ANTHRAX: SOUND OF WHITE NOISE (1993)
Some things never change, but this is not one of them. Suddenly, Anthrax no longer sound like Anthrax — they sound like Alice In Chains! Where is the irony? Where is the healthy, sanitary aggression? Where are the generic shredding thrash rhythms? Why is the new vocalist singing through his nose like a grunge queen? Why are all the songs so depressing? What in the world made them think this was what the fans needed?
Well, see, first they lost Joey Belladonna due to some internal conflicts that did not get a lot of publicity, and replaced him with John Bush, essentially an «old school metal» singer, formerly of Armored Saint, one of America's biggest non-thrash (and non-glam, for that matter) metal bands in the early Eighties. Second, they signed up with a new label (Elektra Records). Third, right on the heels of his work with Bush on the last LP for Armored Saint, they teamed up with Dave Jerden — who, as it turned out, just happened to be the producer of Alice In Chains! With all these new developments, the reformed Anthrax were only too happy to incorporate certain grunge elements inside their sound and see how it work out.
How? Perfectly! The worst thing I can say of Sound Of White Noise is that, unlike Among The Living, it does not have a unique identity of its own; by throwing in extra darkness and seriousness at the expense of «moshing», Anthrax have aligned themselves with the main pack of the grunge warriors, allowing themselves to be pigeonholed far more easily. But this has little bearing on the fact that so many songs on here rule not only without mercy, but also with a modicum of added intelligence that we never saw during the Belladonna era.
There are some totally amazing, unbelievably strong riffs on the album, as if the band woke up overnight with a ten times more intense belief in the impending Coming Of The End than it ever shared. Case in point: the main riff for 'Invisible' that enters the stage around 0:56 — brutality that ranks up there with the best of Sabbath and Metallica. The relentless pounding of 'Only', 'Room For One More', and 'Packaged Rebellion' may be the most terrifying trio sequence in Anthrax history, and it does not even matter what words John Bush is pronouncing (although, for that matter, the rant against «packaged rebellion» is one of the cleverest things they ever produced, all the more ironic because so much of Belladonna-era Anthrax is «packaged rebellion» in itself), as long as they stream out to some of the most melodic, and, at the same time, grim-reaperish passages from Scott Ian and Dan Spitz.
At a certain point, the record takes a strange turn, as the band members declare themselves fans of Twin Peaks and collaborate with the series' composer Angelo Badalamenti on the dark ballad 'Black Lodge', which, frankly speaking, sounds very little like either Badalamenti himself (he contributes some of his trademark synth moods, but they are rather deep in the background) or like Anthrax in any of their incarnations; more like a cross between Dada-era Alice Cooper and any-era Rush, if you ask me, but curious all the same. And then, starting with their punkish, but not highly memorable, anthem to sodium pentathol, they move in closer to the old thrashy sound, as if having run out of grunge-metal ideas, somewhat diluting and spoiling the effect of the grinding first half, before coming back to their senses on the most Alice In Chains-ish song of them all, the terrifying 'This Is Not An Exit'.
Yes, at this moment in their lives, everything was going as right as it could — the band desperately needed a reinvention and it chose the best possible model. Why that model did not manage to last very long is anybody's guess; in the meantime, a brutally honest thumbs up, and a hearty recommendation to everyone who loves their metal grumbly, gruffy, and melodic. Of course, it is also easy to understand the old guard fans who felt betrayed by the band's stylistic jump — but, as John Lennon used to say, "you have all the old records there if you want something round and hard up your butt". Or something along those lines. You get the general idea.