The story of how Worship Music came to be is longish and a bit complicated—dating back to 2009 in what was essentially a three-way dance for the vocalist spot. Some of the original material was adjusted accordingly or, in most cases, scrapped all together and rewritten, resulting in what is ultimately the best case scenario for long-time Anthrax fans: the return of the most prominent and beloved of former Anthrax lead singers, Joey Belladonna. It’s this very reason that, like me, many people are more psyched about a new Anthrax release than they have been in twenty-plus years. Belladonna came back to Anthrax briefly for the outstanding Spreading the Disease reunion tour of ’05-’07 and again for a series of shows with the Big Four last year, but this is the first time since 1990’s Persistence of Time that he has actually gone into the studio as a full-time member. And the end result is every bit worth the wait. This may come as a surprise, considering bands that have been around as long as these guys tend to, well, suck. Of the Big Four, Metallica, Megadeth, and even to some extent—and I know this is blasphemous to admit—Slayer, have strayed far from their once former glory, at least in terms of recorded material. However, Worship Music sounds exactly like the record that should have happened right after Persistence, keeping intact the melodious and groove aspects of that album while packing the punch of its predecessors (State of Euphoria, Among the Living, and Spreading the Disease), all the while free of the paunchiness that often times haunt reunion albums.
The lead single “Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t” is so unmistakably Anthrax—complete with choppy thrash blast beats, shouted gang vocals, and Belladonna wailing about standing your ground amidst a zombie onslaught—it sounds like it could have been picked right off of Euphoria or the I’m the Man EP. And while the underlying theme of the entire album may or may not be the impending zombie apocalypse (at least in cryptic, metaphorical ways,) which I admit is comical, I wouldn’t go grabbing your Jimmy’z jam shorts and Judge Dredd t-shirts just yet. For the most part, Worship Music is more in line with the serious side of Anthrax first heard on Persistence.
Albeit limited (thankfully), there are some moments of experimentation here as well. “In the End” is a near-seven minute journey through prog, sludge and—thanks to the impeccable vocal range of Belladonna—NWOBHM; thunderously pounding along the way until it reaches an epic power metal finale. And parts of “Crawl” sound oddly familiar to Angel Dust-era Faith No More. But at no point during either of these excursions do they grow annoying or any less worthy of a good headbang. Speaking of headbanging…
One of the high points of the album is “Judas Priest.” While it’s unclear if this is actually a tribute to Rob Halford and co., it most certainly is an ode to heavy metal, at least in terms of song-structure. Belladonna’s pitch shifts and howls perfectly match the ebbs and flows of the M-E-T-A-L laid down by the Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, and crew: “I’m bound to, bow down to/I am become Death, destroyer of worlds/A menial place in this infinite swirl…Unleashed is the beast, the worst of the least/From sheer depraved evil like some Judas Priest.” If while listening to this song you don’t plant one foot forward, bend at the knee until your back leg is straight, then proceed to bang your head and play air-guitar, I will personally come to your house, confiscate your Metal Card, and revoke your club membership on the spot.
The slightest drawback on Worship Music—just so happens to also be one of its greatest blessings—lies in the production. Don’t get me wrong, the production on this record is far beyond exceptional—allowing drummer Benante and bass-wielder Frank Bello to be properly recognized as very crucial ingredients in the Anthrax recipe. As well, you can hear the white-hot licks literally melting off of (producer) Rob Caggiano’s axe. All of which is mixed awesomely with the heavy chug created by rhythm guitarist Ian. However, at times would-be coarseness is smoothed over to a point well past perfection, leaving something a little less slick to be desired by those of us longing for the raw energy of the thrash records of yore. That is not to say I am disappointed in the least. In fact I played Worship Music alongside early albums by Flotsam and Jetsam, Testament, Nuclear Assault, and Death Angel, as well as Anthrax’s contemporaries the Big Four. Not only did it fit perfectly, it stood out as being better.