Thursday, February 2, 2012

Anthrax - The Thrash Kind, Not the Kill You Kind

Note: Sorry this post ended up being bare-bones and pictureless. I fell asleep and ran off the road on the way home and (hopefully only) blew out my right front passenger tire. My car is at the shop and I have to drive Mrs. Troublemaker's car in to work tomorrow. I don't feel like looking for videos and pictures.
I first heard Anthrax courtesy of my buddy Matt F. waaay back in 1988 (or somewhere thereabouts). It was the song “Antisocial” and I immediately loved it. It was the first time I had heard the term and I identified.
Matt was the guy that introduced me to most of the music I listened to back then. He got me into Metallica, Megadeth, Primus, Ministry and probably more. But Anthrax was my favorite. No question. Their music just seemed so much more accessible than any of the other metal bands we listened to. It seemed friendlier somehow. I know metal isn’t supposed to be friendly, and I’m not trying to say they were singing about hugging puppies or anything, but Anthrax had a more fun style. I mean, there were songs about Judge Dredd and Stephen King books. They even did a goofy rap song.


I could identify with their look more, as well. “Five guys in shorts” was something I could get down with a lot more than dudes in super-tight black jeans or wristbands with seven-inch spikes on them. These were regular guys who just happened to know how to rock like crazy.
I went out and bought every Anthrax tape I could find after that.
The first one I bought was the I’m the Man EP because it was the cheapest cassette and I was broke. I listened to that thing non-stop for a week and couldn’t wait to get my allowance so I could get some more Anthrax. Of course, at the time I didn’t even know that Anthrax was a deadly infectious disease. I just thought it was a cool-sounding word.
The next week I bought State of Euphoria and Among the Living. Euphoria was the album that featured “Antisocial” and is an excellent work of metal, but Among the Living is the album that changed my life and is still to this day my favorite metal album.
From start to finish every song on Among the Living is a triumph of metal. I’m not a guy who just picks up on song lyrics. I really have to concentrate on a song to learn the words. Even with my favorite bands I only know a few of their songs. But I know every single word on that album.
I acquired Spreading the Disease, Fistful of Metal, and the Armed and Dangerous EP over time, but Among the Living was the one I listened to the most.
And then Persistence of Time came out and Anthrax sort of blew up.
By 1990 I was a huge metal fan and a rabid follower of Anthrax. I bought metal magazines (I can’t remember the names – I think Circus was one, but I’m also thinking that might have been a lame one), watched Headbanger’s Ball, and tried to find the least offensive metal t-shirts available so I could get away with wearing them. My mom had this habit of “misplacing” shirts she didn’t like. I can think of ten or so t-shirts that just disappeared in the wash – it’s what led to me doing my own laundry.
Actually, I specifically remember this one Lost t-shirt that had Æon Flux crawling across the logo. I got it on one of our trips to North Carolina. My mom hated it and one day I couldn’t find it. I guess I made a bigger stink about it than I had about other shirts (though I don’t remember specifically) and a couple of weeks later she “found” it. But somehow it was now black instead of brown. The opposite of faded. But I was just happy to have my shirt back. It wasn’t until years later that I decided she must have felt bad about throwing it out or something and found another one. I like to imagine her calling up my Granny and saying, “You have to go to this skate shop at Carolina Beach and get this shirt with a mostly naked girl on it.”
Oh, and as far as Anthrax shirts, I had a Judge Dredd one that pretty much passed muster. I wore that thing once a week for at least my whole high school career.
And yeah – it took years for me to figure out the whole “misplaced” clothing thing. Who wants to think their parents are deceptive like that?
Speaking of parents, I remember this one time we were up in North Carolina for my dad’s high school reunion. He took us to the school to show us around and there was this one wall out by a sort of courtyard with some graffiti on it. One of the things written there was the Anthrax band logo. I said, “Oh, cool! Anthrax!” and Dad looked at me like I was crazy. He had no idea what bands I liked. He had tuned out after I had made him listen to Raising Hell back in 1986. In the infuriating, not-just-getting-to-the-point way he has, he asked, “Oh, what’s anthrax?” and I told him it was one of my favorite bands.
He stopped and gave me that look and said, “Oh. That’s a cow disease.” In the same tone you would use if you were telling the waiter there was a turd in your soup.
That stuck with me for a while, and in one of my many failed attempts to gain some sort of approval I drew an album cover. I used to draw a lot of album covers back in the day. I wish I still had them all. Most of them I didn’t bother showing to Dad, but this one was pretty much for him. I spent a long time trying to make it look just right. I think I still have it, too.
The fake album was “Anthrax – Greatest Hits – Dead Cattle” and showed some cows laying on their backs in a field. It was at the height of my obsession with Gary Larson’s The Far Side comic strip, and these cows were very Larson-y.
So I thought it was pretty funny and was a good attempt at poking a little fun at something I liked for his benefit. He looked at it and said, “Cows only have four teats,” which out of context is an extremely hilarious phrase, but at the time was kind of crushing. I had put five teats on the cow for some reason. I went back to my room and erased the offending odd-teat-out and evened up the others. I took it back to Dad and he looked at it and laughed about as hard as I’ve ever seen. He took the drawing and stuck it on the bulletin board in his office, then gave me a hug and told me I had done a great job, but it was important to be accurate. He was proud of my abilities and glad that I had the motivation to improve my skills.
HA! Just kidding! He glanced at the corrected picture, went, “Huh,” and returned to reading his newspaper.
Boo-hoo. My life is so hard.
It was a pretty big deal when Persistence of Time came out. Anthrax was on Headbanger’s Ball a lot, and I remember almost losing my mind the night the video for “Got the Time” debuted. It took forever for them to get around to playing that thing.
It was also around this time that Anthrax showed up on one of the greatest sitcoms ever made – Married… With Children.
There had been a real-life contest (I think sponsored by MTV) where the winner had Anthrax come wreck their house. As much as I may bitch about my parents and the way they were, I totally understand (and I think even got it back then) why I was not allowed to enter this contest. Somehow or other FOX and the creators of Married… With Children decided it would be awesome to do a story like that on their show and of course they were right. Bud and Kelly entered the “My Dinner With Anthrax” contest and won. Anthrax came to the Bundy house and ate the Mystery Meat from the back of the Bundy refrigerator. Once Scott Ian was tripping balls from the unidentifiable substance they played a truncated version of “In My World” and then wrecked the Bundy’s house. It was awesome.
It was destroyed a long time ago, but I remember in art class one year I made a plaster sculpture of this mountain thing with one of the clocks from the P.O.T. album cover at the top. It was pretty cool. I still don’t quite understand what it was, but the clock looked pretty darn good.
Almost a year after the unusually somber Persistence came out, Anthrax blew up again, maybe even bigger. Because the video for “Bring the Noise” hit MTV and made music history.
If there is one song by Anthrax that anybody is going to know, this is it. The collaboration with rap pioneers Public Enemy is rightfully legendary and is the first true example of the rap/metal crossover that would come to be such a big fad afterwards.
Side note: For years “Bring the Noise” was the entrance music I had in my head for my created wrestler in the WWE video games. And then, in an absolutely crazy coincidence, the song was actually included in one of the games; usable as entrance music. My dream came true. Of course, it was after Phantom Troublemaker had lost his mask and was now performing as D Toxx, but nobody wants to hear about the ten years of my life I spent fantasy booking wrestling video games for me and my friends.
“Bring the Noise” was the single off of Anthrax’s Attack of the Killer B’s album. It’s a collection of b-sides, live tracks, and covers. This is my second favorite Anthrax release after Among the Living.
Attack was the first CD I ever bought. Everything up until that point had been cassette tapes. If I remember correctly, it cost me about five bucks more than the tape would have.
I love this album because it’s all over the place and really shows what an interesting band Anthrax is. There are covers like “Parasite” and “Pipeline”, a song about Jim Jones (which is also a cover), a rant against the PMRC, and an update of their goofy rap song “I’m the Man”.
Sometime after Attack came out Joey Belladonna left the band.
I was largely unaware of band members back then. I mean, I knew names, but I didn’t pay much attention to who did what or anything. Anthrax was a different story. I knew Charlie played drums, Frank played bass, Dan played one guitar and Scott Ian (he has always been and always will be “Scott Ian”; full name every time) played the other, and Joey Belladonna was the singer. And to me at the time Joey leaving meant Anthrax was over. I blamed Nirvana. I still kind of hate them for what happened to metal in the early 90’s, even though it isn’t really their fault.
So Joey left in ’92 and that seemed like the end. I don’t want to downplay anybody else’s contribution to Anthrax. Frank Bello, Dan Spitz, Charlie Benante, Joey Belladonna, and Scott Ian worked together to make some of my favorite music of all time. Songs that have endured in my consciousness – and my playlists – to this day like few others have. I love what they did as a team. And older, wiser me understands now that Charlie Benante is one of the very best drummers in the world and it took all five guys working together to do what they do. But to sixteen-year-old me Scott and Joey were the keys. It totally sucked.
Lots of my favorite bands have broken up or had short runs – Faith No More, System of A Down, A Tribe Called Quest; just to name a few – but Anthrax seemingly ending in 1992 is the only time I’ve really felt it, like a personal loss.
I remember it seemed like an eternity, but it was the very same year that Anthrax introduced a new vocalist – former Armored Saint front man John Bush. I was thrilled that Anthrax was not gone, but I just didn’t see how anybody could replace Joey.
And John Bush did not replace Joey. Anthrax went in a different direction with their 1993 release Sound of White Noise. It was still heavy, but it was not thrash metal. But I dug it. It wasn’t like old Anthrax where I loved every song on the album, but there was enough good that I still think it’s a great work. I hold it apart from the rest of my Anthrax stuff. It’s worth noting that this album featured the first slowed-down Anthrax song, something that I would have been absolutely appalled at if not for the fact that Angelo Badalamenti helped compose it. Black Lodge is a pretty awesome song, but again – not what I want from Anthrax.
On October 25th, 1996 I finally got to see Anthrax live at the International Ballroom.
And I don’t remember it at all.
If it wasn’t for the ticket stub and the memory of what a crappy t-shirt the Sound of White Noise album cover made I wouldn’t even know I had gone. I was actually writing another piece a couple of years ago about the best shows I have seen and was lamenting the fact that I had never seen Anthrax. In the process of looking through the Troublemaker archives I came across the ticket stub for the show and was flabbergasted. After thinking really hard about it I do remember that I went and I even remember there was some kind of problem about me going. But I don’t remember the show at all. Maybe I was too stoned. I dunno. But it wasn’t Joey Belladonna, so it kind of doesn’t matter.
Sorry, Mr. Bush. Sound of White Noise was solid, but I attribute the mediocrity of the next ten or so years pretty much directly to you.
Guys, listen – I fucking love Anthrax. If that hasn’t been made clear by now then I am just a terrible writer or you don’t get that people don’t just sit around and pound out 2000+ word essays over nothing. But the next three Anthrax albums were pretty much not Anthrax albums. Stomp 442, Volume 8: The Threat is Real, and We’ve Come For You All are basic metal albums of varying quality. There are probably ten songs among them that really stand out as tunes special enough to be from Anthrax.
I got a hold of Stomp 442 easily enough. I tried to love it. I really did. But it just didn’t click. This wasn’t Anthrax. To the point where I didn’t even try to find Volume 8 when it came out, which is good because it was apparently hard to find anyway. Same with the 2003 album We’ve Come For You All, which does have an awesome name.
I spent 1995 through 2005 pretty much just sticking to Anthrax’s pre-1994 catalogue. I would check different stores CD bins occasionally just to see if anything new was hitting or if maybe a rarities album or remastered versions of old albums were coming out. I’ve never been overly internet-savvy, so it didn’t ever really occur to me to follow the band online back then. I don’t remember when I came across The Greater of Two Evils, but I know it was in a Best Buy and I know it gave me hope that my favorite metal band had finally realized the error of their ways.
The Greater of Two Evils is an album unlike anything I’ve ever heard. The band re-recorded fifteen tracks that essentially comprise their greatest hits with Rob Caggiano on lead guitar and John Bush on vocals. As far as the instrumentation goes, the album proved that not only could Anthrax still thrash, but that it was what they were best at. Bush’s vocals were perfectly fine. The guy can’t do what Joey Belladonna can do, but musically the songs were very good updates. Good enough that I tracked down the missing albums from the past few years on Amazon. I was thrilled when they arrived, mostly because I had managed to score versions with the international bonus tracks. I was less thrilled once I actually listened to them. Stomp 442 was pretty much as uninteresting as I remembered and the following two lived down to that standard.
I know I’ve been a little harsh towards John Bush here. I like the guy’s voice and I think he’s a really great vocalist, but not for Anthrax.
So time passed and I continued to love older Anthrax while still breaking out The Greater of Two Evils from time to time. And then there was a tour with Joey. They either didn’t come to Atlanta or I couldn’t get out of work. I’m not sure. But I did buy the live album they recorded on the tour and it’s fantastic. Far superior to the one released when the band was still with Island.
On October 1st, 2010 I finally got to see Anthrax with Joey Belladonna.
They were touring with Slayer and Megadeth – two other bands I had never had the opportunity to see – and it was like a dream come true. Mrs. Troublemaker and I went and had an amazing time even though we missed Anthrax’s first song and they only played for about thirty minutes anyway. Overall this is one of the very best concerts I have ever attended. In a wacky twist of fate we even ran into Matt F. – who I had not seen since high school – and his lady. We hung out and had a blast.
And then Scott Ian promised they’d be back in 2011 because they had a new album coming out.
HOLY SHIT.
“Fight ‘Em (Til You Can’t)” was the first single from the album. It was released last June and it blew my fucking mind. The song is fast and furious and is about fighting zombies. Zombies, man. This was Anthrax back to doing what they do best. I can’t even describe how happy I was the first time I heard that song. I had to sneak out to the bathroom at work to download it and listen. I made a cut of it my new main ringtone after the first listen and it still is.
Worship Music was released in September and it is one of my favorite albums of all time. Not because of how good it is – and it is good – but because of what it means. One of my favorite, most beloved bands got back together and made an album that is every bit as good as the ones they put out when I discovered them.
This afternoon we are going to meet Anthrax before they headline a show at the Tabernacle with Death Angel and Testament. I bought V.I.P. passes for a meet and greet. I want to meet one of my favorite bands, I want to see if I can get a picture with them, and I want to get Scott Ian to sign my Scott Ian action figure. The V.I.P. thing was expensive, but reasonable for what you get. The bottom line is that we’re going to get to meet Anthrax. And they aren’t going to tear up our house.
Well, hopefully we’re going to meet Anthrax.
I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon and when I woke up this morning Mrs. Troublemaker had sent me this article.
I hope Scott Ian is hale and hearty for the show and doesn’t suffer any more problems and I wish the best for Charlie Benante and his family. I don’t want anybody to have to go through what these guys are dealing with, but more so for a band I care so much about.
Just so this thing doesn’t end with a total thud, here are my Top Ten Favorite Anthrax songs:
10 – Among the Living
9 – Now It’s Dark
8 – Intro to Reality/Belly of the Beast (Yeah – I know those are two separate tracks, but to me they’re inseparable. Can’t have one without the other)
7 – Efilnikufesin
6 – Got the time
5 – Metal Thrashing Mad
4 – Only
3 – Fight ‘Em (Til You Can’t)
2 – Bring the Noise
1 – I Am the Law
Here’s hoping they play every single one of these tonight! Okay, well – I know they won’t do “Bring the Noise”.
-Phantom

2 comments:

  1. I wold almost totally agree with that list, but I would have put Antisocial up around #3 (in spite of loving Fight 'Em) and I would swap Be All, End All (+ string intro, natch!) for Belly of the Beast.

    I also have to wonder if we didn't share lives in parallel universes around 1988, b/c that first paragraph could just have easily been part of my bio.

    Also, oddly enough, we're only like 2 degrees of separation b/c you're friends with a bunch of blokes I know from highschool and college (Bobby Jones, Pete Reddington, Jesica Love). However, if we are parallel universe versions of each other then I fear posting this comment is coming dangerously close to crossing streams.

    However, if Walter and Walternate can meet in the combined Fringe universe then I'm hopeful hitting publish won't portend the end of the world.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Now I have to wonder if I'm goofy, loveable, genius mad scientist Walter Bishop or driven, ruthless, genius Secretary of Defense Walter Bishop. They're both geniuses, so it could go either way. Also, I'm stalking you on Facebook now.

    ReplyDelete