It seems strange looking back at the divisions that thrash metal caused in the mid eighties.
For some, the surprise will be that there’s any discernible difference between, say Anthrax, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Megadeth and Scorpions. But for the heavy metal cognoscenti the difference was plain, and it wasn’t just a quibble over who had the biggest moustache or the most lurid spandex jump suit*.
Don’t believe me? Read this:
“The thing is, most Thrash Metal simply cannot be regarded as music – merely the frustration and aggression of low life no-hopers vented through the physical abuse of musical instruments. Sure, some Thrash bands can reproduce more than the sound of a jumbo jet touching down without wheels….But most can’t.”
Not the words of Tipper Gore, but of a well respected (and much missed) Kerrang! journalist, Mark Putterford, in the Kerrang! yearbook 1987. If that’s what the heavy metal writers thought, what chance was there for anyone else?!
By 1986, after years of building a fan base despite no airplay or media coverage (thrash bands initially built a following through underground tape trading), then getting signed to independent and subsequently major labels, all four of the big thrash bands had produced seminal work; Slayer with “Reign In Blood”, Metallica with “Master of Puppets”, Megadeth with “Peace Sells …But Who’s Buying?“, Bros with “When Will I Be Famous?” and Anthrax with “Armed and Dangerous”. Classics all, yet thrash was still just a niche within heavy rock, itself a minority musical interest.
Kerrang! Magazine acknowledged the new sound and featured thrash bands alongside the mildly less thrashy Bon Jovi and Def Leppard, but perhaps not as much as thrash’s supporters would have liked. Metal Forces Magazine had started up to cover the genre more thoroughly and Kerrang! responded with Mega Metal Kerrang!, a quarterly magazine that featured Metallica on the cover in issue #1 and which promised to give greater coverage to thrash. That they needed to do so outside the normal pages of the magazine demonstrated how thrash still divided metal fans.
Thrash metal had its doubters most of all amongst the older crowd who had grown up with Deep Purple, Rainbow and Status Quo. “It’s just playing fast for the sake of it” complained a friend of mine, who lamented the lack of feel in the guitar playing and melody in the tunes. He just didn’t get thrash, and was wary of shelling out £6 on an album he thought he might not like or £8 on a concert ticket for a band he didn’t know.
In the UK it took until 1987 for the tide to turn. That year, Metallica released their $5.98 EP which featured cover versions of old NWOBHM tunes and was a likeable and accessible collection of songs, whilst Anthrax released “Among The Living” and had a Top 40 hit single with Judge Dredd themed song “I Am The Law”. This laid the groundwork for both bands’ appearances at 1987’s Monsters of Rock Festival at Donington supporting Bon Jovi. I was there too, and both bands took their chance to win over the hearts and minds of over 100,000 rock fans. Indeed, it was probably Anthrax who stole the show. Their version of speed metal and humour was perfect for an afternoon crowd. They showed their punk roots covering “God Save The Queen” and then larked about with their hip hop b-side “I’m The Man”. Their brand of thrash wasn’t po-faced and serious – at least not all the time. It was fun.
Anthrax hadn’t toured the UK extensively at that point, with previous tours being plagued with problems. Their first major tour was with Black Sabbath, but Glenn Hughes’s problems caused the tour to cancel after four dates. In 1986, Anthrax rather curiously cancelled a tour after worries about the fall out from the Chernobyl disaster. Later that year, they attempted to tour Europe again with Metallica, but after the bus accident that claimed Cliff Burton’s life the tour was quickly cancelled.
Donington therefore became a huge opportunity for Anthrax, and it was one they absolutely nailed.
The thing that impressed about both Anthrax and Metallica was the lack of pretension. On a day when W.A.S.P. played a typically tasteful set involving a flaming codpiece and a page 3 girl tied to a rack, Dio sang grandly of demons and rainbows and Bon Jovi played a triumphant, but US Stadium Rock-style headline set – joined onstage at the end by Dee Snider, Paul Stanley and Bruce Dickinson – to cap off their most successful year ever, Anthrax’s down-to-Earth attitude was hugely refreshing.
Anthrax’s Charlie Benante, Joey Belladonna, Dan Spitz, Scott “Not” Ian, and Frank Bello et al were like us. They dressed like us. Well, perhaps Anthrax wore more garish shorts than I did. They weren’t like Mötley Crüe, dousing themselves in hairspray whilst talking with their head in the clouds about partying and girls and strippers. They spoke in interviews about the music with genuine enthusiasm. When Crüe spoke you thought music was just something they had to do to meet girls and take drugs.
Both Metallica and Anthrax released albums in 1988 that probably weren’t quite as good as their predecessors, but they sold more and charted higher because both bands – and by implication thrash metal – had finally gained acceptance from metal fans.
Anthrax are set to start working on their next studio album in late 2013. A covers EP “Anthems” was released in March 2013.
* Scorpions in both cases.
Record #237: Anthrax – Efilnikufesin
Categories: Heavy Metal