Anthrax - Among the Living (1987)Release ID: 1531
Anthrax's third album finds the band in top form. They took the sound they'd created with Spreading the Disease and perfected it. Anthrax has always been about thrash, with awesome guitar riffs throughout their music, but they're also about downright good fun. This album is a damn entertaining listen and while they're sense of humour doesn't always agree with me (efilnikufesin a case in point), it never reaches the low of bands such as SOD.
Highlights are aplenty with Among the Living, Caught in a Mosh and Indians just a few great tracks off this highly consistent and excellent album.
Anthrax is to me, the proto-pizza thrash band, something I tend to associate with competent at best thrash bands with lyrics mostly about TMNT, violence and Rick and Morty-level humor. This is both unfair and fair. Anthrax is like, one of the two thrash bands I can think of off-hand who have written songs about actual books. Any humor on this album is subtle enough that I didn't really notice it, and certainly not truly awful.
On the other hand, it's hard not to argue that Anthrax, if not the originator of the trend of thrash bands being merely competent at their chosen instruments, certainly proved it to be a winning formula to many. A vaguely punk ethos, lacking the aggression of someone like Slayer or Kreator, the technicality of Coroner or Doom. But unlike the endless knock-offs, who's failures more or less live or die on their merits as thrash bands, Anthrax has had something of a connection to speed metal, albeit one that makes the band feel like they don't quite fit in anywhere. Before the clan challenge, I would have dismissed Anthrax on this, and more or less continued on. I still more or less feel that way about their first two albums.
Something about Among the Living actually works despite this. I guess that makes Anthrax the soul of thrash metal, something that's far more than the sum of it's parts. (or if you prefer something more concrete, chemistry between band members) Individually, each musician brings nothing really interesting about the album. For instance, the drums should bring the album down, being that sort of annoying drumming that would really drag down an album, the kind with the most basic skills. Yet, here it works.
Despite their reputation, both overall and to me, I think Anthrax did something worth listening to. Discounting the soul argument, songs like the title track and Imitation of Life are genuinely nice. Even if you're not the spiritually 14 audience this was designed to attract, it's worth giving it a few spins despite that, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised like I was.
Anthrax is the kind of band who can brain-storm. They can think up better and new ideas at ease. With the classic thrash scene rising, and their side-project Stormtroopers of Death, Anthrax made a different sound that combines hardcore punk and speed metal into their own form of thrash metal, making them part of the Big 4.
That was the right call! Among the Living is full of insane relentless thrash lightning, almost competing with bands like Slayer and Dark Angel. The tempos, vocals, and attitude are in better influential elements than in bands like Megadeth. Most of the instrumentalists also provide background vocals to add in a "gang" kind of vibe, which is kind of what Exodus has done also. The vocals often hits the highs as much as Judas Priest and Metal Church, in contrast to grittiness of Metallica and Slayer.
The album's title track is not really the best here, but it has excellent structure, despite the bizarre melodic vocals. The speed here is quite neck-breaking like a motherf***er and adds to the anger. That track is based on one of the Stephen King's tribute The Stand, and it's a nice tribute. "Caught in a Mosh" is a brilliant moshing thrash anthem almost rivaling the anthems of Metallica and Exodus, with out-of-this-world speed. The headbanging breakdown is definitely worth moshing to, brushing aside the comedic lyrics that are still genius ("Stomp stomp stomp the idiot convention, which one of these words don't you understand?"). The chorus to shout along to is the most impressive here. There's hardcore thrash in this house! Next, "I Am the Law" is one of the more classic thrash hits, but I don't enjoy the singing here. The moshing riffing is fun though.
"Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)" (If you wanna know what it stands for, type the word backwards or guess the acronym) is really great, telling a more serious tale. They let things loose with well-focused riffs, mystical melodies, and nice soloing. The lyrics protest against drug abuse, which comedian John Belushi tragically succumbed to. The band really thinks outside the box and breaks boundaries, though not as progressively as Anacrusis and Watchtower. "Skeleton in the Closet" is another song based on a Stephen King story, this one being Apt Pupil. It's quite good for the mosh-pit, but it doesn't really spread a message as it should. The chorus with hammering vocals by Joey Belladonna and his backup gang will really get you headbanging. The fun "Indians" starts off by making h*ll of a tribute to Iron Maiden in the leads, then speeds up into their usual thrash. Still a lot of things there tribute to Maiden including Joey's high vocals and the break for a moshing solo. F***ing great attitude, including the speedy chorus. Great classic!
Now there's more madness to come in "One World", in which the structure is just pure thrash aggression similar to Metallica. Loud riffs, Priest-esque vocals, nice drums, and vicious leads make the song worth checking out. "A.D.I./Horror of It All" is a two-part 8-minute epic, reminding some of the ones Exodus could do. It's more mid-paced, while still having strong riffs, powerful vocals, and nice riffing. It tributes to Metallica's fallen bassist Cliff Burton. Anthrax wanted one more chance to "say goodbye". Mesmerizing triumph despite breaking from what the Big 4 is known for. "Imitation of Life" sounds like a forced letdown. Though the comedic lyrics are quite fun, convincing record executives to let them rise in success, which actually worked (obviously).
Among the Living can be considered the highest point of Anthrax's career, showing them as a much better band than when they made Sounds of White Noise. So tip your hat off, like the guy in the middle of an emotionless crowd in the album cover, to one of the most influential classics in thrash metal history!
Favorites: "Caught in a Mosh", "Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)", "Indians", "A.D.I./Horror of It All"
Let's be honest, Anthrax is the poster-band for the standard thrash sound, but that doesn't mean they can't make good music, just that they're most likely going to be limited in their prowess as long as they keep things that way. However, the title track tells you everything you need to know about this album: it's some pretty damn heavy thrashing, serious crossover attitude, and this rebellious nature drives the album for its majority. A big part of the album is that, lyrically, it tries to capture the essence of its time. Songs like "Caught in a Mosh": and "One World" make that obvious Still, does this album really stand out in anyway? It probably did at the time, considering that this was the most blatantly punkish of thrash metal's output that didn't completely steer into it. Combined with proto-groove metal elements, this was a farcry from most of the stuff you'd get in thrash, including the fact that these guys weren't afraid of mingling hardcore vocals and shouting with the heavy metal wail you'll find in Sanctuary and King Diamond works. The problem is that it hasn't really aged well. It's still a fun album, but can I honestly look at this and say that it's a true piece of musical art? Maybe only in the one vein. Otherwise, it's standard. Anthrax have an obvious tendency to write the same really good song over and over again. In other words, despite how much fun the album is, creativity is at a minimum. Among the Living is an album more suitable for playing a couple songs a time, picking favorites to put on a playlist because the energy and attitude are so good that the two get under your skin and into your soul. But as an album there are things missing.
Anthrax are probably the least acclaimed of the "Big Four", being seen as a bit of a joke by some. Certainly they were the only ones who seemed to have much of a sense of humour, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, surely. Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, with Among the Living they released one of the premier albums of the 80s thrash revolution.
Sure, it's song lyrics are mainly based around Steven King stories and comic books (and nuclear Armageddon and the treatment of Native Americans) but it has got kick-ass chugging riffs (the intro to I Am the Law is a killer), a love-of-life infectiousness that is impossible to resist and in Joey Belladonna arguably the best singer in thrash.
This time around Anthrax had really tightened up their sound, incorporating hardcore influences that probably came from the guys' involvement in S.O.D. and whereas Slayer used the influence of hardcore to make Reign in Blood even more evil sounding than previous albums, Anthrax used it to make the music more anthemic and fun.
I was lucky enough to catch Anthrax on the tour to support Among the Living when they visited the UK and it was one of the most brilliant nights I've ever had at a metal gig. These guys sure knew how to party back in the day. Unfortunately this was the crest of the wave for Anthrax and the only way thereafter was down, but while it lasted it was a hell of a blast!