Review Summary: “Worship Music” is Anthrax not just embracing redemption but viciously assaulting it in a five man gang-bang.
When James Hetfield turned in his man card sometime around 2003 and started favoring expensive bottled water, fine arrays of fruit, and sweater-toting therapists over being one of the most badass dudes in music history, Anthrax officially become the Big 4 thrash band I would most like to party with. It’s fitting really, while their counterparts reveled in songs of death, destruction, crippling drug addiction, and pretty much every Goddamn morose subject available, Anthrax sang about starting up posse’s, how much ass Judge Dredd kicks, and how awesome it is to be in a mosh pit. Scott Ian strikes me as the pinnacle of cool because while he’s exceptionally laid back and says “dude” a lot he also once gave an interview bragging he was certainly going to be deaf someday but that he really didn’t care because f*cking METAL. Anthrax in the original Joey Belladonna era was at times more punk than thrash in embodiment and attitude, got off on trashing Al Bundy’s house, and the overriding atmosphere was simply embroiled in fun.
“Worship Music” could have been a disaster. With the exception of the beastly “Sound of White Noise,” every Anthrax release in the past 18 years has been average at best, forgettable as the norm, and devoid of the punk/thrash skills that brought them to notoriety in the first place. Joey Belladonna was brought in after having 20 years of practicing his diva skills on his own time, and anyone predicting “Worship Music” would fall on its face was not exactly going out on a limb. In fairness to John Bush, who in all actuality is an exceptional metal vocalist, Anthrax have been on life support for the better part of two decades, even if they heroically managed to avoid falling into mega-douche territory like their most famous colleagues. The fact “Worship Music” is not a disaster is a pleasant surprise. The fact “Worship Music” is one of the best Big 4 releases in the last 20 years is as shocking as if Sebastian Bach became the pinnacle of tranquility and ceased all ingrained tendencies of diva-esque douche-baggery. Either way, we wouldn’t see it coming.
Although many were expecting Belladonna’s return to prompt an epic thrash session of thrashing hard like they thrashed in the thrash days of “Among the Living,” “Worship Music” is not a thrash album. With the exception of the monstrous “Earth on Hell,” the towering “Judas Priest,” and a few verse riffs in the furiously engaging “Fight Em Till You Can’t,” “Worship Music” owes more to the mainstream metal leanings of the Bush era. The difference is it punches harder, is unequivocally more precise in its execution, and is exploding with the right kind of accessibility. “The Devil You Know” and its life-alteringly catchy chorus finds Anthrax finally embracing this sense of musical maturation they’ve been aiming for over the past decade. “I’m Alive” and “Fight Em Till You Can’t” are in the same vein, while this isn’t classic Anthrax the current formula stands almost as tall as the thrash mastery in their prime in the sense they are undoubtedly on top of their game. Belladonna seems to have embraced growth as well, abandoning almost everything we know him for but emerging arguably better for the fact. Despite the absence of his trademark nut-curdling wails and deliciously sophomoric lyrics, he shines at executing reigned-in vocals and song structures that on the surface sound like they may have been better suited for Bush himself. With the exception of a few forgivable clunkers like “Crawl” and “In the End,” “Worship Music” rarely fails to deliver on its redemption quest and fires on almost every cylinder.
Anthrax have wisely used the last 8 years to determine exactly who the f*ck they are if indeed they are not going to revel in awesome levels of immaturity anymore. They struggled mightily with the concepts of aging and maturity just like almost every other metal band in history, and while it took them a hell of a long time to actually figure it out they can take pride in the glaringly obvious sense that most never do. “Worship Music” is Anthrax not just embracing redemption but viciously assaulting it in a five man gang-bang. Unless Loutallica’s upcoming sh*tfest or Megadeth’s rock-f*ck retarded album name “Th1rt3en” somehow manage to surmount all of the obvious obstacles in front of them, “Worship Music” will undeniably be the best big 4 release of the year, and one of the best metal albums of 2011 overall.