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ALBUM: Anthrax – ‘For All Kings’

ALBUM: Anthrax – ‘For All Kings’


Thirty-five years into their illustrious career and the New York thrashers that are Anthrax have no intent of slowing down nor repeating history. After one of the most heralded comebacks from a metal band in recent memory with 2011’s Worship Music, the hardest ever are back once more to prove they are metal royalty with their twelfth studio album For All Kings. But do they take the throne, or get chopped underneath the guillotine of age?

First thing’s first, just another thrash record this is not. Whereas Worship Music‘s core was based around returning to a high-energy, aggressive sound for the band For All Kings dives deeper into classic metal territory with an emphasis on dynamics. A band with a career as long as Anthrax could easily have churned out some more fast riffs over double bass and considered it a triumph, but For All Kings ends up being a treat for both the band’s established fanbase and any listener looking for some solid metal in 2016. Reason being is that this album expands the band’s sound to proportions they simply couldn’t have reached without having been around for this long. Anthrax are metal veterans and nothing less than a masterful group of musicians could have created this record.

The proof is in the peaks and valleys this disc has to offer. There are still faster songs, but they hit harder than ever when compared to the slow-burners, mid-stompers and soaring anthems the album also possesses. No matter what tempo the band are playing in the riffs are plentiful, a key ingredient to Anthrax’s sound. The best addition to their sound however happens to be the amount of adventurous exploration the group injects into each song. The songwriting tends to be digestible. It’s the bridges that really go far out in terms of ambition. I’m talking Megadeth-esque sections of dual solos punctuated by interesting tempo changes and masterful transitions. Chalk it up to one of the veterans of the genre to know how to continuously implement new elements into their music by learning from their peers and the changing metal climate.

Kicking the album off with an ominous string section and a pulsing rhythm throws the album headfirst into the most chaotic riff we’ve heard from the band since the Among The Living days. From here the verses of “You’ve Gotta Believe” become a decidedly modern chugging section before going back into the thrashy riff established in the intro. Only 2 minutes into the album the listener will be able to tell that every member of Anthrax are in fine form, and I do mean EVERY member. There isn’t a musician on this album that doesn’t get some form of spotlight at some point. Specifically, Shadows Fall axeman Jon Donais’ addition to Anthrax as lead guitarist reveals him to be the group’s best guitarist since Dan Spitz’s departure. To expand upon the current Anthrax lineup is to showcase one of metal’s best core lineups – You’d be hard-pressed to find many metal vocalists that have aged as well as Joey Belladonna who imbues every line he utters with such a triumphant passion. Scott Ian is a positively ripping rhythm guitarist and the group would be quite different without his signature gruff backing shouts. Frank Bello is one of the most monstrous bassists in the genre, his presence adding a layer of depth to Anthrax that no other could provide. Lastly, Charlie Benante’s ridiculous percussion skills have only gotten crazier with time.

“You’ve Gotta Believe” is aptly named – This early in the album it already makes a believer out of the listener, especially with its epic bridge transition that acts as a call to arms for what’s to come. In case that track doesn’t sell you however, “Monster At The End” just might. Whereas “You’ve Gotta Believe” could be somewhat compared to Anthrax’s back catalog with its bursts of speed this one hones in on a dark, vivid mid-tempo energy that has never been heard by the band before. It’s not that the track is instrumentally heavy. Rather, the chilling vibe one receives while hearing Jon’s lead melodies and Belladonna’s incredibly expressive vocal delivery cause the song to feel as weighty as a horror flick climax. Just as in “You’ve Gotta Believe” Frank’s bass and Charlie’s drum fills are extremely notable.

The title track allows Joey to wear his vocal influences on his sleeve, with a chorus that will bring to mind Bruce Dickenson from Iron Maiden’s best moments. As a matter of fact, the Maiden influence is all over this track and one of Anthrax’s most melodic songs to-date. This is another faster track, but with a building and eventually towering sound in comparison to “You’ve Gotta Believe”s chaos. The following track is yet another departure from Anthrax’s norms. Similar to “Crawl” off Worship Music, “Breathing Lightning” is a track based more around Joey’s vocals and the vibe his delivery offers. Not many bands can pull this concept off well, but that’s because not many bands have a vocalist as special as Joey Belladonna. This one features a massive chorus and soft bursts of ethereal clean guitar and a real kicker of a mid-tempo riff that will get toes tapping and heads nodding. “Breathing Lightning” is one such song where the dynamics take center stage, in this case through an ambient and floaty clean bridge before charging into a beautiful solo from Jon.

The transitions from this point forward are into two heavier tracks. The first one of these is “Suzerain”, a groove-focused track that carries with it a chorus that will recall “Breathing Lightning”‘s periodic ambience but a ferocious chugging riff. Joey hits some truly incredible notes in this one and I can only smile when hearing him sing “Nothing is over”, a statement of determination that proves Anthrax are still alive and kicking, as if their music doesn’t speak clearly enough for them in that respect. The next track, “Evil Twin”, will be familiar to any fan of the group’s speedy, aggressive material. Beginning with a riff reminiscent of something Kerry King would write for Slayer the track spirals through several interesting phases, including a hell of a main hook and Anthrax’s first breakdown section. It’s elements like this and the polished production that help this album coexist in the modern age.

Showing yet another side to Anthrax, “Blood Eagle Wings” is the album’s climax and easily the most epic song on the entire record. The intro will recall the 90’s grunge era, specifically Alice In Chains, but everything from there is purely cinematic. This song, the slowest Anthrax song to-date, is reliant on the effects Joey’s voice can have on the mood of the music. It clocks in at seven minutes long and is the kind of progressive trip usually reserved for a band like Led Zeppelin. Anthrax pull it off more than eloquently and it’s a nice surprise.

The remainder of the record is a strong, hook-laden romp through anthemic declarations and aggressive condemnation. “This Battle Chose Us” is, at the least, celebratory and triumphant of the success Anthrax have achieved, rightfully so. “Defend Avenge” is outspoken, malicious and one of the album’s heavier cuts. “All of Them Thieves” builds-up with angry intent with an emphasis on groove reminiscent of Pantera before ramping up into a blistering solo. It’s “Zero Tolerance” that ends up being the most finger-pointing, sociopolitical song on the entire record and it’s a total callback to the group’s speed metal roots. Win-win for sure, but the ripping solo and expert playing especially makes it so. Suitable ending to a totally classic record.

When it comes to pure chemistry, enthusiasm and expression Anthrax have always been and still are forerunners. Despite bumps in the road and difficult moments that would end most bands they continue to release solid material that adds positively to their catalog. In this specific instance the most inspired songs don’t come from a purely musical standpoint, but the amount of emotion that can be felt within the running time. The risks taken on For All Kings have led to some of Anthrax’s best songs in years and though it’s an extremely high-quality record the ambition notably proves 2016 still needs Anthrax. It seems the throne will not be vacant for quite awhile.


Matthew Powers I write reviews for CaliberTV and enjoy the existence of music.