Photo by Akane Hayashi
First formed in New York in 1981, Anthrax has played an integral role in pioneering the 1980s thrash metal scene alongside monumental names like Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer, each of them forming part of the “Big Four”. Thrash metal is characterised by loud, aggressive sounds and fast speed, combining elements of hardcore punk and heavy metal. By taking to extremes the music they enjoyed, like the British heavy metal scene with Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, Anthrax effectively brought the metal scene to the East Coast and helped a new genre to emerge there. Their innovative spirit also comes through in their 1987 track ‘I’m the Man’, one of the first rap-metal fusion tracks which interpolates samples from the Beastie Boys. What separates Anthrax from other thrash bands are their distinct and catchy melodies, most present in songs like ‘Antisocial’, and the vocalist Joey Belladonna’s prominent voice. When the crowd in the concert all broke into ‘Happy Birthday’ to commemorate the band’s 40th anniversary, it became clear that Anthrax’s legacy lives on.
Anthrax’s concert was the first metal concert I’ve been to and—much like their effect on the East Coast’s music scene when they first formed—it was a gateway to metal music for me. I was able to crowd surf and mosh for the first time; I enjoyed music in a way I had never done before. The tightness of Frank Bello’s bass and Charlie Benante’s drumming created a mosh-pit-inducing sound, while the highly technical guitar riffs and shredding power chords inspired an untamed and irrepressible energy: it felt like how ripping something animalistically would feel. And Joey Belladonna’s ability to keep the energy level going in the audience was unmatched.
The band opened with the song ‘Among the Living’, which set the tone for the aggressive feeling and entrenched audience involvement which continued throughout their set. I had listened to a recording of the opening song before but the live rendition of the song was unparalleled, and I especially appreciated their ability to play with tempo more. The song’s tempo alternates between slow and fast, but in a way which is seamlessly integrated: for example, the song starts off with a ‘slow’ guitar riff measuring up at around 120 BPM, then the song builds to 210 BPM by the chorus. Every time the tempo slowed back down to the gritty guitar riff, it felt twice as dangerous, because you could tell the band were purposefully holding back—before they let loose manically again for the next chorus. In general, I think their songs sound very chaotic whilst being controlled. Their ability to be in sync and experiment with different elements without impacting the feel of the song clearly requires immense skill and group chemistry: the kind of chemistry that’s been 40 years in the making for them.
The maintained feeling of risk in every moment of their performance was thrilling. For example, Joey yelled at the audience for not being energetic enough after playing ‘Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)’, their aggressive protest song against drug abuse, and played it twice as a result. As the crowd started running towards the open space in the circle mosh pit, I felt like I was in the ring of hell, but also that I was having fun in it. The audience was also as heartwarming as they were intense, with people immediately helping anybody who fell over and forming a circle to make sure they could get up. Even with me being a five-foot-tall girl being bounced around like a ping-pong ball, I still had fun regardless, and felt like the crowd trusted each other and knew how to control themselves. Anthrax have really nailed the thrash genre, which is a fact that was even clearer to see live: the physicality of their performance and the way it riled up the crowd really gives ‘thrash’ its name. It’s undeniable that their music, even after 40 years, has not grown old.
Edited by Talia Andrea, Music Editor