WORDS: Jack Fermor-Worrell
As one of the so-called ‘Big 4 Of Thrash Metal’, ANTHRAX have always been revered as one of heavy music’s greatest bands. Since reuniting with vocalist Joey Belladonna in 2011, the band have seen somewhat of a resurgence in popularity though, with their previous album Worship Music being almost-universally revered as a return to form. Now the band are back with their eleventh studio album and a new lead guitarist.
Not too dissimilarly to Worship Music, For All Kings kicks off with the Game of Thrones-esque introduction of Impaled. Essentially little more than an introduction (indeed, it’s tacked onto the following track on some versions), it serves as the ideal tension builder and allows the listener to prepare themselves for things to come.
Fans will already be familiar with opening track proper, You Gotta Believe. Bouncy and packed with distortion, it’s a great reintroduction to where ANTHRAX have been sonically in the last few years. It’s also a punishingly relentless track for the most part, save for a midsection that slows down to deliver the album’s first solos. Joey Belladonna also gets to fully unleash for the first of many times here – proving yet again that he is the true voice of ANTHRAX.
Slowing the pace down slightly, Monster At The End takes a completely different approach – allowing Belladonna to lead, rather than Ian and Donais. What we get as a result is essentially a ready-made single packing a soaring chorus that seems to last the entire length of the song, and a track that should easily find its way to rock radio stations across the world.
Opening with Belladonna singing its chorus almost entirely unaccompanied, title-track For All Kings starts off in a completely left-field way. Soon enough though, bassist Frank Bello, drummer Charlie Benante and rhythm guitarist Scott Ian arrive and the song launches into the exact kind of thing that ANTHRAX fans have come to know and love over the last few years. Thrashy, but with generous helpings of melody, it’s an incredibly strong track that will undoubtedly only get bigger in a live setting.
Breathing Lightning may open with classical-sounding clean guitars, but it soon kicks back into a more relaxed version of the band’s usual template, with Charlie Benante’s powerful kick drum serving as the rhythmic backbone to one of Belladonna’s strongest vocal performances. The track even receives its own separate outro in the form of Breathing Out – a short piece that returns to the clean sound of the introduction. At just under a minute long, it’s brief enough to serve its purpose, without becoming too unnecessarily drawn out.
As it turns out, that interlude is the build-up to the explosive intro of Suzerain. Strangely enough, this track quickly becomes reminiscent of DIO, as Belladonna croons on top of a frenzied rhythm track that gives bassist Frank Bello one of his best moments of the album. Guitar-wise it’s also another strong performance from Donais, who brings yet another impressively technical solo; and Ian, who maintains his position as one of thrash-metal’s most reliable rhythm guitarists.
Allegedly inspired by last year’s tragic Charlie Hebdo attacks, Evil Twin was the first glimpse of the album released to the public, when it was aired on the band’s tour with fellow Big 4 members SLAYER. Underpinned by a furiously-paced riff, it’s one of the album’s more impressive tracks and serves to prove that ANTHRAX have lost none of their fire. At just under five minutes, it’s one of the shorter songs on For All Kings, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most impressive.
As the longest track on the record, Blood Eagle Wings has a lot to live up to. After almost a minute of darkly atmospheric build-up though, the song reveals its true nature. A lumbering behemoth of a riff accompanies Belladonna as he unleashes the full range of his powerful voice. Where this track stumbles slightly however, is the utterly unnecessary outro that goes on for a full minute and does almost nothing.
From its guitar riff alone, it’s obvious that Defend Avenge simply exudes power and attitude. Charlie Benante gets yet another moment to shine here as his drums are more or less brought to the forefront, almost duelling with his bandmates for who gets to ‘lead’ this five-minute slab of glorious gang vocals and crunching guitar riffs.
Again demonstrating how well ANTHRAX can put together a chorus, All Of Them Thieves delivers yet another powerful Belladonna moment, as the frontman lets rip over Scott Ian’s trademark driving rhythm. A frantic, yet melodic solo gives the track that little bit more to go on – and the result is just short of outstanding.
This Battle Chose Us is probably the weakest moment of For All Kings, and while it doesn’t kill off its momentum entirely, it does reduce things to a fairly pedestrian pace (at least by ANTHRAX terms) for the most part. The last 90 seconds or so might save the song from being a total washout, but it’s difficult not to feel like the band should have perhaps included their Game of Thrones track, Soror Irrumator instead – purely on the basis of it having a stronger chorus.
Closing everything off, Zero Tolerance seems to have taken the word ‘anthem’ and used it as a guideline. Touting a monstrous chorus and piles of calculated riffing, the track is yet another example of the prowess of Ian and Donais as a guitar duo – trading riffs back and forth until a sudden, abrupt conclusion halts everything.
On the whole, it’s difficult to dispute that this is the best ANTHRAX have sounded in years. Each member of the band gives a performance nothing short of outstanding, and the new blood brought in the form of Jon Donais seems to have given new life to the now-35-year-old thrash behemoth. In that respect, it seems that For All Kings might just be the first essential metal album of 2016. Producer Jay Ruston seems to have some knack for producing excellent ANTHRAX albums, matched only by those of John Zazula in the band’s early career. If Worship Music proved that ANTHRAX were back at the top of their game, then For All Kings hammers that point home with the force of a kick to the face.
For All Kings is set for release on February 26th via Nuclear Blast Records.