Saturday, February 22, 2014
It's A White Thing, You Wouldn't Understand
Three years between studio albums? What'cha been up to, Anthrax?
In July 1991, they release an odds'n'sods record called Attack of the Killer B's. In addition to covers, and live selections, the album featured two rap-rock songs: a remake of "I'm the Man" and a cover of Public Enemy's classic "Bring the Noise" that featured P.E. themselves. Scott Ian had been a fan of the duo since their first album, and was frequently photographed wearing their iconic "black man in the crosshairs" logo shirt. The fans who approached Ian and asked why he listened to "that nigger music" surely shit half their body weight out onto their feet when they heard this monster.
But the collaboration was not that far-fetched. Chuck D was so enamored at the idea of this big-name metal band unabashedly broadcasting the P.E. brand to their disaffected supporters, that he name-dropped the group on "Bring the Noise," which first appeared on their legit-classic second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (the same album that sampled Slayer, you may recall). So it made more sense than a little to have the two acts join forces. Despite the misgivings of narrow-minds (to be found in both fanbases, let's be honest), the song was such a success that they toured together behind it, ending every show with their boundary-busting hook-up.
"Walk This Way" sucks, it has always sucked, and never bring it up around me.
Where does a band go after that? Well, first thing you do is, you fire the singer. Unhappy with Joey Belladonna's personality and what they deemed to be his lightweight performances, Scott Ian and Charlie Benante sought out John Bush, known to fans not only for his tenure in Armored Saint, but also as the guy who turned down Metallica when they approached him in the early 80s about handling vocal duties. Eager to beef up their sound even more, the band hired producer Dave Jerden, known for his work with Alice In Chains and Jane's Addiction. Rap songs? New guy? Grunge?
The overall sound was affected for both the sake of their new singer and for the new musical landscape. Grunge was still going strong, power was preferred over precision, and Anthrax made the decision to sweeten a simmering pot.
"Potter's Field"--Well, I liked this 'un right off the bat, before I heard note one.
There are common graves all across this great land, but perhaps the most notorious is on New York's Hart Island, which stretches for 101 acres. Nearly a million bodies are buried there, a full third of them infants. The others are poor unfortunate shells whose loved ones couldn't pay for a proper burial--and those who had no loved ones to even be bothered with such things.
The track is suitably heavy for the subject matter, but not particularly engaging until Dan Spitz pulls off one of his more dynamic turns on lead guitar, followed by the main riff crushing back into the picture. It's the very same part I haven't been shaken by the whole damn song but somehow, just being prefaced by a scorcher solo and turbulent drum fills suddenly makes it demi-godly.
"Only"--The first single was also the first song they wrote with John Bush. His raspy gifts are on full display here, blending superbly with the low-key dissonance of the music. When it comes to songs bemoaning the flightiness of broads, I'll take "Only" over "Finale" on any day, any calendar, any culture.*
"Room For One More"--Bush has this, um, cute vocal quirk where he sometimes adds a quick "yuh" sound (short for "yeah") at the beginning of a word. Hence, there is "Y'always room for one more."
Anthrax are not going for "noise" in the sense that the Incapacitants are. "White noise" can be a disorienting sound, but that's not applicable here either. (It can also be used as a sleep aid, which the band would not explore until their next several albums.) This stuff is just metal music. No longer thrash, but nothing short of heavy regardless. With prolonged exposure, so-called "noise" becomes part of the everyday soundtrack.
Oh blah blah, is "Room For One More" a good song or not? Are Rice Krispies crunchy even in milk?
"Packaged Rebellion"--I've spied some distaste for this one…too poppy or too grunge-y, depending on the source. I give it credit for having some nice leads--I'm noticing Spitz more on four songs here than I have over the last five albums.
I don't suit up to uncover the facile "you" so persistently addressed. 2014 and I don't' care about much here save for that fan-damn twinner starting up at 4:45. Something about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I just can never resist…ate 'em every day in the nuthouse.
"Hy Pro Glo"--Seems like we got us a pulse-pounding game of hopscotch here! Jumping down on glass shards and gravel has Johnny doing some weird Axl-esque utterances….thankfully the insanity is brief.
Never tell a woman she has a "hy pro glo." It will never go well. If she knows what you mean, you'll get smacked up. If she doesn't know what you mean, and therefore doesn't react, your joke is ruined. If she doesn't know what you mean, and decides to act all flattered and shit, congratulations you just made a dumb girl feel good about being dumb and you have your little laugh at her expense.
Oh no, the madness is back! The "I"s, they without fail make me swat at the invisible mosquitoes flitting around my fat head.
"Invisible"--The angriest moments of the album are here. One man's vigorously tested faith results in bitter recriminations and sour dispositions. Trying to find God with a phase shifter? John really is inspiring you guys to new levels of confidence and power!
"1000 Points of Hate"--Good to stomp and scream along to whenever your mind is awash in thoughts of that special someone. Also, nice Living Colour reference.
"Black Lodge"--I wouldn't expect a gorgeous rumination on in-progress, inexorable disintegration from the same dudes who made a "thing" of wearing shorts. But here we are, now as then.
Hand it to the band, or at least Scott and Charlie--they loved the TV show Twin Peaks (at least the first season) and were absolutely nuts over Angelo Badalamenti's soundtrack work. So they write a song, call it "Black Lodge" in honor of their favorite show, and get Angelo himself (along with Vincent Bell) to add synthesizer, orchestration, and tremolo guitar. The result is a spaghetti Western dream state.
Let not the lyrics lead you astray ("My love for you knows no distance"), "Black Lodge" is romantic in the way that a poet at the river's edge, scribbling down his last stanzas, laying the notebook on the grass and then walking into the water is romantic. Or someone coming up to you with a package and announcing "I love you so much I carved your face out of a log I found somewhere." But my heart is almost always set to high receptivity, so I'm invariably sucked into this dark vortex.
"C11 H17 N2 O2 SN2"--Or, "sodium pentathol." Or, "truth serum." Or, "veritaserum." Or, "J.K. Rowling needs to get a fucking diary already."
Spelling out the chemical formula was impressive in those pre-Wikipedia days, y'all, they had to consult a book!
Another explicit condemnation of religious fervor, only this time tackling the minions more so than the Man. The message is rugged, responsible individualism. No tolerance for sluggards and slaggers.
I have never hated a song title more And I never hated it till I had to write, then type it out. Luckily this is Class-A from toes to nose. Who doesn't enjoy telling some self-righteous know-nothing where to stick it? Most people are like Slinkys, really--they don't do a damn thing, but they always make you smile when you push them down the stairs.
"Burst"--The cartoon-y xylophone chimes give way to some punks writing a book called "102 Things To Do With Rusted Chrome." I can't imagine Joey Belladonna over music like this without envisioning Steve Perry emoting on a dock.
Took years for me to catch the crack-addled earthworm cries during the "contradiction" sections.
"This Is Not An Exit"--The good news is, Anthrax are still reading fiction! The gooder news is, they've moved beyond Stephen King! American Psycho doesn't count nihilistic German nuns among its cast of characters, but hey, a quality read is a joy forever.
John nails the ramblings of a maniac with great confidence and clarity. Chilling in some parts, believable all around. (Again, entrust this to Belladonna and we're left with a guy waiting for Sherry to come back.) The main riff, wooo. "Chopsticks" frozen in carbonite. I feel like I rode a bike on the highway and lived to tell.
With the seeds sown for mainstream success, what did Anthrax actually reap? A gold record. Hmm. But they also made a good record, a damn good record. They tweaked their fundamental sound without becoming another, shittier band entirely. No mean feat, that. What's probably more jarring, to me anyway, is the slight but significant lyrical shift. Whereas in the past Anthrax pounded on about the importance of caring for your fellow man, Sound of White Noise stops just short of saying "Guess what, fuck all y'all. Ray Bolger's lookin' out for Ray Bolger." The increasing acrimony is hard to ignore.
*James Hetfield wants to go hunting with this song, he loves it so much. He told the members of Anthrax it was "a perfect song." Which sounds like a great compliment until you find out James Hetfield's favorite songs are. I still hold out hope he just couldn't be bothered to make a real list, turned on a classic rock radio station, and wrote down the first ten songs they played.