Anthrax‘s 11th studio album For All Kings arrives after a few tumultuous years for the thrash metal titans. All the signs were there that For All Kings would maybe not become such a stellar album, but the opposite is true: Just when you least expect it, Anthrax surprise the hell out of everyone by releasing the strongest album in their career.
Unlike the other “Big Four” bands, Anthrax never really had that game changer of an album; Metallica had Master of Puppets and their black album, Megadeth had Rust In Piece and Countdown to Extinction, and Slayer had Reign in Blood and Seasons in The Abyss. The closest Anthrax got to this level was the A-side of ‘Among the Living’ – until now. For All Kings is that album for Anthrax – finally. It combines the melodies of Spreading The Disease and the heavy riffage of Among The Living with the socio-critical lyrics of Persistence of Time, and the more mature and adventurous songwriting of the John Bush-era.
This career high comes at the most unexpected of moments, as the band has had a more than turbulent decade. First of all, they’ve had almost more singer changes than Australia has had Prime Minister swaps in recent years (Bush got replaced when Joey Belladonna returned in 2005, who then left early 2007 and got replaced by Dan Nelson late that same year, who then got replaced again by John Bush in 2009, who then left again in 2010 and handed the reigns back to Belladonna – are you still with us?). Then drummer Charlie Benante couldn’t leave the U.S. for a while because of domestic abuse allegations, and by the time this was settled it turned out he had developed carpal tunnel syndrome in one of his hands which prevented him from drumming for prolonged periods of time.
To add to the troubles, lead guitarist Rob Caggiano quit the band late 2012 to join Volbeat instead. Anthrax was booked to play Soundwave 2013 and a last-minute replacement was found in Shadows Fall-guitarist Jonathan Donais. If you saw the band live here that year, you may agree that Donais at the time had a wooden stage presence that made him look more like a hired hand than like an actual new member. Since then the more and more frequent absence of Benante started to cast shadows over the band’s future, and during the group’s most recent European tour last month Jon Dette was again replacing him behind the drumkit, just like he did Down Under in 2013.
During all these tough years the band’s only new release was 2011’s ‘Worship Music’, which was a decent effort but not the amazing comeback album fans were hoping for. However ‘For All Kings’ blows its predecessor completely out of the water; Anthrax is firing on all cylinders like never before. How the hell is this possible you ask? It turns out that Benante’s involuntary absence may have been a blessing in disguise, as he suddenly had all the time in the world to write new material (for those who were not aware of this, Benante and guitarist Scott Ian write the vast majority of the band’s music). The result is the most consistent collection of songs Anthrax has delivered in their whole career.
After the mysterious intro ‘Impaled’ the album kicks off with the glorious thrasher ‘You Gotta Believe‘, which halfway through makes space for a fantastic solo by Denais. The new axeman is now a full-time member and proves straight away he has earned his spot – and then some. The melodic second track ‘Monster In The End‘ is singer Joey Belladonna’s first moment to shine, but there are many more to follow. Like the title track for instance, with a chorus that would make Iron Maiden jealous. Anthrax are about to go on tour with Maiden in South America as their special guests, and you can already imagine Bruce Dickinson and Steve Harris going green with envy when they hear their special guests play ‘For All Kings‘. How they’d wish they would have come up with that chorus!
But it gets even better with ‘Breathing Lightning‘, the second single of the album. There is so much emphasis on melody here it almost sounds like Anthrax doing a metal-version of a Journey song. If we compare Anthrax to Journey, then we can go as far as saying ‘Breathing Lightning’ could be their ‘Don’t Stop Believin’. Bass player Frank Bello already called it when he said “That should be the biggest song Anthrax has ever had” and we couldn’t agree with him more. ‘Breathing Lightning’ even gets its own minute-long outro, ‘Breathing Out’, so listeners can take a moment to let the awesomeness of what they just heard sink in.
It should be safe to assume all tracks on this catchy A-side will join the heavy first single ‘Evil Twin‘ on the band’s regular setlist. After this first half the album goes into more adventurous directions but the level remains consistently high: There are no fillers on this album. ‘Suzerain‘ is a throwback to the John Bush-years, as it sounds a lot like the track ‘Poison My Eyes‘ which the band recorded for the Last Action Hero-soundtrack back in 1993. The 7 minute long epic ‘Blood Eagle Wings‘ was hinted at by Scott Ian as the third single from the album, however it may not be accessible enough for that. ‘Defend Avenge‘ is another excellent thrasher, with a main riff that sounds like Megadeth’s ‘Polaris’, while ‘This Battle Chose Us‘ has a chorus that sounds like a nod to Metallica’s ‘Orion’. And when we say “sounds like” that’s not in a rip-off kind of way, but more in a shoutout kind of way, the way rappers reference each other in their songs as a token of appreciation. ‘This Battle Chose Us’ also yet again features excellent vocals from Belladonna, who hasn’t been given this much to work with since Spreading the Disease. And mind you, this review is written by a big John Bush-fan!
In between these two songs we find ‘All Of Them Thieves‘, which is a bit of a sleeper; it won’t grab you the first few times, but has a chorus that will get stuck in your head for days. Closer ‘Zero Tolerance‘ is the only track that does not live up to the high standard of the album, although fans of the heavier stuff may still appreciate it. ‘Soror Irruminator‘, last year’s new track that didn’t make it onto the album, would have been a better fit. But let’s not start nitpicking here, instead let us rejoice that these thrash kings have returned to claim their crowns. The album artwork actually has an image of five massive statues representing the band members as kings. Sure enough that may look a bit megalomaniac, but if you make an album this awesome then such an image all of a sudden becomes very fitting and appropriate.
Only less than two months ago, while on holidays in Europe, I turned down a mate’s invitation to go and see Anthrax in concert with the words: “They don’t have Benante, the new guitar guy is a hired hand, they’ve had the same setlist for three years now and I prefer Bush over Belladonna anyway”. Instead I went to see John Bush and Armored Saint instead, who were in the area at the same time (and who delivered an absolutely amazing gig by the way). However after hearing For All Kings I’d pay top dollar to see Anthrax play their new stuff live. Let’s hope this album will give the guys back their headliner status; after supporting Slayer in Europe the last few months they are currently opening for Lamb of God in the U.S. before they go on the road with Iron Maiden in South America. However with an album like this up their sleeves these kings deserve to be back on top of the bill.
‘For All Kings’ will be released in Australia on Friday the 26th of February.
You can pre-order ‘For All Kings’ through iTunes here.