In terms of commercial success, these are good days for thrash metal. In the last year, SLAYER, MEGADETH and now ANTHRAX have all, in their debut weeks, cracked the Billboard Top 200 Chart's top 10. Glitz and glamour aside, the quality of the music is what matters most for metal fanatics, and ANTHRAX doesn't disappoint with 2016's "For All Kings".
Joey Belladonna, originally in the band from 1984-1992, returned to the fold five years ago with "Worship Music". That album was a return to form for those craving more traditionally recognizable aspects of thrash metal, a logical direction considering the vocalist's soaring style. With "For All Kings", ANTHRAX continues to carry the old-school thrash torch, encapsulated with bright, clean, modern production, and improved songwriting. The album also introduces guitarist Jon Donais who replaced Rob Caggiano. Opening track "You Gotta Believe" sets the tone with a charging pace. The song highlights Belladonna's characteristic melodic sensibilities, before easing up with dexterous, calm lead guitar work and an approach that seems inspired by BLACK SABBATH's more soothing moments. The title track also thrashes confrontationally with the likable juxtaposition of Belladonna's powerful, extremely catchy, memorable vocal lines.
"Breathing Lightning" boldly reaches into hard rock territory, replete with beautifully executed, layered vocals reminiscent of seventies arena rock. But sticking your neck out doesn't always work. The same approach falls flat with a chorus as cheesy as modern rock radio. Even with this song, there is plenty of tasteful musicianship and composition elsewhere to soak in, an inevitability for a band as good as ANTHRAX.
"All of Them Thieves" stands out with its blend of hypnotizing vocal melodies and raging thrash; the song is uniquely spiced with an interesting riff that almost sounds black metal. "This Battle Chose Us" serves as a reminder that Scott Ian and ANTHRAX are capable of churning out some of metal's best riffs. "Suzerain" proves the same with a riff that's even more punishing.
"For All Kings" finds ANTHRAX in fine fighting form. It isn't as spectacular as the thrash metal masterpiece "Persistence of Time", nor its adventurous follow-up "Sound of White Noise", the 1993 album that debuted ARMORED SAINT vocalist, and Belladonna's replacement, John Bush. "Sound of White Noise" is an underrated effort that showed ANTHRAX pushing the envelope in a manner that still sounds fresh and unique, rendering "For All Kings" dated, regressive and safe by comparison. Metal would benefit greatly if they choose to draw water from that well once again.