Despite its grim reputation as hipstertown, Bristol has always loved thrash metal. By my reckoning – and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong – this was Anthrax’s fourth visit to the city and their first in 14 years. It was also the first date to sell out on the Noo Yorkers’ current UK tour. Consequently, the Academy is absolutely packed for support act The Raven Age – or “that band with George (son of Iron Maiden’s Steve) Harris on guitar”, as they certainly don’t wish to be known – since everyone turns up early to secure a decent viewing spot. The London-based quintet seize the opportunity to impress this captive audience with an agreeable brand of melodic metal that cunningly straddles the generational divide. The facial hair and haircuts might be 21st century, but those occasional bursts of twin lead guitar whisk us back to the 1970s, suggesting that someone has been paying very close attention to his dad’s record collection.
Thirty years on from the Among the Living tour, which gave Bristol its first major thrash metal gig when it reached the Colston Hall back in November 1987, Anthrax are back to celebrate what became their key album. And despite a few comings and goings in the personnel department, tonight’s line-up is more or less the same as the one that played here all those years ago – with the addition of Shadows Fall guitarist Jonathan Donais in place of Dan Spitz, who left the band to become a Swiss master watchmaker (no kidding).
But first, here’s some even older shit from 1985’s Spreading the Disease. A.I.R. gets the mosh pit going while the crunchy riffage of Madhouse inspires the first fist-pumping sinaglong like it’s, well, 1985, as returning vocalist Joey Belladonna bounces around the stage like a teenager – albeit one with suspiciously boot polish black hair.
The advance publicity had suggested that we’d get return-to-form new album For All Kings in its entirety too, so it’s a tad disappointing to find that they play just three songs from it. At least the best ones are cherry picked. Like many of the best bands, Anthrax have thrived, and occasionally suffered, as a consequence of tension between two key members. Classic rocker Belladonna and beardy hip-hop enthusiast rhythm guitarist Scott Ian may have been at one another’s throats in the past, but the likes of Breathing Lightning and magnificent epic Blood Eagle Wings demonstrate how they’ve reached a fruitful middle-aged accommodation, with chief songwriters Ian and drummer Charlie Benante composing material more suited to Belladonna’s vocal register without sacrificing an ounce of heaviosity.
Be All, End All from the comparatively less successful State of Euphoria album proves a pleasant surprise, though it’s noticeable that they completely ignore five albums and 23 years of band history tonight. Time for an intermission. Yep, that’s right – an intermission at a thrash metal show. Surely this must be a first. Still, this is an epic performance and the break is just long enough for us to chant along to Maiden’s The Number of the Beast and Run to the Hills before The Blues Brothers’ I Can’t Turn You Loose introduces the main attraction.
From the opening notes of Among the Living onwards, the Academy descends into a communal delirium as punters chant along with every word and security are kept busy hauling crowd-surfers from the sweaty, beery throng. A ferocious Caught in a Mosh, introduced by Frank Bello’s ribcage-ratting bass, and Judge Dredd anthem I Am the Law follow, while Benante gets a huge cheer as he beats out the tribal rhythms introducing Indians. One might quibble about the decision to play an album so front-loaded with fan favourites in sequence, but at least it concludes with that burst of sheer anger Imitation of Life, which seems as appropriate today as it did three decades ago.
Anthrax don’t bother leaving the stage before their encore cover of French metallers Trust’s punky Antisocial, which they’ve made their own just as Napalm Death appropriated Nazi Punks Fuck Off from the Dead Kennedys, giving us a final opportunity to bellow ourselves hoarse through the chorus. “Now we’re going to play Persistence of Time in its entirety,” Scott Ian had joked at the end of the second set. Why don’t you do just that next time, fellas?
All photos by Mike Evans
Read more: Metal & Prog Picks: February 2017