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Anthems EP

Nuclear Blast (2013)
Rating: 8/10

Anthrax is a band that needs no introduction. These titans of thrash were one of the most influential metal bands of the 80s. The 90s saw a change in line-up and a heavier style that alienated some fans and gained others. After several years of relative obscurity following the release of 2003’s We’ve Come For You All Anthrax returned in a big way in 2011 with the Grammy nominated Worship Music.

Rarely does a band drop off the radar for so long and come back even stronger than before. Riding high on the tide of a career reborn, Anthrax give us Anthems, an EP of cover songs from a surprising range of influential rock bands.

Anthems isn’t what I expected from an Anthrax covers release. Generally, when a band releases a collection of cover songs, you get a little bit of their own attitude thrown in, but the songs on Anthems are perfect covers. How perfect? The fun kicks off very appropriately with the Rush classic, ‘Anthem’. Every aspect of the Rush recording of this song is in place. Joey Belladonna even does a pretty acceptable imitation of Geddy Lee’s vocal style. Every bit of reverb, every note, every nuance is perfect.

The same can be said for the other songs. AC/DC’s ‘TNT’ has the same gang vocal “Oi!”, and Joey Belladonna nearly pegs Bon Scott’s unique voice. Possibly the only thing that separates these songs from the original versions is the updated production.

So should you run screaming from Anthems because it doesn’t offer anything new? No. Anthrax have chosen landmark songs to present to a new generation of fans, and it’s quality material. Many of these are songs that shaped metal as it is known today. While many don’t think of Cheap Trick or Journey when we consider metal, many metal bands were influenced by the hard rock sounds these pioneered. Anthrax version of Cheap Trick’s ‘Big Eyes’ is spectacularly fun, and listen to the opening riff of ‘Keep On Runnin’’ and try to deny that more than a few metal bands haven’t ripped off Journey guitarist Neil Schon’s style.

What this album does give is a new appreciation for what Anthrax is capable of. While I don’t really think of vocal harmonies when I think about the thrash masters (okay, maybe on ‘Bare’ or ‘In The End’) the melodies on Anthems are superb. Their version of Boston’s ‘Smokin’’ has the rich vocal harmonies of the original, something I wasn’t aware Anthrax was capable of.

The sole low point on Anthems is Thin Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak’. This song was always a bit hokey, but Belladonna’s attempt at capturing Phil Lynott’s vocal tone becomes absurd toward the middle of the song.

Aside from this, the other five songs covered on this release are incredible, and we’re also treated to the Worship Music version of ‘Crawl’ plus a special remix. These add a bit of the crunch and intensity Anthrax fans love. It’s a fitting song to add to this collection as it has more of a rock vibe than a metal howl compared to much of the Anthrax catalogue. The remix is heavy on orchestration, while remaining crunchy on the chorus. It’s a more ethereal take, and works well in the context of this EP. See, Anthrax goes so far as to even cover themselves! All in all, Anthems is an interesting diversion while fans wait for the next album.

Jim McDonald

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