Anthrax – Worship Music
I promise you, we’re almost done with Anthrax. Just a couple more titles to go before we wrap them up. Which is good, even though I’ve enjoyed revisiting these records, I’m kind of running out of things to say about the band. But then again at the same time, there are things I haven’t mentioned about them yet because they just didn’t fit with the format or where the review was heading at the time I was writing it. Perhaps I’ll do a separate wrap up post about them after finishing their catalog.
Anyway, today we’re checking out Anthrax’s 2011 record ‘Worship Music’ their first studio record since 2003 ‘We’ve Come for You All’ and the first studio album with Joey Belladonna back on vocals.
‘Worship Music’ was nearly 4 years in the making with many twist and turns, mainly due to vocalist issues. Though they started writing for the record in 2008, I would say the story goes back a few years before that, to 2005 when Anthrax did their first reunion tour with Joey Belladonna and Dan Spitz. It’s a rather meandering story and I’ll do my best to try and assemble it for you, relying mainly on Wikipedia and my memory of various interviews I read and saw between 2005 and 2011.
Anyway according to many interviews I’ve seen with Scott Ian around 2006 and 2007, the idea to reunited with the classic line (Scott Ian, Frank Bello, Charlie Benante, Dan Spitz, Joey Belladonna) started when Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was murdered on stage in December of 2004, (though Wikipedia states the idea was considered a few years before that) Upon losing his close friend, Ian began to think about bridging the gap with Joey Belladonna and Dan Spitz, not wanting to lose a chance to bury the hatchet and make amends with his former bandmates. So, the idea of a tour featuring both vocalists was floated. Understandably Jon Bush was not into that idea at all. Who could blame him, he stuck with the band during their darkest years and did a great job. But if you were to split the set up between the two vocalists, who would care about his portion of the set. So, Bush ended up leaving the band at this point, and Joey Belladonna stepped in and did the ‘Among the Living’ 20th Anniversary tour, along with former guitarist Dan Spitz.
But once that tour was over Belladonna and Spitz weren’t willing to fully rejoin the band. The problem was Jon Bush didn’t really want to come back either. So, it would seem as if the band shot themselves in the foot, and were without a vocalist. Eventually ‘We’ve Come for You All’ guitarist and producer Rob Caggiano stepped back in, bringing along his friend Dan Nelson to take over the vocals. At this point, the band started writing for ‘Worship Music’ with Nelson contributing vocals and lyrics. But then it was announced that Nelson was let go due to health issues, though he claims he was fired. So, in comes back Jon Bush to fill in for a handful of shows. So now the band started to rework some of the ‘Worship Music’ material with Jon Bush in mind. But then Bush decided he didn’t want to recommit to Anthrax and permanently left the band. At this point, Belladonna was asked to rejoin, which he agreed. So once again, the already written material for the record needed to be tweaked with Belladonna in mind. Eventually, the band would rewrite some songs, write new songs, or just used the already completed material with Joey singing and ‘Worship Music’ finally completed in April of 2011. It only took four years and three singers to get there!
Now before I get to the record itself I want to spend a minute or two with Joey Belladonna. In the years, in between 2003 and 2011 Anthrax would release several live albums and greatest hits type compilations, all featuring Belladonna. The first one I heard was ‘Alive 2: The Music’ DVD which featured the classic line up, including Dan Spitz, and it was the first time I heard Belladonna’s voice in over ten years, and I thought it was awful. For those of you who know and love the 80’s records, you know Joey had a pretty good vocal range and hit some high notes here and there. But his ten-year absence was not kind to his voice. One he needed to sing the in a much lower register, which is common with a vocalist as they get older, but he also sang with a completely different tone and style. I have no idea how to describe it exactly, but his new singing style was annoying as hell, and just didn’t sound right. Ultimately, I criticized the band for choosing to go with him over Jon Bush, whose voice still sounded great.
But since I still loved the band I tried to be as generous as possible with Belladonna. Perhaps it was simply because he hadn’t been singing full time in years and as he performed with the band more, he’d sound better and get back his range to some extent. But as live record after live record came out I didn’t hear any improvement in his voice. So, when it was announced ‘Worship Music’ was finally coming out, I was a little luke warm about it.
But I did buy it the day it came out, actually the day before, and I have to say I was rather impressed with the entire record, and found Joey’s voice, though not what it used to be, wasn’t that bad. His performance was much better these new songs. I still thought it would have been better with Jon Bush and thought the album felt like it was written with him in mind. But Belladonna held his own on this record and did a great job.
Musically, ‘Worship Music’ feels like it the band had finally come full circle and learned from all their past musical mistakes and put out their first true Anthrax record in 21 years. Not that it sounds anything like ‘Among the Living’, but it does sound a lot more like a proper Anthrax record than any of the Jon Bush records, and it’s not just because of the vocals, (remember most the music was written before Belladonna rejoined the band). Though all the Jon Bush records maintained an element of the bands thrash roots, it was their forays into other genres that defined those records. With ‘Worship Music’ the band seemed to strip away all those rock and nu metal ideas and went back to writing thrash metal again. It sounds as if they finally found a way to strike a balance between their classic sound that made them famous and some of the ideas they explored during the 90’s. The result a solid record by a veteran thrash metal band. Not a mind blowing record, not an innovating record, not ground breaking record, but a solid record nonetheless, that sounds like what you would expect Anthrax to sound like 30 years into their career.