What better way to be introduced to the first new studio album by Anthrax since 2003 than this bold statement from the track 'Judas Priest'. Yes, Anthrax are back and make no mistake, they're stepping up to the plate and confirming their legendary status as one of the 'Big Four'. 'Worship Music' is a monstrously exciting modern thrash album which effortlessly straddles Anthrax's past, present and, hopefully, future.
What's more, these titans of Metal have brushed over some recent line-up issues and reinstated Joey Belladonna. This, combined with an opening slot on the 'Big Four' tour seems to have inspired the band to hit their richest vein of form in years. The album may not have been planned with Belladonna in mind, but he blows away any doubts over his presence with a committed, confident vocal performance.
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My first taste of this monster was the lead single, 'Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't'. It's a zombie-themed nightmare which surges with energy and sets the tone for what's to come. Luckily, it doesn't overshadow opening track, 'Earth On Hell', which is unmistakably Anthrax, featuring the machine-gun riffs, manic drumming and aggressive vocals we expect. 'The Giant' and 'Crawl' showcase a modern touch on the thrash model, with 'Crawl' especially ripe for rock radio.
It's not all classic thrash, though, and there's a real depth to the album which will definitely please both early Anthrax fans and the John Bush-era devotees. 'I'm Alive', for me the stand-out track on the album, has a bold sweeping landscape with an almost grungy sound and some great lyrics. It's a slow-burner which grows in a similar way to the slower tracks on Priest's 'Nostradamus' such as 'Exiled' or 'Visions'.
'In The End', another gem, starts off slow and heavy and builds into a crescendo of power with a surprisingly radio-friendly chorus. At times it reminds me of 'Only' - one of my all-time favourite Anthrax tracks - as it has a similar repetitive groove. Unlike 'Only', however, this breaks down midway with a change of pace for a rapid-fire mid-section which is irresistible. It's well worth checking out.
No album called 'Worship Music' would be complete without a tribute to the Metal gods, and 'Judas Priest', although lyrically ludicrous, is brilliant fun. Like a serious version of one of Sum 41's parodies, this has the double-kick drums, shredding guitar and cheesy chorus including the awesome lines: 'Unleashed is the beast, the worst of the least/For sheer depraved evil, like some Judas Priest'.
This album definitely has elements of early Anthrax classic 'Spreading The Disease', but it is significantly more grown-up. It's a compromise, because the real dangerous edge has gone - but it's been replaced by super-slick production, classy songwriting, effortless riffs and a diversity which should keep Anthrax riding high in the charts for a while to come. Like Megadeth's 'Endgame', it's a career high point, and superb when you consider that Anthrax haven't released an album in years.
The theme of 'Worship Music', the 'Judas Priest' tribute and the stunning cover artwork really mark this as one of the stand-out efforts by the 'Big Four' in recent years. Having set the standard for 2011, let's see what Megadeth and Metallica (with Lou Reed) can come up with later this year!
Jonathan Churchill. MetalTalk.net
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