posted on 9/2011 By:
It seems about once a year I’m involved in some variation upon the same conversation: “Anthrax doesn’t deserve to be in the Big Four. It should be Exodus / Overkill / Testament…” And I’m torn there ** – because I love Anthrax’s classic output, everything from their debut Fistful Of Metal up through 1993’s oft-maligned (but damn good) Sound Of White Noise. But even I have to admit that they haven’t exactly lived up to their own legacy: They nose-dived creatively after the mid-90s, releasing three consecutive lackluster efforts (although We’ve Come For You All does sport about three good songs). The rap-metal and groove metal that they helped pioneer begat the atrocities of nu-metal (and honestly, ground-breaking or not, “I’m The Man” is awful); guitarist Scott Ian became an omnipresent VH-1 talking head in a sea of C-list celebrities sharing their unasked-for opinions about Punky Brewster. Their last decade was one of rotating singers, temporary reunions, unnecessary compilation albums and live releases signaling a dearth of new ideas… Bush was out; Belladonna and guitarist Dan Spitz were back and then gone again; Dan Nelson took over for half an hour or so; Bush refused to rejoin, and then Belladonna returned in time for the spate of Big Four shows and to add his vocals to an album that was mostly designed for another singer… It was hard to keep up with the drama, and given the bland records, it wasn't really worth trying...
So even with Belladonna's return, if there’s anyone going into Worship Music with high expectations, I don’t know them…
But I have to say, it’s quite literally a half-decent album, and it’s certainly better than it should be, given the circumstances of its arduous birth.
All in, about half of Worship Music is damn good ‘Thrax groove-thrash. (Although, of course, that means that half of it isn’t, so whether you let Worship Music be defined by the good half or the bad half is up to you.) “Earth On Hell” is one of the most ferocious tracks the band has ever released, with some blasting tempos and a stomping chorus that shows that Benante / Bello / Ian is still both Anthrax’s driving force and one of the best rhythm sections in metal. The questionably titled “Judas Priest” makes up for some disjointed structure through a great chorus and some killer chunky riffs, while lead single “The Devil In You” is catchy and groovy in equal parts. Even with Joey back, Worship Music is stylistically closer to the Bush era, to the groove-dominated hard-rock tones of White Noise than to the full-on classic thrash of Among The Living, and so, in many respects, with Belladonna’s vocals atop that type of riffing, it’s a blend of the band’s two phases. Still, those hoping for a return to out-and-out thrash will be mostly disappointed – only in a select few moments (“Earth,” part of “Fight ‘ Em”) does the band truly rip, and most of Worship Music rides a mid-paced swagger.
The production is stout, not too slick, and instrumentally the band performs like the thirty-year veterans they are. Joey’s voice sounds great – he hasn’t lost any of the soaring range that characterized his classic works – although, because of that groove, it’s hard not to hear Bush’s voice on some of these tunes, particularly on tracks like “The Constant” and the call-and-response verses of “The Giant.” Many of these songs share titles with those debuted during Nelson’s tenure, and it’s a testament to Belladonna’s talent that he’s able to fit (mostly) seamlessly into tunes that don’t fit his style, that were originally written for and recorded by another singer.
But of course, there is a bad half interspersed amongst the good one – teaser track “Fight ‘Em Till You Can’t” starts strong but loses steam in an earworm melodic chorus ripped straight from Avenged Sevenfold’s worst moments; “In The End” sports some truly great epic riffs, but treads a bit too close to modern metallic lameness in the melody; “Crawl” is near-unlistenable, radio-ready dreck, and “I’m Alive” is only a step better; the introductory track and the two symphonic interludes are the very definition of unnecessary… (Seriously? A track of nothing but marching snare? You guys have one of the best drummers in thrash metal and this is the best you got for a drum idea?) And the hidden bonus track (a cover of Refused’s “New Noise”) should’ve been taken out behind the barn and Ol’ Yeller-ed in pre-production – the original is a great tune, but this cover adds nothing and doesn’t fit.
In the end, I suppose a record shouldn’t be commended for not being as bad as it could’ve possibly been, but nevertheless, that’s about the best way to describe Worship Music. Its best moments sound like the band's twin pasts melded together, and its worst sound like an old band trying to keep up with the youngsters. Given Anthrax’s inability to keep a stable line-up and their recent inconsistency (or rather, lack of consistent quality recently), Worship Music was just as likely to be a trainwreck as it was a victory. The fact that it’s neither is its most defining quality. Though Worship Music is flawed, the best tunes on here give us hope that -- if the band can stick together, focus and strike while the proverbial iron is hot -- the next record may well be the true return to first-class form for which fans have been holding out for twenty-one years now. Just remember to thrash a bit more next time, fellas...
** But if I had to replace Anthrax in the Big Four, my vote goes to Overkill without question: they pre-date and are better than Testament, and Exodus bottomed out after 2.5 great albums before releasing one great reunion record and three high-B-grade records in the new millennium.
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