I've never been the biggest John Bush fan in the world. He was the polar opposite of Joey Belladonna, and pretty much forced Anthrax to abandon their old style for a new one that was just as rooted in hard rock, punk, and grunge than it was in thrash. This seeped much of the life out of the band, and served as their downfall, producing duds such as Sound Of White Noise, Stomp 442, and We've Come For You All, the latter advertised as a 'return to form' that, in reality, only brings a couple of decent thrash songs to the table and mostly sticks with the failed formula.
Luckily, Scott Ian got thinking one day, one thing led to another, and pretty soon Anthrax was in studio, with their current lineup, re-recording select songs from the band's golden era, which would span from Fistful Of Metal to Persistence Of Time. They wrapped up all the recording in two days, which I think is pretty impressive, given that these songs were not written for John Bush, and there is a considerable amount of tweaking in each song, from altered vocal deliveries to changes to the accompanying instrumentation. But how did it actually end up?
Rob Caggiano, the modern-day Anthrax guitarist, often plays altered solos or leads than those found in the original versions. This adds a different spin to many songs, and keeps them from sounding like forced, generic covers. Almost every solo (even Ian's whammy bar solo in Gung-Ho has been changed.... boooooo) is dominated by new, seemingly improvised guitar licks. The sound of the guitars has also been thickened, the rhythm guitar in particular, much to my enjoyment. Just check out the intros to Caught In A Mosh and Gung-Ho. The guitars pack a massive punch on this album, and steal the show on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, there is one outside element that would prevent the guitars, solos in particular, from realizing their complete potential here. More on that in a bit.
Anthrax's rock-solid rhythm section doesn't leave much more to be desired. Frank Bello is, well, Frank Bello. Charlie Benante lives to his high reputation as well, and praise be to the album's production, his drums are mighty loud and thunderous. As opposed to the original versions of these songs, where Benante's drums weren't exactly overpowering and he just kept things moving (and did so well), his drums on this release, from the snare to the bass, are ground-shaking. The re-worked version of Indians is proof enough of this. In every song, Benante's drumwork is loud, booming, rude, blunt, noticable, and just [bleep]ing awesome. This combined with the crushing guitars of Caggiano and Ian is enough to make your head explode - with joy.
The album only has one true downfall, that goes beyond any John Bush bias or just not liking Anthrax. And that would be the aforementioned guitar solos. They sound hollow and have relatively little heaviness. The cause? For some insane reason, the bass was muted in the mixing. It is literally Caggiano's lead, Ian's ever-present rhythm chugging, and Benante's drum pattern. That's it. What I don't get is, the only parts of each song that are like this are the solos. Every other part of a given track has all the heaviness you could want, with Benante's merciless drumming, the guitars thickened into overdrive, and the bass alive and well. For someone who blows a blood vessel if an album has bad production and isn't loud enough, this is quite annoying.
For the most part, this little experiment was a success. These are songs that were not written for Bush, but rarely does he not sound good, and his more aggressive singing approach complements the roughed up guitars and drums effectively. The noticable amount of changes each song has undergone, mostly with solos, riffs, and speed, are each welcome and keep the songs fresh. The band was obviously fond of this trip back to the good ol' days, otherwise they wouldn't have reformed the classic lineup of Belladonna, Spitz, Ian, Bello, and Benante one year later for the Among The Living reunion tour. I'd recommend to this to any fan metal fan. If you aren't a fan of traditional Anthrax, maybe the altered style of this album would suit you. If you are, you'll want to see the numerous tweaks to some of Anthrax's best-known songs.
Metal Thrashing Mad
Among The Living