Anthrax – Spreading the Disease
Picking up where we left off, this morning I’m cranking Anthrax’s 2nd full-length record ‘Spreading the Disease’. If you read the ‘Fistful of metal’ write-up, you may remember me saying that with that record the band hadn’t quite developed their own sound yet, but you could hear the potential. The follow-up, the ‘Armed and Dangerous’ EP hinted at what their own style would sound like. But with ‘Spreading the Disease’ I’d say Anthrax found their groove solidified their sound. A sound they would stick with it for the next three records.
As I’ve mentioned in past reviews the first song I ever heard by Anthrax was the 3rd song from this record ‘Madhouse’. I’m thinking it was probably around 1986 when I saw the video for it. I grew up in a neighborhood that wasn’t populated enough to have cable run through it. So, if a family wanted to enjoy HBO, MTV, or the likes, they had to get a satellite dish, one of those big ten feet dishes that took forever to move across the horizon, to pick up various satellites. Eventually, my family would get one such dish, but before that, I had to wander over to my neighbors two houses over to watch satellite TV. There was one station that I wanted to watch. It was really only one hour, one day a week, I wanted to watch. That was 4 pm every Thursday when Canada’s version of MTV, Much Music, would air the Pepsi Power hour, their version of Headbangers Ball. The Power Hour predated Headbangers Ball by a few years, and in my opinion was 1,000 times better. If you stick with me throughout this series, you will see that this won’t be the last time I mention The Pepsi Power Hour.
Anyway, I’m thinking it was the summer of 1986 when I caught Anthrax’s appearance on the Power Hour. We all dabbled a little bit in skateboarding at the time (some more than others) and here was a metal band being interviewed in a parking lot riding skateboards, so that caught our attention. Though I was vaguely aware of the band, I knew nothing about them, what style of music they played, or what their personalities might be like. I seem to remember that I knew they were a bit heavier than bands like W.A.S.P., KISS and Motley Crue, which is what I was mainly listening to at the time, and my experience was that those heavier bands always seemed to act all serious trying to be “evil”. Yet here was this thrash band dressed like skaters, riding boards and being all goofy. That made them stand out a bit. Plus, when they got around to playing the ‘Madhouse’ video I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the vocalist, Joey Belladonna, sang as opposed to screamed and growled. I immediately liked the band and wanted to hear more.
It would be a few more months before I would hear more of Anthrax’s music, which would be in the form of their 3rd record, and best in my opinion, ‘Among the Living’, which we’ll talk about more in the next post. I think it might have been another year before I heard ‘Spreading the Disease all the way through. Right now I honestly don’t remember when or how I ended up with my cassette copy of it. If I were to guess, I’d say it was during the summer of 1987 and it was this guy Jeff who used to hang around our neighborhood that gave it to me. He, like everyone else I knew, was more of a classic rock fan and thought thrash metal was stupid, so he gave me the tape (which I think I still have). Though I didn’t like it as much as ‘Among the Living’ I still enjoyed it and listened to it quite a bit throughout my middle school and high school years. To this day, it is still my 2nd favorite Anthrax record.
For such a young band that was forging its way, pioneering a new sub-genre of heavy metal, with no major label support at the time, it’s rather impressive on how much their songwriting and performance improved with this record. As I mentioned in the ‘Fistful…’ post, between their first and second record, the band saw two major lineup changes. The first being founding member and bassist Dan Lilker was fired and replaced with Frankie Bello. Then vocalist Neil Turbin was replaced by Joey Belladonna. At the same time, Scott Ian and Charlie Benante began to take tighter control over the songwriting. With these changes, Anthrax would find their own unique sound and kick off what most people would consider being the classic era of the band, (1985-1991). The music they would produce during this time is the reason why Anthrax is considered one of the “Big Four” of thrash metal and why people (including myself) still talk about them today, nearly 35 years after ‘Spreading the Disease’ release.
As with every record, I write about, I recommend listening to the disc yourself and forming your own opinion about it. I find trying to describe music a painfully impossible act. If by chance you have never heard this band or record and are interested in checking it out, I’d say just start with the first song ‘A.I.R.’ and listen to it the whole way through. If that song doesn’t do it for you chances are, nothing they did in the 1980’s and early 90’s will. But if you like that song, you’ll probably like the whole record and possibly the next few.