Anthrax – Sound of White Noise
Today we enter what may be considered the dark years for Anthrax with their 6th record ‘Sound of White Noise’. Their first record to feature new vocalist Jon Bush and final record with a long-time lead guitarist Dan Spitz. Though this record was a commercial, critical, and in my opinion artistic success, it would be the start of an era of the band that found them struggling to stay relevant during a time where heavy metal was considered uncool.
‘Sound of White Noise’ was released in May of 1993, (which would have been a month away from when I graduated from high school) and saw a dramatic change in the band’s style and nature. The most obvious change being Armored Saint’s vocalist Jon Bush taking over vocal duties. In addition to that, the band would also find themselves exploring varies musical style outside the thrash metal genre they helped pioneer a decade earlier. Gone were the riff orientated thrash anthems of most of their previous records, in their place were more groove oriented riffs, showing the band’s interests in industrial and grunge sounds. Though this album is still clearly a metal record, and their thrash roots are still present, if you were to compare it to ‘Among the Living’ you’d be forgiven if you thought it was a different band.
Over the years, I have read various interviews with Scott Ian, both back in the early 90’s more recent interviews, and this is the best I can put together to what lead to the lineup change. Essentially, drummer Charlie Benante, who composes the lion’s share of the band’s music, began exploring different styles of music when he started writing for ‘Sound of White Noise’. During this process, he didn’t fell that vocalist Joey Belladonna high pitched operatic voice fit over these new songs. Instead, he was picturing a lower pitch raspier voice, so they fired Belladonna and replaced him with Jon Bush. It wasn’t because Joey refused to work with these new songs, it wasn’t due to artistic differences, it wasn’t due to personal differences, it was simply they didn’t think his voice fit the direction the band wanted to go in. At least that’s how it was sold at the time of the album’s release.
Now I have since seen and read interviews that reveal that in fact there may have been personal differences between Belladonna and the rest of the band. According to the Anthrax ‘Behind the Music’ episode, Joey Belladonna just didn’t fit in with the rest of the band. He tended to party more than the rest of the guys. I believe he was a little older and came from a different background, which sort made him an outsider in his own band. If all this is true, then it’s not too difficult to picture tensions building within the band, which could have led to them firing Belladonna.
I must be perfectly frank here, though my favorite Anthrax albums are their earlier records, and Joey Belladonna has always been the voice of Anthrax to me, artistically and commercially speaking, they made the right decision. Given the musical climate at the time, the change in style and vocalist was the band’s best chance at remaining relevant throughout the 1990’s, which saw a decline in heavy metals popularity in the mainstream. Between 1990 when ‘Persistence of Time’ was released and 1993 when ‘Sound of White Noise’ came out the musical landscape had changed quite dramatically. Heavy metal was no longer the most popular form of rock music. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots were setting the template of what the next generation of music fans would prefer. By this time, Anthrax’s original sound was considered tired, played out, and boring. A change in direction was necessary if they attempt to try and salvage their career.
Now in the band’s defense, I don’t consider this change in sound to be entirely commercially driven. When you compare the music of ‘Persistence of Time’ to ‘Sound of White Noise’ they’re closer in sound than you might think. So, I believe Charlie was already picking on and exploring that vibe before the whole grunge thing happened. Plus, the band had been around for 10 years at this point, and though they were instrumental in creating the thrash metal sound, when you get right down to it, they are artist’s expressing themselves, and true artist grow and explore new forms of expressions or they get bored. Plus, when they started this band they were teenagers, by the time they started writing for this record they were grown men, with different perspectives and tastes. So, it only makes sense that their music would grow, mature and change as they did. In conclusion, though I do suspect that the change in sound was in part a business decision, I do genuinely feel it was made more for artistic reasons.
So, when I started this write up, I genuinely thought I would be struggling to find stuff to say about it. The reason being is I don’t think I bothered listening to it until a good 12 years after it came out. I remember the single for ‘Only’ coming out the summer before I moved to Pittsburgh, and thinking it was a good song. But I don’t think I ever got around to hearing the whole album until I rediscovered the band in the mid 2000’s. And when I did rediscover them and started to explore the Jon Bush years, I did it all at once, so I have a hard time separating between the four records he’s on. In the last 10 years, I haven’t spent any time with this CD at all until yesterday when I played it twice while doing other things. Like a lot of these records I cover that I haven’t listened to in years, I forgot how good it really is. One could argue that it is the best Anthrax record with Jon Bush singing. In my opinion, it’s way better than the two studio records that proceeded and followed it. Setting aside the fact that I’m an old school Joey Belladonna guy, when you break it down, musically, lyrically, and production-wise, ‘Sound of White Noise’ is one of Anthrax’s best records of their entire career.