Friday, March 14, 2014
Welcome Back, Pothead
Worship Music is a return to form after a lengthy streak of deep brown. I could not have predicted such given a thousand guesses. It wasn't just my observance of the trend downward that made me so dubious, but also the rather nasty bout with LSD Anthrax had in the eight years between albums.
In 2004, the guys released the somewhat interesting The Greater of Two Evils, a covers album featuring a fan-selected tracklisting of pre-John Bush songs as sung by Bush. (Not featured in my discography series because there's only so many ways I can express how woefully ill-suited Bush's vocal range was for nearly every one of those tracks without boring even myself.) The next year, a reunion of "classic lineup" was announced, and Bush had to take a break while Anthrax went out on tour with Joey Belladonna. The reception was such that rumors began circulating about the possibility of new material with Joey at the mic, but there was a big difference between getting some nice change to play old stuff for a loyal crowd, and trying out the old formula on new consumers. Especially when old wounds had not truly healed. When the prospect of a 25th anniversary tour featuring both Belladonna and Bush essentially "splitting" vocal duties was shot down, the "Joey Returns!" chapter in the biography was considered finished. So too, it seemed, was the "Big John Stud" chapter, as Bush's wounded pride would not permit him to return to the Anthrax camp.
Enter Dan Nelson. From 2007 to 2009 he performed with Anthrax, and the band was able to write and record a new album, titled Worship Music, tentatively scheduled for a May 2009 release. But then…drama. Did Dan Nelson quit? Was he fired? That one's gonna go down alongside such mysteries as the Black Dahlia murder, except there are actually people who give a fuck about the Black Dahlia murder.
Anthrax promptly cancelled all upcoming gigs, save for one at the UK Sonisphere Festival, when John Bush returned and there was much rejoicing. An online "Bring Back Bush" campaign sprung up, one that found a very important supporter in Scott Ian. But Bush's heart wasn't into returning to the studio just to belt out a bunch of songs he had no hand in creating, nor did he find the prospect of extensive touring as appealing as it may have been in the past.
Enter, one more time, Joey Belladonna.
Anthrax got back in the studio, re-did Worship Music, and there was much rejoicing, yet again.
"Worship Music"--Or at least after the useless sound collage of an introduction was over with.
"Earth On Hell"--Fiercely tethered displeasure will not stay forever. Show the beast fresh meat, release, and once freed the hunger subsumes all other needs.
"The Devil You Know"--Catchy and resolutely non-cornball. You never know how much you miss something until it spits in your face.
Anthrax with John Bush was virtually a different band. One element that went (largely) missing along with Joey was the ability to shine bright lights into dark nooks. I'm talking storytelling. I'm talking choruses with their own effect lines surrounding them. The passion that puts the color in your cheeks instead of draining the color out of them.
"Fight 'Em Til You Can't"--Just like every other great song here, "Fight" is terse, tense and frill-free. Throw in some Scott shouts and you've got tracks that are redolent of Among the Living without bearing any of the dreaded dreary nostalgia. Shit, maybe Anthrax themselves are the zombies.
(None of the tracks from the Dan Nelson version of Worship Music have leaked to the masses, at least not that I could locate, and only a live version of "Fight" exists to give a taste. Just based on this relatively scant evidence, the controversial departure of Nelson from the band was a blessing. Dude sounds like the type of shameless Phil Anselmo wanna-be that Anthrax--of all fucking bands--did not need.)
"I'm Alive"--Joey opens Anthrax up to a new world of possibilities. (What gives you greater chills, a picture of Ted Bundy glaring through his five o'clock shadow or one where he's squeaky-clean and blinding the world with his smile?) His undeniable chops carry "I'm Alive" from an appealing yet common macho anthem to a voracious song for the gods.
Ye who seek the definition of a payoff shall find it here. Follow the gleaming mile-long path to a voluminous building with a nondescript exterior that doesn't fool you in the slightest. You know that place houses something incredible.
"Hymn 1"--"I am pumped right now! Those strings sound all dramatic and demented!"
"Dude, it's like William Shatner giving somebody their last rites!"
"In the End"--No florid elegiac language needed or required. This is as hard as crapping in a shot glass. All good thrash metal hatefully replicates the crushing weight of despair and disbelief that visits upon us all at various points in our journey. "In the End" is real fuckin' good.
"The Giant"--Cincinnati Bowtie to all the doubters! (For the haters? Alaskan Pipeline.) Not the Beowulf-styled epic that I'd initially hoped for--too jerky--and the chorus seems better suited for Bush, but this still gives me warm happies. Y'know, like a chicken pot pie does.
"Hymn 2"--"It's a drum solo?"
"No. It's a drum showcase."
"Judas Priest"--A band goes and names one of their songs "Judas Priest"--they cannot come up lame. Such an outcome is strictly forbidden. You screw it up, well, you're no better than a trash-eating dog molester.
The acolytes in Anthrax eat naught but the choicest slices decorated with the most flavorful toppings, and they would beat you hairless if you dared even sneeze on a puppy. The thrills to be experienced here are plentiful and abrasive. Get that surprised look off your face, it's the tenth song already!
"Crawl"--I am a lover of any tune with a mighty bardic knock.
"The Constant"--The least memorable actual song on Worship Music is still quite good. Inspired by a Lost episode of the same name. I never watched that show, so I don't especially care. Really I'd rather spend five minutes alone with a horny dolphin.
"Revolution Screams"--In this here century, very few real-world events deserve artistic celebration like the 2011 "Lotus Revolution." Unfolding over two weeks throughout Egypt, this massive uprising saw millions of protesters utilizing traditional tactics of righteous truculence against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. These people were enraged. They demanded respect. They wanted to feel as if their voices were strong and significant. Through actions both civil and violent, they got what they wanted. They overthrew the fucking government. I guarantee you not enough of us appreciate that, and I don't just mean my fellow Americans.
Eleven minutes in is a cover of the Refused song "New Noise." Joey's a bit out of his depth, but the message remains--we all need new noise.
Primed for pension collection, Anthrax embraced the past and belly-suplexed it into the present.