Anthrax - Among the Living

by DeadSun

For this week's TBT we revisit DeadSun's Classics review of Anthrax's Among The Living album which will be celebrating its 30th anniversary next year:

As history aptly demonstrates, the style of heavy metal that came to be called "thrash", by the mid 1980s, was one which was dominated by bands hailing from the west coast of the United States. Bands such as Slayer, Exodus, Testament, Metallica, and Megadeth had established an impressive, national base of operations for thrash in the Bay Area.

For the eastern United States, two influential bands are noteworthy. One is Overkill, and the other is (of course) Anthrax. Following the release of their inaugural effort Fistful of Metal (1984), the Anthrax line-up took on two new additions--- bassist Frank Bello and singer Joey Belladona. In 1985, Anthrax released Spreading the Disease--- another classic in its own right, despite the opinion of some, who claim the sound production stripped quite a bit of luster away from the song writing which it was supposed to otherwise showcase.

Nevertheless, the seeds were sown with Spreading the Disease, and the band's name (post line-up change) was now buzzing from the lips of the metal community. This left Anthrax fertile, so to speak, from a standpoint of creativity, as well as their potential to connect to a wider portion of heavy metal fans at large (fans who were utterly disgusted with 'hair metal', as it was called, and were therefore drawn to 'thrash', as it were).

It can be stated with certainty that those who (today) fail to grasp the degree to which Anthrax capitalized on this opportunity--- pursuant to the material they recorded for Among the Living--- is either intentionally lying, is unintentionally ignorant, or is a revisionist of sorts (and a poor one at that).

It was indeed the release of Among the Living which catapulted Anthrax to the apex of the metal heap, and firmly established their name alongside those pioneering thrash bands which were mentioned at the beginning of this article.

In terms of feel and tenor, Among the Living is clearly more rooted in a format of thrash which, in the days of yore, was referred to as "mosh". Whereas outfits such as Slayer and Testament (for example) worked their brand of thrash hand in hand with speed metal, Among the Living (in areas) snaps along at a tempo count ideal for executing the "pit maneuver" which came to be called moshing. Additionally, this fact further elaborates on the influence that the NYC hardcore punk scene (at that time) had on the band in general--- with the ubiquitous presence of the shout-along refrain being another example. When thrash "purists" discount Among the Living from qualifying as a thrash classic, it should be pointed out that the musical range for thrash bands always has (and always will) waiver between the "fused" extremities of speed metal and hardcore punk. With Among the Living, Anthrax clearly falls into the later division.

For a thrash record of its time, the sound production on Among the Living is, for all intents and purposes, nearly flawless. Joey Belladonna's voice alternates between the energetic shout (often encountered in hardcore punk) and melodic delivery, the later being a calling card of Anthrax's--- and which was not commonly found within the ranks of the thrash sound, as it existed at the time. Naturally, Dan Spitz's solos were crisp, well executed flurries of scale work (keeping true to the thrash model)--- but at the end of the day, the greatest achievement of Among the Living was that it arguably set a new standard for the concept of the "riff", as it was employed in the heavy metal song. Even a casual brush through tracks like "Caught in a Mosh", "I Am the Law", "Efilnikufesin (NFL)", and "One World" should suffice to illustrate the impact the music contained on this release would come to have on (some of the) directions which heavy metal took in the 1990s. As the demise of the hair metal bastard child dropped much heavy metal beneath the Top 40 radar, in order to make room for the alt rock movement spearheaded by the Seattle scene, new sub-genres flourished in the metal underground--- the early death metal scene of the 1990s is one well known example--- and it was unquestionably earlier releases by bands like Anthrax, Slayer, and Exodus (et al) that laid the preliminary brickwork for what came later.

To the extent that any reasonable person--- when asked to list the criteria they might use when naming a classic--- would go on to cite the categories which Among the Living clearly falls into, this release is indeed a classic and highly influential recording. Additionally, the sheer power of Among the Living to, year after year, sound as alive and invigorating as it did in 1987, is another critical, palpable testimony to its musical worth, and unquestionably establishes its rightful place of importance in the living history and evolution of heavy metal.

Anthrax - Among the Living

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