This is part of an ongoing series discovering and reviewing heavy metal bands in the order in which they appear in The Encyclopedia of Heavy Metal by Daniel Bukszpan. Check out the rest of the series and stay tuned for new reviews each week. Until I finish this book, stay heavy, my friends.
These days, I have limited tolerance for snare-on-the-upbeat thrash metal (but more than I have for straight eighths on the bell of the ride cymbal — Slayer, I’m looking in your direction!), but I do have to respect one of the bands that brought this breakneck style of metal to radio stations and living rooms everywhere.
My first experience with Anthrax was a cassette copy of their collection of covers, cuts, and other oddities, Attack of the Killer B’s (1992). I remember picking it up from the messy floor of my cool uncle’s truck and asking him to pop it in. We jammed out to the band’s biggest rap/metal crossover hit “Bring the Noise” (yeah boi!) before having a good laugh at their power ballad parody, “N.F.B. (Dallabnikufesin),” a sweet rock serenade that ends with the line, “She got hit by a truck (sobbing).”
Fast forward a few years. After seeing Scott Ian’s beard — and, y’know, Scott Ian, too — on some early episodes of Behind the Music and some of Vh1’s infamous countdown shows, I spied cassette copies of both Killer B’s and 1985’s Spreading the Disease at a local thrift shop, which entered my metal lineup somewhere between Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger and Tool’s Undertow.
During the Anthrax letter attacks of 2001 (look them up, kids), I remember frightened news media throwing some pretty wild accusations at the band, pointing to this 1985 album as a possible long-con warning. (The Anthrax-in-the-mail attacks began one week after 9/11, and on that day the news media fingered Megadeth as a possible connection, particularly because of the cover art of their 1986 classic Peace Sells…but Who’s Buying? which depicted a bombed-out United Nations building.) The band quickly released statements condemning the attacks and offering to change their name from Anthrax — a deadly bacterial infection usually contracted from livestock — to something more pleasant, like Basket Full of Puppies. Sadly, the name didn’t stick.
But that shouldn’t take anything away from Spreading the Disease, a seminal release and an enduring favorite. The band showed its range in the ballad-cum-thrash near-hit “Armed and Dangerous” in the spirit of Iron Maiden’s “Remember Tomorrow.”
[Wanna arm your self with your own copy of Spreading the Disease or any other Anthrax offering? Support this project at no extra cost by checking out the selection of ‘Thrax albums on Amazon here.]
Later in the 80s, seemingly influenced both by the progressive metal movement and British punk rock, the band released the high concept (?) Persistence of Time about the mysteries of the universe…and the painful headaches felt the day after a thrash metal show.
Looking to the band’s more recent work — I’m amazed to see how many of my favorite 80s and 90s bands are still active and cranking out heavy tunes — I couldn’t help but notice that “In the End” from the 2011 album Worship Music begins a lot like Faith no More’s “Epic” ends. Proof that the band is reaching for those lofty themes that they first grabbed at with Time?
The bottom line
While exploring Anthrax has been a breath of artistic air after the mainstream schlock of AC/DC, Scott Ian and company are likely already on your radar — even if you only remember them from their brief media infamy during the Basket Full of Puppies phase. My recommendation: grab a collection of their 80s classics, turn an open ear to their newer offerings, and pray against hope that they don’t end up with a reality show.
Wait…they already did? S**t!
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