Of the “Big Four”, Anthrax were always the band that seemed the most approachable and down to earth. Metallica – too aloof, Megadeth – too angry, Slayer – too goddam scary… but Anthrax always came across as the “people’s champions”. Scott Ian, you could have an all nighter with arguing over what’s the best Kiss album, and Frank Bello looks the kind of guy that wouldn’t mind you puking in his car after a session. Perhaps that’s why they are held in such high esteem by peers and fans alike. They’ve never been the most fashionable of bands. We’re yet to see Primark have an Anthrax shirt on a mannequin, unlike the Slayer shirt that is currently in the window of my local branch, but fans feel that there is a real connection between themselves and the New Yorkers. The lack of pretence is there for all to see. A live DVD makes sense, as it aims to capture the camaraderie between the band and their fans. Tonight’s gig was sold out before Scott Ian broke the news that it was to be filmed. Testimony to the attraction of a band in their fourth decade, but showing no signs of slowing down.
Opening up proceedings were The Raven Age. The young London band play a modern brand of metal, a bit of a strange mix with the more traditional thrash heritage of the headliners. They have brought a healthy amount of their own fans tonight, as vocalist Michael Burrough takes the time to point out some familiar faces in the crowd. There is a lot of melody on show throughout their set, as bassist Matt Cox helps out on the backing vocals. At times, the powerful, heavy music needed a growl or two to amplify the drumming from Jai Patel and the twin guitars from George Harris and Dan Wright. In places, it reminded me of Bullet For My Valentine without the screams or growls, but the band are comfortable enough on stage to make their mark in their own way. Debut album, ‘Darkness Will Rise’ is due mid March, and The Raven Age make sure that everyone knows about it. ‘Salem’s Fate’ is the current single/ video and Burrough doesn’t waste the opportunity to get a plug or two in, clever lad. ‘The Merciful One’ , ‘Eye Among The Blind’, and ‘Angel In Disgrace’ all receive healthy applause from a rapidly filling room, and the band exit with their ears ringing from a good response from an audience perhaps older than they are used to.
Playing their legendary album ‘Among The Living’ in its entirety, to celebrate the 30th anniversary, is a no-brainer for Anthrax. Arguably heir finest hour, and one of the top three thrash albums of all time. ‘Among The Living’ captures a dark period in metal history, as it was recorded after the band had to come off of the Metallica tour of 1986, where Cliff Burton sadly died. Stark, and an excercise in brutality, the album stands the test of time, and clearly still resonates with so many fans. But before the title track kicked in, there was nearly an hour’s worth of Anthrax through the ages to warm the cockles. The opening one-two of ‘A.I.R.’ and ‘Madhouse’, from 1985’s ‘Spreading The Disease’, was like welcoming an old friend, as the band went for the throat early on. Scott Ian still grins like a madman throughout and the band sound incredible, tight as hell. Charlie Benante is perched high upon the drum riser like a king watching over his land. One of metal’s truly underrated drummers, he hits those drums with intense power and precision. Frank Bello is like a hyperactive kid overdosed on Ritalin, as he covers every part of the stage in the opening few minutes, and lead guitarist Jon Donais headbangs furiously as he delivers riff after riff… but, my God, Joey Belladonna rolls back the years as he delivers a masterclass performance. Sounding as clear as ever, he hits the high notes with power and distinction, and has many slack-jawed at his prowess.
The current period in the band’s history is well covered, as ‘Evil Twin’, ‘Breathing Lightning’, and ‘Blood Eagle Wings’ all feature in the first set. After a short interval for a set change, music from the movie ‘Blues Brothers’ signals the beginning of the second set… ’Among The Living’ in it’s entirety. Instantly, the electricity among the crowd intensifies, as the amount of crowd surfers rapidly increases and circle pits appear. ‘Caught In A Mosh’ sets off more circle pits, as Belladonna acts as conductor, instructing the crowd to do as he says, ‘I Am The Law’ is unbelievable. The new stage set-up has ramps and platforms with bursts of smoke to go with the glaring red and blue flashing lights. Scott Ian and Frank Bello must have had some Red Bull during the break, as their energy levels go through the roof, and they constantly make use of the ramps. At one point, Ian does laps without stopping, grinning constantly, a smile never leaving his face. He’s the high school nerd that somehow finds himself scoring the winning touchdown, and then fucks the homecoming queen while the jocks are crying in the corner. He’s one of us. When he speaks, we listen. He introduces ‘A Skeleton In The Closet’ by describing it as the song that “defined our sound in 1987” and states that when they were writing it, they thought that “the world was fucked up because they had an actor in the White House…” queue mass outbreaks of “Fuck Trump!” from the crowd, before Ian retorts with “You don’t have to fucking live there!”..
‘Indians’ is of course, the set highlight that it always is, but in amongst the others of ‘Among The Living’, it takes on extra dimensions. The playing is faster, the crowd is louder, and Belladonna, yet again, totally nails it. When the band bring the set to an end, the crowd are spent, down but not out, as there is one more to come. The money shot comes during the encore with, what else, but “Anti Social”. Everyone knows it’s coming, but it’s still greeted with a massive cheer and frantic pogo action for a song that was always more punk than metal. With the final notes ringing out, Anthrax take their bows and ‘Long Live Rock ‘N Roll’ blares out of the PA. A rather fitting way to end the perfect evening. More than a nostalgia trip, this was an evening of celebration and recognition of an album, and a band, truly deserving of the tag ‘classic’.
Review: Dave Stott
Images: Lara Vischi