All Access Review: A
A dark, evil hymnal for the damned, Anthrax’s Worship Music is a gloriously aggressive monstrosity, frightening in its intensity and yet somehow also melodically captivating. Already anointed by metal’s cognoscenti as one of the New York City bashers’ greatest works, the record is Anthrax’s first with singer Joey Belladonna since 1990’s Persistence of Time, and the long-awaited reunion, brokered for the recent earth-conquering Big 4 tour with Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth, has birthed a thrash-metal masterpiece, a teeth-gnashing symphony of sonic mayhem and beautiful violence that never takes a smoke break.
More than that, however, Worship Music is classic Anthrax. It doesn’t suffer from an identity crisis. Thirty years into a career built on uncompromising, brutal music, Anthrax has stayed true to itself, despite numerous vocalists and other personnel changes. Even when they stretch out a bit, like in the soul-searching, cavernous chorus “The Giant,” where Belladona passionately wails, “Caught between the lines of right and wrong yeah/Caught between the things that I don’t know,” Anthrax stamps its mark on the track with a heavy, furious cyclone of serrated guitars, pounding rhythms and a heaving bridge as clear proof that they’re as grounded and comfortable in their own skin as any metal band that’s ever lived.
To put it another way, Anthrax is, indeed, the devil you know, and the sprawling Worship Music won’t leave anybody wondering if Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, Frank Bello, Rob Caggiano and, of course, Belladonna, have traded in their aggressive, high-velocity riffage, searing guitar solos, hammering drums and quaking, blinding bass lines – not to mention Belladonna’s primal, raging vocal waging piercing through the magnificent din – for a bag of magic beans and glitzy, pop-music stardom. After the haunting instrumental intro “Worship,” Anthrax ignites all-out war in “Earth on Hell,” a hornets’ nest of activity and energy that attacks the senses from every angle. “The Devil You Know” follows, and its momentum is unstoppable. A runaway semi of sound with an instantly memorable chorus (“Gotta go with the devil you know!”) and an impossibly heavy groove, “The Devil You Know” has secured its place among Anthrax’s most revered aural assaults. And speaking of aural assaults, the unrelenting “Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can” – a song about fending off a zombie apocalypse – is a street fight of Benante’s vicious, martial-arts-style drumming, sharp guitar stabs and Belladonna’s bare-knuckled vocals.
Heavier still is the militaristic stomp of “I’m Alive,” with its thick, crushing riffs and Belladonna delivering the poisonous lyric “heaven lives in every gun” with gut-level urgency and theatrics, while the churning epic “In the End” rises slowly and majestically like a rogue wave that’s about to crash down on a defenseless fishing trawler. Everything on Worship Music boggles the senses. It’s war-like, with a little bit of dark, oaken cello and the occasional church bell for atmosphere. Tempos shift on a dime, and Anthrax’s frantic energy strains at the leash, while Belladonna barks like a Doberman at times and soars to the sun when coaxed to fly, like he does on the retina-scorching supernova “Crawl.” Always ready to do battle in the streets if they have to – as the haymaker-throwing, nose-bloodying riots of “The Constant” and “Revolution Screams” bear out – with Worship Music, Anthrax has come to blow open the doors of cathedrals everywhere and unleash hell.