The Greater Of Two Evils
posted on 11/2004 By:
For years the members of Anthrax have made it no secret that they think John Bush is a much better front man than Joey Belladonna, and they’ve put their metal where their mouth is with The Greater of Two Evils. The album consists of live in the studio recordings of fourteen classic Anthrax songs from the pre-Bush Fistful of Metal through Persistence of Time albums. The band let the fans choose the tracks for the album through a poll on their website. This “we’re taking requests” strategy gives the fans a bit of ownership in the project and acknowledges that the fans' history and love for the songs is as important as the band’s. On the other hand, as you would expect with a vote, the usual suspects received the most nods, and the final track list looks a bit too predictable as a result. It would have been more so, had the band not vetoed the selections of a pair of cover favorites, “Got the Time” and “Antisocial”, in favor of original tracks from Fistful of Metal.
As you would expect, the sound is much improved on the new versions, and it’s great to hear this classic thrash with such thick, rich sound. It’s not polished though, and for better or for worse, the live in the studio recording leaves the songs a little rough around the edges compared to recent studio work. Several of these songs are staples of Anthrax’s live setlist and are performed here exactly the way the band plays them live, which gives the album an odd, not quite studio, but not quite live album feel. The band burns through these classic tunes with enthusiasm, and sounds pretty damn good doing so. I’ve always felt Bush can sing circles around Belladonna, and he equals or improves upon the vocals on most tracks. The Greater of Two Evils is most interesting during the less known tracks, especially the material from the Neil Turbin era Fistful of Metal. Although these rerecordings are very loyal to the originals, “Deathrider” is reworked just a bit, cutting the breakneck pace of the verse with a half time crunch to create an effective juxtaposition. Besides that, other than a couple of new intros to a couple songs, the arrangements are the same.
For several reasons, The Greater of Two Evils is least interesting during the band’s most successful work. Bush led renditions of the five songs from Among the Living are old news to long time fans who have seen them do these songs live and heard some of them on this year’s live CD/DVD release, Music of Mass Destruction. Secondly, although these songs definitely don’t disappoint, some also don’t quite live up to the quality of the original album versions. Some of this is because these songs have segments that aren’t quite as suited to Bush’s voice. He manhandles most of the vocals with ease, but there are moments where he struggles a bit. To be fair though, this is live and Belladonna also struggled to carry these songs live. You would expect there to be some vocal differences, but the other difference with these versions is that while they benefit from improved sound, they don’t have the same crisp, razor sharp riffing as the originals. Again, some of this is due to the live setting, but one has to think that it may also have something to do with the less thrash, more groove style of recent years. In the end, it doesn’t really matter much how the songs break down track by track with the originals. The point of the project is to celebrate the old stuff with the current era of the band. Some stuff you’ll like more, some less, but it is all welcome, and this album is much preferred to a run of the mill greatest hits or live album. Although the band prefers playing with Bush, they’ve said this isn’t an attempt to redefine this material or diminish the original versions, just that they still love playing these songs live and thought it would be fun to rerecord some with Bush. Sadly, this is the last album involving long time bassist and live spark plug Frank Bello.
Some of the more cynical metalheads will view this project as an attempt to cash in. To be sure, it’s been a year where the original big four of thrash have spent a lot of time looking backwards. Metallica toured on a setlist of pre-Load material and sold copies of the shows, Megadeth released a high profile series of remixes and releases, and Slayer included the Reign in Blood album in their setlist and produced a DVD of the show. I’m sure all four bands will profit from these efforts, but for long time fans these retrospective projects are a good time and provide some fond memories of songs and bands that have been loved for decades.
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