ANTHRAX: ANTHEMS (2013)
1) Anthem; 2) T.N.T.; 3) Smokin'; 4) Keep On Runnin'; 5) Big Eyes; 6) Jailbreak; 7) Crawl; 8) Crawl [remix].
A fun footnote in Anthrax's catalog, this one: a short EP of songs that pay tribute to the band's childhood heroes — the testosterone-worshipping, sweat-grinding, crunch-rockin' dudes of «The Me Decade». «Tribute albums» like these seem to become the norm of day in the 21st century (as more and more people begin to realize that they can do no better than the dinosaurs, after all), but usually the tribute-payer in question is trying to present this in sort of a «Me and Mr. Amadeus» manner, recasting the original in his/her/their own image and, more often than not, butchering the classic and embarrassing the reputation.
In contrast, Anthrax do not go for that kind of shit. The six songs they cover are played as closely to the original as possible — the only difference being that the guitar melodies are dutifully approached from the thrash angle. Even Joey Belladonna tries, as far as possible, to imitate the styles of the original singers — no mean feat, considering they run all the gamut from Geddy Lee to Phil Lynott. And I would say the results are not only fun, but even a little moving: you don't really need to listen to the whole thing more than once, but you do get the feeling that they really really love music in general, and these old bands in particular. (We leave aside the fact that, in 2013, there is not that significant an age difference between any of them and Anthrax themselves — chronologically, the last song covered is Journey's ʽKeep On Runnin'ʼ, released the same year that Anthrax was formed in the first place).
Anyway, the band's tastes are pretty much what you'd expect: they have been fans of anthemic hard rock of all directions, be it ironic sleazy stuff (AC/DC), socially-conscious «street intellectual» stuff (Thin Lizzy), melodic power-pop (Cheap Trick), bombastic arena material (Boston, Journey), or «progressively» oriented composition (Rush). The only important links that tie all of these together are loudness, power, and crunchy riffs, which is what Scott Ian and the boys latch on to and never let go. I think they capture the essence of each of these songs perfectly, except I am not really sure that it was such a good decision for Joey to concentrate so exclusively on getting those vocal styles right — he spends too much time guarding his voice's modulation to remember about the clownish irony of Bon Scott's ʽT.N.T.ʼ performance, not to mention the subtle Weltschmerz in Lynott's ʽJailbreakʼ (Joey's "hey you good lookin' female, come here!" is taken quite literally, when in Thin Lizzy's original it was more like a... well, let's say «reluctant acknowledgement of nature's calls»).
Authenticity is occasionally provided by adding guest musicians, such as Fred Mandel to play the «smokin'» keyboard parts on ʽSmokin'ʼ, or Motörhead's Phil Campbell to play the guitar break on ʽJailbreakʼ — not that Rob Caggiano couldn't have handled that one on his own, but apparently they thought they needed somebody «extra dirty» to do that part. But for the most part, they don't really need anybody else — all of this stuff is really in their blood, and it is useful to be thus reminded that it's all really part of the same chain, especially for those who only listen to thrash metal and those who never listen to it.
I wouldn't even have minded sitting through more: it wouldn't be tough for them, I guess, to come up with at least a couple extra covers instead of inexplicably finishing the EP with the original version of ʽCrawlʼ (which was already present on their last album) and another remix of the same song with keyboards, orchestration, and backup vocals. The remix is fairly creative, and Anthrax with strings works surprisingly better than one could have thought, but why? the song has nothing to do with the general concept. They could have covered us some Sabbath or Slade instead.
In any case, this is one of those albums that does not require a rating — calling it «good» would suggest calling for more of the same (not recommendable), and calling it «bad» would mean they didn't do a good job with it, which they did. I'd say this: if Anthems manages to get even one Anthrax fan into Cheap Trick, it's a success. If all it does, though, is get more Anthrax fans into Journey — now that would be lamentable.
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