Review Summary: Anthrax attempts to find a new identity during a transition period.
The mid to late 90's marked a transitional and for the lack of a better term, lost time for Anthrax. After releasing an output of sheer sonic brilliance in The Sound of White Noise, the band lost its lead guitarist, Dan Spitz, and teetered into mediocrity with the below average and almost mailed-in Stomp 442. Following the release of Stomp, Elektra records decided not to support the album, and the band promptly left the label and signed with Ignition records for their next release.
Volume 8: The Threat is Real, released in 1998, is a largely forgotten record. Although it does not rival White Noise or Among the Living, the apathy surrounding this release has much more to do with Ignition records going out of business shortly after the release than the strength of the overall record.
Volume 8 does not sound like any other Anthrax record. Musically, it is all over the place. While Stomp followed a similar musical pattern to White Noise, albeit in a throwaway fashion, Volume 8 is a melding of genres previously untouched by the band. There is very little that could be called "thrash," there are no breakneck riffs, and the heroic guitar soloing of the past is largely absent. Instead, the listener is greeted with a sound that resembles nu Metal, mixing with standard hard rock, and to the disbelief of many, a twinge of country. There are a few exceptions and
Experimentation may not be the correct word to use, but several pieces of this release do not even sound like Anthrax. The guitars have an entirely different sound, sounding more like a cross between the distorted sludge of Korn and the wah wah groove of Pantera. The latter factor can be largely attributed to the appearance of Dimebag Darrell of Pantera fame on two songs, but it sounds like he is playing on tracks where he is not present. Scott Ian was never a lead player, and since there was no true lead guitarist on this record it is easy to see why the guitar sound is different, and in some cases, absent.
These experimental influences can be heard right from the beginning. The opening track "Crush" is a biting number but carries the same sound as the Nu Metal you would have heard on the radio during this time, with the exception of Charlie Benante's furious percussion. "Catharsis" follows, and is a departure in the sense that it carries an infectious melodic chorus. Dimebag appears on "Inside Out" and "Born Again Idiot," two of the stronger and more ferocious tracks on the disc. "Inside Out" follows the popular trend of the time of having a foreboding soft opening and verse that explodes into a distorted chorus. Following the Pantera trend, Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo lends background vocals on "Killing Box," which is the only song here that could sound at home on Sound of White Noise.
From here, we see several departures. "Toast to the Extras" is borderline country, and has a lead rhythm that sounds like a cross between the Drive By Truckers and the Strokes. Although a true Anthrax purest would call this song complete drivel, it somehow works thanks largely to its massive catchiness. "Harms Way" has an acoustic intro and jumps into a standard melodic hard rock chorus. The hidden track "Pieces" is an all acoustic number sung by Frank Bello in reference to his deceased brother. Although it makes "Bare," a ballad off of Stomp 442 sound like "Packaged Rebellion," it is passionately done and hard to argue with.
The rest of the album that isn’t already mentioned is filler. There are two complete throw away tracks that clock in under one minute: "604" and "Cupajoe," that latter being outright unlistenable. "Alpha Male," "Stealing From a Thief," and "Big Fat" could have been easily left off the album. "Piss and Vinegar" and "Hog Tied" have promising moments but fail to be memorable in any way.
To summarize, although the album is far too long and contains at least 6 fillers among its 14 tracks, it is a worthy addition to a collection, if nothing else to complete your Anthrax collection. It requires an open mind if your taste is loyal to 80's era Anthrax, but it remains a much better release than Stomp 442. The band is musically all over the place, but there is enough compelling material to hold the listener.
Toast to the Extras