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+ {Stormtroopers Of Death}

One of thrash metal’s “big 4” alongside fellow Americans METALLICA, MEGADETH and SLAYER (whom they toured with as recent as June 22, 2010 in Sofia, Bulgaria), the infectious and furious ANTHRAX have been licensed to (f)ill arenas for over three decades now. Although dogged by a series of fluctuating personnel scrapes (e.g. Joey Belladonna has entered the fray on three occasions: from 1984-92, 2005-07 and 2010 to present), the quintet has always had chief songwriter Scott Ian at the helm.
Formed in June 1981 in New York City, NY, guitarists Danny Lilker and the aforementioned Scott Ian (Rosenfeld) chose the ANTHRAX moniker from a biology textbook; note that a similarly-named “anarchist” outfit from Britain confused matters initially when issuing a few records in 1983. Almost as quickly as they were presented into the fold, both drummer Dave Weiss and bassist Kenny Kushner were soon surplus to requirements (the latter displaced by Paul Kahn), while after several filler-type auditions, singer Neil Turbin took up the mic in August ’82. In the meantime, Lilker had slid over to bass to accommodate lead guitarist Greg Walls, and Greg D’Angelo took over Weiss’s position. The final members to take up their places among fixtures Scott, Danny and Neil (c. summer ’83), was drummer Charlie Benante (who squeezed out temp Bob Berry) and the diminutive Dan Spitz (from OVERKILL); D’Angelo resurfaced with hair-metal combo WHITE LION.
ANTHRAX consequently signed to the Megaforce label (licensed to Music For Nations in Europe) by the legendary Johnny Z; their first single coming courtesy of speed-metal effort, `Soldiers Of Metal’. Incidentally, the term “thrash metal” was coined by a Kerrang! scribe when referring to ANTHRAX’s `Metal Thrashing Mad’, one of several hair-waving delights on their inaugural LP, FISTFUL OF METAL (1984) {*5}. If the non-affiliated thought the title a tad cheesy (the cover was also extreme!), the Rob Halford tonsil-like Turbin was hardly the one to set the rock world alight, although `Subjugator’ and `Deathrider’ were good for a laugh, as was their passable ALICE COOPER cover `I’m Eighteen’.
By the release of 1985’s 12” EP, `Armed And Dangerous’, the more traditional metallic tonsils of Joey Belladonna were employed (as was bassist Frank Bello – former roadie and nephew of Benante). A canny couple of moves that lent the band a modicum of style and sophistication; even if they’d turned back the punk clock several years with a version of The SEX PISTOLS’ `God Save The Queen’.
ANTHRAX’s first outing for Island Records (although still through Megaforce), SPREADING THE DISEASE (1985) {*8}, was a pounding thrash-metal affair that frequently rose above the narrow confines of the genre. By turns humorous, impassioned, and bloody loud, the likes of `Madhouse’ (featuring a must-see video), `Aftershock’, `Armed And Dangerous’ and `Medusa’, made this one of the key metal releases of the 80s.
AMONG THE LIVING (1987) {*8} was almost as good (if not better) than their previous effort. And, for many ageing metallers, `I Am The Law’ is the definitive ANTHRAX track, a tribute to the meanest comic book cop in Mega City One: Judge Dredd. `Indians’, meanwhile, was a more serious affair, dealing with the plight of their Native American brethren. Yet, accomplished as the music was, it was almost overshadowed by the band’s image. A case of bullet belts (!) out, skateboards and surf shorts in; for a brief, heady time in the late 80s, ANTHRAX almost made metal – whisper it now – trendy.
Proving there was always a hip-hop element to their hardcore, the band released `I’m The Man’, a rap/metal pastiche that quite probably pissed off SAXON fans everywhere. At this point, the band were up there with METALLICA as the great white hopes of thrash, while fans awaited with baited breath for their next album, STATE OF EUPHORIA (1988) {*5}. Inevitably, perhaps, the record was a let-down; on first listen it sounded dense, promising, but on repeated listening it became obvious the songs just weren’t there. Equally inevitably, the band’s dayglo image prompted a backlash, although one could cherry-pick it via their UK hit version of TRUST’s `Antisocial’ or their own `Make Me Laugh’.
ANTHRAX retaliated with a considerably darker, more introspective opus: PERSISTENCE OF TIME (1990) {*7}; yet another transatlantic Top 30 set. While the JOE JACKSON cover, `Got The Time’, was engaging and punk-y, their own waxing lyricals still verged on inverted intellectualism. `Keep It In The Family’, `Time’ and `In My World’ were fuelled with fire from the underbelly of the beast, and at least the ‘Thrax were back on the road to recovery.
A subsequent collaboration with Chuck D on a storming cover of PUBLIC ENEMY’s `Bring The Noise’ was the band’s most effective effort for years and showed what they were obviously still capable of. The Brit hit single was included on ATTACK OF THE KILLER B’S (1991) {*5}, a compilation of flip-sides and rare tracks, while the group embarked on a tour with PE on a genre-busting double bill.
Signing a new contract with Elektra Records, ANTHRAX promptly ditched Belladonna in favour of ex-ARMORED SAINT man John Bush. These were tough times for the band, as every metal combo on the planet purchased a distortion pedal, grew a goatee, and insisted they weren’t actually metal after all – no, they were grunge!! (of course). All credit to ANTHRAX then, for sticking to their metal guns and releasing SOUND OF WHITE NOISE (1993) {*6}, a barrage of furious riffing that almost topped the work of their mid-80s golden period. Produced by Dave Jerden, and utilising an ANGELO BADALAMENTI track in `Black Lodge’ (a minor hit), there was menace and maelstrom in `Only’ (a UK Top 40 breaker), `Room For One More’ and `Hy Pro Glo’. Follow-up, STOMP 442 (1995) {*4}, was equally ferocious, but was effectively left out in the cold by fickle fans who preferred the nu alt-metal. Spitz’s berth was now filled unofficially by Paul Crook (and on tour), while PANTERA’s Dimebag Darrell and POWERMAN 500’s Mike Tempesta performed guitar guest spots.
Three years in the making, VOLUME 8: THE THREAT IS REAL (1998) {*4} found ANTHRAX spiralling out of contention in one fell swoop, their creativeness and transition going down like a lead “zeppelin” balloon for many of their once-loyal acolytes.
The ever productive Scott Ian had also turned his hand to side-project STORMTROOPERS OF DEATH (aka S.O.D.) back in the mid-80s. A collaboration with Benante, Lilker and ANTHRAX roadie-cum-singer Billy Milano, the project came to life with the release of 1985’s legendary SPEAK ENGLISH OR DIE {*8}. Regarded as one of the pivotal records in the cross-fertilisation of punk/hardcore and thrash metal, the album was a riot of two-minute-wonder noise, fury and irreverent humour which brought charges (not altogether unjustified) of sexism and racism. Incredibly, sales of this cult record eventually topped one million and prompted Megaforce to release a millennial re-mastered edition complete with new studio tracks and live material. While it was originally intended as a one-off affair – Milano going off to form M.O.D. – the group re-formed in 1992 for the ironically-titled LIVE AT BUDOKAN (actually recorded live in New York). From the hilarious IRON MAIDEN pastiche of the cover art to Milano’s crowd baiting, the record was a treat for fans of the original album from which much of the material was used (alongside a few choice covers). Finally, the cult of S.O.D. demanded a follow-up studio album and, in 1999, possibly the most belated sophomore effort in recorded history hit the shelves.
BIGGER THAN THE DEVIL {*7} carried on where their debut had left off all those years ago, showing the young pretenders how to really mosh and how to get a proper sense of humour. No target was too soft for Milano’s caustic gaze with both mealy-mouthed liberals and bigots coming under attack; they mightn’t be bigger than the Devil but SOD probably have all the best jokes. Updating their crossover thrash credentials, studio set number three for STORMTROOPERS OF DEATH came in the shape of RISE OF THE INFIDELS (2007) {*6}; name-checking the likes of Nirvana, Hendrix, Mercury and Sinatra.
Given the musical climate into which ANTHRAX returned in 2003, WE’VE COME FOR YOU ALL {*7} was almost revolutionary in its no-frills thrash metal. While new guitarist and co-producer Rob Caggiano lent a competitive edge to proceedings, there were precious few, if any, concessions to contemporary trends. But then ANTHRAX were always one step removed from their peers. With spandex-rock the unlikeliest of candidates for a fashion resurrection, it wouldn’t have been so surprising to see an 80s back-to-the-roots thrash revival. What certainly was surprising was the appearance of ROGER DALTREY (on `Taking The Music Back’), not quite as revolutionary a collaboration as the CHUCK D one, but effective nonetheless; Dimebag Darrell was also present on `Strap It On’ and `Cadillac Rock Box’.
The band’s undying popularity fired concert set MUSIC OF MASS DESTRUCTION (2004) {*6}; frontman Bush even re-branding a whole album’s worth of back catalogue classics, THE GREATER OF TWO EVILS (2004) {*6}, the latter featuring a fan-tasy track listing selected via internet message board. Yet more revisionism was on the cards with ALIVE 2 (2005) {*7}, a CD/DVD package celebrating the return of Belladonna in place of Bush.
Back from exile (Belladonna had again returned from a hiatus superseding Dan Nelson), album number ten, WORSHIP MUSIC (2011) {*8}, guaranteed an audience for ANTHRAX’s speed-driven vintage metal. Certainly their most powerful and hostile set since their halcyon days of old, one could be forgiven if one imagined thunderous tracks such as `The Devil You Know’, `In The End’ and `Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t’ were spouting from 20-somethings rather than near 50-somethings. Of interest to fans was the obligatory “Anthems” bonus tracks, given to purchasers of the deluxe edition of the set, made up of versions of RUSH’s `Anthem’, AC/DC’s `TNT’, BOSTON’s `Smokin’’, `Keep On Runnin’’ (JOURNEY), `Big Eyes’ (CHEAP TRICK) and `Jailbreak’ (THIN LIZZY).
Over the years ANTHRAX have dished out a few covers, including: `Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ (BLACK SABBATH), `Friggin’ In The Riggin’’ (The SEX PISTOLS), `Protest And Survive’ (DISCHARGE), `Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun’ (BEASTIE BOYS), `Auf Wiedersehen’ (CHEAP TRICK), `London’ (The SMITHS), `Cowboy Song’ (THIN LIZZY), `Remember Tomorrow’ (IRON MAIDEN), `Love Her All I Can’ + `She’ + `Watchin’ You’ (KISS), `Celebrated Summer’ (HUSKER DU), `Dethroned Emperor’ (CELTIC FROST), `No Time This Time’ (The POLICE), `The Bends’ (RADIOHEAD).
2016’s vitriolic Viking concept, FOR ALL KINGS {*6}, was ANTHRAX’s first to introduce seasoned lead guitarist Jonathan Donais (of SHADOWS FALL); a replacement in 2013 for Cagganio. Interspersed with swathes of orchestral manoeuvres (opener `You Gotta Believe’ a prime example), and other lighter-fuel fluff, the menacing `Monster At The End’, the machine-gun drumming from `Defend Avenge’ and the grunge-y `All Of Them Thieves’, were more or less the meat, skull and crossbones of this hour-long, socio-political set.
Captured live in concert, the perennial ANTHRAX were the bees knees; captured live at the Barrowlands in Glasgow (2017), ANTHRAX had become synonymous with the term “rock gods”. So with the spring 2018 release of double-CD/DVD documentary, KINGS AMONG SCOTLAND {*6}, the bar was raised high; the roof even higher.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/MCS/BG // rev-up MCS Aug2013-Apr2018

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