The official edited version of this review is available here.
Four and a half years ago, after enduring a messy revolving door of singers for nearly a decade– featuring reunions, re-reunions, and one virtual unknown in Dan Nelson – Anthrax mustered up a modern Metal classic against all odds. 2011’s Worship Music, the band’s first with ‘80s-era frontman Joey Belladonna in over 20 years, marked not only a return to form for Anthrax, but arguably a career peak. An album that once threatened to become the Chinese Democracy for headbangers emerged as a definitive statement from one of Thrash Metal’s Big Four.
The genre’s notorious Mount Rushmore – rounded out by Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth – historically joined forces on stage for the first time in Summer 2010, celebrating nearly 30 years of American heavy metal’s most essential movement, culminating with a show at Anthrax’s hometown Yankee Stadium the following year. In addition to capitalizing on an increasing nostalgia for the art form, all four groups have enjoyed reinvigoration in the studio as well, with Slayer and Megadeth both unleashing new albums to critical acclaim, and Metallica’s follow-up to the platinum-selling Death Magnetic due out later this year.
Anthrax once again enters the fold with For All Kings, their 11th full-length and a worthy successor to the monstrous Worship Music. One of the main ingredients that ultimately distinguishes the New Yorkers from their Bay Area peers is having a melodious, powerhouse singer in Joey Belladonna. As opposed to the gruffness of Metallica’s James Hetfield or the snarl of Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Belladonna’s vocals are akin to hearing Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson backed by speedier, more muscular riffs. His pipes afford Anthrax the ability to be noticeably more tuneful in some instances, albeit still ferocious.
At fifty-five years of age, For All Kings finds Belladonna delivering his most commanding vocal performance to date, elevating these meaty chunks of speed metal to astonishingly anthemic heights. Even when the rest of the band seems to briefly lose a step, an impossibly huge chorus always seems to be lurking around the corner, showcased best in the otherwise run-of-the-mill “This Battle Chose Us” and the non-essential but excellent title track.
As a five-piece, the middle of the album is where Anthrax make a seriously convincing case for their place on the Metal pantheon. “Defend Avenge” gets the gold medal in the riff category with rhythm guitarist Scott Ian’s uptempo Black Sabbath worship. “Evil Twin” and “Breathing Lightning” both turned out to be excellent choices for singles, as they contain some of the record’s best moments. “Lightning’ is equipped with an almost radio-ready chorus and infectious riffing from Ian, and “Twin” is the Thrash Titans at their most pummeling, also making some poignant political statements about “ideology used as a weapon”. Belladonna once again asserts his crucial role on “Blood Eagle Wings”, a thunderously epic masterwork that, simply put, none of Anthrax’s peers could pull off.
For All Kings is also the band’s first LP with former Shadows Fall axe man Jon Donais, who replaced the talented Rob Caggiano in 2013. Donais proves himself more than a worthy addition and an exceptional fit, especially on the appropriately larger-than-life solo in “Blood Eagle Wings”, the squealing, harmonic-laden licks in “Monster at the End”, and an extended lead that gives album opener “You Gotta Believe” a sharp kick in the teeth just as it begins to coast. As for the Anthrax rhythm section, legendary blastbeat pioneer Charlie Benante continues to be unparalleled in his line of work, maintaining a breakneck pace alongside his nephew, bassist Frank Bello.
The lackluster moments don’t emerge until the final three tracks. “All of Them Thieves” is the sole glaring piece of filler. “This Battle Chose Us” simply underwhelms in the wake of the murderer’s row that occurred in the middle of the album. Chaotic closer “Zero Tolerance”, while certainly a battering assault, occasionally feels like aggression for aggression’s sake, but is a satisfyingly jolting conclusion nevertheless.
While For All Kings might not have quite the staggering greatness of its predecessor, it comes dangerously close. It’s an affair that should leave fans fully satiated, and it sits comfortably in the upper echelon of the band’s celebrated discography.