Saturday, April 28, 2012

April 28: Anthrax, "Among The Living"

Artist: Anthrax
Album: Among The Living
Year: 1987
Label: Island

As the classic era of punk began to fade and then 1970's turned into the 1980's, a new style of music began to form. Taking the high octane energy of the punk sound and fusing it together with the volume and power of bands like Black Sabbath and Motörhead, a sound which was dubbed "speed metal" began to appear on the music scene. Along with the likes of Slayer and Metallica, one of the key bands in this new movement, and a band that remains a massive influence to this day was the New York City based band, Anthrax. Though the band went through a number of lineup changes, Anthrax solidified what would be their "classic" lineup before their 1984 major label debut. Both their debut and follow-up records remain cornerstones of the speed metal genre, yet it is their third album, 1987's Among The Living that is a true classic and contains their finest work. In many ways, Among The Living displayed everything that made Anthrax so brilliant, from the balance of socially aware lyrics with their trademark tongue-in-cheek musings, to some of the most fierce musical compositions that the world has ever heard.  The band is absolutely in top-form on every moment of the album, and there are few records from the world of heavy metal that can even remotely compare to Anthrax's superb 1987 recording, Among The Living.

Truth be told, few songs so perfectly capture their title, as "Caught In A Mosh" quickly builds to a musical frenzy, and anyone who has ever been in a mosh pit can clearly feel the crowd moving around them. From  start to finish, the song is masterfully deployed musical mayhem, yet the music remains focused and disciplined amidst the swirling chaos, much like the eye of a tornado. On many levels, this song perfectly displays everything that makes Anthrax so phenomenal, and it mirrors the entire album as a whole.  After a series of rhythmically crushing chords, which almost serve as a warning siren of what's to come, Frank Bello drops into the song with one of the most wild and tension-fueled basslines that has ever been written. What follows across the remainder of the album is one of the most brain crushing and absolutely stunning displays of controlled chaos in music history. The drumming of Charlie Benante rarely sounded better, and the break-neck pace which he keeps throughout the recrod serves as a testament to his talents. Along with the fantastic work of the rhythm section, the dual guitars of Dan Spitz and Scott Ian remains today one of the most legendary sounds in the history of the metal genre. The fact that they are playing at such an amazingly fast tempo at every turn, yet never sacrifice any of the musicality of the song is one of the key aspects that sets Anthrax apart from the rest of the metal genre.

While many have tried over the years, few metal vocalists can present as much diversity, without ever losing the tone and energy as one finds in the singing of Joey Belladonna. From his aggressive spoken-word parts to his soaring singing, Belladonna is absolutely brilliant on every part of Among The Living. As the tension of the music ebbs and flows, so does Belladonna's vocal delivery, and the fusion of the two quickly sets the record far above the work of a majority of their peers. While the music is absolutely mesmerizing, and the vocals are truly perfect, as a whole, Among The Living also features some of Anthrax's finest lyrics ever. While at face value, the songs may seem little more than a a series of tunes to get the crowd energized, the metaphors of a person being fed up with their partner, or general frustration at the world runs through the entire record.  Summing up the frustrations of the broken relationship in a manner with which all can relate, Belladonna roars, "...shut up, shut up, I don't wanna hear your mouth...your mother made a monster, now get the hell out of my house..." The fact that the lyrics are ambiguous in terms of gender makes the song even more universal, and it is a major reason why the song has become so iconic. Whether it is the blistering manner with which he delivers the words, or the lyrics themselves, there is simply no other vocalist in history quite like Joey Belladonna.

Not only presenting an album full of songs that can still make crowds explode to this day, but songs which brings both a universal sentiment and masterfully placed "sing along" moments, there are very few metal records that are as perfectly crafted as Anthrax's Among The Living. Standing today as one of the earlier "crossover"albums  from the "speed metal" genre, Anthrax remains one of the few early bands that have not sold out to pop sounds in any way. While their entire 1987 release, Among The Living, is an absolutely genius body of work, "Caught In A Mosh" is clearly the stand-out track on the record, as it perfectly captures everything that makes the groups' music so fantastic, and it also contains one of the finest lyrics ever penned. With the rhythm section of Bello and Benante driving full speed ahead at an absolutely mind-boggling pace, there are truly very few albums that can keep such a tempo without becoming boring or simply sloppy. Similarly, both Scott Ian and Dan Spitz are in rare form on Among The Living, and the progressions and solos rank among the most ferocious and flawless in music history. Capped off my Joey Belladonna's sensational vocal delivery, the record truly embodies everything that there is to love about the entire speed metal genre. The fact that the group moves so magnificently as a single unit, along with the sheer power and energy of the album is the reason why Anthrax's 1987 record, Among The Living, remains a stunning musical classic to this day.

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