To listen to Anthrax is to understand metal in a very pure form. While a lot of bands in this genre are essentially just messy and loud, this particular metal group has a way of blending different sounds that results in something like ideal metal. Go back to the debut track 'Deathrider' off of the inaugural album Fistful Of Metal and you get what one retro review calls “a fine piece of speed/thrash,” complete with the lyric “you’re gonna die” drawn out at a pitch so high it’ll make your dog tilt its head full circle. Listen to the popular 'Bring The Noise' off the album Attack Of The Killer B’s and you’ll get a surprising taste of skater brand rock/hip-hop. And check out 'Breathing Lightnin'' from the more recent album For All Kings and you’ll hear tight guitar riffs reminiscent of Metallica with an almost classic rock vocal style.
The group has also long been known for putting on some of the most authentically insane metal performances from time to time. Scott Ian, who’s been the heart and soul of the group for its entire run and is in fact the only remaining founder of the band, recently gave some comments to this effect. In an interview, Ian reminisced about one of the band’s craziest shows, in Los Angeles at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in the mid-‘80s. Ian called it the most violent, brutal, out of control thing he’d ever seen, recalling comparisons of the front-stage pit to a war zone. Whether or not that sounds the least bit appealing to a modern music lover (Ian himself actually seems to have been a little alarmed), you have to recognize that on some level it epitomizes metal. You have to admire the passion of the fans, and what it says about the effect Anthrax’s music had on them.
For his part, Ian is the kind of guy who’s just always going to draw attention, regardless of what might be going on with Anthrax. In addition to being the group’s longest-tenured (and thus most recognizable) member, he tends to run in public and celebrity circles. For one thing, he’s married to the adopted daughter of Meat Loaf (the singer Pearl Aday), and he’s known to be a sports enthusiast also. Over time, Ian has also joined some other popular musicians in earning a reputation as a frequent visitor of poker tables. In fact, Ian has competed in the World Series of Poker multiple times, and used to host a professional game on his own as well. (This is neither here nor there, but it’s a surprisingly chill hobby for a guy who’s made his name pounding out thrash metal.)
Even if he weren’t personally interesting though, Scott Ian has managed to stay relevant through his band also – despite the fact that the band itself is comprised of different members than it once was. And admirably, he’s done this by keeping things more or less the same.
When asked in a relatively recent interview why genres like hip-hop and electronica have managed to outstrip rock (let alone heavy metal), Ian appeared to be both realistic and at peace with the idea. He responded by saying he’s been doing the same thing since 1984, and has no complaints about that reality. He compares his current work with Anthrax to “going to work,” which seems like an oddly bizarre, but also refreshing way to approach the idea of headlining an aging rock group. In fact, it sort of seems to be the exact antithesis of a sell-out point of view, and it shows up in the music.
I mentioned For All The Kings - an album Anthrax put out just in 2016 – and while the record didn’t find the same success as some of the band’s earlier efforts, the sound is largely similar. Listen to the rollicking, 7-minute opening track 'You Gotta Believe' and you’ll hear numerous screeching riffs and frequent repetition of the single word, “impale.” Listen to the melodically violent 'All Of Them Thieves' and you can almost envision yourself back in that insane pit at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in the ‘80s. It’s just terrifically authentic – less popular because it came out in a different era, but not because the band declined or adapted in any way.
It’s hard to imagine what might have happened if Anthrax had tried to adapt to a changing musical landscape, because there isn’t a real model for a metal group that’s melded itself with the 2010s. Metallica kept putting out music until recently, and sometimes to half-decent reviews, but inexplicably felt a little bit softer. And some classic rock groups like U2 have remained tirelessly active, but are generally viewed as being single-hungry shells of themselves. Guns N’ Roses have managed to stay relevant by taking on a massive international tour, but if you read between the lines the reviews of the actual shows have frequently remarked on what appears to be a mildly depressing decline in energy.
This is what makes Anthrax, and particularly Ian, so easy to appreciate. The group has just kept at it, and while it might not be selling out stadiums or topping the charts these days, it’s stayed true to itself.