I have been excited about hearing this EP since our interviews last year with Frank Bello, Joey Belladonna and Charlie Benante during their various tours and promotions for 2011’s amazing “Worship Music” album. Frank had mentioned that the band was considering releasing it as part of a special edition expanded re-release of “Worship Music but it’s cool that we are instead getting it as a stand-alone product. Of the “Big 4” acts, Anthrax has always been the top of the game as far as merchandising goes and this package will be no exception. The cover art will house a second sleeve inside which has Anthrax-inspired takes on the classic art of each of the bands they are covering which were designed by drummer Charlie Benante and Steve Thompson.
It all starts off with a cover of RUSH’s classic “Anthem”, which was itself a lead track on 1975’s “Fly By Night”. By now you have probably heard Anthrax’s version on radio or their website, it is phenomenal. This is a good, logical choice to open this EP as it is easily the most “Anthrax” of the 6 cover songs featured here. Rob Caggiano and Scott Ian’s interplay will be missed on future albums but it’s front and center here, along with the first of 6 particularly inspired vocal takes by Joey Belladonna. Joey likes going out on weekends to just jam with local guys when Anthrax isn’t on tour and his classic rock sensibility is custom made for this particular release. The entire band shines on “Anthems” but this is really the icing on the cake for Joey and doomsday for any of those people still waiting for the other shoe to drop, thinking the band will once again part ways with him.
Any Anthrax fan knows that the band has always had fun with covers but in some respects it seems Joey really took this project to another level. Belladonna manages to evoke every single vocalist that he is covering here in a way that is not only musically impressive but also shows his stylistic dexterity. The cover of AC/DC’s “T.N.T” (a song classic rock radio has frankly beaten to death) is awesome because the entire band stays so true to the original that you can almost sense they’re channeling their inner “1976”. Scott’s tone is not his typical sound here and Charlie’s drumming is note perfect to the great Phil Rudd track. Next up is the band’s take on Boston’s “Smokin” (from their classic 1976 debut) once again evoking the fuzzy headed afro’d 70s, right down to the KEYBOARD solo! It is no small task to emulate Tom Scholz’s godlike tone or the late, great Brad Delp’s soaring vocals but Anthrax just friggin nails it.
Listen to Anthrax Cover AC/DC’s ‘T.N.T.’
Joey has always spoken about how he loved Journey and when I heard that Anthrax was gonna tackle a song from the band I immediately wanted to know which one. “Keep On Running”, a hard-rocking album track from 1981’s gazillion platinum “ESCAPE” album gets the nod. There are moments where Scott and Rob’s guitar toughness come out here but for the most part this is a trip to listen to, a real left turn for the band. It is spectacular. I felt instantly teleported back to the smokey arcade I first heard this in and Joey does a mean Steve Perry.
My personal favorite track here is “Big Eyes”. I have always loved that Anthrax adores my two favorite bands KISS and Cheap Trick. My hometown boys Cheap Trick get the Anthrax treatment again (the band kicked ass on a cover of my favorite track “Auf Wiedersehen” with former singer John Bush) and the results are crushing. This is such an awesome cover it is possibly going to make Rick Nielsen jealous. It’s beefy, spot-on and better than the studio version from 1977’s “In Color”. It is possibly as good as the live version from Budokan. The song is driven by the rhythm section and the first thing I noticed is how perfect Benante and Bello’s performances are here. I could see “Big Eyes” or “Anthem” making it into an Anthrax set, they are heavy as hell and just have that feel you would expect from the band.
I might have said that the band’s version of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” is my least favorite except I keep coming back to it too! Charlie’s playing and snare sound is so damn good, he truly is the best drummer out there and is so god-given talented it is really not fair. You will love this without question, just as you will love this entire EP if you’re an Anthrax fan. The EP is rounded out by a remix (as well as the original version) of “Crawl” a great track which may have been overlooked amongst all the other great tracks from “Worship Music”. The obvious allure of this package are the cover songs but a hardcore Anthrax fan would totally buy it just for the slightly experimental, atmospheric version of “Crawl”. I like it, it’s kind of cinematic, symphonic and creepy but still rocks. Whether you opt for the digital version or the specially packaged physical product, make sure you preorder “Anthems” now (to be released Mar. 19). It is fun, which is exactly what Anthrax has always been.
* * * * Four Stars
Pre-order ANTHRAX, “ANTHEMS” below: