Anthrax Back On The Road
|Written by:||omne metallum|
I’ve never been a fan of seeing bands twice on the same tour, not only due to money constraints, but also I feel it dilutes the excitement you get with a one-off show. However, I seem to have broken that taboo twice this year, firstly by catching Devin Townsend on both of his two nights at the Royal Albert Hall back in April, and now by seeing Anthrax both in Birmingham and London (oddly enough, the first and last dates of the tour). Perhaps the desire to gorge myself on live music hasn’t been fully satisfied yet, or my appetite for some of my favourite bands has grown since the pandemic-enforced shutdown of live music.
While often mislabeled as the weakest link in the Big 4 of thrash, I’ve been a huge fan of the band ever since I first heard “Caught In A Mosh” thanks to a free CD that came with a magazine many moons ago, and I believe that reputation to be erroneous at best, heresy at worst. Much like Musclassia, I’ve long kept a record of which bands I’ve seen (future-proofing myself from any memory loss I’m bound to incur), and without even meaning to, I had seen the band every year since 2009 up to the pandemic... OK, maybe I have a problem.
The band’s 40th anniversary tour looked set to be an enticing prospect, not just as another chance to catch Anthrax again (with Municipal Waste to boot), but also to maybe hear some deeper cuts than the band would normally play. Unfortunately for the band and their fans in mainland Europe, the EU leg was scrapped (just as live music had gotten slowly back on its feet post-Covid, the energy crisis has pushed it back onto the floor), leaving the UK leg as the sole shows this side of the pond in 2022.
Once again, you’re my safe home
Returning yet again to the Birmingham Academy (which had hosted Hammerfest earlier this year), a sense of nostalgia soon gave way to the excitement of seeing Anthrax once more after several years out. While I was taken aback by the brightness of the city, thanks to the makeover Birmingham underwent before hosting the Commonwealth Games this summer, the ominous grey of the city’s skyline and architecture set the mood for an evening of heavy metal. While queuing in the rain was an all-too-familiar experience, it did not temper the excitement brimming from the growing crowd.
Not making many new friends
Up first were New York crossover bruisers Sworn Enemy. Truth be told, while on paper they tick a lot of boxes for me (an abrasive metallic take on hardcore is something I usually love), Sworn Enemy have never really gelled with me, and not for lack of trying. Tonight was my first time seeing them and, well, short of my friends dragging me to see them next time, I’d be content with spending extra time at the pub.
While their groove-infused tracks got my feet stomping, they never did more than run through the standard hardcore tropes, although admittedly they played competently and with passion. “We Hate” was the most memorable moment, thought unfortunately only because I found it ironic that the lyrics could very well be mirrored at them. I do, however, find myself both subtracting and adding mental bonus points to the band’s set, as I was lucky and unlucky enough to unintentionally catch a guitar pick thrown by the guitarist... with it flying through the air and landing in my half-drunk beer (*shakes fist at sky*). Happenstance intervened, however, as a self-titled ‘big fan of the band’ gave me money for another pint in exchange for said pick, leaving me with a half-pint surplus (yay).
Let’s get the party started
Do you like to party? No? You might want to sit this one out then, as striding onstage and barnstorming through a condensed greatest hits set were Virginia thrashers Municipal Waste. Though they often face derision for being a band who don’t take themselves seriously or reinvent the wheel when it comes to thrash, the one fact is that in a live environment, they can whip an audience into a frenzy, with tonight being no exception. With 40 minutes being both criminally short for the band yet also enough time for them to cram in a healthy handful of tracks, the time flew by in a blur of long hair and devil horns.
Tony Foresta’s voice was fresh and powerful, overcoming an issue that had plagued Municipal Waste the last few times I had seen them, as he barked through the likes of “You’re Cut Off”, thought perhaps in light of this, he was given a break, with the group whipping out the instrumental cuts “Wave Of Death” and “Under The Waste Command”. The highlights were the usual suspects in “Unleash The Bastards”, a whirlwind rendition of “Sadistic Magician”, and the call to drink (I mean arms) in the beer-drenched finale that is “Born To Party”.
No wasted potential here
As a giant curtain descended and covered the stage, there was a febrile atmosphere as excitement and anticipation emanated from the packed house. As the stage lights dimmed, a video package was played onto the curtain, featuring a who’s who of metal/rock icons (plus Keanu Reeves and Norman Reedus) talking about the history of the band and thrash metal. It finally seemed that there could be a video discussing metal without Scott Ian in it, but alas, the laws of physics intervened and he also appeared, proving scientifically that he must feature in every metal documentary.
Pay no attention to the men behind the curtain
It was then that the curtain dropped and Anthrax emerged to the opening chords of “Among The Living”. With the crowd in the palm of their hands, the band whipped through a tandem of tracks that would usually signal the climax of a set for many such bands, such is their quality, in “Caught In A Mosh” and “Madhouse”. At this point, the band had put the audience into a state of, well, euphoria, introducing one of the deeper cuts of the night in “Keep It In The Family”; though I was elated it replaced “Got The Time” as the usual solitary track off of the criminally overlooked Persistence Of Time, it being the only cut from it was a damper on the evening.
In full force
Anthrax did, however, throw a few more deep cuts into the mix, with a Belladonna-led “Only” the sole representation of the Bush era. While I prefer the latter as a vocalist, Belladonna was tight and more than held his own; channeling Devin Townsend for the title of ‘nicest guy in metal’, he radiated enthusiasm and seemed genuinely appreciative of those in attendance. Even though Municipal Waste laid down the gauntlet earlier for driving the audience wild, the Benante masterclass of “I Am The Law” was the peak of audience engagement, as the moshpit almost doubled in size as the opening riff played out.
With much of the chatter between tracks left to Scott Ian, his strengths as a speaker shone through, as he kept the audience engaged and laughing (introducing Benante as “25% of Pantera"), while also keeping the mood high even as the highlighted that this night was the 36th anniversary of the tragic passing of Cliff Burton (RIP).
I’m the man
A condensed snippet of “Bring The Noise” segued into the closer “Indians”. While tonight had been tight and precise, Ian managed to pull the cable on his guitar just as Anthrax were about to launch into the wardance breakdown, leading to a comedic break before a no less impactful do-over was wheeled out. The usual pantomime followed before the encore emerged in the form of “N.F.L.” and the concert ended for real.
Try as they might, no one could reach the microphone
While I had hoped for the band to shake up the setlist more, with them playing no fewer than five cuts from Among The Living at the expense of one or two more deep cuts, I can’t deny that I was still throwing the horns and singing my voice hoarse through the usual best of tracks such as “Antisocial”. Now for a week-and-a-half break before the London show; if this was anything to go by, then I would curse my luck at only being able to do two dates.
Doesn’t time fly? It only felt like yesterday that Anthrax were wardancing across the stage and inciting mosh pits left and right. Thanks to an inept and out-of-touch government, tonight’s show almost didn’t happen, owing to much of the country’s train services being on strike; thought it made my journey more difficult, I would not be deterred and pushed on.
Better, but not the best
Footing the bill once more were Sworn Enemy; while I arrived midway through their set owing to grabbing food after a long journey to Brixton, I did not miss much. Having improved over the fortnight-long tour, they sounded tighter and more energetic than last time out. Though once again hindered by a lack of top-quality material, “We Hate” was once again the highlight, and may find itself on occasional rotation going forward, having grown on me somewhat.
Andrew W.K. has got nothing on this
As Municipal Waste were setting up, it became clear that tonight’s show was far better attended than Birmingham’s, even with the national train strike hindering travel. As the band took to the stage, perhaps a mix of cathartic release and it being Saturday night meant that the audience were already moshing as the first of many notes flew out from Land Phil’s guitar. With that, the band took to their largest non-festival stage in the UK. Though they seemed somewhat out of place on the large stage, they certainly seemed in their element in front of such a large audience, commanding movement and reactions from the front to the very back of the crowd. “Breathe Grease” got a surprisingly energetic response for a track that usually flies somewhat under the radar, while the usual highlights of “Headbanger Face Rip” and “Born To Party” once more lived up to their reputations.
It was unfortunate, then, that Municipal Waste were victim to two shortcomings. First, a muddy mix meant that no one element was separated from the other, leaving the audience with a chaotic mess that was occasionally cut through with a guitar solo or gang vocals. This wasn’t the biggest issue, however, as between the quantities of alcohol many in the audience had clearly ingested and their desire to mosh, technical difficulties were not as detrimental as they could have been. The second, worse, issue, was the one that I anticipated last time out; Foresta’s vocals were straining and shot after two weeks of touring, with his hoarse barks only somewhat covered up by the poor mix. Still, Municipal Waste brought the party, and party is what London did.
Party on Garth, party on Wayne!
Metal thrashing mad
It was once again time for the biggest East Coast thrash band to take to the stage once more. Though the curtain didn’t fully cover the stage this time, Anthrax had seemingly learnt their lesson and trimmed down the video package, omitting some appearances and slimming down others. The rapturous roar as the curtain dropped and the opening chords of “Among The Living” ran out led to the kind of adrenaline rush that makes you spontaneously throw the devil horns and scream at the top of your lungs. Anthrax were back, and not a moment too soon.
While the opening tracks (the aforementioned and “Caught In A Mosh”) were hindered by the still-muddy mix, the catchy nature of the songs meant that you could make sense of the mess, and the quality shone through. With the mix clearing up come “Madhouse”, the band hit their stride and rolled into action like a well-oiled machine.
They’ve come for us all
Last time out, “Medusa” seemed to expose Belladonna; he seemed far more confident this time, and turned what was once a weak spot into a highlight of the set, nailing it and making me wish they played more from Spreading The Disease. “Only” once again cemented his prowess behind the mic, making me hopeful that the band may decide to tackle more Bush-era material in the future (although I don’t doubt I’m in the strong minority in calling for a few cuts off of Stomp 442).
Hey! It’s that guy from that metal documentary!
The band were tight and on form once more, with Benante showing again why he is the best drummer in the Big 4 and possibly even metal as a whole (Editor: that’s a bold statement), with effortless renditions of “Antisocial” (with extra fills and thrills) and “Indians”. Ian kept the talking to a minimum, although largely repeated the same speeches as last time (while thankfully not ripping his cable out during “Indians” this time). It seems that Birmingham got the short end of the stick owing to the overlong video package, as London was treated to “Got The Time” and a short rendition of “I’m The Man”; both tracks proved to be the short bursts of power and levity, respectively, that were needed as the crowd’s energy levels started to dip towards the end of a long night.
The highlight of the show had to be a deafening version of “Antisocial”, with the packed-out Brixton Academy sucking all the oxygen out of the building as they bellowed along to the chorus; even the band appeared somewhat stunned by the rapturous reception the song received.
The stage show in all its glory
It was once again the job of “N.F.L.” to close of the show, and the tour as a whole. While this night’s show didn’t have the same crystal-clear mix as Birmingham, it more than made up for it in terms of crowd energy and participation. Both shows were among the best I’ve seen from Anthrax, who are showing no signs of slowing down even after 40 years of bringing the mosh.
||Written on 19.10.2022 by Just because I don't care doesn't mean I'm not listening.|
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