Among the Living
Released March 22, 1987
The third studio recording by Anthrax is without a doubt their signature release; spawning several blistering cuts and cementing their legacy as part of the ‘big 4’ of American thrash. Among the Living went certified gold in 1990 and is arguably the “breakthrough album” to be slotted up against other releases like Reign in Blood, Master of Puppets and Peace Sells…but Who’s Buying. You won’t find a better thrash album than this; considering the relentless aggression and shrieking vocals of lead singer Joey Belladonna pushed front and center throughout fifty plus minutes of running time.
Almost every song on this release has become permanent staples in their live set and for this reason there’s no doubt the band is the king of the mosh pits. Obviously coming from the NY area, the band were conscious of their hard-core roots; infusing their songs with intensity unlike what other bands of their ilk could produce. Their heaviness could not be contained; allowing every song to burst open wide with razor sharp riffs and assuaged by Belladonna’s incredible vocal range. You could feel the hair stand straight up on the back of your neck when Joey unleashes the scream of all screams on “I am the Law”. The song is about their favorite comic book character Judge Dredd and whenever I am reading a Dredd comic, this song will forever come to mind. As does horror author Stephen King; whose influences run through songs like “Among the Living” (The Stand) and “A Skeleton in the Closet” (Apt Pupil). The band also took inspiration from the late great comedian John Belushi for “Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)” and ditto for “Imitation of Life” which was a reworked edition of S.O.D.’s “Aren’t You Hungry?”
The album was also dedicated to the memory of Metallica Bassist Cliff Burton, who perished in a bus accident while touring in Europe. It just so happens Anthrax was Metallica’s tour mates at the time of the incident; so this was a sour spot during the band’s most successful period.
In my mind, Among the Living is the top thrash album of all time. Of course, there will always be this argument for Slayer’s Reign in Blood or Metallica’s Master of Puppets as the top picks on anyone’s list, but ATL closely imbues the true spirit of what thrash metal is all about; the relentless aggression, and mosh worthy appeal on all the songs. Not to mention lyrics that is inspired from urban-city living and definitely taking their cues from horror films and comic books. As a teenager growing up in the 80’s, my existence was fueled solely by horror movies and comic books, so Anthrax was a band I could fully relate to on a personal level.
Without question I am giving this release a 10 out of 10, not because I consider myself the ultimate Anthrax fan, but more so for the sheer brilliance of the songs themselves. It’s hard to pick just a few as favorites for the purpose of this review, but tracks like: “Among the Living”, “Caught in a Mosh”, “I am the Law” and “Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)” stand out the most. Then again so do “A Skeleton in the Closet”, “Indians” and “Imitation of Life”, so let’s just say every track on this release is a favorite.
Spreading the Disease
Released October 30, 1985
It’s been more than 30 years now, but the second studio recording (released in 1985) from Anthrax is still going remarkably strong. The album featured the debuts of vocalist Joey Belladonna and bassist Frank Bello, and more importantly that familiar bombastic NY thrash sound began to take shape in a big way. Naming your album “Spreading the Disease” is a bold step, and boy do these songs deliver a disease of thrash anthems that still remain a part of the band’s live set to this very day. The song “Madhouse” is an infectious stomper, what with that insane laugh you hear before the song erupts and then Belladonna soars to great heights with his vocals. The band filmed a video for the song, but it got very little airtime in lieu of MTV banning it over believing the content to be degrading to the mentally insane.
The album was also the last time to feature songwriting credits from Neil Turbin (previous vocalist) and Danny Lilker (previous bassist); both contributed to “Armed and Dangerous” and “Gung-Ho”. There’s an even a song credit from producer Jon Zazula on “Medusa”; which was later changed on the reissues as credited to Zazula and the entire band. Regardless of who did what, this release proved the band was headed into the right direction with high octane numbers like “A.I.R.” and “Aftershock”; not to mention the hard hitting thrasher “The Enemy”.
My favorite tracks on this release are: “A.I.R”, “Madhouse”, “Armed and Dangerous” and “Medusa”. I’m giving this a rating of 8 out of 10 and as much as I enjoyed this release I believe they made their career defining album two years later with Among the Living.
The Last in Line
Released July 2, 1984
Many will say that Holy Diver was THE definitive DIO album, so it’s pointless reviewing that classic. However The Last in Line following up That classic (in 1984) was always going to be difficult. Not a problem from a man who had such a pedigree under his belt. I can’t think of any artist who has been involved in so many defining albums as the legendary Ronnie James DIO. This album stands alongside Holy Diver with ease.
The songs are all well written and executed To perfection. “We Rock” is not quite the opener as “Stand up and Shout” was, but then “Egypt” (the chains are on is the classic closer). This album has it all; haunting melodies and crushing riffs all powered by the giant presence of RJDs perfect vocals. Visions of witches, wizards, magic and majesty; good against Evil – they’re all present in this album. This is the album that confirmed that Holy Diver wasn’t a one of fluke.
My personal favourite from this masterpiece was “One Night In The City”; its proof indeed that there is a pot of gold at the end of a Rainbow. There’s not a bad song on this masterpiece so go “Eat your Heart Out” this album will leave you “Breathless”. I’m giving it a 9.5 (not 10 because Stand Up and Shout beats We Rock)
State of Euphoria
Released September 19, 1988
The year 1988 was a joyous time for this nineteen year old metal loving teenager. Most everyone I know at the time were enthralled with Metallica’s…And Justice for All; released on August 25th of that year and rightly so. For me though, the other big release of that year came a month later in the form of State of Euphoria courtesy of New York City’s Anthrax. It was the fourth studio release from these East Coast thrash pioneers and it reached number 30 on the Billboard 200 chart and went certified gold in early ’89. Not bad for a band riding high off the heels of previous release Among the Living (considered a thrash classic). For my money’s worth, this album tore me to pieces in ways that Justice couldn’t. The thrash was frenetic at times; coupled with smart lyrics and packaged with a mind-disorienting cover image that I kept looking at over and over.
The songs on State displayed a more sardonic and witty side of the band and backed by my favourite track “Make Me Laugh” (about the evils of Televangelism). Of course, the group dipped back into Stephen King territory for “Misery Loves Company” and used David Lynch’s scatological brain-fuck – Blue Velvet as inspiration for “Now It’s Dark”. There’s also some social commentary centering on the urban troubles of homelessness for “Who Cares Wins” and a cover of “Antisocial” from the band Trust that has now become a popular staple in their live set.
There are some that say this album failed to live up to expectations following Among the Living, but yet the band decided to reveal a whimsical side; just based on utilizing Mad Magazine’s Mort Drucker for the back cover album art. For me though, the band’s solidarity is proof when you consider the tours they went out on with Iron Maiden, Ozzy, Metallica and Living Colour; thus cementing their thrash metal elite status of that year.
My favorite tracks on this are: “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”, “Make Me Laugh”, “Antisocial”, “Who Cares Wins”, “Now It’s Dark” and “Misery Loves Company”. I’m giving this a whopping 9 out of 10.
Flotsam & Jetsam
Released October 13, 1992
In 1992, Flotsam & Jetsam released their fourth studio album appropriately titled Cuatro (meaning the number four in Spanish). There are some ardent thrash fans who believe this album may have been the beginning of the end for the band, but I beg to differ. It’s true that the band was leaning far and away from the thrash template established at the start of their career, but Cuatro streamlined their sound and opened the door for some solid song-writing in the process. In particular Chris Cornell (of Soundgarden fame) who co-wrote the “The Message” with the band; notwithstanding the superior “Swatting at Flies”; which is now a staple in their live shows.
In my mind, Cuatro proved the band had more in mind than just mindless chugging and relentless aggression. Sure the youthful anger might be pulled back some, but mature song-writing and thought provoking lyrics take centre stage here. There is certainly a slight twist of Grunge permeating a track like “Wading Through the Darkness”, but speedy numbers like “Natural Enemies”, “Never to Reveal” and “Hyperdermic Midnight Snack” provides the album with enough of a metallic edge. There’s even a thrashy-groove vibrating through “Are You Willing” and the exclamation point is slammed down on final track “(Ain’t Nothing Gonna) Save this World”; complete with sampling and an experimental approach to song structure.
Cuatro was re-released on May 13, 2008 by Metal Mind Productions with new packaging and liner notes from the band. For my money’s worth, I’m giving this a solid 8 out of 10 and will say the album might be on par with Metallica’s Black Album in terms of rejigging the thrash sound for the 90’s. Some great numbers are: “Natural Enemies”, “Swatting at Flies”, “The Message”, “Cradle Me Now”, “Never to Reveal” and “Hyperdermic Midnight Snack”.
Coma of Souls
Released November 6, 1990
The fifth studio recording from Kreator is noted for two interesting aspects; firstly it was released in the US with the dreaded Parental Advisory label on the cover because it contained profanity. Secondly, it was the last pure thrash album produced by the band before they began experimenting throughout the 90’s. As a band, Kreator’s musical output has always been frantic, varied and somewhat perplexing at times, but there is no mistaking that patented Teutonic thrash sound they thrive to perfect which each new release. Coma of Souls is arguably their most polished piece; spawning several great cuts and produced by the great Randy Burns no less.
Like any manic steamroller, the album picks up from where they left off with Extreme Aggression; diving head first into a miasma of superbly controlled guitar work and precise melodies. The aggression is still high and Millie laces the songs with poignant lyrics throughout, capping off the 80’s and entering the 90’s with an album that would put Metallica’s Black album to shame in some respects. Like Metallica though, Kreator would abandon thrash metal during the decade of the 90’s with jaunts into Industrial, Punk and Gothic metal before making their triumphant return to thrash with the fine album Violent Revolution in 2001.
On a whole, Coma of Souls gave us some explosive tracks like: “Coma of Souls”, “People of the Lie”, “Terror Zone”, “Agents of Brutality” and “Mental Slavery”. Without a doubt, this is Kreator’s finest moment and I am giving this one heck of a rating as a sure fire 10 out of 10 in my books.
The American Way
Metal Blade Records
Released May 15, 1990
In 1990, Sacred Reich unleashed a thrash classic, utilizing some progression, but staying the course with that take-no-prisoners approach to their song writing. All the songs were lyrical firecrackers, and musically; the band wanted to expand their horizons without straying from their roots. What resulted was a multi-layered platform of thrash, combined with groovy riffs, catchy choruses and politically charged lyrics. For my money’s worth, the change in sound meant a more balanced and focused approach, despite the thrash die-hards complaining about the change in direction; keeping closed minded to this new horizon.
Phil Rind pitched it hard; utilizing his beefy vocals to the fullest extent and striving for something more than just the all-out thrash approach heard on Ignorance (their previous release). In fact the band would even go on to include “31 Flavours” appearing as the final track on the album; going off the deep end with a funky number that felt out of character for the boys. The quality of the track might be questionable to most metal heads at the time, but it did prove to what great lengths the band would go for progression.
Ultimately, the album received mixed reviews from fans and critics alike and it’s a real shame, given how strong some of the individual numbers are on this release. A least the video for “The American Way” was used in the movie Encino Man, so that was one positive out of this. One thing is certain about this release; it just proved how close-minded most metal heads of the 80’s were when it came to getting a little progression with your thrash metal.
I’m giving this album a 9 out of 10 and I consider this a seminal piece of thrash metal for the time. Favorite tracks are: “Love…Hate”, “The American Way”, “Crimes Against Humanity” and “State of Emergency”.
Moldavian Symphonic Extreme/Dark Metal band Esperoza released their new album “Aum Corrupted”. The album was recorded on Temporal Displacement Records, mixed/mastered by Christian Donaldson (Cryptorpsy) and released on WormHoleDeath Records.
The band was formed by Zoya Belous and Dmitrii Prihodko in 2010. In 2012 they released their debut EP “Tempest”, and in 2014 the band released a full length album “Esperoza”. This was followed by concerts, festivals and a tour in Moldova, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine.
Released October 27 1997
In Flames recorded their third release in 1997 and it was apparently a hard album to record because the band would rather drink beer and play video games all day long. Guitarist Niklas Sundin transcribed all of Anders Friden’s lyrics from Swedish to English, and it was also the last release to feature Johan Larsson and Glenn Ljungstrom. This is also the last album to have drummer Bjorn Gelotte, as he switched to playing guitar on latter releases.
Whoracle is considered to be a concept album detailing the past, present and future of the Earth. The majority of the lyrics describe a society broken down due to an apocalyptic event; the song “Jotun” is a perfect example of this. Other songs like “Episode 666” describe the perversity of televising such devastation and the heart of the material hits home on tracks like “The Hive”. Other tracks like “Jester Script Transfigured” chillingly describe a technological advanced society brought down by human folly, thus warning of a utopian world that can never truly be. The band also included a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Everything Counts” which oddly enough fits perfectly into their theme of humanity’s downfall.
It is also worth noting that Whoracle continues to excel in the melodious riffing department and even leans more towards an angry and aggressive vibe that is not present on future releases. Some critics felt the melo-death approach can only be stretched so far, so it’s not surprising the band began streamlining their sound on following releases like Colony and Clayman.
As a whole though, Whoracle is a strong release and deserves a solid 8 out of 10 in my books. I think the standout tracks include: “Jotun”, “Food For the Gods”, “The Hive”, “Jester Script Transfigures”, “Morphing Into Primal” and “Episode 666”.