Album Review: Anthrax - 'For All Kings'
A purposeful marching beat over ominous widescreen strings and mournful keys, followed by a dramatic change of direction and some of the fastest picking and on-point drumming you’ll hear all year; welcome to ‘For All Kings’. The follow-up to 2011’s comeback, and some might say - ‘Among The Living’ not withstanding - career defining ‘Worship Music’, ‘For All Kings’ has the difficult task of following up to what was a landmark album for the New York five-piece. The good news however, is that once again, Anthrax are a band on fierce form.
That’s not to say that they ever really lost it. Although there is no doubt that there were marked deviations and dalliances away from their core sound during their John Bush-fronted years, Anthrax never delivered a duff album. Since finding their feet with the reinstatement of vocalist Joey Belladonna however, the ship, and the band’s direction has steadied, and ‘For All Kings’ sees a much surer Anthrax deliver this, their eleventh studio album.
It all kicks off with ‘You Gotta Believe’. Anthrax have always delivered classic openers (see; ‘A.I.R’, ‘Among The Living, ‘What Doesn’t Die’ etc.) and once again, they don’t disappoint. With a running time of over seven minutes, it’s one of the longest tracks that the band has ever recorded. With dramatic twists and turns, it’s also the most progressive Anthrax track in over two decades. A heavy blistering break-neck thrasher, it gives way to a measured mid-section that recalls ‘Black Lodge’s brooding menace.
It’s a song that provides the perfect introduction to new guitarist Jon Donais. In recent interviews, both band leader Scott Ian and bassist Frank Bello have been singing the praises of the shredder, and for once, the hyperbole holds up. Donais’ prowess is all over the album, turning in a melodic, harmonised soloing that mixes speed, technique and melody with just the right amount of flash, adding an extra layer of magic to ‘For All Kings’ musical tapestry. Where the opener gives the guitarist a chance to show what he’s made of, Donais’ contributions right through to closing old school thrasher ‘Zero Tolerance’ illustrate why he might just be the best guitarist the band has ever had.
It’s Belladonna however, who sits atop ‘For All Kings’ throne. For a vocalist much maligned when his singing style wasn’t fashionable, it seems utterly ludicrous now to think that Anthrax ever got rid of him in the first place. With an astounding range, and a fantastical yet appropriate use of layered harmonies, tracks such the pounding ‘The Monster At The End’, the title track, and album centrepiece; the heavily melodious ‘Breathing Lightning’ soar.
‘For All Kings’ is an album that is bursting with melody in fact, perfectly balancing the thrash attack of old with their more measured 1990s sensibilities. And whilst the pummelling ‘Suzerain’ amply marries both universes, it’s the likes of the brooding ‘Blood Eagle Wings’ which really demonstrate just how keen the Anthrax ear really is.
The fire and optimism on display throughout reveal a band very much still in the thrall of their rebirth, and the final piece of the puzzle is the awesome gleaming production of Jay Ruston. Whilst some of their contemporaries may be bigger, they never sound better than Anthrax, and even the likes of Iron Maiden and Metallica could benefit from their sonic approach.
All of which means that ‘For All Kings’ is indeed a release fit for royalty. And whilst not as instant as ‘Worship Music’, overall, it’s the more consistent body of work. A sure-fire contender for album of the year, to quote the Slayer-esque ‘Defend Avenge’; “mark my words”, this album will get under the skin. Long live the kings!
By Eamon O'Neill.
First published on uberrock.co.uk, 22 Febuary 2016.