Tonight begins a delayed 40 year celebration for UK fans, as thrash metal titans Anthrax kick off their highly anticipated run of dates at Birmingham’s O2 Academy.
After an incendiary performance from Virginia crossover thrashers Municipal Waste, a curtain obscures the stage and tension mounts as a montage of goodwill messages are projected from the ‘XL’ 40th Anniversary livestream. The likes of Mike Patton, Tom Morello, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Corey Taylor, Henry Rollins and Slash, all paying tribute to New York’s finest.
The opening bars to ‘Among The Living’ are delivered from behind the curtain before it drops and eyes feast on the impressive stage set. With the razor edged, stomping riff of ATL leading into its frantic thrash beat, Messrs. Belladonna, Ian, Bello, Benante and Donais are on fire. This is everything we love and want from Anthrax – a hearty pummelling at a frenetic pace. The first gasp for breath comes at those big lines for us to sing: “I’m the walking dude, I can see all the world …” Positive confirmation, if anybody wasn’t already aware, that we’re all in this together.
The initial bliss continues with the natural follower ‘Caught In A Mosh’. Another masterpiece distinguished by the sum of its parts. Scott Ian playing the opening chords, spot lit and on high. Frank Bello’s mighty bass riff thundering through our bones, and Charlie Benante appearing effortless but masterful with those sweet blast beats. Joey Belladonna’s distinctive and steadfast vocal tops things off, along with relative newcomer Jon Donais, who has note perfect, melodic shreddery down to a fine art. The band enjoy every second, and their audience … they’re stomp, stomp, stomping around tonight’s Birmingham convention.
From Spreading The Disease comes ‘Madhouse’ before Scott breaks into the first of several engaging interludes. Explaining how good it feels to be back in the UK, he enquires: “Do you love thrash metal?” – knowing for sure the response he’ll receive. It’s the perfect intro for ‘Metal Thrashing Mad’ off of the 1984 debut album Fistful of Metal with Joey making the original Neil Turbin scream-athon his very own.
We get a smattering of tracks from across the years. ‘Keep It In The Family’ and ‘Antisocial’ are followed by Scott paying homage to Birmingham, Black Sabbath and “the heaviest band of all time – Duran Duran!” (NOT!) He reminisces about Anthrax supporting Metallica and playing the Odeon in 1986, to which several hundred of us let out a unified murmur in both approval and in memory of being there.
From start to finish the floor is an undulating swarm of energy. Felt throughout the room and up into the balcony it reaches a peak during ‘I Am The Law’. If the show finished right now, we’d all go home happy. But thankfully there’s plenty more in store, including the inevitable reminder that today marks 36 years since the passing of Metallica legend Cliff Burton. Scott chooses an apt way to deal with the subject – a joint “moment of rage” rather than silence, with “CLIFF!” bellowed from every metalhead in the house.
The only John Bush era track is the appropriately titled ‘Only’, from 1993’s Sound of White Noise. (For me, an album that with Stomp 442 make up two of their best.) Scott then takes up vocal duty for the genre-smashing ‘Bring The Noise’ prior to a final return to Among The Living for the massive set-closing ‘Indians’ and ‘Efilnikufesin’. During these staple offerings and with some encouragement, plenty of folk in the balcony are on their feet, to conclude a performance of real connection and mutual affection.
More recently I’ve seen Anthrax perform at festival and arena shows, and while brilliant at both, club level is where they remain at their very best. This anniversary tour is going to mean a lot to many old school thrashers, and certainly stirs up a nostalgic trip. But I hope it’s not the end of Anthrax by a long shot. Not just for me, but for the likes of 17 year old Bill, who sat next to me at his first Anthrax gig tonight, had an absolute blast. There’s no doubt about it, for generations of metalheads, the kings that all shout hell, will remain the hardest ever.
Review & Photography: Steve Johnston