh” in a song. The phrase was still in its infancy when “Caught In A Mosh” was released on the “Among The Living” album in 1987. Members of Anthrax also played on the first record that used the word “Mosh” – a 1985 Stormtroopers of Death album. *
- Anthrax had a social conscience. Their music has dated better than, say their glam metal contemporaries perhaps because they wrote about current affairs such as the plight of Native Americans (“Indians”) and the hypocrisy of money grabbing TV evangelists (“Make Me Laugh”) whilst avoiding the aforementioned other cliched references (death, Satan, sexual positions etc).
- Finally, Anthrax were also one of the few bands of the genre not to take themselves too seriously. Their lyrics are frequently funny, they were terrific fun live onstage (the picture below is a mini-amp they brought onstage to mock the height of their guitarist) and did great covers (“Frigging in the Rigging”, “Got The Time”) and joke rap songs (“I’m The Man”).
Most of all, Anthrax’s “Among The Living” is one of the best half-dozen or so thrash metal albums ever produced. Blistering pace, time changes in abundance, great lyrics, great tunes and always played with a nod and a wink, which is refreshing in the otherwise occasionally gloomy world of thrash metal.
Some more thoughts about Anthrax (and more pictures) in my next post. Try to contain your excitement, won’t you?
Song #236: Anthrax – I’m The Man
* Thanks to 80sMetalman for the Stormtroopers of Death fact (see comments section below)