Music reviewers have piles of shame too you know.
One of the reasons I decided to take up this gig as one of Australia’s most narrowly read heavy music reviewers was that it gave me an excuse to buy some new CDs.
I don’t get sent a whole stack of free stuff. Well, people have tried but it’s often ended up rotting on my ‘to listen to pile’ so they never sent me anything else. To all you people I say this: don’t hate me, please.
So I tend to end up buying most of my own stuff. And by ‘buy’ I mean buy. You know, order the CDs and wait for them to arrive in the post. Or go to the shop, pick up the album, take it to the cash register and pay for it. I know, it’s bizarre isn’t it? But I like having the original CD, and I like knowing I’m supporting the artist, and downloading torrents makes me feel like a dirty scumbag.
The upshot of all this is that I have a lot of freedom as a reviewer to pick and choose the things I really want to listen to (which is why so many of them end up with good scores). And I don’t get flooded with stuff I have to listen to just to keep the reviews ticking over, but I can take my sweet time to absorb a new album and give you my considered opinion on the album in question.
So when a great album comes along, and I take the time to listen to it, to absorb its subtle nuances, to consider its influences and its historical context and to gently sauté it in my brain’s auditory cortices over a period of weeks or months, but then I don’t actually bother to follow up and review the damned thing, well, that gives me the guilts big time.
And when I purport to run a reputable reviews blog that up until now has previously provided ‘best of’ lists, but then one year I don’t provide one and don’t even give an excuse or any mention of the concept whatsoever, that takes me from just vaguely guilty to a negligent prick.
So it’s time to fess up. To come clean. To lay prostrate at your feet and beg forgiveness. And to present you, my humble reader, with the best album of 2011: Worship Music by Anthrax.
Yep, Anthrax produced the best album of 2011.
Obligatory history lesson: Anthrax brought the d-beats and attitude of New York’s punk rock scene to the self conscious posturing of their West Coast thrash peers. While the others wore leather and spikes, Anthrax wore shorts and skate shoes. They still played awesome heavy metal, but without the bullshit that went along with it, and they were always more inclined to experiment and collaborate outside the confines of their genre. And I think this made some metal heads uncomfortable.
They wore their pop culture influences on their sleeves too. Without Anthrax I would probably never have seen Killer Klowns From Outer Space, and my youth may well have been devoid of Judge Dredd comics, Blue Velvet and Stephen King’s Misery.
The fans dropped off with the departure of Joey Belladonna after the classic Persistence of Time album (and the rise of grunge, blah blah blah), but Anthrax kept producing quality albums with John Bush on vocals. Critics panned them and fans ignored them but all of the John Bush albums are excellent and worth seeking out if you skipped them.
Rob Caggiano has been the lead guitarist since 2001, and he’s great. He’s a producer as well as a player and has an ear for clean, classic metal riffs. You might be more familiar with his recent work with Scott Ian and others in supergroup the Damned Things (who feature on the Friday Night Footy song on Melbourne’s SEN radio, but more importantly had a song on the Batman: Arkham City soundtrack).
Anyway, the big news is that Joey Belladonna is back for the latest album and, as good as John Bush was, this feels like they’ve really got the band back together (apologies to former guitarist Dan Spitz a.k.a. the Shortest Man in Metal, but I prefer the new guy).
Now let me step you through a few of the songs.
After a great, atmospheric intro, the album kicks off with the manic Earth is on Hell, a song about worldwide riots, anarchy and revolution.
Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t was released for free when the album came out (available here), and is a “zombie killing thrill ride” whose verses call to mind the manic thrashy goodness of the A Skeleton In The Closet off 1987’s Among The Living.
…reminds me of this…
There are other examples of songs that riff off their earlier work, but why the hell not? As I’ve always said, if you can’t rip yourself off who can you rip off? And the production on this album is great so it’s nice to hear a new take on that old sound.
The standout song is the anthemic chugger at the centre of the album called In The End. The vocal performance by Belladonna on this song rivals Dickinson or Dio at their sky-punching best. It’s the tragic story of the fallen hero who decides to rise up and take one final stand, only to find he’s left it too late and the battle has already been lost.
Maybe that’s the story Anthrax want us to take from this album. This is a work of metal genius – one (possibly) final, mighty effort from a metal behemoth that has so often been underrated and dismissed, and like the hero in this song, they’re pounding on the door, but it’s already over – the music scene now a fragmented, hedonistic mess. Old warriors like Anthrax are destined to swig their mead and trade old war stories in musty taverns while the spotlights are turned on the pretty boys, autotuned cardboard cutouts and tepid folk rockers of today.
I know where I’d rather be.