My First Exposure to Anthrax

Have you ever heard a single song of a band or artist that gave you a misleading impression about their overall sound?  That is exactly what happened to me when listening to Anthrax for the first time.  My initial exposure to the band may not have been very different from most people’s, by finding the band on a compilation album.  However, this wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill compilation.   I’m talking about The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience.

I didn’t get it for the music, but rather for the comedy (I say “I”, but my brother and I split the cost on this album and co-owned it).  Beavis and Butt-Head rarely disappointed when it came to scratching that itch for low-brow toilet humour.  Aside from this album, I could give these two animated delinquents lots of credit for developing a taste in heavier music.  I’d catch the show through syndication on Canada’s Much Music channel, with the segments where they make fun of music videos being among the most memorable aspects of the cartoon.  Plus, their Sega Genesis video game put the almighty GWAR on my radar, which is never a bad thing.

As for this album, it features a few sketches in between songs where the titular characters are thrown into music-centric premises, including encounters with Run DMC, Cher, and (you guessed it) Anthrax.  That’s fine and dandy, but the heart of the matter is the songs, which had much more of a long-term impact on me than the jokes.  There is enough here to please most hard rock fans, with album-exclusive tracks from Megadeth, Aerosmith, White Zombie, and (you guessed it yet again) Anthrax.  The band’s offering was “Looking Down The Barrel of A Gun”, one of several darkly-named songs on the CD (this track follows Nirvana’s “I Hate Myself and Want To Die”).  When track number two hit, damn I was pumped!  It sounded like another Beastie Boys, but with a slightly different flavour.  Not having done my research, it turns out that’s exactly what it was.  “Looking Down The Barrel of a Gun” was a cover of a Beastie Boys song from an album I’d yet to hear (Paul’s Boutique).  Regardless, I stored that cool-sounding band name in my head in hopes of hearing more of them in the future.

My first ever trip to local music chain Deja Vu Discs (at their since closed North Oshawa location) resulted in purchasing my first Anthrax album, Volume 8: The Threat Is Real, pretty much blind.  Being a used CD store, I could have sampled the goods in advanced, but I never bothered.  It was the first time I saw an Anthrax album in a store, and knew I had to leave with it.  Their logo on the front looked rather cool, which helped it stand out, but I didn’t really like the rest of the album cover.

An eight-ball? Ooooooh!  Isn’t that something?  I’ll take “Generic Tattoo Concepts” for $200, Alex!  What, did Pantera already put a snake on their last album cover or something?  To be fair, there’s more than meets the eye here.  You get an expanded image on the inside of the folded liner notes, a design by Tim Gabor that pays homage to 1950’s science fiction movies.  If there was a way this could have been the actual cover, it would have been preferable.

 

When I put the album on the first time, the opening track “Crush” began on such a quiet note that I’m almost certain I turned up the volume slightly, not knowing where it was heading.  Big mistake!  Enter the most crushingly heavy, down-tuned riff my ears ever feasted on up to that point.  When vocalist John Bush enters the fray, that clinched it for me. He sings on that track as if his life depended on it.  And, Jesus!  Some of the lines in that song, man…

Get away with murder

Kill me when you’re through

Do I have to give up me

To be loved by you?

I still don’t know what that means, but I heard nothing like it.  Why the hell did I ever want a Beastie Boys imitation?  I’ve got Anthrax now!!

The band had been dumped by Elektra Records after their poorly received Stomp 442 album, so released their eighth studio album on the independent Ignition Records.  This is not to be confused with the still-active British label.  Information on the New York-based label is rather scarce, but Anthrax were seemingly their marquee act, and apparently went bankrupt not long after Volume 8 hit the shelves.  Only a single music video, the Twilight Zone inspired “Inside Out”, was produced.

In all honesty, Volume 8 is not the most balanced album with regards to song quality in spite of my nostalgia for it.  Some tracks don’t resonate well with nearly as much as others.  I tend to listen to albums from start-to-finish these days, but in my track-skipping youth, “Toast to the Extras” and “Big Fat” usually got the ‘Next’ button treatment.  You also get a few micro-tracks I’d expect more from Anthrax side project S.O.D. with “604” and “Cupajoe”.  A couple of curve-balls, but I think it sheds some context on S.O.D.’s eventual reformation the following year.  In short, Volume 8 was the unexpected hit of heavy that not only brought me into Anthrax fandom, but it was actually one of the very first metal albums in my collection.  I almost wanted to recognize this as the first metal album in my collection, but this rose-coloured glasses viewpoint made me temporarily forget the likes of Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water, which would be “Rollin’” out of my playlist in no time.

While still a fantastic start to a band that I listened to closely in high school, one album would not be enough.  I truly caught the Anthrax disease!  My brother soon joined me in the festivities by picking up Sound of White Noise within a couple months.  I remember it seemingly taking an eternity to wait on We’ve Come For You All to come out even though we were only into the band for around two years.  For anyone trying to get into the Bush years of Anthrax, I’d first direct them to either of those.

Eventually, I learned that John Bush was not the band’s original vocalist and had to work my way back to their 80s works.  My point of entry for the Joey Belladonna-era was through State of Euphoria.  I was excited when I came across it in the store.  I knew the lineup was different, but wrongly assumed it was members of the band illustrated on the cover. Although I was wrong to think that the band once consisted of triplets, I thought yellow was an interesting choice of colour, and appreciated the relatively simple design (and still do).

There was lots about this album for me to latch onto. Scott Ian’s rhythm guitar had this tight, crunchy tone, and in combination with Belladonna’s higher-register vocals created a bit of an oddly happy-sounding combination while still maintaining aggression on songs such as “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”, “Make Me Laugh” and “Finale”.  I still maintain that Charlie Benante is too-often overlooked among metal drummers, which I got a further taste of through his playing on the mid-album double-header of “Who Cares Wins” and “Now It’s Dark”.  However, listening to my first Belladonna album took a little getting used to.  It didn’t help that the mastering on the CD version I had was (if memory serves correct) rather low in volume, which I found slightly annoying, and perhaps ramped up the learning curve a little for me.  It’s a solid, consistent album for sure, but I now see it as being sandwiched between two superior albums in their discography.  It took acquiring the Madhouse: The Very Best of Anthrax CD to hear that lineup’s full potential.

While I am a steadfast defender of the John Bush albums, I recently began to miss some of the albums with Joey singing for them (only a vinyl copy of Among The Living remained in my ownership).  A recent order of Aftershock: The Island Years 1985-1990 remedied this, which is a great flashback for me to enjoy and to fill in the empty spaces in my collection.  The key of this 4-CD set is that I now finally have a proper copy of Persistence of Time.  I always liked the album, but my old one was a burned CD-R copy that amusingly featured their song off the Bordello of Blood soundtrack instead of “Blood”.  My elder sister’s boyfriend at the time had cobbled it together off some file-sharing site, so it while not accurate, it introduced me to a hilariously cheesy horror movie starring, of all the rugged leading men they could find, comedian / talk show host Dennis Miller.

The more I think it over, my misunderstanding of who Anthrax were initially isn’t too far out of line.  Two of the band’s biggest successes were when they dabbled in blending elements of rap and metal.  First, they have their tongue-in-cheek go at a rap of their own in 1987 with “I’m The Man”, and followed it four years later with a Public Enemy collaboration on their song “Bring The Noise”.  I have a hard time picking which version I prefer (here’s the Public Enemy original), but the fact that Anthrax were name-dropped in the lyrics, this pairing seemed meant to happen.

I’d have to do a lot more thinking to determine if I’ve had another experience like this in music discovery.  Unless I’m forgetting that I was first won over by James Taylor’s pop-punk phase or when The Residents rivaled the wholesomeness of The Osmonds, I doubt it.

 

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