So, it’s a sunny but chilly Sunday afternoon, the caffeine is starting to take effect, and my back is a bit closer to feeling healed, may as well listen to some mid 90’s Anthrax. You know and I know if it was raining, I had no coffee and my back was still hurting I’d still be listening to this CD, but you know, sometimes I need filler material. Anyway, today I’m revisiting Anthrax’s 7th studio album ‘Stomp 442’, the first record to not feature longtime lead guitarist Danny Spitz, who left the band dropped out of music and became a watchmaker. Depending on which article on the Wikipedia page you read, lead guitar duties were either covered by a friend of the band Paul Crook, though uncredited, or they were shared by Crook, Dimebag Darrel, and Charlie Benante. No matter how you break down who covered lead duties, Spitz’s signature style is missed one this and every Anthrax record moving forward. That said, ‘Stomp 422’ is still a solid record beginning to end, though there are a few slumps here and there.
As I have suggested in previous posts on this band, by the time I graduated high school my interest in Anthrax and heavy metal, in general, had all but dried up. So, when this record came out I was completely unaware of it even coming out. I heard nothing about its release, knew nothing about Danny Spitz leaving the band, and didn’t hear a single song from it until 8 years after its release. In fact, I remember somewhere in 1996 or 1997 seeing it at Dave’s Music Mine original Oakland location, and thinking “these guys are still together? They just need to hang it up”. Hard to believe now, but that is how closed minded toward metal I was at that time. I just didn’t care. The result being I deprived myself a good record for several years. By the time, I bought it, I was exploring the entire Jon Bush era all at once and didn’t really dig into any one album as I would normally do. (if you stick with me through this series, you’ll notice that theme come up quite a bit). The result being I’m as familiar with the whole record, though there are several individual songs I know and love.
Now if you are like me and discovered this band during their classic era and line up, then this record might not have anything to offer you at first. Something I’ve noticed over the years with both myself and other music fans is, when you discover a band in one era, it’s hard to accept any lineup or musical changes that band may make in the future. No matter how good or beneficial those changes may be. And the Jon Bush-era of Anthrax is a great example of that. The four records the band recorded between 1993 and 2003 sound absolutely nothing like their 1980’s output. The most obvious difference being the contrast in sound between Joey Belladonna and Jon Bush. They sound nothing alike. Belladonna had a high pitched almost operatic voice, Bush sings in a lower register and is much raspier. The other difference is the entire vibe of the band. Though there is plenty of double kick drum and breakneck speed palm muting guitars throughout this entire record, you can’t really say it’s a thrash album. It has a much straight forward rock or metal groove to it. Without knowing any better, one might say it as a simpler sound to it, that is until you attempt to learn the tunes themselves and you learn they’re not simple at all. The two eras of the band sound nothing alike, and as I said in the last post, one would be forgiven if you were to listen to this record and ‘Among the Living’ back to back you would think they were two different bands.
So, due to these drastic changes in sound, I understand why most old school fans have no interest in this era of the band. For the most part, it’s completely unrecognizable to most fans and isn’t the same band. I held that belief myself for years. But what I discovered when I finally took the time to explore these records is that though the sound is way different, the songwriting and playing on the Jon Bush records is of the same level as all the Joey Belladonna records, in many ways is much better. They may have moved away from the catchy thrash riffs from the early records and explored a more rhythmic groove style, these guitar parts are still damn complex and brutal. The compositions and arrangements are also a lot more complex and interesting than their early thrash stuff, which tended to more straight forward in sounds and structure. Plus, though this may be a controversial and unpopular thing to say among old school fans, Jon Bush is much a better vocalist than Joey Belladonna ever was. Don’t believe me? Listen to Jon Bush sing a classic song, and listen Joey Belladonna sing a Bush-era song, then tell me which one is more cringe worthy.
If you’ve seen the band in the last 8 or 9 years since Belladonna rejoined the band you may notice he can’t hit those high notes at all. In fact, he can’t sing any of the old stuff the way he used to. He must sing in a lower register and it can be painful at times. I will grant that he’s improved over the years as he’s gotten a better handle on his current range, but it’s still not the same. While Jon Bush can still sing all his songs and Joey’s songs with the same level of intensity and range as he could in 1993. Bush simply was the better vocalist and in a way, I wish he was still in the band. But we’ll get to that story when we get to it.
To conclude, ‘Stomp 442’ may not be considered a classic Anthrax by almost everyone’s standards, but you shouldn’t dismiss it. It’s a great record by any standards and deserves a listen or two if you’re a fan of metal. Suggested tunes to check out: ‘Random Acts of Violence’, ‘Fueled’, and ‘Nothing’. They may not sound like classic Anthrax to you, but there are still solid tunes and don’t deserve to be dismissed off hand.
P.S. Random noteworthy fact. The cover art for ‘Stomp 442’ was designed by the legendary Storm Thorgerson. The guy who designed every Pink Floyd and most of the Led Zeppelin album covers, plus a ton more.