Thursday, May 10, 2018

Anthrax / Kings Among Scotland [Live]. 2018. 4/5

For a band that has been around for four decades, it is unusual that Anthrax has never really had a definitive live album. Iron Maiden, Slayer, Ozzy Osbourne… they all have live albums that are legendary and are caught as moments in time of the era they were recorded. Anthrax has the afterthought of their Island Records contract when it released Live: The Island Years, and then the John Bush-headed recording of Music of Mass Destruction, before the reunion with Joey Belladonna release of Alive 2 (2005). All three are good solid live albums, and Music of Mass Destructionespecially at least stands as a monument to the Bush-era songs, but for a quintessential live recording of the band there has been somewhat of a gap.

Does that make this release the live album we have been waiting for from this band? Well, to be fair to the band that moment when they could have released a live album that would stand the test of time has probably passed. Music of Mass Destruction is probably the closest they will come. And the songs have had to be naturally altered with some tuning and a slower pace in order to accommodate the changes in the techniques of the individuals in the band. Yes, tuning down in order to allow Joey to come close to singing some of the older songs that they have in this set list. For me a live recording on the Persistence of Time tour would have been the ultimate goal, but seeing as this was when I first saw them perhaps I am blinded by that.
So does this have a chance to be that definitive live album? It does have a chance, for two reasons. Disc One is a mix of the old and the new. Amongst songs taken from the album on which the band is touring, For All Kings we have a mix of classic Anthrax tunes. The new songs all sound good in this live environment, and given they had been toured for a while before this gig was recorded it shows. “Evil Twin”, “Blood Eagle Wings” and “Breathing Lightning” showcase the best of the latest studio album, and new crowd favourite “Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t” from the Worship Music album still comes across well. Liberally splashing with the crowd pleasers such as “A.I.R.”, “Madhouse”, “Medusa” and “Be All End All”, there is something for everyone.
What will elevate this live album into a more accessible category is the second disc, which was the second act of the evening during the tour. It involves the playing live of the entire Among the Living album which is revered and generally accepted as Anthrax’s finest moment. It is not played here in correct running order, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest. Each of these nine amazing songs are played in full and with reverence. The crowd know all the words, and especially in the backing vocals of Scott Ian and Frankie Bello you can hear the crowd at full volume joining in. The album and gig then ends with a rousing rendition of “Antisocial”.
The band are older, and perhaps wiser. Joey Belladonna may not be quite the vocalist he was, but no one is at his age. He still does a great job throughout, and even where he has to make changes to accommodate it comes across well enough to keep the doubters at bay. Jon Donais on lead guitar does a sterling job, while Ian and Bello are as enthusiastic as always. Charlie Benante still amazes on the drums, and again while it may not be his heyday his drum sound is still one of the best in the business.

I’ll admit that after the first two or three times I listened to this I was wondering if this was just another album I would buy and within a couple of weeks would return to the collection to be hidden forever. That may still happen, given I am less likely to drag out a live album to listen to that a studio album. But I have softened my hard resolve against the tiny things I held against this release, and now I can happily continue to listen to it despite the fact I wish it had been released in 1988 and not 2018.

Rating:  “Evil witch casts her spell”.  4/5.

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