Anthrax. It was always such a cool name. Dunno about most eighth-graders, but I didn't know much of anything about the chemical agent, only about these guys. They were cool. The name even sounded like "thrash." And the singer was named Belladonna, like the poisonous plant. And Scott Ian had that cool long goatee. Then there was that Public Enemy thing. That was real rap-metal. Real rap, some of the best ever, and real, true, grade-A metal. So, you'll have to forgive me if, at some point during the Big Anthrax Scare, songs like "Antisocial" and "Caught in a Mosh" kept popping into my head. Silly visions of Ian going postal at the nearest USPS center while everybody runs for cover. OK, so maybe it wasn't really that funny, but the self-propagated rumors of the band changing its name to A Basket of Puppies sure were.
This will be their first time out since the 2000 tour that was supposed to feature original singer Joey Belladonna alongside Armored Saint man John Bush, who's been Anthrax's pipes since 1993. Unfortunately, Belladonna backed out, but that's never stopped them from playing classic material like "I Am the Law" and their rippin' cover of Joe Jackson's "Got the Time." Their later stuff is surprisingly decent, too, with 1998's Volume 8: The Real Is Real adding an overdue dose of industrial processing and layered percussion to their already-rhythmic sound.
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Lots of past-their-prime metal bands try it, but it only works for a few. Judas Priest finally reached the industrial point on last year's Demolition, and the result is as puzzling and off-putting as the first time we heard Metallica tinker around with a wah pedal. Ripper Owens has finally broken free from the shadow of Rob Halford, but then K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton don't exactly sound like themselves either, what with all the effects and Ministry-style riffing. It's a shame, too, 'cause Owens' first outing with the band, 1997's Jugulator, didn't sound all that removed from the final album with Halford, Painkiller, maybe the most intense and certainly most underrated blast of pure ballbreaking metal ever. It's doubtful anybody can fully equal Halford's banshee wail, spotlighted again by the recent reissue of four classic Priest albums, including the live Unleashed in the East. But Owens stands a fair chance, having fronted a Priest tribute band before he was asked to join the real thing in a rags-to-riches story that served as the basis for the Mark Wahlberg film Rock Star. Whatever the result, it's always more than a little amusing to see a bunch of fiftysomethings banging out the power rock. They definitely haven't gone soft with age.