ANTHRAX: FISTFUL OF METAL (1984)
1) Death Rider; 2) Metal Thrashing Mad; 3) I'm Eighteen; 4) Panic; 5) Subjugator; 6) Soldiers Of Metal; 7) Death From Above; 8) Anthrax; 9) Across The River; 9) Howling Furies.
The East Coast response to the Californian thrash explosion of 1983 starts here — and, frankly speaking, I have a hard time understanding how to compare Fistful Of Metal with the likes of Kill 'Em All or Show No Mercy, except that people seem to generally like the latter two but pan the former because it, uh, is too heavy on the Judas Priest influence. Or something. Sure it is — anyone who names one of his songs 'Subjugator' already has a royalty debt to Rob Halford.
It does, however, look that Anthrax's first album rides the coattails of the new storm rather than participate in its creation. All the ingredients have been studied and replicated perfectly. Rhythm guitarist Ian Scott emits steadily pulsating riffs which, when slow, are indeed similar to the sharp polygonal figures of Judas Priest, and, when fast, display technique that is fully on the level with Metallica and Slayer. Lead guitarist Dan Spitz yields speedy melodic solos quite on par with Iron Maiden. Vocalist Neil Turbin bawls, screams, and roars like any good disciple of the Ian Gillan School of Bawl, Scream, and Roar should. And the rhythm section — Danny Lilker on bass, Charlie Benante on drums — do just the kind of things a rhythm section is expected to do in a thrash metal band; no more, and most certainly no less.
But if there is any real reason to why Fistful Of Metal gets a bad rap, it may be understood by simply glancing at the song titles. Few people who name one of their songs 'Metal Thrashing Mad' can count upon immediate recognition — unless they at least give it the spirit of a 'For Whom The Bell Tolls', or the riff of an 'Enter Sandman' or something. All of these tunes are decent, middle-of-the-road thrash which, however, almost always promises more than it delivers. If I am given 'Howling Furies', I expect the song to sound like howling furies; if, however, it only sounds like a basic headbanging experience, I am bound to be disappointed.
The album's big surprise is a cover of Alice Cooper's 'I'm Eighteen', which, according to legend, took an entire two days to record because bassist Dan Lilker could not get into the right mood. Its original spirit is completely incompatible with the rest of the record, and Neil Turbin's rendition is totally rotten: he just screams it out like everything else, leaving all the confusion and desperation of the protagonist behind the door. Why they were so intent on paying this particular tribute is beyond me; metal bands do owe a lot to the original Alice Cooper band, whether they like it or not, but the song would have worked far better on one of those collective tribute albums (that no one listens to anyway) than wedged in between their apocalyptic metal fantasies.
Still, come what may, 'Deathrider' and the title track at least deserve to be recognized as classic, if not ultimate, thrash anthems that, at the very least, prove that Anthrax have graduated from the Academy of Metal with perfect marks, and set the stage for further drilling into the hard-to-penetrate soils of the heavy metal genre. My judgement is neutral: well-performed, but generic, thrash is about as much use as well-performed, but generic, blues — gives you a bit of fun time without being as spiritually repulsive as, say, generic prog-metal — and is, therefore, quite recommendable to headbangers all over the planet.