Monday, 28 March 2016

Anthrax's 'For all Kings' - Album Review

Despite a period of change and uncertainty in the Anthrax camp during the late 2000s; which saw classic frontman Joey Belladonna return to the band, leave again two years later, and finally return for good a further three years later; Anthrax managed to keep going. Being the most varied musically of the heralded Big 4 of Thrash, Anthrax spent most of the 1990s toying with an sound that fused their thrash roots with alternative rock with varying degrees of success. Then-frontman John Bush's charisma certainly helped the band keep going through the 1990s, but reuniting with Belladonna was probably always on the cards. This reunion eventually happened for good in 2010, and a year later Worship Music, the band's tenth album, was released. It was the first to feature Belladonna since 1990's Persistence of Time, and the reviews were almost all universally excellent. Worship Music was definitely a return to Anthrax's classic sound and, with Belladonna's melodic but powerful voice still as strong as it was in the 1980s, Anthrax regained a lot of their thrash credentials. Work on a follow-up album to Worship Music has been on-going ever since, with little snippets of news being released every so often, but Anthrax mostly kept a lid on any news of their progress. The departure of then-lead guitarist (and producer) Rob Caggiano must have hindered their progress. Caggiano had been an integral part of the band since 2001, and had produced the band's last two studio albums. A replacement was found in the form of Jon Donais (Aftershock; Shadows Fall), an already-respected guitarist who was noted for his excellent guitar playing skills - particularly as a founding member and songwriter of the melodic death metal outfit Shadows Fall. With Donais on board, work started on a new album in earnest, but it would take three more years before the eventual result, For all Kings, was released. If Worship Music was a return to the band's classic sound, then For all Kings is an improvement on the band's classic sound. Worship Music definitely had a lot of old school thrash trappings throughout, while For all Kings seems to have a greater focus on melody. This album is just as heavy and as fast as it's predecessor, but Belladonna's penchant for AOR shines through in his infectious vocal melodies. Anthrax have never had such catchy choruses, and that makes this album extremely easy to listen to. Founding members guitarist Scott Ian and drummer Charlie Benante, the band's main songwriters, have created an album that sounds like the Anthrax of old, but with a huge melodic injection. Jay Ruston's excellent production job helps too, with each instrument sounding huge and clear, but the result still feels really heavy and has that classic thrash vibe.

After the brooding instrumental intro Impaled, the album kicks into gear with the classic Anthrax thrash of You Gotta Believe. Scott Ian's rhythm guitar playing is unique to him, and you can recognise one of his riffs anywhere. Belladonna introduced himself with an excellent verse performance that sits over some stop-start double bass drumming from Benante. The verses are simple rockers, but the choruses are fast and thrashy, making good use of the song's intro riff. There is plenty of great melodies however, with an infectious Belladonna showing and some excellent drumming. I assume that Donais plays the majority of the guitar solos, and bursts of shredding are heard throughout the song. Frank Bello's bass guitar takes the lead for an atmospheric mid section however, with some effects-heavy prog guitar playing. Moments like this show that Anthrax are more than just thrashers, and can write interesting songs too. The song is a great intro to the album, and one of the best tunes on display here. With a more methodical pace, Monster at the End has a real 1980s NWOBHM vibe to it, with huge, purveying melodies and serious crunch to the guitars. The song is not really thrash at all, but it is still great. The chorus is massive, with a real sing-a-long feel to it, and some excellent riffing throughout. There is a great guitar solo here too, that speeds up as it progresses. The album's title track picks up the pace and injects a little more thrash energy into the album. Bello's bass guitar growls throughout the song, giving the whole thing a deep, and powerful sound. There is another really strong chorus in this song, which sees Belladonna hitting some pretty high notes, showing he has an impressive range. All to often, the singers in thrash bands just shout and snarl away but Belladonna really is a proper singer, and he is what makes Anthrax special. The first real moment of shredding is found here too, with an explosive guitar solo. Breathing Lightning is one of the songs that was released online prior to the album's release. It is another melodic number, with a really catchy main riff that is probably one of the band's best in a while. The intro and verses of this song have a very old school vibe, and sound like something that could have been on one of the band's early albums. The chorus is massive though, and definitely sounds the band's more modern approach. I can see this song going down well live, because of the potential for singing along during the chorus, and the main riff is sure to get heads banging. In contrast, the heads-down thrash of Suzerain is heavy and relentless, which works well to add some attitude to proceedings. There is still plenty melodies to be found, but the overall dark feeling that this song purveys works well in the context of the album. Benante is a very underrated drummer I feel, and his performance here is excellent. There is lots of fast footwork to be found, but also some strange little jazzy drum fills to further expand the musical pallete of the song. There is a great extended guitar solo in the song too, which further shows the skills of Donais, and what he brings to Anthrax.

Evil Twin, another song that was released online prior to the album's release, is another excellent slab of old-school thrash. Ian's huge riff that drives the song is one of this best, and the energy built throughout the song is probably the most intense on the album. Belladonna uses lots of vocal styles throughout, including a slightly growled section in the song's pre-chorus which is very different from his usual style. His air raid siren vocals are present and correct elsewhere however, especially during the anthemic, fast chorus. There is a very fast guitar solo too, that uses some evil-sounding note combinations to make it standout. The epic Blood Eagle Wings is one of the album's standout tracks, and there is something about the mighty Ronnie James Dio encompassing the whole song. There is not much thrash here, but plenty of good old-fashioned heavy metal with fantastic singing from Belladonna. The song's slow, heavy riff sets the tone for the rest of the song, and the snaking, grooving guitar work in the verses is fantastic. The Dio influence comes, for me, in the chorus and it sounds like something the great man would have written. It is just shy of eight minutes long, so the song moves through a few different sections. It does speed up at one point, and that section concludes with another shredding guitar solo. This is one of my favourite songs on the album, probably because of the sheer epic-ness of it. This shows a side of Anthrax that is not often on display, and shows that they are more than just a thrash band. After the majesty of the previous song, it is good to have some more basic fist-pumping in the form of Defend/Avenge. The thrashy riffs are back in the picture somewhat, the chorus, with plenty of gang vocals, is very memorable. Bello's basslines here are very prominent and help to drive the song. Sometimes in metal, the bass gets buried in the mix so it is good that Anthrax often push it to the front to help propel the song with that low-end assault. This song has a very modern sound, with the gang vocals and the strange-sounding guitar solo, but it fits nicely in the Anthrax canon. The next couple of songs pale in comparison to what else is on offer here, and definitely feel like filler. All of Them Thieves just feels a little too chest-beating to really appeal to me. All the melodic goodness of the rest of the album is largely eschewed here for an almost nu-metal feel that is jarring, especially when compared to the song's chorus which is a little more like the rest of the album - although certainly weaker. This Battle Chose Us! is easily the album's least memorable song, despite song strong bass playing in the song's intro. It is rather plodding, and without any of the standout melodies that fill the rest of the album. There is not much else to say about the song, as it really fails to make any sort of impression. Luckily, the album's final song, Zero Tolerance is a strong number and helps to round the album out in style. Shorter in comparison to much of the material here, the thrashy energy of the song helps to remove the memories of the previous two songs from your mind. It is a no-nonsense fast number, and that is just what the album needs to close it out. Overall, For all Kings is another strong album from Anthrax. The vast majority of the material here is very good, and a couple of the songs are probably destined to become future classics. I hope this album will be a big success for them, as they deserve it.

The album was released on 26th February 2016 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Blood Eagle Wings.

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