I Listen to Anthrax for the First Time

In the continuing series of “I listen to,” I’ve tackled artists that I either don’t know at all, or I only know a handful of songs. Sometimes the results reveal comically terrible music – such as with the case of Nickelback. Sometimes the results brings an almost transcendent result, such as the case of Mastodon. Good or bad, or even somewhere in between, I always enjoy exploring these bands. This month, I decide to listen to Anthrax for the very first time.

Yes, I have never listened to Anthrax before writing this article. I’ve mentioned in previous articles my puritanical musical upbringing. A band like slayer – with a pentagram as their symbol, would not fly in my parents’ house. My mom, god rest her soul, is probably up in heaven at this very moment saying….”why is he exposing himself to that kind of crap?” Still – I want to judge for myself…I want to see if Anthrax truly belongs as one of the Big 4 of thrash metal. So, with that said, enjoy the ride as I listen to Anthrax….for the very first time.

I listen to Anthrax for the very first time.

Only (1993)

The very first sounds from Anthrax I hear are thundering drums…followed by a steady, and fairly long, guitar riff. So far, I approve. As we get into the lyrics, I hear what sounds like an angry break up song. The significant other appears to be vain, shallow, and moody. The singer just can’t stand their partner’s behavior anymore….and so he sings them this song. Standard rock and roll fare, but done well enough.

The lyrics on the outro certainly catch my ear:

Crucified, terrified, sacrifice, my whole life

My whole life, my whole life, my whole life

My whole life

If only

I can’t contain myself

I can’t contain myself

I just can’t take myself

With these lyrics, Anthrax hammers their point home. The singer is not going to take it. This is the (bleep)ing end. Bye bye. So long. Don’t let the door hit you on the (bleep) on your way out. So powerful!

Back to the drums, they really do amaze me – the very same thundering drum beats in the beginning of the song echo throughout most of the song, and lay a steady foundation.

Only gives us a great little break up song. Only also gives me a positive introduction to Anthrax. If I like the rest of the songs as much as I like Only, I forsee at least a mild Anthrax fandom in my future.

Grade: B+

Caught in a Mosh (1987)

Caught in a Mosh, on the surface, sounds like a basic thrash metal anthem. However, the song serves as a metaphor about dealing with people that don’t get you and your lifestyle. Ultimately – that’s all there is to say about the song. Don’t get me wrong – Caught in a Mosh is a great song – I love it! It’s just a simple song, even with its deeper meaning.

That backstory of the title is interesting, however. The title was inspired by a guitar tech who fell into a mosh pit. While being treated for a back injury, he yelled “Dude, I got caught in a mosh!” The band ran with the line, and the stagehand recovered.

Grade: B

The Devil You know (2011)

The Devil You Know starts out with full rock instrumentation, and a couple false starts. After the third false start, we finally hear a cymbal in the silence, and finally the song starts in full. I’m intrigued – this certainly brings suspense.

Ultimately, The Devil You Know talks about sticking to your own code of ethics – but more importantly, recognizing (and even accepting) your vices and sins. “You got to go with the devil you know.” Perhaps a deeper, more philosophical, meaning to the song….maybe The Devil You Know speaks to other heavy metal and hard rock acts. Specifically, those that fake their “evilness.” Acts such as Rob Zombie come to mind – or perhaps I’m over analyzing.

Regardless – The Devil You Know isn’t the best thrash metal song I’ve heard. Some of the background vocals sound forced and trendy….strangely reminiscent to the male vocalist from Evanescence (that’s not a good thing, and I’m sure Amy Lee would agree). The guitar riffs repeat a little too much. Oh, and that suspense? Meh. It seems to build for nothing.

Grade: C

Madhouse (1985)

Madhouse begins with a nurse saying “It’s time for your medication Mr Brown. AND THEN A SCREAM SCARES THE $^@! OUT OF ME!!! We get the distinct impression Madhouse will be a song about a horrific asylum. Well…the title gives that away already, but still.

As the actual song starts, a proper guitar riff screams at us almost as loud as the man in the intro. The lyrics lament a hopeless situation – a man with mental illness. He can’t get better on his own, but he can’t get the proper treatment in the abusive madhouse – all he gets is subdued by drugs.

Madhouse does a wonderful job at bringing a cringy and unsettled feelling to the listener. Madhouse makes me feel sick – but in a way that makes me think about the song’s message.

Grade: B

Indians (1987)

Indians starts with a solid rock instrumental. A solid drum beat with electric guitars amped to 11! As we reach the lyrics, we hear a song about apathy and greed – and how said apathy and greed led to the death and displacement of millions Native Americans / First Nations people.

The bridges on Indians really get interesting. We hear a call and response on the lyrics “Forced out / brave and mighty, Stolen land / they can’t fight it, Hold on / to pride and tradition.” This serves as an excellent build up to the chorus (Cry for the Indians, Die for the Indians).

About a third of the way through the song, we get a war cry about the territory lost, and the prejudice shown to the indigenous North Americans. We also get an absolute killer guitar solo! Up until this section, Indians was a great song….but now its an excellent song!

Grade: A-

In The End (2011)

The intro of In The End dabbles in symphonic metal, and then dips into a slow metal tempo – almost like a ballad. About halfway through In The End, we hear a standard thrash metal tempo, followed by a slow metal tempo once more. The results sound truly epic.

Of course, if there’s a song that should sound epic, it should be In The End. The song serves as a tribute to “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott and Ronnie James Dio. Throughout the song, Anthrax shows what an influence these two men had on the band, both musically and personally. Sure – their times were not always good. The line “Did I thank you for tearing my head off? / Ripping my heart out…” proves that their relationships had turmoil. Yet they thank both deceased men for doing this nonetheless.

In the End speaks to me as someone whose lost people myself. It’s never easy – and you miss the bad and the good times. You miss the times the deceased were more than human with you, in both good and bad ways. I could rip In The End apart for technicalities – but the song has touched me. So in the spirit of the song, I say thank you Anthrax. I don’t know if I’m a fan of yours yet, but I do love this song.

One last thing – In the End starts with bells that sound suspiciously close to those in AC/DC’s “Hells Bells.” Coincidence? Maybe….but fitting nonetheless.

Grade: A

Belly of the Beast (1990)

Belly of the Beast sounds great, but also seems like a song that’s easily forgettable unless you’re a die hard Anthrax fan. This is tragic, as the song speaks about something that should never be forgotten – The Holocaust. Perhaps that’s the point though – perhaps we just forget about atrocities until history repeats itself….just like we forget about a thrash metal song until it plays randomly on our headphones.

Grade: C

I Am the Law (1987)

As I listen to I Am the Law for the first time, I hear exactly what I expect: a song about a cop who lets his power go to his head. A cop who flashes his gun as a sign of authority. A cop who doesn’t care about justice, only about control. With that said, my first impression of I Am the Law is wrong…sort of.

I Am the Law is actually about the graphic novel “2000 AD,” and the character of Judge Dredd. Guitarist Scott Ian loved the title so much, he got a comic shop in New York City to import a couple copies each month for five times the actual cost!

I must be honest – this new information changes my whole perception of I Am the Law. We went from a semi ok song about unchecked police power, to a geek rock song! This hits me right in the pathos! It also makes me wonder if maybe, just maybe there’s some Anthrax songs I should dive into deeper. Maybe one of those songs I didn’t review happens to be an homage to Fritz the Cat or Ghost World, or hell, even an Archie title! Now that I’ve discovered Ian is a comic reader….I’m really interested.

Grade: B+

Will I listen to Anthrax again?

My opinion on Anthrax is all over the place. Ultimately, I think I like them on a song by song basis. I’ll listen to Anthrax when they touch my heart like In The End. I’ll listen to Anthrax when they sing about comic books. Apparently I won’t listen to Anthrax when, they sing about mental institutions. For the most part though – I’ll probably only listen to Anthrax when Spotify randomly plays their music. I’m just not invested in the music of Anthrax.

I will say this: Anthrax obviously cares about social justice. That should be commended. Anthrax might not dig as deep as I’d like them too, and may not have the literary references I found in Iron Maiden, but they do know how to play thrash metal and make a difference doing so. Perhaps this is on purpose…maybe Anthrax keeps their message simple so as to appease to a wider audience. I can certainly respect that at least. At least Anthrax has something worthy to say.

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